Sam Quinones’ Dreamland (2015)


Last week, I wrote jokingly about non-professional authors trying their hand at writing a book. This week, we’re looking at an excellent book written by a professional journalist about a very serious (and timely) topic: the opioid crisis.

A few weeks ago, Mary-Esther suggested Sam Quinones’ Dreamland to me. As I suppose is true of many people, I have been following the news about the opioid crisis, but I must confess, that it’s something I knew relatively little about. (Thanks for the wonderful suggestion, Mary Esther!)

I distinctly remember back in 2014 when actor Philip Seymour Hoffman died and there were news articles discussing a growing heroin epidemic. I had never heard anything about it until then, and I was still pretty insulated from it earlier this year when I was reading statistics about how both prescription painkiller abuse and heroin were devastating parts of Ohio and Kentucky, as well as other states.

Quinones, an investigative reporter, spent years following the crisis, and this book is the result of his substantial research. He interviewed medical professionals, addicts, drug dealers, and community leaders. The resulting tale is a story of an unholy alliance between changing medical mores, unsubstantiated scientific assumptions, limited economic opportunities, deceptive pharmaceutical advertising, and increasingly savvy drug dealers.

Quinones traces two disparate threads–the increase in opioid prescriptions as drugs like Oxycontin were advertised as nonaddictive and the flood of Mexican black tar heroin entering the United States–and how they collided.

In addition to Quinones’ exhaustive research, he is a skilled writer. The story itself is fascinating, but he also does a great job of presenting it in a way that is easy for laypeople to follow. He vividly brings the epidemic to life. His focus is more on tracing what led to the opioid crisis and revealing the full extent of it, though he does sprinkle in some suggestions for how some communities have had some success in combating the epidemic.

Overall, I thought the book was an excellent example of investigative reporting. The only criticism I have is minor in that the organization of the book–though easy to follow–occasionally made some of the material repetitive. I may have noticed that more, however, since I read the book in one setting. Otherwise, it’s a highly readable, informative book about a devastating social problem.

Readalikes: Anyone interested in public policy or contemporary crime. I also think anyone interested in reading more about the societal rot described in J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy would find this book a helpful source of context. As always, please follow this link to our online library catalog for more information or to place a hold.

*Ebook also available on Libby.

Have you read Dreamland? What’s your favorite book about contemporary social issues? Who’s your favorite investigative reporter? Tell us in the comments!


Author: berryvillelibrary

"Our library, our future"

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