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In the Arms of Morpheus

Barbara Hodgson’s bio says that she is a book designer and writer. Her talents, in that order, inform this book. The subtitle is ‘the tragic history of laudanum, morphine and patent medicines’ However, anyone who is not an anti-drug activist will likely quibble with the word ‘tragic.’ Lots of people became addicted to opium derivatives, and many died. Patent medicines were always a dodgy proposition. Addiction is probably not a good thing. All of these are likely true and yet the adjectives Hodgson uses throughout this book seem to indicate that there was some vast social ill in all the opium-earting going on.

The book is beautifully illustrated, with many full page color images of old patent medicine ads and pulp paperback covers extolling the ills of morphine and opium. It was also well-researched, and mostly well written. However, the sum total was bland -- this book didn’t go anywhere. The chapters on notable drug-takers reads like a laundry list of famous people in the late 1800’s. So and so took opium, so and so injected morphine, so and so was an addict. Patent medicines contained ingredients that were not good for you. The end result, for me anyhow, was to say ‘so what?’ The book suffers from a lack of emotion. Hodgson is neither sympathetic nor antagonistic to the subjects she portrays. It is hard to tell what her opinions are. The book reads more like a college thesis than a popular non-fiction book. Check it out for the pictures, skip most of the explanations.