9780812221800: Paperback
Release Date: 19th July 2011

14 illus.

Dimensions: 152 x 229

Number of Pages: 280

Series Politics and Culture in Modern America

University of Pennsylvania Press, Inc.


Heroin and the American City

Why do the vast majority of heroin users live in cities? In his provocative history of heroin in the United States, Eric Schneider explains what is distinctively urban about this undisputed king of underworld drugs.

Paperback / £21.99

Why do the vast majority of heroin users live in cities? In his provocative history of heroin in the United States, Eric C. Schneider explains what is distinctively urban about this undisputed king of underworld drugs.

During the twentieth century, New York City was the nation's heroin capital—over half of all known addicts lived there, and underworld bosses like Vito Genovese, Nicky Barnes, and Frank Lucas used their international networks to import and distribute the drug to cities throughout the country, generating vast sums of capital in return. Schneider uncovers how New York, as the principal distribution hub, organized the global trade in heroin and sustained the subcultures that supported its use.

Through interviews with former junkies and clinic workers and in-depth archival research, Schneider also chronicles the dramatically shifting demographic profile of heroin users. Originally popular among working-class whites in the 1920s, heroin became associated with jazz musicians and Beat writers in the 1940s. Musician Red Rodney called heroin the trademark of the bebop generation. "It was the thing that gave us membership in a unique club," he proclaimed. Smack takes readers through the typical haunts of heroin users—52nd Street jazz clubs, Times Square cafeterias, Chicago's South Side street corners—to explain how young people were initiated into the drug culture.

Smack recounts the explosion of heroin use among middle-class young people in the 1960s and 1970s. It became the drug of choice among a wide swath of youth, from hippies in Haight-Ashbury and soldiers in Vietnam to punks on the Lower East Side. Panics over the drug led to the passage of increasingly severe legislation that entrapped heroin users in the criminal justice system without addressing the issues that led to its use in the first place. The book ends with a meditation on the evolution of the war on drugs and addresses why efforts to solve the drug problem must go beyond eliminating supply.

Introduction: Requiem for the City

Ch. 1. New York and the Global Market
Ch. 2. Jazz Joints and Junk
Ch. 3. The Plague
Ch. 4. The Panic over Adolescent Heroin Use
Ch. 5. Ethnicity and the Market
Ch. 6. The Rising Tide
Ch. 7. Dealing with Dope
Ch. 8. Heroin Suburbanizes
Ch. 9. The War and the War at Home
Ch. 10. From the Golden Spike to the Glass Pipe

Conclusion: Heroin Markers Redux


Eric C. Schneider is Adjunct Associate Professor of History at the University of Pennsylvania and author of Vampires, Dragons, and Egyptian Kings: Youth Gangs in Postwar New York.

"Since the end of World War II, American cities have been home to illicit drug markets where heroin has been among the most widely-sold products. Smack is Eric Schneider's masterful explanation of how heroin entered America's cities, who used it, what happened as a result and how obtuse public policy and naked corruption not only failed to check its distribution but sometimes even contributed to its spread. Schneider exposes the deep misconceptions underlying the nation's futile war on drugs and offers sane and realistic alternatives that, historic experience suggests, could work, if only public authorities have the courage and will."—Michael Katz, The Price of Citizenship: Redefining the American Welfare State

"Schneider's absorbing history of heroin's proliferation in America draws a parallel between the evolution and decline of American cities and the rise of heroin use. Rather than treating the city as a "backdrop," Schneider interprets cities as 'the organizers of the world opium market,' and meticulously traces heroin's ascendancy from early 20th century opium dens to the 1920s jazz milieu and into the suburbs of the late 20th century when heroin finally attracted the attention of the mainstream media."—Publisher's Weekly

"A thoughtful, measured, and eminently readable study of that illuminating place where urban and medical history meet the study of media and policymaking. Schneider's book will not only be relevant to academics, but to any general reader concerned with the challenging world of crime and social policy. The author's tone of lucid clarity is particularly welcome in an area marked by polemic and predictable advocacy."—Charles Rosenberg, The Care of Strangers: The Rise of America's Hospital System

"A sympathetic, engaging, and highly readable antidote to the war-on-drugs-style morality tale. At times the book reads like the award-winning and controversial HBO television series The Wire. . . . Schneider draws his audience into a colorful narrative complete with larger-than-life characters, heart-tugging tragedies, and triumphant victories that complicate a more simplistic rendering of what constitutes right and wrong, legal and illegal, or mainstream and black market. He effectively humanizes the issue with testimony from users, dealers, traffickers, police, politicians, and educators to show how all parties in this conflict have struggled to bring justice and security to their communities."—American Historical Review

"Deeply researched and briskly written, with rare photographs and biographical vignettes to keep the narrative moving along, Smack . . . is a triumph of imaginative historical scholarship, though a bittersweet one, written by someone in obvious mourning for the drug-accelerated decline of America's great cities."—Addiction

"Schneider has produced that rarest of academic commodities—a page-turner. The book is exceedingly well written, and its fascinating research and analysis are sure to make it a central text in the field."—Journal of American History