In Cocaïn: History & Culture, executive editor of W Magazine Armand Limnander provides readers with a sleek summary of the infamous white power’s cultural history, from its ancient use in pre-Columbian cultures to the storied parties thrown at Studio 54, the New York City club that typified late ’70s hedonism. Bursting with vivid advertisements that catalogue cocaine’s transformation from chemical cure-all to hip vice, the book is a visual delight that aims to educate readers on the marked changes surrounding modern society’s perception of cocaine.

In its introduction, Cocaïn: History & Culture claims that it will tell the story of “how coca, considered a sacred plant in pre-Columbian times, traveled a long, treacherous road to become coke, blow, snow, powder, nose candy, Charlie, cha-cha, flakes, base, C., and all of the other evocative monikers by which cocaine is now known.” While, in a way, this is precisely what the book proceeds to do, more than half of it is composed of images—vintage ads, movie posters, book covers and photographs. Thus, by design, Cocaïn: History & Culture is more a lightly informative coffee table book to be flipped through casually than a deep-dive into the drug’s history. The complex and varied traditions of coca use amongst the indigenous tribes of South America are dealt with in no more than three paragraphs, and while a relatively sizable amount of space is dedicated to cocaine’s explosive acceptance among the 19th-century medical communities in Europe and the United States, mere sentences are spent on the deleterious effects that same demand inflicted on countries such as Colombia, Bolivia and Peru. 

That being said, the old adage that a picture is worth a thousand words is highly applicable to Cocaïn: History & Culture. Its text may be sparse and cursory at times, but flipping through decades of evolving ads—both plying cocaine products or condemning the drug’s use—is an enlightening experience that operates on a more visceral level than any amount of text ever could. The book’s images allow its readers to fully feel the impact of conflicting, generation-specific attitudes towards the substance and, with light literary guidance, be impressed and educated by those images as they see fit. It’s difficult to envision a cluster of words that more effectively explain the laissez-faire attitude towards cocaine that prevailed at the turn of the 20th century than an ad for cocaine-based lollipops marketed to curb children’s sugar intake because they were “guaranteed to deaden that sweet tooth.”

A visually striking overview of how the coca leaves used as part of ancient Incan cultural practices became the white gold of Narcos, Scarface and Studio 54, you can add Cocaïn: History & Culture to your coffee table book collection by purchasing it right here for less than its $50 list price. 

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