Happy to be promoting Alexandra Chasin’s Assassin of Youth: A Kaleidoscopic History of Harry J. Anslinger’s War on Drugs (University of Chicago Press), which Library Journal calls “a well-researched, fresh take on an enduring controversy.” More about Chasin and book below.
In Assassin of Youth, Alexandra Chasin offers a lyrical, digressive, funny, and ultimately riveting quasi-biography of Henry Anslinger, United States’ little known first drug czar. Her treatment of the man, his times, and the world that arose around and through him is part cultural history, part kaleidoscopic meditation. Each of the short chapters is anchored in a historical document—the court decision in Webb v. US (1925), a 1935 map of East Harlem, FBN training materials from the 1950s, a personal letter from the Treasury Department in 1985—each of which opens onto Anslinger and his context. From the Pharmacopeia of 1820 to the death of Sandra Bland in 2015, from the Pennsylvania Railroad to the last passenger pigeon, and with forays into gangster lives, CIA operatives, and popular detective stories, Chasin covers impressive ground. Assassin of Youth is as riotous and loose a history of drug laws as can be imagined—and yet it culminates in an arresting and precise revision of the emergence of drug prohibition.
Praise for Assassin of Youth
“[A] well-researched, fresh take on an enduring controversy.”
“This ain’t your grandpa’s reefer madness but instead a swirling, energetic, decidedly offbeat history of a man and a time history has largely forgotten, and not for any lack of effort of his own.”
“Assassin of Youth is the most entertaining and inventive book on drug policy in the United States you’ll ever read, which perhaps isn’t saying much unless you’re a government wonk. But for the rest of us, who have most likely never heard of Harry J. Anslinger and never given much consideration to the War on Drugs (except to mock it as an enormously expensive, racist, and Puritanical boondoggle), Chasin brilliantly marries the speculative prowess of a lyricist with the diligence and insight of an historian to create something wholly wondrous in its ambitions.”
—Robin Hemley, author of Reply All
“Assassin of Youth is an extraordinary book: part biography, part cultural history, part lyric essay, part critique of a century of public policy—and from beginning to end a singular experiment in literary form. In a voice that is by turns rhythmic, interpretative, interrogative, ruminative, and digressive, Chasin makes daring leaps through space and time, showing us things about Harry Anslinger and the origins of prohibitionist drug policies that no one has shown us before. Chasin’s prose is absorbing. Her point, timely, even urgent.”
—James Goodman, author of Stories of Scottsboro and Blackout
About the Author
ALEXANDRA CHASIN is Associate Professor of Literary Studies at Lang College, The New School. She’s the author of Brief, Kissed By, and Selling Out: The Gay and Lesbian Movement Goes to Market. Chasin is Associate Professor of Literary Studies at Lang College, The New School. She’s also Artistic Director of Writing on It All, a public participatory writing project that invites anyone and everyone to write on the interior surfaces of a house in facilitated sessions. She lives in New York City.