Skip to main content Accessibility help
The Drug Wars in America, 1940–1973
  • Cited by 22
  • Export citation
  • Recommend to librarian
  • Buy the print book

Book description

The Drug Wars in America, 1940–1973 argues that the US government has clung to its militant drug war, despite its obvious failures, because effective control of illicit traffic and consumption were never the critical factors motivating its adoption in the first place. Instead, Kathleen J. Frydl shows that the shift from regulating illicit drugs through taxes and tariffs to criminalizing the drug trade developed from, and was marked by, other dilemmas of governance in an age of vastly expanding state power. Most believe the 'drug war' was inaugurated by President Richard Nixon's declaration of a war on drugs in 1971, but in fact his announcement heralded changes that had taken place in the two decades prior. Frydl examines this critical interval of time between regulation and prohibition, demonstrating that the war on drugs advanced certain state agendas, such as policing inner cities or exercising power abroad.


‘… a sweeping, complex, and searching history of America's drug wars. Kathleen J. Frydl's sophisticated, ‘state-centered', analysis helps us to understand in new ways the causes of the nation's greatest social policy failure. A brave and provocative work.'

Gary Gerstle - James G. Stahlman Professor of American History, Vanderbilt University

‘No one trying to understand the origins and shape of America's war on drugs should miss Frydl's book on the three decades leading up to Nixon's formal declaration. With a connoisseur's taste for irony and shabby bureaucratic squabbles, she offers a cogent account of how drug enforcement became less a realizable goal than a way for the US government to define and legitimate its missions amid uncertainties at home and abroad.'

Daniel Richman - Columbia University Law School

'[This] is the most compelling scholarly book to date written on an important subject: America’s post-war transition to punitive domestic drug policy. It should be the standard on this topic for many years … [It] is deeply researched in the archives, richly contextualized in the newest trends of US history, and provocative and complex in its analysis. Not just another critique of 'drug war' ideologies, failures and fallacies, it is necessary reading for anyone interested in the issue of reversing the prohibitionist drug regime the United States has built over the last half century. [It] is also timely, given today’s crisis of mass incarceration of drug offenders, aggravated by rigid 'maximum minimum' sentencing and racial policing, and the growing public and judicial disillusion with these harms … the best book I’ve read on this critical subject … a major contribution to the scholarship …'

Paul Gootenberg Source: Criminal Law and Criminal Justice Books

'Frydl presents the reader with a critical analysis of the history of the federal government's drug control policies from 1940 to 1973 … her work is thoughtful, well written and thoroughly documented. It should find a broad audience among political scientists, historians, sociologists, and others who will find this topic engaging. Recommended. Upper-division undergraduate, graduate, research, and professional collections.'

J. S. Robey Source: Choice

'[Frydl] argues persuasively that the drug wars have been essential for the enhancement of state power in both domestic and foreign policy. The work also contributes to our understanding of how state power is built and reinforced, often through narratives that appear to be about something else. Deeply researched and thoughtfully argued, The Drug Wars in America, 1940–1973 tells an important story about why a failed set of policies continues to endure.'

Evelyn Krache Morris Source: Journal of American Studies

'In her engaging history of drug policy, Kathleen J. Frydl argues that America’s drug wars began in the four decades after World War II, when the federal government 'amassed an arsenal of tools to punish and prohibit illicit drugs'.'

David T. Courtwright Source: Journal of American History

Refine List

Actions for selected content:

Select all | Deselect all
  • View selected items
  • Export citations
  • Download PDF (zip)
  • Send to Kindle
  • Send to Dropbox
  • Send to Google Drive

Save Search

You can save your searches here and later view and run them again in "My saved searches".

Please provide a title, maximum of 40 characters.



Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Book summary page views

Total views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between #date#. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed.