Briefly Noted: Speed Reading


Were Bonnie Parker, Clyde Barrow, John Dillinger, and George "Baby Face" Nelson under the influence of Benzedrine during their murderous crime sprees? There's no evidence they were, but maybe! Did speed freaks eat all the cats in the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood of San Francisco in 1967? There's no evidence they did, which means the story should be dismissed as "arrant nonsense."

As those contradictory positions suggest, Speed-Speed-Speedfreak: A Fast History of Amphetamine (Feral House) is a weird mixture of wild speculation, rumor mongering, and just-the-facts skepticism. The British journalist Mick Farren, former lead singer of the Deviants, often cannot resist the temptation to hype his subject, although for the most part he tries to put amphetamines in perspective, persuasively arguing that the war against them is both futile and harmful. Without denying the potential for abuse, his entertaining, far-ranging account highlights the arbitrary distinctions between legally approved and legally condemned uses of stimulants. —Jacob Sullum