Opium Fiend by Steven Martin


13 Critic Reviews

Ambitious and thoughtful work, successfully fusing the personal and social by raising complex questions about drugs, addiction and contested cultural narratives.



A renowned authority on the secret world of opium recounts his descent into ruinous obsession with one of the world’s oldest and most seductive drugs, in this harrowing memoir of addiction and recovery.
A natural-born collector with a nose for exotic adventure, San Diego–born Steven Martin followed his bliss to Southeast Asia, where he found work as a freelance journalist. While researching an article about the vanishing culture of opium smoking, he was inspired to begin collecting rare nineteenth-century opium-smoking equipment. Over time, he amassed a valuable assortment of exquisite pipes, antique lamps, and other opium-related accessories—and began putting it all to use by smoking an extremely potent form of the drug called chandu. But what started out as recreational use grew into a thirty-pipe-a-day habit that consumed Martin’s every waking hour, left him incapable of work, and exacted a frightful physical and financial toll. In passages that will send a chill up the spine of anyone who has ever lived in the shadow of substance abuse, Martin chronicles his efforts to control and then conquer his addiction—from quitting cold turkey to taking “the cure” at a Buddhist monastery in the Thai countryside.
At once a powerful personal story and a fascinating historical survey, Opium Fiend brims with anecdotes and lore surrounding the drug that some have called the methamphetamine of the nineteenth-century. It recalls the heyday of opium smoking in the United States and Europe and takes us inside the befogged opium dens of China, Thailand, Vietnam, and Laos. The drug’s beguiling effects are described in vivid detail—as are the excruciating pains of withdrawal—and there are intoxicating tales of pipes shared with an eclectic collection of opium aficionados, from Dutch dilettantes to hard-core addicts to world-weary foreign correspondents.
A compelling tale of one man’s transformation from respected scholar to hapless drug slave, Opium Fiend puts us under opium’s spell alongside its protagonist, allowing contemporary readers to experience anew the insidious allure of a diabolical vice that the world has all but forgotten.

From the Hardcover edition.

About Steven Martin

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Steven Martin was born and raised in San Diego. After four years in the U.S. Navy, he moved to Thailand. A freelance writer, he has written articles for the Associated Press, Agence France-Presse, and the Asian edition of Time. He has also contributed to guidebooks for Lonely Planet and Rough Guides. Martin has gathered one of the world's largest, most diverse collection of antique opium-smoking paraphernalia, and has written an illustrated book on the subject, The Art of Opium Antiques. His expertise has led to consulting work for museums and films, most recently for HBO's period drama Boardwalk Empire.
Published June 26, 2012 by Villard. 417 pages
Genres: Biographies & Memoirs, Self Help, Health, Fitness & Dieting. Non-fiction
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Critic reviews for Opium Fiend
All: 13 | Positive: 13 | Negative: 0


Reviewed by Kirkus Reviews on Jul 01 2012

Ambitious and thoughtful work, successfully fusing the personal and social by raising complex questions about drugs, addiction and contested cultural narratives.

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The Daily Beast

Reviewed by Brian Bookman on Jun 29 2012

But as he continues smoking with his new friends, hoping to learn the guarded secrets of these few surviving Westerners...Martin fails to notice the looming danger of this new habit—and it nearly costs him everything.

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Reviewed by Brian Bethune on Jun 22 2012

...reading Martin’s account of an unsuccessful attempt to quit in 2007 is like watching a high-speed car wreck unfold.

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Post and Courier

Reviewed by Frances Monaco on Aug 26 2012

“Opium Fiend” is an honest book with a deeply intimate portrayal of what led to his eventual addiction.

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Mail Online

Reviewed by MATT BLAKE on Oct 03 2012

It's one that in equal measure details both the bliss the drug induced — 'never again would sleep be so delicious; never again would dreams be so real' — and the pain of dependence and repeated attempts at withdrawal.

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Austin Chronicle

Reviewed by MARC SAVLOV on Jul 23 2012

A longtime journalist and writer, he describes his meandering quest throughout China, Thailand, Laos, and Vietnam in search of the perfectly rolled opium pill with worldly humor and infinitesimal detail.

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Reviewed by DENIS GRAY on May 10 2012

Although Martin doesn't advocate opium use, his memoir is no simple cautionary tale, nor was he your average backpacker junkie, such as still roam this region of cheap and plentiful drugs.

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The San Francisco Bay Guardian

Reviewed by Cheryl Eddy on Jun 26 2012

...interest in antique opium-smoking paraphernalia — a formerly obscure thing to collect, at least until Martin's own photo book, The Art of Opium Antiques, came out in 2007 — led to, perhaps inevitably, a full-blown dependence on opium itself.

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Verbicide Magazine.

Reviewed by Gabino Iglesias on Oct 18 2012

...is one of the most engaging personal narratives I’ve ever read, and is a tome that brings together an amusing combination of research, private experiences, and tangential action.

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Reviewed by Julz on Aug 05 2012

This fascinating book was not only a memoir about Martin’s bizarre decent into opium addiction, but a treatise on the history of opium smoking throughout the world.

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Reviewed by SANDRA SONG on Jul 13 2012

What is most appealing about Martin’s story is that it’s enticingly candid and entirely plausible.

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Asia by the Book

Reviewed by Janet Brown on Sep 21 2012

The progression of his addiction and of his altered relationship with the world in general makes compelling reading...

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Reviewed by DOUG LEVIN on Jul 29 2012

Martin does a great job detailing his addiction, his isolation from social life, his attempts to quit, and the psychological aftermath of kicking (at least provisionally).

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Nicole Petticord

Nicole Petticord 5 Sep 2013

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Cheryl O'Connor 5 Sep 2013

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