Methland: The Death and Life of an American Small Town

Methland: The Death and Life of an American Small Town

author: Nick Reding

name: Steev

average rating: 3.60

book published: 2009

rating: 4

read at: 2010/10/24

date added: 2010/10/25

shelves: border, own-it, politics

As an Iowan and someone extremely interested in the power that drug use is increasingly having over our society and politics, I was very keen to read this book. The author focuses on Olwein, Iowa (an hour or so from where I was born), a small farming/meatpacking/railroad town fallen on hard times, but he uses it as an example of a nationwide phenomenon, especially prevalent to non-coastal, rural areas.

The book alternates between 2 modes: extremely personal looks at individuals, mostly in Olwein but also Ottumwa, Iowa and a variety of similar places; and "big picture" explanations of what's going on with the history, science, economics, politics, and laws that have created the U.S. problem with methamphetimines. Reding links the rise of meth use to the economic downfall of communities like Olwein, brought about primarily by consolidation in the agricultural/food industry. Reding makes a case too for broken immigration policy being linked to both this corporate monopolizing of the food supply and the monopolization of the meth supply by Mexican cartels. He also skewers big pharma for opposing at every turn the efforts of the DEA and other law enforcement to rein in the production of meth, for 30 years.

While explaining these theses and backing them up with hard statistics, Reding also provides touching accounts of real people: former and current addicts, dealers, meth cooks, cops, county prosecutors, mayors, bar owners, farmers, etc. People he spent 4 years talking to and hanging out with.

It's a highly informative and moving piece of work, and I would recommend it, but I do have to point out 2 flaws: despite the nuanced look at the interrelated phenomena of free trade, immigration, and regulatory capture, Reding disappointed me with his ignorant and repeated use of the term "illegals" (the i-word) for undocumented migrants.

Second, he succumbs to a weakness I've seen in several journalists who move from short form writing in periodicals to full-length books: his writing is often peppered with long, redundant phrasing that does nothing but confuse and slow-down progress through an otherwise engrossing and fluid narrative. For instance, at one point he describes that one meth-addict was once high for a long long time. Reding writes, "for twenty-eight days straight, an entire lunar cycle." Umm, what? Of what relevance to anything is it that it was a lunar cycle? It would be one thing if the tweaker had been purposely trying to stay high till the next full moon or something like that, but it's totally apropos of nothing. And this kind of thing litters the book. It's just poor writing. Like I said, I see this a lot with journalists, and my hypothesis is that they feel so freed by the fact that they have 80,000 words or so when they're used to being limited to 500 that they get a little too excited and end up bubbling forth all this extra unneeded verbage.

Anyway. If you you can put up with those 2 shortcomings and are from the midwest and/or interested in the drug war and related issues, read this book.