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When Crack Was King: A People's History of a Misunderstood Era (Hardcover)

When Crack Was King: A People's History of a Misunderstood Era By Donovan X. Ramsey Cover Image
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LONGLISTED FOR THE NATIONAL BOOK AWARD • A “vivid and frank” (NPR) account of the crack cocaine era and a community’s ultimate resilience, told through a cast of characters whose lives illuminate the dramatic rise and fall of the epidemic
“A master class in disrupting a stubborn narrative, a monumental feat for the fraught subject of addiction in Black communities.”—The Washington Post

“A poignant and compelling re-examination of a tragic era in America history . . . insightful . . . and deeply moving.”—Bryan Stevenson, author of the #1 New York Times bestseller Just Mercy

A BEST BOOK OF THE YEAR: Time, The Washington Post, NPR, Chicago Public Library, Publishers Weekly, She Reads

The crack epidemic of the 1980s and 1990s is arguably the least examined crisis in American history. Beginning with the myths inspired by Reagan’s war on drugs, journalist Donovan X. Ramsey’s exacting analysis traces the path from the last triumphs of the Civil Rights Movement to the devastating realities we live with today: a racist criminal justice system, continued mass incarceration and gentrification, and increased police brutality.
When Crack Was King follows four individuals to give us a startling portrait of crack’s destruction and devastating legacy: Elgin Swift, an archetype of American industry and ambition and the son of a crack-addicted father who turned their home into a “crack house”; Lennie Woodley, a former crack addict and sex worker; Kurt Schmoke, the longtime mayor of Baltimore and an early advocate of decriminalization; and Shawn McCray, community activist, basketball prodigy, and a founding member of the Zoo Crew, Newark’s most legendary group of drug traffickers.
Weaving together riveting research with the voices of survivors, When Crack Was King is a crucial reevaluation of the era and a powerful argument for providing historically violated communities with the resources they deserve.

About the Author

Donovan X. Ramsey is a journalist, author, and voice on issues of race, politics, and patterns of power in America. His reporting has appeared in The New York TimesThe AtlanticGQWSJEbony, and Essence. He has been a staff reporter at the Los Angeles TimesNewsOne, and theGrio and has served as an editor at The Marshall Project and Complex. Ramsey holds a master’s degree from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Morehouse College.

Praise For…

“The crack epidemic may be over, Ramsey notes at book's end, but drug fads and epidemics come and go, and our government and media apparatus must learn to respond to them better.”—NPR

“Drawing on intensive research and the stories of four individuals whose lives were indelibly shaped by the drug and its criminalization, Ramsey provides much-needed critique on not only drug policy past and present, but also the system that it upholds, urgently interrogating who it protects, who it punishes—and why.”Time (10 new books you should read in July)

“[A] panoramic social history of the rise and fall of the epidemic . . . Ramsey aims to give the story of the crack epidemic a human face while telling it from start to finish, a herculean task. By and large he succeeds.”The New York Times

“A master class in disrupting a stubborn narrative, a monumental feat for the fraught subject of addiction in Black communities.”The Washington Post

“We haven’t reckoned with the crack era, or pinned it as the historical marker it was. I’m halfway through [When Crack Was King], and Ramsey gives the full view, from teenagers who grew up in the shadow of crack to city leaders who got overwhelmed by it. The sweep is long overdue.”—Hanna Rosin for The Atlantic

“[Ramsey] looks at the crack epidemic of the ’80s and ’90s from several perspectives, from a Newark drug kingpin to a former Baltimore mayor to a longtime addict, and asks the reader to reconsider the details of a life-shattering scourge.”Boston Globe (best new books for summer 2023)

“[When Crack Was King] manages to convey the scope of history while also remaining grounded in the specific and personal. And it feels particularly relevant as America stares down another drug epidemic with no clear end in sight.”Los Angeles Times

“Beautifully composed and carefully researched, When Crack Was King is a thoroughgoing survey of the crack epidemic. Since I lived through it, I thought I knew about this period—until I read this clear-eyed book.”—Ibram X. Kendi, author of the #1 New York Times bestseller How to Be an Antiracist

“Forget what you think you know about the crack era, because this definitive account resets the record. Both unflinching and compassionate, it has the power to expand your heart. It’s a stunning and unforgettable debut.”—Heather McGhee, author of New York Times bestseller The Sum of Us

“Donovan X. Ramsey tells the story of the crack era—its causes, victims, and survivors—with insight and compassion. If you’re anything like me, you won’t soon forget the characters on these pages.”—James Forman Jr., Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Locking Up Our Own

“Passionate, important reportage on a tragic era in American history from an author who lived through it.”Kirkus Reviews, starred review

Product Details
ISBN: 9780525511809
ISBN-10: 0525511806
Publisher: One World
Publication Date: July 11th, 2023
Pages: 448
Language: English