Methland by Nick Reding

A harrowing look at the meth epidemic in the United States.

I’ve always been many things, most of which are way, way outside the scope of my blog and site. (Trust me. There aren’t too many skeletons in my closet. There are no trysts with Hooters’ waitresses or big scandals.) As my regular readers know, I tend to write about consulting, project management, software and technology trends, and topics related to writing and publishing, many of which are peppered with Rush references.

Spending so much of my time writing and reading about these things is not without its own rewards. However, I’d be lying if I claimed to never get a bit tired of covering all of those areas. I enjoy the occasional silly movie and book completely unrelated to the business of being me. One of my recent escapes was Methland: The Death and Life of an American Small Town by Nick Reding.

Before continuing, you may be wondering why I decided to read a book about meth. (No, book sales aren’t that bad and I’m not considering a career change.)

Hands down, my favorite TV show right now is Breaking Bad on AMC. It’s about a 50-year-old high school chemistry teacher with cancer, a pregnant wife, and a kid with cerebral palsy. Intent on providing for his family, he begins to manufacture meth or become a “cook”, as they are called. It’s just an amazing show and I wanted to learn more about the meth problem.

This is a powerful book and one that had me mesmerized and cringing at the same time.

Review

An accomplished journalist, Reding explores the methamphetamine epidemic in the United States through the lens of Oelwein, IA—a rural community about 300 miles from Chicago. Oelwein is vintage Small Town, USA, sporting a population of just over 6,000.

Reding did his research for the book—something to the tune of five years. While this is no scientific journal about the physiological effects of meth or “crank”, there’s enough of that information to, quite frankly, scare the hell out of you. Particularly disturbing were the stories of the children of meth addicts born with simply horrible problems. It’s just scary. Even if there were actually a number of crystal meth addiction centers in the area, they wouldn’t be able to do much about these horror stories.

Methland is anything but a “drugs are bad” or “just say no” kind of book. Rather, Reding explores the economic, political, and sociological factors that contributed to the rise of crank in this country. While not exclusively to blame, for example, pharmaceutical companies’ lobbying against certain legislation contributed to the rise of meth addiction. Long story short: the industry fought “stop-buy” language that would have prevented individuals from buying massive amounts of Sudafed and other medicines typically bought en masse to produce meth.

Reding also touches on touchy subjects such as the legality of drugs and America’s relationship with immigration—legal and otherwise. These are all important in understanding why “the world’s most dangerous” drug reached epidemic proportions in this country.

The Downside of Globalization

Having studied the effects of globalization in college and attending school in Pittsburgh (a city no stranger to the erosion of its industrial base), the book certainly resonated with me. What do people do when wages go from $18/hr to less than one-third of that? Many try to work more and meth evidently enables that. On a different level, at one point (and I’m paraphrasing here), an unemployed and depressed Oelwein addict makes the argument for meth, saying, “What else makes me feel good here?” It’s a hard question to answer for Reding or anyone else.

This is a powerful book and one that had me mesmerized and cringing at the same time. This isn’t light reading but, if you need the occasional escape from your daily grind, it should be right up your alley.

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What books have you read that allow you to escape?

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4 Comments

  1. Jim Harris

    Interesting post Phil,

    Although I have never seen the TV show “Breaking Bad” or read Reding’s book, I have lived in Iowa for 7 years and have heard lots about it being the Meth Capital of the World — but I am pretty sure we don’t put that in the travel brochures 🙂

    As for off-topic non-fiction books that are good for an escape, I like Mary Roach for that. I have read three of her books:

    – “Stiff” – The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers
    – “Spook” – Science Tackles the Afterlife
    – “Bonk” – The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex

    Her writing style is a delight (as is her sense of humor) and her open-minded take on some unusual topics combined with great skills as both a researcher and an interviewer make her books great regardless of the topic.

    Best Regards,

    Jim
    .-= Jim Harris´s last blog ..A Superb Lyrebird is a Superb Liar =-.

    Reply
  2. Moon3song

    it’s a padded magazine article made into a book written by farmers for office workers just try meth for a month ( moderation is only good in moderation said mark twain ) maybe read a scanner darkly by phillip kk. dick and see why it’s entering god’s kingdom if you have other than a meat packing or assembly line personality as soon as they get rid of some of the residual side effects it will take over the world cuz the world poor or rich is pretty boring and a boring book on meth lol in poor taste btw it does separate the men and women from the wannabies and so that means get a nanny if you have kids and skip the whole lab thing anyway who cares how a rural town deals with it they have no brains to start with on the stuff you can compose better stronger harder faster and that’s the future for some of us ! peace and good will to all…

    Reply
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