Crack Rock Cocaine, Street Capitalism, and the Decade of Greed By David Farber

Press Release


The history of the crack crisis is a dark tale. We prefer stories of national uplift and progress, of heroes who challenged long odds to make our country a better place. The story of crack in America offers no such uplift. It provides no such heroes – though there were men and women who struggled to bring hope and reform. The history of the crack era turns the American dream upside down. Sometimes, we need to stare at the drear reaches of our national soul to understand who we are and who we wish to be. 

This brief, grim history of crack use, crack distribution, crack culture, and crack public policy aims to keep us from forgetting the many Americans left behind in our economically merciless times. It is one more chapter in the story of the racial injustice that has long structured life in the United States. A history of crack also illustrates the central economic, political, social, and cultural role illegal drugs have long played in American life – illegal drug regimes directly affect the life course of the American people in ways that rarely enter conventional histories. 

The Intoxicated State has been and probably always will be with us. How we treat those who fall prey to drug addiction and how we reconcile ourselves to the commonplace desire to get high is one measure of who we are as a people. 

During the crack years, we came up short and hundreds of thousands of people suffered for our collective inability to treat each other with decency and mercy. 

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About the Author 

David Farber is Roy A. Roberts Distinguished Professor of History at the University of Kansas. He is the author of numerous books, including Everybody Ought to be Rich (2013), The Rise and Fall of Modern American Conservatism (2010), Taken Hostage (2004), Sloan Rules (2002), The Age of Great Dreams (1994), and Chicago ’68 (1988). He lived in New York City with his family at the height of the crack cocaine years and later lived across the street from a small-time crack distributorship in Philadelphia. 

Praise for Crack 

In 1980s mainstream culture, Ronald Reagan celebrated unfettered capitalist enterprise as the font of national virtue, global supply chains revolutionized the production and distribution of consumer goods, ‘greed was good’, the tabloids celebrated the flashy self- display of Donald Trump – and the rise of crack cocaine darkly mirrored it all. With great moral passion and flashes of wit, David Farber provocatively demonstrates in this riveting chronicle that while crack, in the awful devastation it wreaked, was a business like no other, it also was a business, like any other. A must-read contribution to the history of our time. Rick Perlstein, author of The Invisible Bridge: The Fall of Nixon and the Rise of Reagan and Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America 

In the late 1980s, Americans came to believe that illegal drugs were the nation’s biggest problem. Crack is an essential read for anyone hoping to understand why. This lively, well- researched history of America’s crack cocaine years introduces readers to entrepreneurial dealers, desperate users, and draconian drug policies. Along the way, it illuminates the era’s racism, political excesses, and media exaggerations, as well as the lasting damage crack and crack dealers wrought in countless neighborhoods of color. Pam Kelley, author of Money Rock: A Family’s Story of Cocaine, Race, and Ambition in the New South 

A great primer for anyone who wants to know more about how crack cocaine got so big in the United States … [A]ccessible, dramatic, and with a clear sense of how the drug blew up and fizzled out. The divide between those most affected by crack, and those who crafted the official response to it is the key factor in explaining why America’s war on drugs hasn’t worked, and Farber does a good job of bridging the divide. Tom Feiling, author of Cocaine Nation: How the White Trade Took Over the World and Short Walks from Bogotá: Journeys in the New Colombia.


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ISBN 9781108425278 222 pages Hardcover/$24.95 Now Available https://www.cambridge.org/cg/academic/crack


Audiobook excerpts

It was in 1984, at the dawn of Reagan’s “Morning,” that crack cocaine first became widely available in the United States.

To become a crack dealer at the local level took very little upfront capital.

Crack was nothing more than cocaine mixed with baking powder, then cooked down to a hard pellet – a “rock” – that could be sold for as little as $2.50.

In the United States, in the late 1980s and the early 1990s, crack cocaine shattered lives – and disproportionately, black lives.

The explosion of crack users and the proliferation of distributors gave lie to so much that so many Americans wanted to believe.

The crack crisis is the dark side of the Reagan–Bush–Clinton years.

Hip-hop artists of the era, some of whom were direct participants in the crack business, often – though not always – celebrated the gangster entrepreneurs and street merchants of the crack trade.


For more information, please contact: Diana Rissetto 212-337-5023 DRissetto@cambridge.org


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A native of New Orleans, who left her beloved New Orleans to spend twenty years of living in the land of Minnesota Not So Nice. Minnesota was full of opportunities but would learn that the soul of the state and the people who made it was just as icy cold as the temperatures. After the years and my 40th birthday flew by, I decided it was time to pack up my youngest child and come back to my roots, my birthplace the city that not only birthed me but gave me life. I would not be who I am without my New Orleans beginnings. I am all things that would challenge the belief of growing up in New Orleans. I was a 16yr old teen mother of a premature baby born with a severe medical disability. And only With the help of my mother, was it possible for me to BE! I was able to endure and survive the obstacles laid before my child and me. In a city that was built by my family, but did not allow for us to reap the benefits I overcame. Charity Hospital was my second home — a building filled with miracle workers who made it possible for my daughter to have life. I have lived a life of rainy days with peeks of sunshine, that are my children, including those not of my womb. I'm the proud mother of three and a grandmother of three. My dream was to live the life of the nursery rhyme of ”The Old Lady Who lived in a shoe,” and for the most part, I did. I cared for several children over the years as a special needs foster parent. I would learn that my love was not enough for some children, but I loved them through their pain. I'm not sure if I ever had a case of true love or came close to what love looks like on television, but I had my share of men and the mirage of love. I survived two abusive marriages. Though I longed to return to New Orleans on a daily bases, I must admit my move was one of the best decisions made for me. I am a college graduate; I was a successful entrepreneur. I coowned a soul food restaurant and catering company in Minnesota for 12 years. I developed the talent of creating custom cakes after the murder of my beloved cousin Melvin Paul. He survived Katrina only to go to Minneapolis six months later to be murdered over a parking spot dispute. But with the challenge of creating a simple wedding cake, I was able to find healing. I created the House of Cakes in honor of him. Minnesota life had me pretty materialistic. I worked to the point I do not remember much, but work and handing my children love money. I thought by having the big house on the hill, a husband, having a family, the ultimate provider and being involved in all things that matter, plus having the funds to match would cure me of what I was told was a generational curse of lack of everything from money, love to even self-love. But for the most part, that life poisoned my heart and soul. I was blinded by visions fed to me by the media. I was told I wasn't anything unless I was better than the Jones's. I lived being ok with a broken, bleeding heart. Life like this did not exist in my family while living in New Orleans from what I viewed with my eyes and soul. We may not have had all the things I acquired over the years, but we were happy, we were together. Family outside of New Orleans wasn't family anymore. We lived separate lives and had awkward moments when we bumped into each other in public. I hated living in Minnesota even though life their helped me in so many ways. I felt deep down the only way to repair it was to get back to my roots, my soul, my home, myself, my New Orleans. I'm here, and I love it. Even being in the so-called Blighted Area of New Orleans and not having all the financial and material security, I'm happy. I am determined that She, yes, New Orleans is a woman is just like me; together, we will overcome and will rise from all that tried to kill our spirit. Nothing like starting from the bottom and making your way back up!. I just know in my heart that New Orleans will provide for me. There's a bank account with funds in it owed to me by way of back pay for my ancestors. And I will receive my inheritance, and I will continue the traditions and customs of the old to keep the heartbeat of New Orleans beating. I'm down in the boot, living the life that feels right to me awaiting my destiny...

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