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


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

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