Doctors as far back as Hippocrates have noted the powers of Papaver somniferum, the flowering opium poppy. Like many other cash crops throughout history, it has been bred and cultivated to improve its hardiness and potency, and generations of physicians, pharmacists, and black market profiteers have refined it to make it stronger, more curative, and sometimes more addictive, as Lucy Inglis explains in her new book, Milk of Paradise. She divides her narrative into three sections: opium, morphine, and heroin, displaying the historical trajectory of products derived from the opium poppy.

Great writers and philosophers have recognized the allure of opium since ancient times. Though it is more commonly associated with English Romantic poetry, the plant appears widely in...

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