Nick Reding has a nice literary style, which I appreciate in a non-fiction book as it makes for less dry reading. That's one of the redeeming qualities of this book, which was interesting but frankly didn't really bring that much insight to the table. Okay, meth is bad, we all know that. And drug addiction is horrible, drug cartels are evil and dangerous, and poverty tends to breed despair and thus drug use. These are all well-known facts and true of every addictive drug and every drug "epidemic." But color me skeptical when I'm told that this generation's drug is yet another incarnation of the WORST DRUG EVER IN THE HISTORY OF MANKIND!
Reding goes into the history of meth and traces the rise of meth as a small town drug that is symbolic of the woes of Middle America by tying it to one town in particular: Oelwein, Iowa. He takes a sample of individual real-life characters -- the optimistic but beleaguered mayor, the pragmatic and cynical prosecutor, the alcoholic doctor, and of course, various dealers and addicts -- to personalize the effects of meth on this town. The stories are interesting but nothing we haven't heard before. Likewise, the rise of the Mexican Mafia is just a reprise of the Colombian cocaine cartels in the 80s. Once again, ham-handed legislation tainted by lobbyist influence managed only to strengthen the hold that organized crime has on the trade.
The connection to globalization and poverty is there, but I think it's a weaker part of Reding's narrative, particularly when he veers into agribusiness consolidation. This represents a whole host of problems afflicting the American heartland, and meth is just one piece of it, more a side effect than a root cause.
I found the book interesting and Reding's storytelling quite adequate, but it seemed like there was quite a bit of filler to pad it out to a full-length book. The Oelwein sections themselves were only part of the book.
This isn't a bad book or even a particularly flawed one, and certainly it increases understanding of the specifics of the drug methamphetamine. But I didn't find it to be ground-breaking, nor wholly convincing in its thesis that meth is the worst!drug!ever! and that the loss of American farming and blue collar jobs is responsible for the problem.