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Smoke And Ashes

On sale

15th February 2024

Price: £22

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Selected: Hardcover / ISBN-13: 9781529349245

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‘An acerbic, compelling and always accessible account of how opium corrupted the world’ TLS

‘The writing is sublime, the research thorough, the eye for story superb’ Sunday Telegraph

When Amitav Ghosh began the research for his monumental cycle of novels the Ibis Trilogy, he was startled to find how the lives of the 19th century sailors and soldiers he wrote of were dictated not only by the currents of the Indian Ocean, but also by the precious commodity carried in enormous quantities on those currents: opium. Most surprising of all, however, was the discovery that his own identity and family history was swept up in the story.

Smoke and Ashes is at once a travelogue, memoir and a history, drawing on decades of archival research. In it, Ghosh traces the transformative effect the opium trade had on Britain, India, and China, as well as the world at large. The trade was engineered by the British Empire, which exported Indian opium to sell to China and redress their great trade imbalance, and its revenues were essential to the Empire’s financial survival. Yet tracing the profits further, Ghosh finds opium at the origins of some of the world’s biggest corporations, of America’s most powerful families and prestigious institutions (from the Astors and Coolidges to the Ivy League), and of contemporary globalism itself.

Moving deftly between horticultural histories, the mythologies of capitalism, and the social and cultural repercussions of colonialism, in Smoke and Ashes Amitav Ghosh reveals the role that one small plant had in making our world, now teetering on the edge of catastrophe.


Financial Times
A sweeping, and personal, account of the immense effect the opium trade has had on world history and how it continues to impact our lives today.
The Times
Ghosh has reinvented himself as a superlative commodity historian. In his new role, he has surpassed many seasoned historians in his ability to synthesise a wealth of research with remarkable intellectual clarity and suggestive simplicity . . . There's a quietly subversive element to Smoke and Ashes for which Ghosh deserves to be commended
Sunday Telegraph
The book gave me a deeper chill than any of the TV series about the opioid crisis I had viewed before reading it . . . The writing is sublime, the research thorough, the eye for story superb, and there are splashes of personal back story that underscore the sincerity of the author's arguments
Washington Post
A riveting new history of opium, a lucrative and destructive flower . . . Amitav Ghosh's sweeping, forcefully written Smoke and Ashes covers centuries in the life of the plant
Globe-trotting and history-spanning . . . Experimental . . . ambitious . . . a literary medley . . . traces the story of the opium trade from past to present.
Financial Times
A skilled storyteller, Ghosh triumphs in laying out the shame of the British empire's opium trade for all to see . . . [Smoke and Ashes is] a catalogue of colonial rapaciousness
A unique blend of memoir, travel diary and sweeping historical account of one of the most precious and devastating commodities: opium . . . it reads like a page turning thriller at points. Taking Opium as the central strand, covering Britain, India and China, themes of power, politics, large corporations and familial dynasties, the impact of colonialism and the catastrophe of the global drug trade
An acerbic, compelling and always accessible account of how opium corrupted the world
An ambitious work of nonfiction documenting the devastating effects of a single commodity - the narcotic poppy - from the past to the present
The Economist
A gripping, true tale of profits, power and powerlessness wrought by drugs . . . the history of the opium trade helps explain the modern world . . . an elegant history . . . [Ghosh] tells his intricate story with verve
New Humanist
What sets Smoke and Ashes apart is how Ghosh brings the past in conversation with the present