Boon, Marcus 1963-

views updated

BOON, Marcus 1963-


Born 1963. Education: University College, London, B.A.; New York University, M.A., Ph.D.


Office—York University Department of English, 2008 Strong College, 4700 Keele St., Toronto, Ontario, Canada M3J 1P3. E-mail—[email protected].


Journalist and educator. York University, Toronto, Ontario, Canada, assistant professor of English.


The Road of Excess: A History of Writers on Drugs, Harvard University Press (Cambridge, MA), 2002.

Contributor to periodical, s including NME, Wire and 21C, among others.


Marcus Boon's first book, The Road of Excess: A History of Writers on Drugs, covers a topic steeped in controversy. In an approach that a contributor to Kirkus Reviews described as "impartial" and "historicized," Boon identifies basic categories of drugs—such as narcotics, anesthetics, stimulants, and psychedelics—and discusses their use by a range of writers. The author explains in his prologue that he has no wish to glorify drug use or its lifestyle. Instead, he seeks to use the tools of interdisciplinary scholarly analysis to study the literature produced by writers who used drugs. These include not only such well-known drug users as Thomas De Quincey, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Charles Baudelaire, William Burroughs, Jack Kerouac, and Irvine Welsh, but also such writers as John Milton, Voltaire, Henry David Thoreau, and Jean-Paul Sartre.

Boon shows that certain types of drugs can be associated with different literary genres and styles. Stimulants, for example, would create a fragmented style aimed at achieving "microscopic levels of precision in speech and perception," while narcotics would lead to a boring and repetitive structure. Guardian reviewer Adam Mars-Jones found this point interesting but not consistently persuasive. The critic also detected a "worry" in the book about "whether drug experience can really be accommodated in literature." Still, Mars-Jones found The Road of Excess, though marred by some inconsistencies and errors, "fitfully brilliant."

Carlin Romano in Chronicle of Higher Education admired the book as a "phantasmagoric trip through a gallery of historic horror stories [that] provides a fine mix of sardonic aperçu and higher drug gossip despite the occasionally stuffy academic underlining." Romano appreciated the book's "vast historical sweep" and its willingness to question received ideas about the association of writers and drugs. Hailing The Road of Excess as an "impressive display of scholarship" and a "feast of historical surprises," Boston Globe contributor Rebecca Shannonhouse concluded that the book "reads more like a wide-eyed, joyous romp through a literary statesman's funhouse, where each room contains a masterfully told tale of opium or morphine, peyote or LSD, coffee or cocaine. We see a gallery of our most prized literary lions, many of them stripped bare of their pristine reputations. It is a mind-teasing exercise that is well worth the trip."



Boston Globe, May 4, 2003, Rebecca Shannonhouse, review of The Road of Excess: A History of Writers on Drugs, p. H7.

Chronicle of Higher Education, January 10, 2003, Carlin Romano, review of The Road of Excess, p. B13.

Denver Post, January 26, 2003, Steven Rosen, review of The Road of Excess.

Guardian, January 19, 2003, Adam Mars-Jones, review of The Road of Excess.

Kirkus Reviews, September 15, 2002, review of The Road of Excess, p. 1360.

Library Journal, November 15, 2002, William D. Walsh, review of The Road of Excess, p. 71.

New Yorker, January 6, 2003, John Lanchester, review of The Road of Excess, p. 80.


York University Web site, (March 28, 2003), Marcus Boon faculty page.