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Manchild in the Promised Land, by Claude Brown, published in 1965, is one of my top ten books ever.

I read this in high school in the 1970s, looking through my parents' paperbacks. It is an autobiography by a black man growing up in Harlem when heroin first arrived in Harlem. It is about his life but also about what this addictive drug did to the community and the destruction of a community.

This book made me wary of addictive drugs. It gave me a picture of addiction and how uncontrollable it is. The author himself tried heroin once but had a bad trip and never touched it again. However, he had been on the streets fighting and in a gang from age 6, so he did not have to prove himself by using "horse". When he was 6, the boys would have fist fights in the street. Older males would cheer them on with amusement. He showed enough promise that an older male took him and a friend up to the rooftop and showed them some basic fighting techniques. In contrast, his brother hit the streets much later and the culture had changed: heroin was a gateway to respect.

The author is in and out of reform school and jail until an adult says to him: you will be 18 soon. Are you planning to kill someone and go to jail, be killed, or overdose? And he looked around and realized that was what was happening to all of the black males in his community.

And what does he decide? You will have to read it to find out.

It seems ironic that now prescription drugs, mostly pain medicines, kill more people accidentally than heroin, cocaine, guns or car wrecks....CDC Grand Rounds: Prescription Drug Overdoses — a U.S. Epidemic....

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