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The Seven Sisters of Sleep
The Celebrated Drug Classic
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Author(s) :
Mordecai Cooke
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Edition(s) at Erowid :
Publisher :
Park Street Press
An interesting historical account of the use of "narcotic" drugs in the 19th century. There seems to be a lot of interesting tidbits in this book, though I found it a bit confusing to navigate. Much of its appeal lies in seeing through the eyes of a knowledgeable contemporary scientist. The Seven Sisters of Sleep is an intriguing curiosity rather than a sound reliable resource.

Written in 1860, The Seven Sisters of Sleep is a groundbreaking survey of the use of the seven most popular narcotic plants of the Victorian era: tobacco, opium, cannabis, betel numt, coca, datura, and fly agaric. The author's wide knowledge of scientific, historic, and artistic literature on the subject and his ability to present this information in an entertaining style has made this the classic exploration of drug use throughout history. It also provides an excellent view of some of the draconian but fruitless attempts to suppress the practice: Early users of tobacco in Russia would have their noses cut off and repeat offenders their heads. Pope Innocent XII excommunicated any who used it in St. Peters. Marijuana users in fourteenth-century Egypt would have their teeth extracted for the crime. Yet use of these and other forbidden substances continued to grow.

If only as a record of the perennial failure of harsh punishments to deter drug use, The Seven Sisters of Sleep would remain significant. But Mordecai Cooke's natural humor and keen insights have ensured this work's reputation as possibly the best early work from what has grown into an enormous body of literature on mind- and mood-altering substances. Written at a time, similar to our own, when drug use was being reconsidered, The Seven Sisters of Sleep's thought-provoking and open-minded perspective has much to teach us. Quite popular in its day and a major influence on Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland, this is an important book for anyone interested in an unbiased account of humanity's long involvement with psychoactive, hallucinogenic, and stimulant plants.

Mordecai Cooke (1825-1915) was an eminent naturalist, mycologist, and teacher. In addition to The Seven Sisters of Sleep he published many scientific studies on mushrooms.