The crack epidemic of the 1980s and 1990s is arguably the least examined crisis in American history. Beginning with the myths inspired by Reagan's war on drugs, journalist Donovan X. Ramsey's work exposes the undeniable links between the last triumphs of the Civil Rights Movement and the consequences we live with today—a racist criminal justice system, continued mass incarceration and gentrification, and increased police brutality.
Threaded through the four character studies are details of the era's politics, the crime bills that led to the drastic increase in mass incarceration, legacy media's insistence on sensationalizing crack and deploring its users, the ineffective War on Drugs and its disastrous consequences, and more, always in clear prose that focuses as much as possible on the flesh and blood individuals who were harmed by the epidemic ... An excellent work of people-first journalism, When Crack Was King offers not only a vivid and frank history, but points to the way communities tend to save themselves even as they're being actively targeted by state policy and violence.
Ramsey’s debut work of nonfiction is a master class in disrupting a stubborn narrative ... In vivid and often infuriating detail, When Crack Was King reveals that the pain of drug addiction is both highly particular and universal.
[A] panoramic social history ... Ramsey aims to give the story of the crack epidemic a human face while telling it from start to finish, a herculean task. By and large he succeeds. With a focus on deliverance for his characters as they get sober or stop dealing drugs, he leaves less explored the homicide epidemic that crack ignited.