Published in 1976, Robert Sabbag’s book Snowblind: A Brief Career in the Cocaine Trade made a splash. It tells the story of smuggler Zachary Swan in the 1970s. Swan’s ingenious plans to outwit government agencies and dangerous rivals to get rich in the drug trade lace every page. It’s a fast paced read.

Sabbag, a Boston native, attended Georgetown University and was a classmate of future president Bill Clinton. Sabbag worked as a reporter. In 1974, he met smuggler Charles Forsman and agreed to write a book about Forsman who was on trial at the time. Forsman’s pseudonym was Zachary Swan. Sabbag’s other books include Smokescreen: A True Adventure, Too Tough to Die: Down and Dangerous With the U.S. Marshals and Down Around Midnight.

I discovered the book through Hunter S. Thompson who called Snowblind “A flat out ballbuster. It moves like a threshing machine with a fuel tank full of ether.” Robert Stone said Snowblind was “one of the best books on drugs ever written.” Even Norman Mailer described it as “One of the first books about the cocaine trade and it is still the best.”

Snowblind details laws, metrics, inner-workings and effects of high-grade drugs. Sabbag’s witty style and tone render the reader hypnotized as if under the influence of a strong contraband. Like any great piece of art, sometimes the viewer is reminded why it’s better to watch others involved in dangerous matters than actually participate themselves…like watching Evel Knievel jump the Snake River. Same deal in the drug trade…

Fair warning to those who romanticize drugs. “Swan had options. He made a decision. And with his response to the robbery at the Essex House, he took his first irretrievable step into the cold, compelling nightwater which led from the Byronic banks of adventure land into the dark, adult realities of the cocaine trade.”

On page 232 the reader gets a another bitter taste: “Welcome to the real world, Mr. Prep School–the sink. In here there are only the quick and the dead–he who hesitates is lunch. Eat or be eaten. Or move to Pennsylvania. This is where Fantasyland ends.”

The writer incorporates lyrics revolving around the Devil’s dandruff from the Grateful Dead, Reverend Gary Davis and Jimmie Cox. Beautiful women, fast cars, Columbian killers and drug dealers remind the reader it’s not a trade where you fall asleep at the wheel.

In Sabbag’s 2010 Afterword, he wrote: “Zachary Swan, a man who was clearly ahead of his time, so profoundly so, in fact, that he is now an anachronism, stands in dramatic illustration of the changing nature of what is acceptable in this country. Cocaine is merely a metaphor.”

The first whiff is always free. You’ll pay the Devil later…