Tobacco has been reviled for nearly as long as it has been popular. In many parts of 17th-century Europe, it was described as 'only a little more commendable than adultery', and punishment could be as severe as death. It was an even more harrowing tale in the Islamic world of the time. A ruler of Iran once commanded a minion to pour molten lead down the throats of two people who smoked in public. In 1633, Murad IV went around Constantinople in disguise, asking passers-by for a pinch of the leaf. Those who complied-some 25,000 generous if misguided individuals-were promptly beheaded. Today, things are not quite as bad-but we're getting there. As any modern-day smoker will tell you, he is regarded as a social leper bombarded from all sides by visions of cancerous body parts that turn the blood cold. So why do we miserable smoke? The answer, researcher Samarendra Nath Chanda tells us, lies in our antecedents. Delving into history, Chanda comes up with some startling facts about the unholy romance between man and a singularly insidious plant-and its dramatic influence over the political chemistry of the world. As Chanda discovers, the origin of tobacco use can be cited in customs as far back as the Pleistocene Era, ancient Egypt, and our very own Ayurveda. It has been used to raise taxes, fatten the slave trade, in religious rites, and as medicine-for ailments as various as halitosis and tiger bites. One story says Burmese women once 'nourished their children with alternate sucks from the teat and cheroot' for their general well-being.