Book Reviews

What I’ve been Reading: Feb 2015
The Harvard Psychedelic Club
By Don Lattin (Harper Collins 2010)

If you’ve ever wondered how Harvard professors Leary and Alpert went from Ivy League insiders to wacked out LSD Gurus….this easy to read volume by Don Lattin is for you. Lattin spins a yarn that develops vividly, almost like a modern Hollywood film [perhaps we could get George Clooney to star as Timothy Leary{?}]. There are heroes…villains, mystery and an epic saga of how the wonders of mind alteration transformed American culture in the 1960s.

What started out as a high-brow attempt to gain insight into the fields of psychiatry and mystical experiences soon turned in to an early ’60’s comedy as the Harvard school newspaper, the Crimson Tide, ran a detailed expose that highlighted the supposed abuses overseen by the professors. Lattin provides a detailed chronology of the events and notes the role of Andrew Weil who would ironically emerge as a new sort of Leary-esque prophet in the early 1970s, despite having been the main protaganist in getting Leary and Alpert fired in 1963.

The world was forever changed when Albert Hoffman took that first trip (by accident) in April of ’44. By the 1960’s the world seemed poised to jump into an exciting era of experimentation and challenges. Leary and Alpert and their literary friend Aldous Huxley were leaders of the intelligentsia who championed a controlled experimentation of psilocybin and its’ synthetic version LSD. It was to be a short era of experimentation and the results of what they may have discovered remain dubious to the skeptics. By 1966 LSD, marketed legally by the Sandoz Laboratories until then, was declared illegal. By that time other universities around the US had started their own experimentation programs and the cat was well out of the bag. Alice had slipped down the rabbitt hole……the summer of love followed.

Leary and Alpert eventually became outlaws of sorts. Leary spent time in prison and later became a prominent figure on celebrity lecture tours until his death in 1996. Alpert transformed into Ram Dass and is generally recognized as an intelligent and gifted teacher, noted especially for his best-seller Be Here Now in 1971.

Don Lattin has done a great job presenting this unique episode of American history in an easy to digest (like a sugar cube) manner. Read It!!