Storming Heaven digs beneath the headlines to bring an amazing science story in which Harvard professors become holy men, and a generation drops out to seek cosmic bliss--only to find something much darker.
In this brilliant, riveting, and exhaustively researched book, Jay Stevens relates the history of that "curious molecule," LSD. He unearths a story of Pynchonesque complexity, tells it with novelistic flair, and irrefutably demonstrates LSD's pivotal role in the cultural upheavals that shook America in the 1960s and changed the country forever.
"Fascinating . . . The most compelling account yet of how these hallucinogenic, or psychedelic, drugs became an explosive force in postwar American history."-Newsweek
"Jay Stevens proves himself a superb social historian with a ripping good story to tell. He tells it brilliantly."-Commonweal
"Tirelessly researched and discursive enough to provide a quite enthralling read. A prize-worthy social and cultural history."-The Washington Times Magazine
"In this brilliant, engaging work, Stevens explores the hallucinogenic heart of that weird shiver in American history that was the 60s . . . exemplary history, compelling and committed."-Kirkus Reviews
In addition to Storming Heaven, Jay Stevens co-wrote Drumming at the Edge of Magic with Mickey Hart.
The west coast scene, in contrast, was less intellectual and more of a free-for-all. Jay Stevens describes the exploits of Ken Kesey, and the riders of his magic bus. Of course any discussion of Ken Kesey will inevitably lead to a discussion of the Grateful Dead, and the handiwork of their "chemist" mr. Owlsley. Stevens also covers the involvement of the Hell's Angels in this west coast movement. All of this makes for very entertaining, albeit light, reading.
This book is a diamond in the rough for those who wish to take that same exploratory approach in reading about LSD and the history of this potent and controversial drug. It's not geared for people who are vehemently pro/anti LSD. Preconceived notions should be checked at the door before embarking on this adventure.
Stevens looks at LSD from its very beginnings, where characters such as Hoffman, Osmond, and Huxley help pave the way for much of what comes later in the book. As the narrative moves on, familiar names such as Ginsberg, Leary, Burroughs, Kerouac, Alpert, Metzner, Kesey, Cassady, Weil, Watts, and Wolfe, among others, enter and exit the stage like bit actors in this great showcase. If you've ever been enamored with the doings of any of those names, this book weaves a pattern from threads of various legacies in one fascinating tapestry.
As a caveat to the above paragraph, none of those characters is covered in much detail, with the exception of Timothy Leary. This is more a result of Leary's intense involvement with the scene than Stevens' focusing on one extraordinary character. Some of those people (Burroughs, for instance) make very brief but interesting appearances.
In addition to those mentioned, many unknown but intriguing characters fill the pages of this book. More than likely, every one of them will lead you to read on, until another name segues into the narrative.Read more ›
Stevens is pretty good at keeping central issues front and center as events unfold: eg, how the psychological models evolved over time, and the socio-political question of whether the power of this amazing molecule was for the masses or just for the few -- both of which became more or less moot as events over-ran things.
I liked "Acid Dreams" a microgram or two more than this book, probably because it emphasizes cultural rather than personal history more, but still had a difficult time putting "Storming Heaven" down for very long. It's extremely information-rich and well-written -- it's rather dispassionately objective while still being interesting. It would probably only disappoint those looking for simple answers.