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The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test [Paperback]

Tom Wolfe
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (102 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Aug. 19 2008

"An American classic" (Newsweek) that defined a generation. “An astonishing book” (The New York Times Book Review) and an unflinching portrait of Ken Kesey, his Merry Pranksters, and the 1960s.

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They say if you remember the '60s, you weren't there. But, fortunately, Tom Wolfe was there, notebook in hand, politely declining LSD while Ken Kesey and his Merry Pranksters fomented revolution, turning America on to a dangerously playful way of thinking as their Day-Glo conveyance, Further, made the most influential bus ride since Rosa Parks's. By taking On the Road's hero Neal Cassady as his driver on the cross-country revival tour and drawing on his own training as a magician, Kesey made Further into a bully pulpit, and linked the beat epoch with hippiedom. Paul McCartney's Many Years from Now cites Kesey as a key influence on his trippy Magical Mystery Tour film. Kesey temporarily renounced his literary magic for the cause of "tootling the multitudes"--making a spectacle of himself--and Prankster Robert Stone had to flee Kesey's wild party to get his life's work done. But in those years, Kesey's life was his work, and Wolfe infinitely multiplied the multitudes who got tootled by writing this major literary-journalistic monument to a resonant pop-culture moment.

Kesey's theatrical metamorphosis from the distinguished author of One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest to the abominable shaman of the "Acid Test" soirees that launched The Grateful Dead required Wolfe's Day-Glo prose account to endure (though Kesey's own musings in Demon Box are no slouch either). Even now, Wolfe's book gives what Wolfe clearly got from Kesey: a contact high. --Tim Appelo --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"Tom Wolfe is a groove and a gas. Everyone should send him money and other fine things. Hats off to Tom Wolfe!"--Terry Southern

"The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test is not simply the best book on the hippies, it is the essential book . . . the pushing, ballooning heart of the matter . . . Vibrating dazzle!"--The New York Times

"Some consider Mailer our greatest journalist; my candidate is Wolfe."--Studs Terkel, Book Week

"A Day-Glo book, illuminating, merry, surreal!"--The Washington Post

"Electrifying."--San Francisco Chronicle

"An amazing book . . . A book that definitely gives Wolfe the edge on the nonfiction novel."--The Village Voice

"Among journalists, Wolfe is a genuine poet; what makes him so good is his ability to get inside, to not merely describe (although he is a superb reporter), but to get under the skin of a phenomenon and transmit its metabolic rhythm."--Newsweek

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars amazing and unique portrait of an era Feb. 10 2006
I love this book, it is an amazing story and an amazing picture of the time and people it depicts. Reading it creates a great idea of the culture and era of the 1960's hippies, it is filled with characters including the Grateful Dead, Hell's Angels, Beatniks, Timothy Leary, the Beatles, and the central characters... Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters.
Ken Kesey (authour of the excellent book "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest") put together a group of adventurous people who took an infamous road trip through America, in a psychedelically painted bus and lots and lots and lots of LSD. They filmed the entire trip (which then influenced the Beatles "Magical Mystery Tour" film), and met a lot of amazing people along the way.
The book "Acid Dreams: the CIA, LSD and the Sixties" (also excellent) has a section on Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters, which really nicely sums up what is so appealing about these self-proclaimed freaks. While lots of stuffy academics led by Timothy Leary were taking acid and walking around with clipboards, taking notes about their psychological states and writing relatively technical manuals on how to reach enlightenment... Kesey and his group gave a new dimension to acid tripping. They were "regular" people (i.e.- not stuffy academics) who had a lot of fun and approached acid and life without rules, regulations, or expectations and they took acid on the street rather than in clinical settings with clipboards. On the way they had a lot of fun, and Tom Wolfe does an amazing job spinning it into this book. Reading it gives an excellent look into who did what when and where, so it gives a great introduction to the many characters that lived in this period, but the book would be even more fun for people already familiar with the characters in the book. The great charm of this story is that it depicts real people, many of them underground anti-heroes, but the story reads like an excellent novel. Amazing!
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4.0 out of 5 stars Tour Guide to the 60's May 16 2004
Although I bought this book when it was first out in paperback, I didn't actually get around to reading it until 1993. I wondered at the time if I would have appreciated it more as a teenager or as someone in his 40's. I'm of the opinion that it works better as a retrospective on an indulgent generation rather than a "how to" book for on-going hedonism. I'm sure that there are other opinions on this, however. I must admit that it is really an enjoyable book and one wonders about the extent of detachment or involvement of Tom Wolfe. He obviously spent a great deal of time with Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters and hung with them long enough to see a beginning as well as an end. I think that the ability of the book to bring things to a conclusion was helpful. Nonetheless, the journey Wolfe takes us through is fast paced and exciting and we meet many familiar names along the way. Perhaps the most surprizing familiar name for me was Larry McMurtry whom I did not associate as one who might have followed that crowd. It was certainly a time of awakening although often in ways that may have been better to sleep off. There is an electricity to the book (as there was to the era) and Wolfe certainly helps keep it charged up. For those who don't know much about the 60's, this book is essential to understanding those times. To those who lived it, this book is a reminder of how much fun it was as well as how lucky most of us were to survive it. Things are different now. As evidence of that, consider our recent president who "smoked but never inhaled". Tom Wolfe wrote something that many of can now read with a red-faced smile. Who knew anyone was taking notes at the time?
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4.0 out of 5 stars Take a trip, no LSD required Oct. 31 2003
My first review; reader beware, it'll suck.
This book, however, does not suck. Tom Wolfe's writing has always unnerved me, while also stimulating/invigorating many of my seldom-used brain pathways. Electric Kool-aid Acid Test is written in Wolfe's usual manic lots-of-words-but-every-word-means-something-explosive style...he explores drug trips better than anyone I've ever read before, his descriptions are packed with ever-expansive meaning and valuable details, etc. I picked up this book to learn a bit more about Ken Kesey, and ended up learning a lot more about a lot of other things.
The mid-sixties seem like very extraordinary times to young people today, in part due to chronicles like this one. There are certainly people in this book that are larger-than-life, and were trying to make life larger.
This is a book about pushing the boundaries, about mapping terra incognita, about vast underground movements that are still shaking the's a trip, and ultimately, it's a reminder that even the most well-outfitted expeditions must end at some point, and the adventurers will grow older and must return to their nests.
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5.0 out of 5 stars The magic bus Oct. 19 2003
Tom Wolfe follows Ken Kesey's magic bus across America in one of the best road books of the modern era. He captures the era in all its crazy, kinetic glory, from the acid tests in Haight-Ashbury to the final descent upon Timothy O'Leary's inner sanctum in New York. But, the Merry Pranksters were out of their element in the tightly controled world of the LSD guru. The Pranksters' world was a mad-cap adventure, following on the heels of Jack Kerouac with Neal Cassady at the wheel of the bus.
The book gives you all the sordid details of the acid tests which launched the psychedelic world in San Francisco in the 60's. Wolfe provides wonderful word-images of these parties that revolved around the Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane. Kesey emerges as the leading figure of this counter culture, when LSD was still legal. However, his feel-good notion of this hallucinatory drug comes into sharp contrast with O'Leary's transcendental notions.
Along the way, the Merry Pranksters meet Larry McMurtry and other interesting figures of the time, as the bus skirts the lower half of the United States before making its away north to New York. Kesey also has a brief visit with a down-and-out Jack Kerouac, whose On the Road had inspired this adventure, but Kerouac was having none of the Pranksters, much to their chagrin.
Wolfe highlights the difference between the East Coast and the West Coast when it came to LSD. Obviously, his affinity was for the West Coast as he captures this tale in all its wonderful mixed-up glory, making for a thoroughly enjoyable read!
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
One of the coolest books I have ever read!!
Published 2 months ago by phil Renaud
5.0 out of 5 stars Loved it
A gift for my son who said the book was excellent, absolutely well worth the read and understanding of, well recommended.
Published 6 months ago by Booker
3.0 out of 5 stars How much time do you really have?
Ok, at best. Not the writings of a fly on the wall observing a culture/movement but more the ramblings of someone who seems to have snorted/dropped more than he could take. Read more
Published on March 24 2007 by Matthew Shumko
5.0 out of 5 stars All--American pie
This book is about the American born, hippie movement. The journalist Tom Wolfe infiltrates the Merry Prankster's before their Acid Graduation and tells the whole story. Read more
Published on March 7 2006 by chesney Aboro
5.0 out of 5 stars Stellar Wolfe at the door!
As soon as I came across this book while searching for books about the betnik population, this book struck my eyes first. Read more
Published on Feb. 28 2005 by C.W.Barnes
5.0 out of 5 stars Drug Culture Simplified
Tom Wolfe did an incredible job with this book. The book is interesting because of its' content and also Wolfe's style of writing. Read more
Published on March 31 2004
5.0 out of 5 stars Liked it very much
While not an enormous fan of Tom Wolfe's writing style, I like this book nevertheless. After a few chapter I really got into it, and because of the quirkiness of the situation and... Read more
Published on March 4 2004
5.0 out of 5 stars Acid Testies
I have just finished reading the electric kool aid acid test by Tom Wolfe for my college literature class. Read more
Published on Feb. 10 2004
3.0 out of 5 stars Should be read, despite writing style
This should be read along with Hunter Thompson's 'Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas'. Many colorful characters are found in this book. Read more
Published on Jan. 2 2004 by A reader
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