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The Harvard Psychedelic Club: How Timothy Leary, Ram Dass, Huston Smith, and Andrew Weil Killed the Fifties and Ushered in a New Age for America [Paperback]

Don Lattin
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)

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5.0 out of 5 stars amazing book July 4 2013
I have never tried any psychedelics and I barely even drink. I might have smoked marijuana once or twice, but other than that I am pretty drug-free. However, I loved this book and read it in two days. I could hardly put it down. I initially thought it's about the drug culture of the 60s, (you cant blame me for this naive view, im only 30 and from a different continent altogether). Once I started reading this book i realized its about MUCH more. Its about a cultural shift that changed the world forever and even though its flamed have gone out it burns quietly in the backgrounds of our modern thought and beliefs. The story is about four of the architects of this cultural movement along with many of the others and their relationship.
Being a teacher, I still like to use my red pen and point out a few flaws even though the book is fantastic. So here are some things I didn't like about the book:
1- its an external history. In other words, its the history of a group of people, their interactions with their peers and their greater community. It doesn't focus on the ideology and their inner processes. I still dont understand why Ram Das and Leary were THAT optimistic about the future of psychedelics. This was surely pointed out briefly, but I would have really liked to know what the hek they were thinking. After all, these guys were Harvard psychologists and not average people. As a scientist you never become a cheerleader for any one thing unless you have VERY good reasons why something is an under-recognized saviour of all ills. I just still am not convinced what drove two scholars to become LSD evangelists.
2- the way information is presented can be confusing at times.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
By Ron P
As someone who experimented in psychedelics during the late 60s and early 70s, I was highly interested in Lattin's religious/spiritual take on the movement and its impact on the baby boomer generation. The book is well organized and well written, providing an easy and enjoyable read. The primary message that the use of psychedelics could and did change individuals in a profound way is explained in a detailed and insightful manner, illustrated through the description of key events and the key players involved in the movement. The four influential people featured in this book, Leary, Ram Dass, Huston Smith and Andrew Weil are presented in a balanced manner and one feels that both their brilliance and flaws are documented in a realistic way. I personally gained a perspective on my own life and the impact that my psychedelic experimentation had on my choices in life. I would highly recommend this book, both for its potential to clarify for those individuals who lived the youth culture during those heady times and for those who are interested in the history of the 1960s and are trying to understand the social upheaval that characterized those days
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.4 out of 5 stars  53 reviews
79 of 83 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Flashbacks from a memorable era Jan. 15 2010
By Roberto Loiederman - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
The story of Ram Dass/Richard Alpert and Timothy Leary is well-documented. But the new news in this extremely readable and enjoyable book is how the psychedelic tendrils that emanated from Cambridge in the early 1960s also included an MIT professor who would become the foremost expert on comparative religion (Huston Smith) and an ambitious Harvard freshman who would become the most successful exponent of alternative medicine -- Andrew Weil. How these four lives intersected, how they supported and betrayed one another, makes for fascinating reading. But what gives this book its heft is the fact that Lattin lets us know what happened to these men in the subsequent 50 years, how they feel now about what they went through then, and what the social and political implications are of the revolution they helped to foment and promote.

Lattin understands that the key conflict in the 1960s wasn't so much between those who took LSD and those who didn't, but rather between those who felt that the revolution would occur if enough people took psychedelics and re-calibrated their perceptions; as opposed to those who felt that change would happen only if enough people agitated and protested, radically altering political and social structures. Lattin also understands that among those who took a great deal of LSD, there were two main outcomes: having been exposed to mystical/psychotic experiences, you either looked for ways to change your life according to what you'd seen and learned while on psychedelics; or you got hooked on the high itself, trying to repeat that experience as often and intensely as possible.

The Harvard Psychedelic Club is a wonderful book, full of insight and compassion. It also casts a cold eye on what those events mean when looked at now, 50 years after they occurred.
59 of 62 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Original Vision on a Difficult Subject to Tackle Jan. 12 2010
By Barbara R. Saunders - Published on
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The psychedelic movement suffers from a public relations problem. Hallucinogens have been lumped into the sloppy category "drugs." Thus, the history the author recounts has been buried under generic rhetoric about the ways misguided people use chemicals in their attempts to "escape" from "reality." Tripping is viewed as comparable to indulging in three-martini lunches, cultivating a deadly crack or heroin habit, or taking prescribed pharmaceuticals to make a high-stress grind tolerable. Apparently it took a religion journalist to state the obvious: misguided or not, at least some users of psychedelics are on a quest to find reality not escape it.

I just finished the book and was struck (though not too surprised) to see reports of formative episodes in the lives of authors and others whose work has influenced me. It was a big "a-ha" to see Jon Kabat-Zinn, Dan Millman, Daniel Goleman, writers who I don't immediately associate with psychedelics, and Mirabai Bush, who led a training I attended, tied to the Fab Four protagonists. The twin lenses of biography and religion are used very effectively. This text paints a vivid picture of how people blessed and cursed with extraordinary intellects responded to the question, "Is this all there is?" when graced with the means to explore it, and how they shared the results of their inquiry with the rest of us mortals. The writing is sharp, fun, and clear with a strong narrative arc. Highly recommended.
26 of 29 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A must read for anyone interested in American culture Jan. 16 2010
By T. Brenholts - Published on
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An absolutely fascinating account of the American psychedelic movement. I give it 5 stars for readability and research, and I knock it down one star because I disagree with the author's conclusion. But you don't need to agree with the conclusion in order to enjoy this well written and informative book; at the least you will find his thesis thought provoking and not easily dismissed. And if you read the book and agree with Lattin, then you may very well have a 5 star experience!
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars a nifty read June 8 2010
By M. Irons - Published on
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I was going to rate this book four stars with deference to over all readership, knowing why I liked it so much and thinking how my wife for instance wouldn't be as riveted or even choose it over other material, but then this is my review and I ripped through the book in less than a day and I don't read that fast. In reading these reviews I feel some folks expect too much. This book is entertaining and useful. I'm no judge of whether this is a scholarly work, but it has a place of great value as a window into the history of an era which is difficult to really capture. From my biased perspective, Mr. Lattin seems to have done journeyman's work capturing the times.

H.P.C. was informative both historically and anecdotally with regard to both the potential benefits and the hazards of psychedelic drug use. It gave a back story which entertained me as a person who road that there horse and got some bruises before I lept from the saddle to safety. I will never take back what I learned from my psychotropic encounters but my first acid trip was at age 14 ( in 1969) and I must say one shouldn't try to kill their ego before it's not fully formed. In that respect I seriously consider this book a useful handbook for any youth who is drawn to experimenting with psychedelics and I recommend the book to parents in that context, especially those who are not initiated but worry for their own kids. I've been honest with our children to the point of telling war stories because I am still in awe of having survived my own youth ( or have I?), but in doing so risk glorifying stupid behavior, so I view this as a a very useful tool for objective education.

I liked Lattin's idea to bundle these four stories together. I only knew of Weil as that bearded guy on PBS lectures. After this read I'm no more impressed with the man, but I am glad to have a better knowledge of Weils works and their context in the culture. Only last year I found myself in a Berkeley restaurant where I strained to eavesdrop as a very old and frail Huston Smith regaling a couple seated with him, with great Huston Smith stories. What a treat. As a casual student of religious philosophy and what is truly useful about the psychedelic experience, Smith has become my hero and go to guy, and that notion is happily re-enforced by this book. What a neat guy, and now a sweet old man. To me as a young "seeker", Richard Alpert, AKA Ram Dass, Baba Dick, Dick Das, etc. was a hero and icon, and somebody whose path I have crossed a time or two. But with time I've taken the man off his pedestal. I know the guy has done some great work with SEVA foundation etc, but I was blown away that after all that mentoring by his guru, even Ram Das struggles with forgiveness when it comes to Andy Weil ( see the book for details). Referring back to "death of ego" touted by Leary and company, if Lattin's descriptions of Leary are right ( and those in the new book "Orange Sunshine" which align with Lattin's telling) Leary's ego was such a fortress as to be impervious to the atomic bomb that is LSD. Even Ram Das laments in the book that on his death bed Leary was unable to really embrace his physical death at the end. How ironic since early LSD experiments were on patients who were dieing. Was all that LSD actually wasted on the guy! Shee-it!
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars It's Not Too Late To Be Here Now!, Feb. 2 2010
By Suza Francina - Published on
I want to add my praise to the other rave reviews of this important book. The Harvard Psychedelic Club is pure delight! The years have flown by in the twinkling of an eye but I too have never forgotten my LSD experiences from the 1960's. While I'm familiar with the writings of Timothy Leary, Richard Alpert/Ram Dass, Huston Smith and Andrew Weil, I had no idea how their lives converged and all the cosmic links to other leading figures of our era. Of special interest to me were the connections to Aldous Huxley and Maynard Ferguson, two people with deep roots in the mystical Valley of Ojai, California. The whole saga is absolutely fascinating! Plus, it's great fun to see photographs of the main characters in the various stages of their lives. If you've ever wondered what Dr. Weil looks like without his trademark bushy beard, check out this book!

--Suza Francina, author, [...]
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