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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 Hardcover – Jan 4 2010

5 out of 5 stars 2 customer reviews

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Harperone (Jan. 4 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061655937
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061655937
  • Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 2.4 x 22.9 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 408 g
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars 2 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #777,805 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description


“[An] unexpectedly grounded story...makes sense of a complicated movement so often reduced to its parody-ready costumes, haircuts, and groovy lingo. And [Lattin] does it with authority and an evenhanded understanding of the good, the bad, and the crazy of it.” (The New York Times Book Review)

Many of the stories in this book have been told elsewhere, but Lattin tells them with new energy and weaves them together to create a satisfying narrative that re-creates and explains the era. (San Francisco Chronicle Book Review)

In this beautifully constructed study, Lattin brings together four of the most memorable figures from that period…this is a fast-moving, dispassionate recounting of a seminal period in our history, and all in all, a wonderful book. (Publishers Weekly (starred review))

A terrific social history of a fascinating historical period . . . laugh-aloud passages make this an entertaining read. (Booklist (starred review))

With care and considerable humor, Don Lattin shows us how the interwoven relationships of four charismatic visionaries contributed to the expansion of mind that changed American culture forever. The way we eat, pray, and love have all been conditioned by their lives and teachings. (Mirabai Bush, co-founder and Senior Fellow of the Center for Contemplative Mind in Society, co-author (with Ram Dass) of Compassion in Action)

I suspect I’m not the only person who thought the psychedelics-at-Harvard story had been pretty well settled, but Lattin’s work has widened my perspective considerably. By focusing on Huston Smith and Andrew Weil as well as Leary and Alpert, he’s created a stimulating and thoroughly engrossing read. (Dennis McNally, author of A Long Strange Trip: The Inside History of the Grateful Dead, and Desolate Angel: Jack Kerouac, the Beat Generation, and America)

The Harvard Psychedelic Club is not only a great read, it’s also an unforgettable head trip. Lattin weaves a masterful tale of 1960s-style spirituality, professional jealousy, and out-of-body experiences. Lattin has done his homework and it shows. Read this book and expand your mind. No hallucinogenics required. (Eric Weiner, author of The Geography of Bliss)

A revealing account of four iconic personalities who helped define an era, sowed seeds of consciousness, and left indelible marks in the lives of spiritual explorers to this day. The Conclusion is alone worth the price of the book. (Dan Millman, author of The Peaceful Warrior)

“Lattin succeeds where less accomplished chroniclers of this period have failed.” (San Jose Mercury News and Contra Costa Times)

“A rousing tale of jealousy, drugs, betrayal, vengeance, careerism and academic intrigue with a Harvard accent-it also carries the moral that brains alone won’t make you holy.” (Shelf Awareness)

“Outstanding book.” (Cleveland Plain-Dealer)

“A fast, funny, and savvy book that dishes about some of the most celebrated figures in the American counterculture.” (Jewish Journal of Los Angeles)

“The Harvard Psychedelic Club’s intimate, revealing vista makes the book soar, and, as Lattin hopes, just might inspire today’s idealists to carve a new path and profoundly change the world as these four dynamic visionaries once did.” (Miami Herald)

“Lattin’s snappy conversational prose and poignant insights into his subjects’ often-tortured personal lives make his book worth the trip.” (Washington City Paper)

“...raucous, witty and licentious... [Lattin] has created a post-Kerouac road scholar classic.” (The Edge)

“With equal parts keen historicity and great humor, Lattin… chronicles how these founding fathers of the so-called New Age movement in the U.S. and worldwide met at Harvard in the early 60s and - despite rivalries, infighting and backstabbing - managed to change the spiritual landscape for generations to come.” (Chicago Sun-Times)

“Lattin weaves the biographies of these brilliant men into a compelling tale of possibilities and disappointments, angels and demons, triumph and tragedy… a page-turner that can stand proudly alongside its fictional counterparts.” (Northern Dutchess News)

“Don Lattin tells the story with panache…[he is] fascinated by these men, but he’s also a fierce judge of their trespasses and their lapses from authenticity. (So we’re glad to have him tell the story.)” (The Los Angeles Times)

“Informative and entertaining” (HistoryWire.Com)

“Lattin… deftly captures the intoxicated spirit of the 1960s zeitgeist… [The Harvard Psychedelic Club is] a fresh, expertly written text that serves to remind Leary’s generation of their past while providing a new generation with some context of where today’s pervasive drug culture came from.” (The Daily Californian)

“The Harvard Psychedelic Club, takes a lucid look at four founding fathers of a movementthat changed the world.” (East Bay Express)

“[T]horoughly engaging… Packing his book with strange, wonderful scenes, Lattin argues that America would never be the same because of an unlikely quartet that did time — and drugs — at Harvard in the early 1960s.” (New York Post)

“[A] colorful tale.” (Boston Globe)

“Lattin’s new book The Harvard Psychedelic Club takes a lucid look at four founding fathers of a movement that changed America and thus the world.” (PsychologyToday.com)

“Lattin artfully weaves [the stories] together,creating a stronger, more compelling narrative that enlightens as much as it informs. ...Mind-blowing.” (Religion News Service)

“The Harvard Psychedelic Club sets the record straight: Four extraordinary personalities crossed paths, and the result was electrifying.” (Portland Oregonian)

“...[T]hese stories provide the psychedelic movement with context and continued relevance-important elements for a generation of readers trained to laugh at stock hippie characters and stoner epiphanies.” (The Onion)

“Don Lattin, one of America’s most-respected religion newswriters in recent years, has been devoting his considerable skills to unearthing and fully reporting some of these milestone stories. This Harvard book is his latest revelation.” (ReadtheSpirit.com)

“Don Lattin’s recent Harvard Pychedelic Club is a wryly tumultuous history… [that] focuses sharply on the group that began in Cambridge.” (The Huffington Post)

“Lattin satisfyingly places the parallel and interconnected lives of these four titans along a timeline, drawing in a cast of minor characters as fascinating as its stars.” (BookReporter.com)

“In ‘The Harvard Psychedelic Club’ Lattin adds depth, breadth and surprises to the story. Searchers, thinkers, philosophers and occasional wackos fill the pages of this entertaining book with their quests and questionable behavior. The book is a fast, often delightful read… This is a good one.” (San Mateo County Times)

From the Back Cover

This book is the story of how three brilliant scholars and one ambitious freshman crossed paths in the early sixties at a Harvard-sponsored psychedelic-drug research project, transforming their lives and American culture and launching the mind/body/spirit movement that inspired the explosion of yoga classes, organic produce, and alternative medicine.

The four men came together in a time of upheaval and experimentation, and their exploration of an expanded consciousness set the stage for the social, spiritual, sexual, and psychological revolution of the 1960s. Timothy Leary would be the rebellious trickster, the premier proponent of the therapeutic and spiritual benefits of LSD, advising a generation to "turn on, tune in, and drop out." Richard Alpert would be the seeker, traveling to India and returning to America as Ram Dass, reborn as a spiritual leader with his "Be Here Now" mantra, inspiring a restless army of spiritual pilgrims. Huston Smith would be the teacher, practicing every world religion, introducing the Dalai Lama to the West, and educating generations of Americans to adopt a more tolerant, inclusive attitude toward other cultures' beliefs. And young Andrew Weil would be the healer, becoming the undisputed leader of alternative medicine, devoting his life to the holistic reformation of the American health care system.

It was meant to be a time of joy, of peace, and of love, but behind the scenes lurked backstabbing, jealousy, and outright betrayal. In spite of their personal conflicts, the members of the Harvard Psychedelic Club would forever change the way Americans view religion and practice medicine, and the very way we look at body and soul.

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Format: Hardcover
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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Format: Paperback
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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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: HASH(0xa02ce498) out of 5 stars 74 reviews
87 of 91 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa02c6b34) out of 5 stars Flashbacks from a memorable era Jan. 15 2010
By Roberto Loiederman - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover 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.
62 of 65 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa042a258) out of 5 stars An Original Vision on a Difficult Subject to Tackle Jan. 12 2010
By Barbara R. Saunders - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
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.
29 of 32 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa0446fd8) out of 5 stars A must read for anyone interested in American culture Jan. 16 2010
By T. Brenholts - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
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!
23 of 26 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa04320b4) out of 5 stars Excellent reprise! Jan. 15 2010
By William F. Zachmann - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Don Lattin has done a fine job creating a contemporary reprise/review of the remarkable confluence of influences that occurred in Cambridge, MA, USA in the early 1960s. I personally knew pretty well a lot of the folks he writes about.

Dick Alpert (a.k.a. Baba Ram Dass) was one of my students when I taught karate for the Harvard Athletic Department in the early 1960s. Tim Leary was a long time friend I had met at the old Harvard Center for Research on Personality at 5 Divinity Avenue in 1961 and saw on and off over the years in various contexts. Tim visited with us on (as I recall) his 64th birthday and gave me a copy of a book by William S. Burroughs that Bill had given to Tim shortly before, inscribing it to him as an "old comrade in arms". (I'd first met Burroughs at Tim's house on Homer Street in Newton, MA in 1962 or so, while Bill was visiting there). Andrew Weil was a classmate (Harvard '64) though not a friend. I attended various of Houston Smith's lectures in those days, too, though I did not know him personally.

Many (perhaps most even) of the other folks mentioned in the book are also people I knew back in the '60s and '70s. Don's book does a great job conveying some of the extraordinary flavor of those remarkable times. It is a splendid introduction to this most peculiar and interesting nexus of American history for younger folks and a great 'flashback' document for all the Baby Boomers I watched tripping their way through the 60s and '70s as well!

Get this book and read it. You will enjoy it. *;-)
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa0359e58) out of 5 stars a nifty read June 8 2010
By M. Irons - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
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!