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!