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5.0 out of 5 stars amazing and unique portrait of an era
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...
Published on Feb. 10 2006 by Michael Herman

2.0 out of 5 stars My head hurt worse than when I ACTUALLY dropped acid...
This is a surprising piece of work. Tom Wolfe writes most of the book seemingly from the view of the Merry Pranksters. However, his tone seems to become distanced and coldly objective as the book concludes. Ultimatly the reader may (if not deluded into thinking the lifestyle a virtual utopia) see flaws and ultimate failure of the lifestyle. I did not find the Merry...
Published on Dec 3 1998

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5.0 out of 5 stars amazing and unique portrait of an era, Feb. 10 2006
Michael Herman (Toronto, Canada) - See all my reviews
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
Randy Keehn (Williston, ND United States) - See all my reviews
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
Josiah Drewry (chapel hill, nc United States) - See all my reviews
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
James Ferguson (Vilnius, Lithuania) - See all my reviews
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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5.0 out of 5 stars Testing the electric Kool-aid acid test, May 18 2003
Chris Ahern (Grayslake, Illinois USA) - See all my reviews
Trying to sum up The Electric Kool-Acid Test. By Tom Wolfe, in one word is impossible. So I won't try. This enticing piece of literary journalism dives into the counter-cultural upheavals that were the 60's. It follows Ken Kesey and his merry band of pranksters as they travel across the United States, and parts of Mexico, spreading self-awareness, as well as a good deal of hallucinogenic drugs. Their efforts were aimed to shake the roots of conformist, consumerist society to its core and understand the purpose of human existence along the way. In effect "transcending the bull****", that is a stereotypical existence. They were a group devoted to the "here and now" and. Along the path they meet with the likes of Jack Kerouac, Neal Cassady, Jerry Garcia and the Grateful Dead, Thomas Leary, and the police. This book details their journey, it drags you through the ocean of this decade and pulls you out, wet, but better informed about what lies at the bottom of the sea.
Some contend that this is a muddled account of the era, one with too many characters and not enough plot, that the details are superfluous and that in the end it fails to convey the true spirit of the times. Sadly, they are wrong.
This diary of history is outstanding not only in literary technique, but also because it recognizes an elemental theme of American culture; change. It is "our strange and haunting paradox in America- that we are fixed and certain only when we are in movement", as stated by Tom Wolfe. The Acid Test records these movements and sets them in stone for future generations to look back upon, and expand upon. His insight into sociological trends is wisdom for generations to come. It parallels the counter-cultural movements of the 60's: the Psychedelic movement, the Free love movement, the summer of love, the rebellion of youth against authority and conformity, the beat generation. Here is an essential key to understanding not only the past, but modern American culture as it exists today. The growing sense of independence and uniqueness is still felt by today's generations. Freedom of expression is still a controversial issue. Finding something more in existence and "transcending the bull****" is what so many still strive for today.
The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, by Tom Wolfe is an essential read simply due to its interesting nature, but also because it shows the basis of American culture as well as its future, change.
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5.0 out of 5 stars I Never Learned So Much About Acid, Feb. 25 2003
Wow. I really did not realize the social, economical, and cultural importance of the drug acid. Tom Wolfe brilliantly explains how the once legal drug influenced a whole generation of "merry pranksters," expanding their minds and consciousness. "Electric Kool-Aid" describes the travels of the Merry Pranksters (a group of "hippies" on a pilgrimage from Cali to New York) and the colorful characters that join them. From the Hell's Angels to Ginsberg, Wolfe informs the reader of various "acid tests" and how the life of Ken Kesey and Neal Cassady influenced this genre of living. Even the Grateful Dead are included (prior to reading this book, I did not realize that the drug acid also produced the genre of music titled "acid rock").
I would reccommend this book to anyone seeking the thrill of an acid trip without the acid. Wolfe's formal writing aspects deliever a message that perhaps, yes, the 60s was indeed a horror show, mirroring such events as Vietnam and lousy political leaders such as Nixon. Despite all of the chaos, a group of intelligent and charasmatic patrons decided to expand their horizons and indeed imerse themselves in the "Electric Kool Aid Test."
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4.0 out of 5 stars Indeed, an American Classic, Feb. 7 2003
Norm Zurawski (Millington, NJ United States) - See all my reviews
My first expression is, "Wow. What an awesome book." Well, maybe this isn't an awesome book, but I found it to be awesome for me. I can't justify giving this 5 stars because it's not a 5 star book. Let me explain. Suppose there's a song on the radio, and you know it's not really the best song in the world. But you love it just the same. That's what I feel about this book. It's not the best book ever written. But it really works for me.
I am saddened to see this book come to a close. This is because the Prankster story essentially dies at the end. Sure, they will always be Pranksters, and throughout this book, I felt like I was a Prankster too. The story is one of American history; one that defines something unique and heavily influential in its time. The book does a great job making me feel like I was there. I am there. I am a Prankster.
I feel sad now because the Prankster movie is over. Cassady is dead. Kesey is dead. The Prankster movie is no more. With this book, Wolfe is able to draw me into the movie and drop me out again. Only minutes ago I read the final pages. Now I feel something I experienced is gone. A great wash of memories has rushed through my head in too short a time span.
Wolfe does all of this in 400 pages. Granted, there are times when Wolfe is on another page than I am. These are moments when the words flow from him, but not *to* me. In these moments, I cannot say this is a 5 star book. If you read it, you'll be satisfied in allowing me to say that this is his movie. You might not know what I mean when I say it was his movie. But you can figure it out.
This book is Tom Wolfe's movie. It is also his movie merged with the Prankster movie and how they saw it happen. I am greatly intrigued by the story of Neal Cassady. Cassady plays a central role in this, yet is always content to flip his sledge hammer, or drive whatever car he had, or do something that wasn't necessarily on the same page as anyone else. Cassady is a very interesting presence in 2 major cultural movements, namely the Beat Generation and the Probation Generation, as Wolfe so poignantly relays it.
We're brought through the beginning, middle, and end of Ken Kesey's heavy run with LSD and the Merry Pranksters. We are in Perry Lane. La Honda. On the bus. In Mexico. And of course, furthur with each chapter. We experience all of these situations. We feel the reality in these words. We live it.
On the cover of this book is the terse comment, "American Classic." This quote is attributed to Newsweek. One only imagines when this comment was written. Really, who cares? The point is, I think it's accurate. For the majority of this book, I wasn't sure this was a fitting description. American Classic? Well, maybe that was a bit dramatic, I thought. After having gone through it, I have to agree. An American classic.
I'm still wrapped up in the euphoria of having just finished the book. So let me come back to Earth. Who is this book for? I think those people interested in the history of the 60's LSD culture previous to the Summer of Love will enjoy this. Kesey helps blaze the LSD trail in the San Francisco area in the early to mid 60's. This is a great account of that blazing story.
I have also recently read Storming Heaven, by Jay Stevens. That too is a great book which turned me on to this. While Stevens does not get very subjective with his words, he does a great job covering a myriad of topics. If you want to delve into one of the many topics he touches on, this is a great start. If you're looking for an unbiased history of the time period, this isn't the book for you.
So why not 5 stars? I have to be honest in rating the book on it's own merit, as opposed to how it made me feel. Yes, I loved it. But I realize that it's not perfect. The poetic ramblings are harsh. Those interludes are hard to follow most of the time. Wolfe admits that he tries to put the reader in a state which will convey the mood or atmosphere of the text. At times he does a good job. Other times, I think he misses the mark and you are left wondering.
Other than that, I heartily recommend this book. It's a fascinating read which pulls you into its movie. Well done indeed.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A definition of the 60's, Dec 22 2002
By A Customer
The dandy and brilliant Tom Wolfe managed to understand what Kesey and his friends were up to and writes about it here in an exhausting style that conveys a mood as little other writing does. If you're interested in the 60's, here it is.
It's easy to get carried away with this book and see it all as lost wonderland, but Wolfe gives us enough information to peek at the cult elements of the Pranksters and how Kesey encouraged that. It's amazing that Wolfe kept his own judgments and reactions out of the writing as well as he did.
The book is thoroughly researched, although now that footage from the film taken by the Pranksters themselves is finally publicly available, certain inaccuraties--and possibilities for different interpretations--are evident. This isn't to fault the book; Wolfe did a remarkable job.
Interactions with the Hells Angels are particularly interesting since one can read about those same episodes from more of an Angel perspective in Hunter Thompson's work.
Some day, maybe the Kesey family will relent and donate the bus to the Smithsonian rather than continuing to let it rot in Oregon, but regardless of what happens to the bus Wolfe has perserved the early 60's with remarkable capacity.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A great glimpse into a magical time and place, Sept. 10 2002
J. Polsgrove "tucson_deadhead" (Uh, Arizona) - See all my reviews
Let's face it: the Sixties, for better or worse, had a tremendous impact on American culture. Most of it, fortunately, has been good. A large part of Sixties culture was born in and around the San Francisco Bay Area and spread, like ripple on a pond, across the nation and beyond. Wolfe's "New Journalism" coverage of Kesey and the Merry Pranksters drew me in 30-plus years ago and, having re-read the book for the umpteenth time not long ago, it helped remind me how life is too short to be taken too seriously. Sadly, we lost Ken last year, but his spirit lives on in this delightful snapshot of a special time and place. Anyone who reads this will want to read the unofficial but necessary counter-balances that put this book in perspective: Kerouac's "On the Road" and Kesey's own "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest." And, since a little band called the Warlocks got plucked from playing a pizza parlor and became the house band for the Acid Tests detailed in this book, and that band is mentioned in the book (see Grateful Dead, duh...), it helps to have some Dead music playing in the background to give this great book some atmosphere. The first time I read The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test I read it non-stop. It drew me in and in the process changed my perspective on life, and forever changed the direction of my life. If you want to know why Haight-Ashbury was just so damn special, this is a good place to begin.
Highly, highly recommended for anyone interested in Sixties culture.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant reporting and stunning writing!, Nov. 8 2001
J. Remington "John Remington" (Adams, Oregon USA) - See all my reviews
Regardless of one's ultimate attitudes about the permissive atmosphere that prevailed during the Pandora's Box that became the 1960's, Thomas Wolfe's detailed, passionate and fascinating portrait of Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters makes for required reading.
Whether for ill or well, Kesey and the Pranksters are responsible for creating much of what the popular masses call "The 60's". While reading this book, that mere (and ironic) fact becomes ever so clear.
When I recently visited Kesey at his ranch in Oregon, I asked him if Wolfe "got it right". Kesey's response? "Yes he did. But understand that he (Wolfe) gives a real East Coast version of what was essentially a West Coast phenomenon."
What I think that means essentialy validates many of the other positive reviews of this book: Wolfe uncannily possesses the ability to be "in the Pranster's world, but not of it".
This means that while Wolfe is fully willing and able to passionately incorperate the unique linguistic acrobatics of Kesey and the Pranksters in relating the narrative, he maintains somehow a cool, objective distance from all the proceedings. Kesey might be saying that while Wolfe was certainly "on the bus", he was never "ON THE BUS!".
This distance is communicated and maintained by Wolfe's refusal to judge the shennanigans. He never really says "yay" or "nay" to the invention of the "counter culture" (whatever in the hell that means). He relates the consequences both natural and man-made that befalls on such behavior, but never comes out from behind the page and says "booh!"
He wisely leaves all moral judgement in the place where it rightly belongs: in the hearts and minds of the readers.
It is not a book for the weak of back, heart or mind. It will challenge the reader as well as entertain for Wolfe pulls no punches and that is a treatment most appropriate for the Hemingway-esque machismo frat boy jock mentality that underlies all of Kesey's art.
The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test is a excellent example of brilliant reporting. It combines stunning writing with cool logic and impassioned empathetic distance. This is a must read.
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ELECTRIC KOOL-AID ACID TEST (reset) by Tom Wolfe (Mass Market Paperback - Dec 1 1982)
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