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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
Narrated by: John Pruden
Length: 7 hrs and 47 mins
4.5 out of 5 stars (9 ratings)
Regular price: £23.59
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Summary

It is impossible to overstate the cultural significance of the four men described in Don Lattin's The Harvard Psychedelic Club. Huston Smith, tirelessly working to promote cross-cultural religious and spiritual tolerance. Richard Alpert, aka Ram Dass, inspiring generations with his mantra "be here now". Andrew Weil, undisputed leader of the holistic medicine revolution. And, of course, Timothy Leary, the charismatic, rebellious counterculture icon and LSD guru. Journalist Don Lattin provides the funny, moving inside story of the "Cambridge Quartet", who crossed paths with the infamous Harvard Psilocybin Project in the early '60s and went on to pioneer the mind/body/spirit movement that would popularize yoga, vegetarianism, and Eastern mysticism in the Western world.

©2010 Don Lattin (P)2017 HarperCollins Publishers

Critic reviews

"[Don Lattin] has 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)

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Fascinating characters

The psychedelic revolution remains one of the most important ongoing challenges to the established power structures of society. The four men at the centre of this story - Leary, Alpert, Weil and Smith - are absolutely crucial figures in that story. Understanding their struggle can serve to highlight the revolutionary potential - and pitfalls - in our own times.

I absolutely adore the way the book focuses on the right four people, but it does not execute fully on that promise. The author is enamoured by glitter. The narrative is shallow, hurried and uninspired. Potential revelations and insights are left unexplored while the author glues the narrative onto journalistic superficialities. The patchwork of the text feels like an untended garden - crammed full of exotic (and hallucinogenic) plants.

There are gems of insight, especially around Weil's sleazy duplicity and attempts at reconciliation, and around Ram Dass's struggles with his homosexuality. These are not enough to elevate the book much above mediocrity.

My biggest gripe, related to the superficiality aspect, is that it is just not long enough: I would have liked to hear much more backstory and anecdotes. Spreading the narrative thin over four luminary authors - each of whom deserves a book-length treatment of his own - serves to highlight how much content is left unsaid.

The tight pacing has its advantages and disadvantages. The scintillating brilliance and tragic flaws of the main characters are amply in display and the flashy story remains entertaining all the way through. But the reader is left wanting more. And better.

The book is an essential appetizer. But where's the main course?