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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
Categories: History, American
4.5 out of 5 stars (19 ratings)

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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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    3 out of 5 stars

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?

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Great read

I was slightly skeptical about this book, after reading "How to change your mind" and " psychedelic explorer" I wasn’t sure if this was going o something I’d enjoy or be regurgitating stories I’d heard before. Its a great book that’s been really well narrated. It gives more insight into a time in history that’s sadly gone. I definitely recommend this to anyone with an interest in this era but would say “how to change your mind” is on another level and gives more research insight which I was more interested in.

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  • Aloha Jersey Girl
  • 12-12-19

A Fascinating, Engaging Story, Expertly Told

I finished this book in record time for me, just three days. Lattin is an engaging storyteller and expertly weaves together a multitude of threads into a complex, engaging and detailed story. I appreciated the way he addresses areas of ambiguity, such as the complex and often contradictory personality traits and actions of Leary and Alpert (now known as Ram Dass). I was fascinated by Andrew Weil's role in the dynamic, as I only knew him as the natural health guru and hadn't realized he'd been associated with them--not to mention the role he played in getting them fired from Harvard. And it came as a revelation that author Aldous Huxley--whose Brave New World I read in high school-- was at the forefront of experimentation with psychedelics and played an important role in their introduction to the mainstream. I was born in the sixties, so I never learned much about that time other than that Timothy Leary worked at Harvard University and brought LSD to the masses, telling them to "Turn on, tune in, drop out." I was rapt hearing how everything had unfolded. Lattin also shows how each of these four men's personal paths unfolded, moving from Harvard to the San Francisco hippie scene, to their explorations abroad and the knowledge they brought back that changed society yet again. This is an enjoyable listen for anyone who wants to understand how the sixties counterculture began and probe more deeply into the early days of psychedelics, from how their effects were at first studied by psychologists to how they changed the lives and outlook of an entire generation..

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  • John
  • 12-01-20

Really good overview

Good over view. Makes one think of all the wasted time where research should have been done. Glad it is finally being looked upon as medicine.

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  • CaptainK
  • 13-08-19

It’s “Drop Out, Turn On, Tune In”

Found the book enlightening as I was able to connect people I have met with those I knew about. Now some of the people in the book I knew were involved, I just didn’t know how.

One thing both the author and many others didn’t understand was the phrase “Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out” which was publicized by the news media, and was actually a play of words by the trickster Leary. The mantra was really “Drop Out, Turn On, (then)Tune In”. One needs to Drop out of ones humdrum existence and Turn On to understanding life, then Tune In back in to life.

Also along with the psychedelic Experience book there was what I called the lab manual by Leary called the psychedelic Prayers.

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  • ntcrain
  • 09-08-18

A fascinating story!

The book filled in so many details about the 1960s that I was just not aware of. I enjoyed the way the storyline profiled the four different individuals that were so key in the psychedelic movement and who so greatly influenced our culture then and now.

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  • Angel Ahh
  • 20-12-17

Compelling tale

I really enjoyed hearing the journey of four psychedelic elders. What an era! highly recommended

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  • P. Gagg
  • 09-04-18

What does it all mean?

Interesting vignettes of 4 very influential people and a movement.

Would've liked it to have been a bit more in depth, either with broader historical accounts or of the science of psychadelics.

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  • JM
  • 06-10-18

too flouncy - tried too hard - seemed boastful and

the book seemed almost full of itself. i didn't finish it. it was too charmed with itself.