The Harvard Psychedelic Club
The Harvard Psychedelic Club
How Timothy Leary, Ram Dass, Huston Smith, and Andrew Weil Killed the Fifties and Ushered in a New
By Don Lattin
HarperOne, Hardcover, 9780061655937, 272pp.
Publication Date: January 1, 2010
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.
“[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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“...[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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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