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Acid Dreams: The Complete Social History of LSD: The CIA, the Sixties & Beyond
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Acid Dreams: The Complete Social History of LSD: The CIA, the Sixties & Beyond

4.10  ·  Rating Details  ·  1,908 Ratings  ·  97 Reviews
Acid Dreams is the complete social history of LSD and the counterculture it helped to define in the sixties. Martin Lee and Bruce Shlain's exhaustively researched and astonishing account-part of it gleaned from secret government files-tells how the CIA became obsessed with LSD as an espionage weapon during the early l950s and launched a massive covert research program, in ...more
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Published December 1st 2007 by Grove/Atlantic, Inc. (first published 1984)
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May 16, 2015 11 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: woldview
This is really as much a book about the CIA as about LSD. Authors Martin Lee and Bruce Shalin follow the 1938 discovery of Lsysergic Acid Diethylamide from the Sandoz Pharmaceuticals research lab in Switzerland to the psychedelic-soaked streets of San Francisco in 1970. The cast of characters is large and unlikely, including: scientists, political activists, politicians, an heir of the Mellon (Gulf Oil/ Mellon Bank) fortune, rockstars, law enforcement, the mafia, CIA, FBI, MI-6, INTERPOL, and th ...more
Apr 22, 2010 Adam rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
I got this as a gift from someone whose taste I trust implicitly, so read it despite not having had much interest in LSD since high school (when, frankly, I had a fairly serious and highly personal interest in the compound).

It's a beautifully written account of the role LSD played in the social and psychological upheavals of the '60s. The early chapters on the CIA's early experiments with acid as a mind-control tool are especially interesting.

The authors' historical research chops are impressi
Mar 08, 2015 Adam rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The "cultural history" stuff, as several critics have pointed out, is not anywhere near as compelling as the info gathered from declassified CIA files, which all sounds like the invention of some rambling ancient hippie rotting in an incense store somewhere, but, you know, isn't.


Humans are really weird ape-things and it's hard to believe the world isn't much, much worse off than it is

Timothy Leary was a complete jackass who ruined everything for everyone

LSD is not a magic molecule th
Jul 31, 2011 Alicedewonder rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
These gentlemen did their homework and I am proud to have not only read their research but purchased new copies of their book more than 20x to send out to those who were led to believe the media lies of the 60s. Their documentation is perfect and succinct.
The 60s movement could have worked. I know this because I have implemented it often on small scale settings; frightening the knickers off of those in charge. Now the methods remain as my legacy in 4 novels to build a more perfect union. Good lu
Michael Burnam-fink
Jul 18, 2012 Michael Burnam-fink rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, 2012
The subtitle of this book says "The complete social history of LSD: the CIA, the sixties, and beyond." In a nutshell, this is an entirely accurate summary. Lee and Shlain trace the strange journey of LSD from an experimental military chemical, to a psychiatric wonderdrug, to a driving forces of the 60s counter-culture, and possibly its demise. This book is more journalistic than academic, but it is deeply sourced and informed. The authors are pro-psychedelic but fully recognize the limits of che ...more
Rebecca McNutt
This book was really nostalgic and interesting to read, and a worthwhile piece of history in the hippie counterculture of the late 1960's. Acid Dreams is well-written, detailed, illustrated and even includes hippie trivia (I'm not a hippie but it was interesting to read).
Jan 21, 2011 Anna rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'm one of those weirdos who does not find the prospect of doing LSD or other drugs in a recreational fashion interesting at all. It was with a lot of surprise that I found that I enjoyed this book! It is impeccably researched, well-written, and, in parts, terrifying (particularly in the early chapters, which cover the CIA's quest to find a "truth serum" and its efforts to that end, including MK-ULTRA). Anyone who is interested in the 1960s (warts and all), the less-savory aspects of government ...more
Jan 16, 2016 Paige rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This book was somewhat interesting but didn’t really live up to its subtitle—“The Complete Social History of LSD: The CIA, the Sixties, and Beyond.” It conveys something…ambitious. And I think that maybe that is this book’s problem—in the end, it just tries to cover too much ground.

I felt like the book was way too focused on Tim Leary, and the problem is that he’s just not that interesting of a guy. Or if he is, this book didn’t do much to get that across. For all the ink spilled about him here,
Samantha Kernc
Jan 26, 2009 Samantha Kernc rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Breif: This was a mind clenching book for it was mostly about conspiracys done by the CIA in the United States of America to find a truth Serium. Eventually, the truth serium, was found to be L.S.D. and it spreed to all forms of American culture. It also talked about the Nazi Scientist who worked on American Soldiers to find this serium. It was interesting to read, and really makes you question what is going on in the world today. This is why I really enjoyed this book.

Samantha Kernc
September 23
Erik Graff
Jul 24, 2011 Erik Graff rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: everyone
Recommended to Erik by: no one
Shelves: history
I recall first reading about this book in an advertisement in the then-weekly, now-defunct Guardian weekly out of New York City. I was greatly intrigued and resolved to keep an eye open for it. Years later I actually found the book and snapped it up, reading it almost immediately. I was not disappointed. Indeed, I was impressed by both the quality of the writing and by the material covered.

This is, generally speaking, a social history of the influence of psychotropics such as LSD on Western cult
Oct 30, 2012 Zack rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition This is an impressive and scholarly-researched documentation of the CIA's intimate involvement with the psychoactive drug LSD-25 in the attempt to develop a compound that would prevent anyone being interrogated from keeping secrets. Generally speaking, when this organization is referenced in a work of nonfiction, there are a few inconsistencies. For instance, I've heard Albert Hoffman, the "discoverer" of LSD was an agent, but this book doesn't mention it ...more
James Stroll
Feb 10, 2013 James Stroll rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Although this is called a " social history of LSD" it might be more correctly considered a socio-political history;it contains quite a bit of information on CIA/Military testing of LSD,as well as the various financial and legal ramifications that the distribution of the drug inevitably created. This book, along with "Storming Heaven" by Jay Stevens, are the best general histories of LSD. One might consider reading at least one of these before one reads accounts which focus on certain people or g ...more
Peter Mcloughlin
A strange story of a laboratory chemical which was thought to be a truth serum by the CIA, a nonlethal weapon of war by the army, a psychological simulation of psychosis by the psychiatric community. The people who had cosmic visions of ecstasy on LSD saw it as a potential liberator of consciousness. Many people who had peak experiences with the transcendent realm felt this is something that they had to give to humankind. Many were on a mission some felt themselves an elite vanguard of a new ag ...more
Feb 05, 2015 Margot rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
A bit of a love letter to LSD, with much more flippant vocabulary choices than I would have expected from a journalistic expose (feels a bit like the authors are trying to prove their street cred: hey guys! we took LSD! we lived through this too! we're authentic!). Includes such public interest topics such as the CIA bringing Nazi war criminal scientists over to the USA to help conduct medical testing on civilians. Paranoid addicts were right all along!

The sections on CIA interrogation drugs and
Bryan Winchell
May 19, 2014 Bryan Winchell rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is probably still my all-time favorite non-fiction book. It is certainly the book that had the biggest influence on my view of the world at the time in my life (early 20s) when I read it.

I even remember buying it in West LA and starting it and feeling ticked at my friends for insisting I go out with them to see a terrible movie ("Boxing Helena") instead of staying home and reading it. This book reads like the best sort of spy novel, but with the added bonus that the stuff in it, crazy as it
this book is a fantastic introduction to the history of lsd, from its invention by albert hoffman through the early '70s. with a focus more on its social use, from c.i.a. testing through the acid tests, and very little attention paid to the effects/benefits of the drug, this reads much more like a great story than a scientific study. there are much more detailed accounts of lsd/hallucinogens out there, but that doesn't stop this one from being great.
Jan 15, 2015 Silas rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was a very interesting book, which focused on history related to LSD in particular, but around other common drugs of the '60s, from time to time. As it turns out, it hit a lot of interesting things from the '50s and '60s, but didn't go much beyond that, since LSD was much less mainstream after that, so the very early '70s were a reasonable end point. The story, itself is intriguing, going from the military industrial complex to the anti-war movement with detours into organized crime and rev ...more
Tom Lowe
May 27, 2015 Tom Lowe rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A real eye-opener. I sometimes judge a book on how much it teaches and informs, and this is one of the best. Because of this book, I'm now much more tuned-in about the drug culture and the convoluted history that surrounds it. If you wish to better understand the spirit and soul of the 1960's, read this book!
Dec 02, 2015 Ietrio rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: junk
Beware of books with titles that say "complete", "definitive" or other categorical terms. Even the 21st edition won't be "complete", "definitive" or whatever. Usually this is a mark of an ignorant writing for an equally ignorant editor.

Beware of books about secret societies. The wonder makes these sell. But at least the fiction genre is sincere. While even an insider can't be certain of getting more than half truths, Martin Lee is more than certain. He is a visionary. He starts with an old schoo
Dec 06, 2014 David rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
In high school and as an undergrad, I'd read many books from this period (Wolfe's Electric Koolaid Acid Test, Kesey's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Huxley's The Doors of Perception, Leary's Flashbacks, etc) and enjoyed the music of the period. This book filled in many of the gaps and helped me fit the pieces together better. It also helped me understand the 70s and 80s, decades which I lived through and remember (well mostly remember). I've tried to imagine if there could be a book like this ...more
Alessio Franci
Mar 13, 2015 Alessio Franci rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An entertaining report of how culture, politics, life in his many facets, had all been tightly connected by a single powerful molecule.
Facts are amazingly detailed. It is actually quite illuminating to see so many crucial historical characters, such different characters (from acid academic advocates, passing through black ghetto rebels and r’n’r stars, to Richard Nixon), all of them connected by psychedelic drugs.
There is no nostalgia in this book. But the aftertaste is that LSD, used and abused
May 28, 2014 Jeremy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Great- objective history of LSD and its effect on society from the 40s-70s
Feb 25, 2014 chick_in_space rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: entheogens
Thoroughly researched and well written, this is a must read for all 60s aficionados and anyone interested in the history of entheogens, CIA's drug policy and MK ULTRA, the hippie movement and contemporary social history in general.
Along with vivid descriptions of events and characters, the authors do a great job of summoning the spirit of the times - it will make you feel like you're 'turning on' at the Human Be-In, tearing down Chicago with the Yippies, touring the country on the Pranksters' b
Sep 22, 2015 Brian rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history-culture
Lively and almost unbelievable in spots. I can't help but think it's what's sometimes called a limited hangout -- where one juicy story is told as a cover for a darker, potentially more damaging one. Why did government scientists turn rogue thieves and LSD turn-on zealots, and why did they suffer little consequence for these actions? Is it not at least as plausible that that LSD was spread to the general population deliberately? Would not the typical unprepared (mass Americana) mind, blown open ...more
Robbie Bruens
Though little in the book is quite as ridiculous as the CIA-focused section that takes up the first 50-60 pages, the whole thing still serves as an excellent social history of a truly fascinating chemical. It makes a great companion piece to Tom Wolfe's Electric Kool Aid Acid Test, and is full of memorable characters and anecdotes throughout, while illuminating how drug hysterias are born, grow and evolve. Read it if only to follow the adventures of the flamboyant acid dropping company man Capta ...more
I wish I could give this book 3.5 stars. I really enjoyed it, although I was already familiar with a great deal of the content. Some parts of the book seem highly conspiratorial, and the author's writing seems colored a great deal by his own probable acid use and left-leaning politics (on the other hand, I didn't really expect an impartial account when I began reading, and I'd rather the left-leaning politics of an acidhead than the conservative politics of a stiff).
Jul 16, 2014 Aubrey rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book will make you reconsider the seemingly outlandish accusations of conspiracy theorists towards government agencies. The LSD phenomena is traced from its beginnings in CIA and Army laboratories in the 1950's to Woodstock and all of the social, political and personal effects it has had in between. Prepare to be shocked and appalled by the actions of various government agencies who were tasked with creating chemical weapons for international and domestic use. I highly recommend this book t ...more
Apr 02, 2013 Fleshcap rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Considering how much I love acid, it wouldn't take much to get me to read a book about the history of LSD. The title alone Acid Dreams: The CIA, LSD and Sixties Rebellion is enough to make even drug haters want to pick it up and read.

My first thoughts in seeing the cover was, "What the hell does LSD have to do with the CIA?." Boy was I amazed to discover just how much the U.S. government had to do with the rise of psychedelic culture in the 1960s. As it turns out, the psychedelic revolution was
Jim Rossi
Apr 19, 2015 Jim Rossi rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is basically a scholarly version of "The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test," one of my favorite books. The fact that "Acid Dreams" is written in scholarly, laconic style makes it an even better read, given its sensational subject matter. Great book, terrific resource, and major inspiration for my own first book, "The Case of the Cleantech Con Artist: A True Vegas Tale."
Jun 06, 2007 Dylan rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: bookclubbooks
This is an amazing history of the 1960s drug culture, specifically the LSD culture. I learned a ton. I never realized how inextricably intertwined acid was with the peace movement and the counterculture, and it was fascinating to see how the drug went from relatively credible scientific beginnings to something that was branded a scourge by the government. Frankly, a lot of the drugs that are now illegal might never have been banned if the government hadn't decided to use them as a means for jail ...more
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