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The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test

3.92  ·  Rating Details ·  55,150 Ratings  ·  1,442 Reviews
Tom Wolfe's much-discussed kaleidoscopic non-fiction novel chronicles the tale of novelist Ken Kesey and his band of Merry Pranksters. In the 1960s, Kesey led a group of psychedelic sympathizers around the country in a painted bus, presiding over LSD-induced "acid tests" all along the way. Long considered one of the greatest books about the history of the hippies, Wolfe's ...more
Paperback, 416 pages
Published October 5th 1999 by Bantam (first published August 1968)
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Oisín Carey The book is essentially an account of the rise and fall of an extremely close-knit community, which acts as a metaphor for understanding what the…moreThe book is essentially an account of the rise and fall of an extremely close-knit community, which acts as a metaphor for understanding what the culture of the 1960s and 1970s in the US was like.

The imagery is wildly colourful and psychedelic, the descriptions laden with the catch-phrases of the time that were all about living fully in the present moment and seeing everything in one's life as highly important. The people are described vividly, with all their virtues and vices intact.

It's beautiful and sad and ridiculously exciting, a great read.(less)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
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Kaya
Nov 11, 2009 Kaya rated it liked it
You know those books that blew your mind in high school? Like Siddhartha or anything by Bukowski or Nietzche and you read it in a cafe trying to look cool to the older hippies who ran the place and one of them sleazed up to you and said, "you have beautiful skin" and gave you a copy of Tom Wolfe's book on the Merry Pranksters and tried to get you to go out back and smoke a suspiciously tangy looking joint which you delcline but take the book, and read it and are briefly tempted to run off to a ...more
Jeff
Jul 11, 2014 Jeff rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
On the bus or off the bus?

The trolley glided along the tracks. Hovering, floating, flying. The ticket checker, his name tag read Mitchell, had the head of a warthog. “Feed the bee”, he said. :::: “What?” Jeff seemed trapped in a powerful time space vortex. His hands looked rubbery, like Plastic. Plastic Man. But drawn by a meth freak. A bunny, half-gold, half-silver, Day Glo halo, blood dripping from its fangs. “Feed the bee”, she said. “Feed it now! It’s hungry.” Jeff turned to the other passen
...more
John Hampton
Nov 05, 2007 John Hampton rated it really liked it
These nut-jobs actually came to Houston with their bus and parked it two doors down from my best friend in Houston. Around 1969, moon, Led Zeppelin touring, people taking LSD and sitting on the hill in Hermann Park staring at the sun. My older brother and sister would drag me along to look at the "hippies" ... then the next day in the paper would be another story of a young Houston man who had become blind forever by roasting his retinas with pupils wide open looking at the sun. Guess I should h ...more
Paul Schroeder
Nov 18, 2007 Paul Schroeder rated it it was ok
This book was a huge disappointment. It's hard to believe that a book that included so many interesting people, Ken Kesey, Allen Ginsbergh and Neal Cassady just to name a few, could be so tedious and uninteresting. Wolfe's descriptions are clunky and monotonous. This is a guy who is about as square and straight as they come attempting to describe to his readers what it was like for Kesey and the merry pranksters to be high on acid and most of it reads like a hollow impersonation of Jack Kerouac. ...more
Jonathan Ashleigh
Nov 15, 2016 Jonathan Ashleigh rated it it was ok
I think this should have been half the length. Most pages seemed as though Tom Wolfe was simply describing some seventies hippy picture in as much detail as possible. It would have been more effective if he just showed me the picture.
Charlie
First time around, this book positively made me want to try acid. Jury's still out on that one, folks.
Alex
"What we are, we're going to wail with on this whole trip."

What Ken Kesey is is a prick, so let's not get any delusions about that.

But most great leaders are pricks, and the case Wolfe is making in this masterful biography is that Kesey, in his way, was a great leader. His early days on the Furthur bus, discovering LSD and inventing the psychedelic movement, come off like Stanley or Shackleton: explorers in new lands, leading a ragtag but brave band of adventurers into dangerous frontier territ
...more
Maria
Aug 11, 2007 Maria rated it liked it
My favorite idea presented in the book.

"A person has all sorts of lags built into him, Kesey is saying. Once, the most basic, is the sensory lag, the lag between the time your senses receive something and you are able to react. One-thirtieth of a second is the time it takes, if you are the most alert person alive, and most people are a lot slower than that.... You can't go any faster than that... We are all doomed to spend the rest of our lives watching a movies of our lives - we are always ac
...more
Fabian
Sep 22, 2016 Fabian rated it it was amazing
A mega doozy! A unique emblem of hippie Americana that blows angelic trumpets in your face with the celebration of a dadaesque topsy-turvy rover's lifestyle. So, oh so VERY unique. Is it all nonfiction? Really?! Or is it a horror film in disguise (no, no, just hear me out!) wherein body snatchers captivate the fragile minds of the youth, ensnaring them in major LSD consumption, "intersubjectivity," codependent thinking and a fantastical creation of genuine communal attachment. The hippies were a ...more
gaby
Oct 02, 2007 gaby rated it liked it
Recommends it for: hippies, 60s revisionists
Shelves: new-journalism
This book was okay. Tom Wolfe was always an outsider, a New Yorker, even a (gasp) Yalie. He was never really 'on the bus' if you know what I mean. But for a square, he explains the scene pretty well. The pranksers were like the scenesters of any era: self-absorbed and fairly boring pricks. It is an interesting book for one fact if nothing else: it's kind of the only book written in the 60's about the 60's. HS Thompson didn't really get rolling til the early 70's (Hells Angels came out in the ...more
Erik Graff
Jul 22, 2012 Erik Graff rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Americans
Recommended to Erik by: no one
Shelves: travel
This is one of the popular books of adolescence which I didn't get around to reading until an adult, inspired, in part, by having seen the movie version of Kesey's Cuckoo's Nest. I would have liked it more as a teenager.

Now, forty some years after publication, Electric is a bit of an historical curiosity. As much as the writings of Aldous Huxley, Timothy Leary, Richard Alpert or Alan Watts, it substantially contributed to the creation in the public's eye of the counter-culture. As a kid I would
...more
Sketchbook
Nov 08, 2012 Sketchbook rated it liked it
Did the Man in the White Suit have "Sweet Tooth" pushers ?
In the 60s he teased through his hat, to great acclaim ;
his liberal dose of saucy irreverence bursts with a brisk
vein of low humor. He injected the comic strip into daily
journalism-scribbles and it became his pet province. Meanwhile,
he remains a sort of modest church lady. Some of his pieces
are swell; he's at his best when he's at his waggiest (for he
never reaches wit). As a New Journalist, he dares to probe
inner thoughts of others; be
...more
Jenny
May 31, 2011 Jenny rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"You're either on the bus...or off the bus." This is the choice facing you as you begin to read Tom Wolfe's classic saga of Ken Kesey's Merry Pranksters as they test the boundries of consciousness and test the limits of other human's patience. What is almost as amazing as the lengths to which the pranksters went to enjoy their existence on Earth, is the style that Wolfe has chosen to narrate the adventures. Brillliantly blending stream of consciousness writing and a journalistic sense of ...more
Eric K.
Nov 22, 2007 Eric K. rated it it was amazing
Shelves: hb-sem
I had a brief interaction with Tom Wolfe last November.

He came to speak to my class in one of those rare "Oh wow, Columbia Journalism might be worth it" moments. Inexplicably, he started in on a lengthy out-of-context run about how the New York Sun was a disgrace of a newspaper. I happened to be working there as a reporter at the time (and hating it), it was one of those surreal coincidences that seem to happen to me on an eerily regular basis. He asked for questions, my hand shot up first, and
...more
Evan
I swear for a good long while I was seriously considering giving this book two stars for Wolfe's disingenuous pseudo-hipster "spontaneity," a la Kerouac but with bells on; the style and tone were actually kind of making me roll my eyes and cringe. And then there are the Merry Pranksters themselves; I can't quite tell if I just outright loathe them or actually begrudgingly envy them; doing whatever feels good in the "now." I tended to use to romanticize hippies uncritically, but have come to see ...more
Djinnaya
Dec 27, 2007 Djinnaya rated it it was amazing
excerpt from a history paper I wrote on this book, which I posted to dcbooks:



"While the book doesn’t hold answers, it is a great read for anyone who has ever been part of a subculture. It puts the story out there in a way that is honest and fair, showing not just the idealism, but also the grime and the violence and the difficulties of rebellion against the norm and the inherent dangers in basing a movement on a mind altering drug. It might be easy to reject the story as a tale of mistaken adven
...more
Nat
Mar 29, 2010 Nat rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I have Tom Wolfe's aesthetic taste figured out: He likes exuberance. He doesn't like ascetics. Asceticism is unamerican.

In The Right Stuff, he prefers Yeager and the test pilots to the astronauts who don't get to really fly their capsules.

In From Bauhaus to Our House, he loathes the European modernists (Mies et al.) and he likes FLW and Saarinen.

In The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, he sides with Kesey and the Pranksters with their undoctrinaire deployment of LSD and technology against other psy
...more
Andy Miller
Nov 26, 2012 Andy Miller rated it it was ok
I was assigned to read this book in college(1975). I couldn't finish it, it seemed to be so....poorly written. I tried again this year as I've just reread Kesey's books and On the Road. This book focuses on a bus trip organized by Ken Kesey and driven by Neal Cassidy(the real Dean Moriaty in On the Road shortly after Kesey finished Sometimes a Great Notion--and the bus ride is basically one long acid trip.
I read it this time- more as an interesting history of compelling characters from a fascin
...more
John Wiswell
Jul 17, 2013 John Wiswell rated it liked it
Recommends it for: Literary readers, fans of Larry McMurtry and Ken Kesey, drug fiction readers, aspiring journalists
The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test is best if you blow through the first fifty pages and take your leisure with the rest. There's equal information in the introduction as in the meat of the story, but less of the fun, and a little more cruelty to the real people behind Wolfe's "new journalism" report. After the introductory portion, where you meet the cast and understand the premise, you're treated to hundreds of pages of episodes, some as short as two pages long, about radical artists, set free to ...more
Jesse
Jan 02, 2012 Jesse rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I had no idea about the sort of person Ken Kesey was; the only frame of reference I had was his novel "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest." This book, or epic journalistic adventure by Tom Wolfe, chronicles Kesey's adventures after the publishing of his first two books (the other "Sometimes a Great Notion," had just been finished).

Kesey had been involved in CIA sponsored drug tests, which included such recreational fun things as LSD, mescalin and cocaine. The CIA knows how to party! The Merry Pran
...more
El
(ETA: Supposedly Gus Van Sant is working on making a movie of this book, slated for 2011.)

Much like Kerouac's On the Road, The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test was one of those books that I tried several times to read and always failed miserably to get through the first chapter. I made it a priority of mine now to sit down with it and read the effing thing.

(Side note: I have a notebook I've kept for... a really long time... in which I started writing down books I wanted to read when I worked at a use
...more
Rick Skwiot
Nov 20, 2012 Rick Skwiot rated it liked it
I had forgotten (successfully) how pretentious, pseudo-intellectual, self-absorbed, and self-righteous hippies were. Maybe, as a full-fledged member of the If-It-Feels-Good-Do-It Generation, I was subconsciously embarrassed by my own pretentiousness, pseudo-intellectuality, self-absorption, and self-righteousness in those days.

But I recently restored my suppressed memory by hooking down Tom Wolfe's "The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test," first published in 1968. The book I had avoided for thirty year
...more
Judy
Nov 26, 2012 Judy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

After finishing Back to Blood, I felt curious about Tom Wolfe's beginnings. My beginning with Tom Wolfe was reading The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test in 1969. I married my first husband in April of that year and we set out on our "honeymoon" which was really a glorified road trip across the country from Ann Arbor to San Francisco, inspired by Kerouac's On the Road. We camped the whole way, intending to end up as teachers in a "free school" in San Fran.

Reading Acid Test was our preparation, our Ri
...more
Pudge
Dec 25, 2008 Pudge rated it really liked it
Let me preface this review by saying I was not alive in the 60's, and I never talked to my parents about their experiences, yet through this book, I feel as though I shared in the madness that were the Acid Tests. Tom Wolfe's masterpiece "The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test," is an absolutely amazing book written about a group of Hippies hell-bent on spreading they're organized chaos throughout the nation. Apart from the subject matter (which I'll get to) this book is as well written as you could ...more
Bill
Dec 30, 2013 Bill rated it it was amazing
I'm still boggled that it took me until a few weeks ago to read this book (or anything by Wolfe.) I also will posit that a good deal of my enjoyment derived from interest and lack of moral judgment over the drug-fueled lifestyles depicted in this book. However, even removed from those contextual constraints, this book was an amazing account of the west coast acid revolution.

What I found most striking reading this book some four decades after the events it depicts took place is how many niche, or
...more
Elyse
Feb 10, 2013 Elyse rated it really liked it
I read this book ---
and 'The Right Stuff' when a 'yoga friend, (no less), recommend I read 'Tom Wolfe' (Before knowing of Goodreads).

Being older --late to the party (never considered this book when I actually lived in Berkeley attending Cal during the early 70's), -- what I enjoyed most about 'both' this book and 'The Right Stuff' was the historical trip down memory lane of a culture that comes around once in a lifetime.

Tom Wolfe is another one of those talented odd balls. (funny-witty-crazy).
...more
Gabriele
Jun 16, 2016 Gabriele rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Can You Pass the Acid Test?

C'è stato un periodo, fra la Beat Generation e il movimento Hippie, in cui l'uso di sostanze allucinogene come l'LSD creò delle vere e proprie comunità in America. Quella guidata da Ken Kesey è sicuramente la più famosa: intorno a questo scrittore rinomato e a un passo dal successo con " Qualcuno volò sul nido del cuculo " (di cui tutti avranno sicuramente visto almeno l'adattamento cinematografico con un grandioso Jack Nicholson), si riunì il meglio della controcultur
...more
J.C.
The book reads like a monologue of Dennis Hopper's character in Apocalypse Now!, weird and spiraling and tricked out in acid-head lingo. For the most part its where it should be, its part of the scene and definitely adds to the feel of being "there" and what they sounded like. But the entire later half of the book I struggled to find solid footing (which I should have known about a drug scene-but come on!), and found reading it a little difficult and sometimes frustrating. The last quarter of ...more
Rachel Hope Miranda
Apr 13, 2011 Rachel Hope Miranda rated it liked it
From Seventh Grade on (& still now) I found myself absolutely fascinated by the 1960’s and the freedom of the era. Every time a school project came about, I would find some way to focus it around this time period, which leads me to convincing my mother to purchase this, Tom Wolfe’s The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test and many other books. At the time I first read this (Seventh Grade) I completely and utterly did not understand it; I found myself attempting to “look cool” by bringing it with me ...more
Andi
Dec 03, 2008 Andi rated it it was amazing
Kesey unabashedly gives the modern reader a look at the psychedelic movement- before it was a movement. I was hooked from the beginning- 'Cool Breeze' and the rest of the Pranksters were too amazing. ::grins:: And the way they handled the cops- by being friendly and honest- awesome too! LOL The element of surprise is always key. Brightest blessings to everyone who reads this- may your journeys be twice as wierd, and twice as loving and positive as the Pranksters'.
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Wolfe was educated at Washington and Lee Universities and also at Yale, where he received a PhD in American studies.

Tom Wolfe spent his early days as a Washington Post beat reporter, where his free-association, onomatopoetic style would later become the trademark of New Journalism. In books such as The Electric Koolaid Acid Test, The Right Stuff, and The Bonfire of the Vanities, Wolfe delves into
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More about Tom Wolfe...

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“Everybody, everybody everywhere, has his own movie going, his own scenario, and everybody is acting his movie out like mad, only most people don’t know that is what they’re trapped by, their little script.” 160 likes
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