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Acid Dreams: The CIA, LSD and the Sixties Rebellion

4.12  ·  Rating details ·  2,792 ratings  ·  140 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 1950s and launched a massive covert research program, in ...more
Paperback, 343 pages
Published January 21st 1994 by Grove Press (first published January 1st 1985)
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Average rating 4.12  · 
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 ·  2,792 ratings  ·  140 reviews

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Jan 14, 2015 rated it really liked it
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
Mar 29, 2010 rated it liked it
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
Dec 11, 2015 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,
M.L. Rio
The history of LSD is about as wild as you'd expect, ranging from the first CIA-spearheaded acid tests of the 1950s to the violent radicalism of the mysterious Weathermen fifteen years later to the quiet bust of enigmatic international kingpin Ronald Stark in the 1980s. This book itself is a trip (though admittedly a bit outdated now), examining--as the subtitle promises--not only LSD the drug but also LSD the culture, LSD the movement, LSD the menace. It's a surprisingly lucid narrative and whi ...more
Jul 31, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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 rated it really liked it
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
Don Dupay
Mar 21, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I read this book for a class I took at PSU. Such a great book. Sheds light on all the lies and chaos of the 1960s. Great reference book for how LSD changed America. One of my favorite books.
Bernie Gourley
Feb 26, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This is a microhistory of America’s interaction with LSD. LSD, commonly called “acid” from its full name Lysergic acid diethylamide, is a chemical substance that was originally derived from ergot fungus, and which causes distortion of perception, an altered state of consciousness, and – in some cases – hallucinations. When I say it’s American history, that’s an oversimplification because many of the events described happen overseas (e.g. LSD’s own story begins in Switzerland with chemist, Albert ...more
Dec 06, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2016
A fascinating history of one of the most powerful chemicals ever synthesized, the government agencies that tried unsuccessfully to turn it into a weapon and then, even less successfully, to contain it after the proverbial genie was out of the bottle. Timothy Leary, Ken Kesey, Albert Hoffman and Aldous Huxley and several other well-known characters whose lives were inextricably linked to the story of LSD, make their expected appearances, some more fleshed out than others. We are also introduced t ...more
Erik Graff
Oct 07, 2010 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
Jan 18, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
Richard Wu
Jul 03, 2019 rated it really liked it
Then I got to wondering what Times were like before they had a-changed, that is, before I was; what kind of world was there to shape me so: Weathermen full of more than sound and fury, the CIA's autoespionage, panthers Black hiding charismatic ex-Ivy drug-pushing jailbreakers in Algeria or White dropping tabs on radicals at my own alma mater (so weird to say) where a mathematical prodigy would graduate to rail against the progress of technology; mentally neotenous human analogues of stamens, ste ...more
Samantha Kernc
Nov 03, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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
Feb 06, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: psychedelics
Great read for anyone interested in LSD and its historical involvement with the American government, the CIA, and the hippie movement. Significant text with important information.
This is why we can't have nice things. ...more
Bryan Winchell
May 19, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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
May 07, 2009 rated it liked it 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
Jeff Francis
Which of these two facts do you find more interesting?

A) The CIA tried to develop LSD as a truth serum and possible weapon, experimenting with the drug on themselves, prisoners, “volunteers,” and eventually paying junkie prostitutes to lure men from San Francisco bars to a brothel that was actually a CIA lab, where the unsuspecting men would be dosed with LSD and secretly observed.

B) LSD played a major role in the rebellious youth culture of the ‘60s.

If you chose the first option, you’ll likely
Bill Wallace
Sep 14, 2015 rated it really liked it
Not exactly the book I was looking for but quite illuminating. I want to read a good history of the early years of Projects Artichoke and MKUltra but I'm realizing that the source material for such a book probably doesn't exist. This book has a little bit of that history but most of its length is an account of the LSD culture of the 1960s...a story told better in Storming Heaven, by Jay Stevens. The other chapters, the ones that dance away from the same old groovy times to circle back into the r ...more
James Stroll
Feb 05, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
Jul 30, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Re-read, 10/2018: This remains a fantastic document of LSD and its interaction with the world. Focusing more on government involvement and less on the Leary/Kesey social aspect, it weaves a comprehensive story. Still highly recommended.

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 th
the kenosha kid
Apr 18, 2011 rated it it was amazing
The history of LSD is full of fascinating characters and episodes, and this book covers it very well. It gives an accessible, comprehensive and well-researched overview of the culture surrounding acid from its discovery and early studies in the 1950s to the psychedelic revolution of the 1960s. It's an enlightening read, and a very fun one – Tim Leary's life, for instance, is much more interesting than I'd have thought. It's just a shame that the book is nearly thirty years old, and thus does not ...more
Jan 03, 2015 rated it it was amazing
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! ...more
May 28, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Great- objective history of LSD and its effect on society from the 40s-70s
May 08, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Conrad Katzander
May 3, 2019
World History
Book Project Essay

Is Acid Dreams Well Written?

Acid Dreams by Martin A. Lee and Bruce Shlain is mainly about the CIA’s plan MK- ULTRA, and how it backfired and ultimately started a cultural revolution around LSD use in the US. On the front cover of the book it says, “ THE COMPLETE SOCIAL HISTORY OF LSD, CIA, THE SIXTIES, AND BEYOND.” Immediately, on the first page the main idea was introduced very clearly. “The use of drugs by secret agents has long be
Jacob Johnson
Feb 03, 2021 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, books-i-own
Very good book. Very readable and clear, jam packed with info. There are a lot of people and events this book covers but it does a great job of keeping everybody straight and connecting events throughout the '60s and early '70s. LSD is very interesting and this book dispels a lot of the myths surrounding it. Many of the things we hear today about acid were originally promoted by the CIA and US government to try and scare people and make a case for classifying it as illegal.

A lot of this book co
Paige McLoughlin
An uncontrolled science experiment played out in mid to late-twentieth-century America. What happens when you take John Kenneth Galbraith's Affluent but highly conformist society of organization men and women and introduce one of the most psychoactive chemicals that Terrence McKenna handily named an entheogen (a substance producing divine revelations) and unleash it on this well-oiled machine of post-war prosperity. You get the technicolor explosion of chaos called the sixties. It started out du ...more
Sep 23, 2017 rated it really liked it
Much like the drug of its subject matter, this book will take you to heights of glory, depths of horror, and everything in between. Its story is both mirthful and harrowing, so richly complex that it must be examined from every conceivable angle to reach any real understanding of it. Martin A. Lee does this expertly, integrating countless first- and second-hand sources, following every philosophical suggestion with its logical counterpoint. More often than not the only conclusions reached are th ...more
Henrique Maia
Apr 20, 2018 rated it liked it
What a journey! That’s my feeling after having read this book. Published in 1984, here and there some aspects of it accuse its age and time of publication, taking for granted assumptions that were only possible in the eighties. But this is not to be taken as a flaw, for no one can truly think outside of its own time, and the authors (the whole bunch) are no exception. It’s just a quirk of the book, something that now happens to be there (when it was published it was probably not much of an issue ...more
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