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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

3.83  ·  Rating details ·  1,123 Ratings  ·  175 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

It is impossible to overstate the cultural significance of the four men described in Don Lattin’s The Harvard Psychedelic Club. Huston Smith, tire
Hardcover, 256 pages
Published January 5th 2011 by HarperOne (first published December 16th 2009)
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Dec 16, 2009 rated it liked it
I was firstreads-less for a year because I wasn't able to review the first firstreads I had won (after writing a 'review' about why I hadn't reviewed it earlier, bam, I win my 2nd firstreads book). Just in case lacking a review prevents one from winning again, I'm sticking this filler in for now.

Real review forthcoming...if the weather doesn't thwart the postalperson from delivering the book this time.


I'm one of the few people who have never been high or stoned (or
Jun 27, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
It's funny, something about Andrew Weil always repelled me. If this journalist is to be believed, at all, there's good reason for it. He is an ambitious, conniving RAT in the ugliest sense of the word. His being a rat may have been related to the fact that he was the fat (but equally smart and probably more talented) kid who was rejected, while the pretty boys got to join the party, which is something for our culture to consider.

It always interests me how "Harvard Men," for example, think that t
Nov 22, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
The definitive book of the psychedelic movement of the 60s has yet to be written. Tom Wolfe's The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test comes awfully close. But while it succeeds in capturing the mood and times, it doesn't give you a sense of where the movement came from and where it went. The best book as yet to get that information may be The Harvard Psychedelic Club. Don Lattin focuses on four of the most important personages of the time and how their involvement defined the 60s. He describes the roles ...more
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Oct 22, 2011 rated it really liked it
The subtitle of this book is especially revealing; "How Timothy Leary, Ram Dass, Huston Smith, and Andrew Weil Killed the Fifties and Ushered in a New Age for America"....

That about sums up the thesis of the book. I was familiar with Ram Dass(Richard Alpert) and Tim Leary, but I was unfamiliar with Weil and Smith's role in this historical change in America's consciousness. Timothy Leary is "The Trickster". He even said that one gets, "The Timothy Leary that one deserves". He was both liar and ex
Bob Schnell
Don Lattin presents us with the story of the early days of psychedelic research as seen through the lens of the Harvard Psilocybin Project conducted by Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert (aka Ram Dass). Also there were Huston Smith who became an internationally renowned expert on world religions and Andrew Weil who came to fame promoting homeopathic medicine and herbal supplements. Individually and as a group, these pioneers helped to usher in the social and political sea change known as The Sixti ...more
Overall, this book provides a decent introduction to the story of Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert's involvement with LSD and other psychedelic drugs. If you haven't read any other book on Leary, Alpert, LSD or psychedelic drugs, this would provide a relatively solid and accurate introduction to the topic. However, I do have quite a few complaints with the book itself. First and foremost, the inclusion of Andrew Weil and Huston Smith to the cast of main characters adds little to the story. Andre ...more
Jul 20, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
An enjoyable read about culture, competition and experiences of radical-non-duality. Some of these things are easier to write about than others - to paraphrase a music critic's truism, writing about mysticism is like dancing about architecture. I would've loved more time with Huston Smith, and a little less with Leary. What can I say - that guy just gives me the creeps. Clearly, he was the most wrapped up in psychedelic culture, and it was interesting to find out about his time on the run, and t ...more
Dane Cobain
Jun 13, 2017 rated it really liked it
Don’t let this book’s appearance fool you. At first glance, it looks more like a textbook than the stunning piece of investigative non-fiction that it is, but it’s eminently readable and a lot of fun to boot.

This book tells the story of four influential people – Timothy Leary, Ram Dass, Huston Smith and Andrew Weil – and promises to show you how they “killed the fifties and ushered in a new age for America”. It delivers on that promise, and it’s interesting to see how the formation of the Harvar
Bogi Takács
Fascinating while disillusioning! A lot of 20th century historical figures come across as jerks. Even though the book was based on interviews with many of them, and I guess they were at least semi-OK with the content...

I would have enjoyed it more if it had fewer jumps back in time sometimes right in the middle of chapters. I think the author was doing this to tie the parallel life stories together, e.g., to talk about everyone's travels to non-Western countries at the same time. But it made the
Nancy Oakes
May 05, 2010 rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
The real title of this book is a long one: 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. It's a good book if you're into this sort of thing, easily readable and it raises a lot of questions for further exploration.

Lattin's central thesis is that these four men, "three brilliant scholars and one ambitious freshman," who were all together at Harvard University in the early 1960s, were able to transfo
Emily Smith
Mar 14, 2017 rated it really liked it
Great book if you're interested in the subject! And if you're not then you will still learn something :) the author told the story well, introducing each person and tying together their experiences in the 60s/70s very well. He wrapped up the book really well too, I re read the last paragraph about 4 times. I plan to re read it in the future and definitely recommend this book to others.
Jan 05, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: biography, drugs, 1960-s
Author Don Lattin discusses the impact that key participants in the 1950's Harvard LSD studies had on today's culture through four biographies. He shows how the lives of each of the four intersected and how each followed his respective passion.

New ideas on nutrition and medical treatment advanced by Andrew Weil and perspectives on religion advanced by Huston Smith and Richard Alpert/Ram Das, once considered unorthodox are now mainstream. The most famous participant of them all, Timothy Leary, wa
Mar 16, 2014 rated it really liked it
Don Lattin’s 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 profiles how some of the leading figures of the 1960’s counter-culture movement crossed paths and became so influential. One of the more striking features of this book is the extent to which Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert (Ram Dass) believed in what they were doing: both genuinely believed that they could change the world with psychedelic ...more
Patrick O'Neil
Feb 06, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Don Lattin has always written about quasi-religious "fringe elements." Either whacked out cults with inbred sex (Jesus Freaks), or long strange trips in search of spirituality (Shopping for Faith/Following Your Bliss). His books are bold exposés that attest to his journalist background (he was the the San Francisco Chronicle's religious editor for twenty years). Yet, like all good journalism is supposed to be, his writing has always felt removed - describing the history, the event, the situation ...more
Mary M
Jun 15, 2010 rated it it was ok
Doctor Weil the health-food guy? Didn't know he was iconic in this context. Should be interesting.

Almost through, and pretty sure that books by journalists are some of the worst-written books ever. By that, I mean that books such as this are interesting for what they tell about people and events that are integral to American social evolution--or devolution, one may say in a different mood--but that I was too young to pay attention to when they were in the news; on the other hand, the ham-fisted,
Patrick C.
Feb 09, 2010 rated it really liked it
This is a fascinating account of four of the main personalities associated with the research with psychedelic drugs at Harvard University under the leadership of Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert (Ram Dass). Lots of personal, even gossipy, details throughout. Two other prominent personalities are featured - Huston Smith, Harvard professor of religion and a prominent author, and Andrew Weil, now famous for his advocacy of psychedelics and alternative healing.

Very interesting is the revelation (for
Timothy Hallinan
May 07, 2010 rated it really liked it
A cautionary tale about psychotropic drugs and scholarly arrogance featuring Tim Leary, Richard Alpert (aka Ram Dass), religious historian Huston Smith, and the serpent in the garden, Andrew Weil. A riveting read for anyone who's experienced psychedelics, or just has some curiosity about where the hell the Sixties came from. Weil ratted out Leary and Alpert at Harvard -- got them fired -- not because of any principled moral stand but because they wouldn't give him any dope although they turned o ...more
Ben Sorofman
Dec 19, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is the best historical non fiction that I have read in awhile.

It takes a lot of liberties with the term "non-fiction", as Lattin makes up dialogue for moments that have no record of what was truly said. Also it is non-linear, weaving through time (though the chapters move forward in a linear pattern, information is given to the reader in a non-linear fashion).

A number of reviewers did not like these things. I did.

It is a fascinating look at a point in history that is hard to nail down. A ti
Chris Faraone
Jan 26, 2013 rated it really liked it
Don Lattin has had some enlightening trips of his own. In addition to a number of cliffhanging LSD adventures — one of which scrambled his melon for a month — the decorated San Francisco religion reporter traveled cross-continent to talk with the characters who famously ushered hallucinogens into pop-culture consciousness. I asked Lattin about his interviews with Baba Ram Dass (the former Harvard psychology professor Richard Alpert), former MIT professor and religion scholar Huston Smith, and al ...more
Elaine Meszaros
Dec 03, 2014 rated it really liked it
What we now associate with Timothy Leary - LSD, Grateful Dead concerts, hippies, tuning in and dropping out, first started out as psychological experiments at Harvard University. Leary, a charismatic and well-liked professor, hoped to help inmates rehabilitate by giving them mystical experiences via LSD. His early partners, lab assistants and fellow researchers soon became sucked into the LSD world. Leary looses his job and home, gets kicked out of one country after another and finally ends up b ...more
J.T. Oldfield
From my review:

I found this to be a fascinating tale. Leary and Alpert really wanted to help people through the use of psychedelic drugs. They worked in the psych department, remember. They tested hallucinogens not only on graduate students, but alcoholics and convicts as well, hoping that the experience really would “expand their minds” and bring them closure. They had massive parties, after leaving Harvard, yes, but then they would all sit around (and by all I mean Leary, Alpert, and various o
Aug 10, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: favorites
now, THAT'S what i call... history.

one excerpt:
-sometime in january 1995, leary was diagnosed with inoperable prostate cancer. he did not go quietly into the night. the internet was the next big thing... he livened up his convalescence, and got media attention, by posting his daily drug intake on the internet:

two cups of caffeine
two vicodin
one cocktail
one glass of white wine
one line of cocaine
twelve balloons of nitrous oxide
and Leary Biscuits-- marijuana in melted cheese on a ritz crack
Jan 08, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"To fathom hell or soar angelic / Just take a pinch of psychedelic." (66, quoting Humphrey Osmond)

"'About a third of what I've said is just flat-out bullshit. About a third of what I've said is just dead wrong. But a third of what I've said have been home runs. So I'm batting .333, which puts me in the Hall of Fame.'" (126, quoting Timothy Leary)
Bernie Gourley
Apr 07, 2018 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: those curious about the rise and fall of research on hallucinogens.
The title and subtitle say it all when it comes to Lattin’s controversial thesis that four individuals who were at (or -- in Smith’s case -- “near / working with”) Harvard University single-handedly (octa-handedly?) gave birth to the sixties’ counterculture through their research and advocacy of hallucinogenic substances (first psilocybin and later LSD.) Before I obtained a copy, I was perusing the reviews, and one overarching criticism stuck out amid a sea of generally complimentary comments. H ...more
Oct 25, 2014 rated it it was amazing
very good book should be read along with Kripal's book "Esalen".
Michael Duane  Robbins
Feb 15, 2018 rated it really liked it
The Seeker, the Trickster, the Healer and the Teacher. Thus has the author characterized four men who changed our perception of reality and what was possible. Each chapter is broken into sections following the trajectory of these men: Timothy Leary, Trickster and showman; Richard Alpert, the seeker who made a pilgrimage to India and returned as spiritual leader Ram Dass; Huston Smith, a professor of religion who offered insight and an inclusive view towards all belief systems; and Andrew Weir, b ...more
Ray Campbell
Jan 17, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: read-2018
This was a concise biography of Timothy Leary, Ram Dass, Huston Smith, and Andrew Weil. The timeline runs from their early days at Harvard to today. The focus is on their discovery of and experimentation with psychedelic drugs. As each struggle with various person issues, Lattin tells the story of how psychedelics were used and experimented with and the impact on their lives.

I have read a great deal of popular culture history on this period. I was shocked that I had no idea these men were friend
Jul 31, 2017 rated it it was ok
I think I expected more out of this book than it offered. Since it is a fairly short book focusing on 4 people, it lacks the depth of a good biography. It is also lacking as either a scientific or sociopolitical analysis. I will give it credit for being a passable introduction to a multifaceted topic, however. Although the behavior of some of these characters put legitimate drug research decades behind where it should be, their impact on society as a whole is hard to ignore, and even harder to q ...more
An interesting story but overall the book was just fine. Breaking it into four perspectives jumbled the narrative, and aside from being an easy villain (though one the author is excessively sympathetic towards) the inclusion of Andrew Weil as a viewpoint adds very little and detracts from the larger more important story, which is clearly Alpert's and Leary's. Not a bad read, but not quite what I was hoping for.
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Don Lattin is an award-winning journalist and who covers alternative and mainstream religious movements and figures in America. His work has appeared in dozens of U.S. magazines and newspapers, including the San Francisco Chronicle, where Lattin covered the religion beat for nearly two decades. He is also the author of six books.
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“Nisker wasn’t really in the mood for an LSD trip. After all, he was in a car and heading toward the Oakland–San Francisco Bay Bridge. Then Scoop started thinking to himself. Well, the guy is the “high priest of LSD.” What else can I do? When else am I going to get a chance like this? So, Nisker dropped the acid. By the time they got to the radio station Scoop was so stoned he couldn’t put two words together. But Leary sat down behind the microphone and just let out all this beautiful, flowing prose. He was his usual glib, funny self. Nisker was melting into the floor, mumbling to himself. But there was Leary, totally in charge of himself—so charismatic, so facile. What a performance!” 3 likes
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