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The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test

3.92  ·  Rating details ·  70,157 ratings  ·  2,028 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 1968)
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Alena This book is a ride. A front-row seat to the inside of the LSD movement in the 60's. This book is fascinating to me from a historical perspective, thi…moreThis book is a ride. A front-row seat to the inside of the LSD movement in the 60's. This book is fascinating to me from a historical perspective, this first-person account of a truly interesting time. It's also written in an unusual manner, not dry at all.. very psychedelic like Oisín said and full of popular slang of the day.

Anyone who has an interest in the LSD movement of the 60's would find this book great reading, I'd think.(less)
Wisteria I corresponded with Tom Wolfe in the 1960s and asked him if he did the acid and all, and he answered with an amazing post card (from Cuba) with his ow…moreI corresponded with Tom Wolfe in the 1960s and asked him if he did the acid and all, and he answered with an amazing post card (from Cuba) with his own explanations of his trips and written with drawings. I was very ill when I wrote to him, and I was thrilled that he responded in such a personal way. I still have the post card and cherish it. (less)

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Sep 09, 2009 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 c ...more
Jonathan Ashleigh
Oct 07, 2014 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. ...more
Oct 27, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
A mega doozy! A unique faux/dopey 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, 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 ...more
Dec 04, 2012 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
John Hampton
Nov 05, 2007 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
"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
J.L.   Sutton
“You're either on the bus or off the bus.”

r/LSD - The Original Furthur Bus, with the Original Merry Prankster

“The world was simply and sheerly divided into 'the aware', those who had the experience of being vessels of the divine, and a great mass of 'the unaware', 'the unmusical', 'the unattuned.”

I decided to read Tom Wolfe's The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test after finishing Ken Kesey's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. Wolfe follows Kesey and his band of Merry Pranksters as they set out to experience a counter cultural American landscape in their 1939 Internati
Paul Schroeder
Nov 06, 2007 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
Mar 30, 2013 rated it really liked it
To me, nothing says Christmas better than trippy colors mixed with love, peace, and harmony.

Turn on the lights and turn yourself on, find the bus and/or Santa's sleigh, and it's truly the season to be jolly!

... and freak out the squares, man.

Break the mold in our lives, put on the day-glow, THINK DIFFERENTLY, and DEFY EVERYTHING! It's CHRISTMAS-ish. :) Let's check out those elvish helpers...

The Merry Pranksters!

Ken Kesey (un)led this band of social explorers took so many mind-altering trips th
Dec 27, 2007 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
Oct 12, 2016 rated it really liked it
I enjoyed this book. I grew up partially on the peninsula with a father who was pretty involved in the counter culture. I ran around at 12 in a black corduroy cape with a sparkly Mylar dot on my forehead.. and when Ken Kesey's bus pulled up in our driveway in Barron Park and he and the Pranksters melted out I thought the circus had arrived.

I read Electric Kool Aid Acid Test soon after it came out and I thought Tom Wolfe really captured the feeling of the times. It was exciting for me to read bec
Dec 02, 2020 rated it did not like it
Oh dear, what was my teenage self thinking of when liking this? It is a piece of literary journalism which looks at the roots of the hippie movement and the origins of the use of LSD. The book centres particularly on Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters. Kesey took LSD very early (1959) in a trial to test its effects (funded by the CIA, although Kesey was not aware of this). He liked it and felt it was something that everyone should try, in fact he became a bit of a zealot in promoting it, gatheri ...more
Erik Graff
Jul 11, 2009 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
Eric K.
Nov 20, 2007 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
Michelle Curie
"I don't want to be rude to you fellows from the City, but there's been things going on out here that you would never guess in your wildest million years, old buddy..."

Oh, to having lived in the Sixties. All the things people whisper and get reminiscent about today comes alive in The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. It certainly was a ride, in the most literal sense of the word.

I mean, this book is nuts. Crazy. Insane. Tom Wolfe presents his experience of Ken Kesey and his band of Merry Prankste
May 31, 2011 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 descrip ...more
Elyse  Walters
Feb 10, 2013 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).
Oct 30, 2012 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
Aug 11, 2007 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
First time around, this book positively made me want to try acid. Jury's still out on that one, folks. ...more
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
Feb 20, 2010 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
John Blumenthal
Dec 18, 2013 rated it really liked it
I was stoned when I read this so I have absolutely no idea what it was even about. Just kidding. Tom Wolfe at his best. Loved it from the very first line: “That’s good thinking there Cool Breeze.”
Michael Jandrok
Aug 29, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Ok, Children of the Sun and Merry Pranksters and all the Merry Wannabes and heads and freaks. I’m going to tell you how it was, and what it meant, and what it might still mean for today if anyone wants to still be up front and open their minds and LISTEN instead of jawboning...spend a bit of time in the NOW, and understand how things went down….back then.

In 1962 a man named Ken Kesey wrote a book called “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” and he and the book became very popular. That book was abo
Dec 25, 2008 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 im ...more
Aug 23, 2007 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 60' ...more
Nov 08, 2012 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
Rick Skwiot
Nov 20, 2012 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
Andy Miller
Dec 25, 2009 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
Jenny (Reading Envy)
Jan 11, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: did-not-finish
I've been trying to finish this for a while. If the experience of reading it wasn't so much like an acid trip itself, I might be able to get past halfway. Each chapter starts out like a story but slowly devolves, sometimes into sheer chaos. I'm interested in the people being talked about, especially after reading On the Road, but I just can't slog through. I may come back to it. ...more
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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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