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Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test

Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test

4.3 71
by Tom Wolfe

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Tom Wolfe's The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test ushered in an era of New Journalism, "An American classic" (Newsweek) that defined a generation. "An astonishing book" (The New York Times Book Review) and an unflinching portrait of Ken Kesey, his Merry Pranksters, LSD, and the 1960s.


Tom Wolfe's The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test ushered in an era of New Journalism, "An American classic" (Newsweek) that defined a generation. "An astonishing book" (The New York Times Book Review) and an unflinching portrait of Ken Kesey, his Merry Pranksters, LSD, and the 1960s.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“Tom Wolfe is a groove and a gas. Everyone should send him money and other fine things. Hats off to Tom Wolfe!” —Terry Southern

The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test is not simply the best book on the hippies, it is the essential book . . . the pushing, ballooning heart of the matter . . . Vibrating dazzle!” —The New York Times

“Some consider Mailer our greatest journalist; my candidate is Wolfe.” —Studs Terkel, Book Week

“A Day-Glo book, illuminating, merry, surreal!” —The Washington Post

“Electrifying.” —San Francisco Chronicle

“An amazing book . . . A book that definitely gives Wolfe the edge on the nonfiction novel.” —The Village Voice

“Among journalists, Wolfe is a genuine poet; what makes him so good is his ability to get inside, to not merely describe (although he is a superb reporter), but to get under the skin of a phenomenon and transmit its metabolic rhythm.” —Newsweek

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5.50(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.90(d)

Read an Excerpt

Black Shiny FBI Shoes

That's good thinking there, Cool Breeze. Cool Breeze is a kid with three or four days' beard sitting next to me on the stamped metal bottom of the open back part of a pickup truck. Bouncing along. Dipping and rising and rolling on these rotten springs like a boat. Out the back of the truck the city of San Francisco is bouncing down the hill, all those endless staggers of bay windows, slums with a view, bouncing and streaming down the hill. One after another, electric signs with neon martini glasses lit up on them, the San Francisco symbol of "bar"--thousands of neon-magenta martini glasses bouncing and streaming down the hill, and beneath them hundreds, thousands of people wheeling around to look at this freaking crazed truck we're in, their white faces erupting from their lapels like marshmallows--streaming and bouncing down the hill--and God knows they've got plenty to look at.

That's why it strikes me as funny when Cool Breeze says very seriously over the whole roar of the thing, "I don't know--when Kesey gets out I don't know if I can come around the Warehouse."

"Why not?"

"Well, like the cops are going to be coming around like all feisty, and I'm on probation, so I don't know."

Well, that's good thinking there, Cool Breeze. Don't rouse the bastids. Lie low--like right now. Right now Cool Breeze is so terrified of the law he is sitting up in plain view of thousands of already startled citizens wearing some kind of Seven Dwarfs Black Forest gnome's hat covered in feathers and fluorescent colors. Kneeling in the truck, facing us, also in plain view, is a half-Ottawa Indian girl named LoisJennings, with her head thrown back and a radiant look on her face. Also a blazing silver disk in the middle of her forehead alternately exploding with light when the sun hits it or sending off rainbows from the defraction lines in it. And, oh yeah, there's a long-barreled Colt .45 revolver in her hand, only nobody on the street can tell it's a cap pistol as she pegs away, kheeew, kheeew, at the erupting marshmallow faces like Debra Paget in . . . in . . .

--Kesey's coming out of jail!

Two more things they are looking at out there are a sign on the rear bumper reading "Custer Died for Your Sins" and, at the wheel, Lois's enamorado Stewart Brand, a thin blond guy with a blazing disk on his forehead too, and a whole necktie made of Indian beads. No shirt, however, just an Indian bead necktie on bare skin and a white butcher's coat with medals from the King of Sweden on it.

Here comes a beautiful one, attach? case and all, the day-is-done resentful look and the ...shoes--how they shine!--and what the hell are these beatnik ninnies--and Lois plugs him in the old marshmallow and he goes streaming and bouncing down the hill . . .

And the truck heaves and billows, blazing silver red and Day-Glo, and I doubt seriously, Cool Breeze, that there is a single cop in all of San Francisco today who does not know that this crazed vehicle is a guerrilla patrol from the dread LSD.

The cops now know the whole scene, even the costumes, the jesuschrist strung-out hair, Indian beads, Indian headbands, donkey beads, temple bells, amulets, mandalas, god's-eyes, fluorescent vests, unicorn horns, Errol Flynn dueling shirts--but they still don't know about the shoes. The heads have a thing about shoes. The worst are shiny black shoes with shoelaces in them. The hierarchy ascends from there, although practically all lowcut shoes are unhip, from there on up to the boots the heads like, light, fanciful boots, English boots of the mod variety, if that is all they can get, but better something like hand-tooled Mexican boots with Caliente Dude Triple A toes on them. So see the FBI--black--shiny--laced up--FBI shoes--when the FBI finally grabbed Kesey--

There is another girl in the back of the truck, a dark little girl with thick black hair, called Black Maria. She looks Mexican, but she says to me in straight soft Californian:

"When is your birthday?"

"March 2."

"Pisces," she says. And then: "I would never take you for a Pisces."


"You seem too ... solid for a Pisces."

But I know she means stolid. I am beginning to feel stolid. Back in New York City, Black Maria, I tell you, I am even known as something of a dude. But somehow a blue silk blazer and a big tie with clowns on it and ... a ...pair of shiny lowcut black shoes don't set them all to doing the Varsity Rag in the head world in San Francisco. Lois picks off the marshmallows one by one; Cool Breeze ascends into the innards of his gnome's hat; Black Maria, a Scorpio herself, rummages through the Zodiac; Stewart Brand winds it through the streets; paillettes explode--and this is nothing special, just the usual, the usual in the head world of San Francisco, just a little routine messing up the minds of the citizenry en route, nothing more than psyche food for beautiful people, while giving some guy from New York a lift to the Warehouse to wait for the Chief, Ken Kesey, who is getting out of jail.

About all I knew about Kesey at that point was that he was a highly regarded 31-year-old novelist and in a lot of trouble over drugs. He wrote One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1962), which was made into a play in 1963, and Sometimes a Great Notion (1964). He was always included with Philip Roth and Joseph Heller and Bruce Jay Friedman and a couple of others as one of the young novelists who might go all the way. Then he was arrested twice for possession of marijuana, in April of 1965 and January of 1966, and fled to Mexico rather than risk a stiff sentence. It looked like as much as five years, as a second offender. One day I happened to get hold of some letters Kesey wrote from Mexico to his friend Larry McMurtry, who wrote Horseman, Pass By, from which the movie Hud was made. They were wild and ironic, written like a cross between William Burroughs and George Ade, telling of hideouts, disguises, paranoia, fleeing from cops, smoking joints and seeking satori in the Rat lands of Mexico. There was one passage written George Ade-fashion in the third person as a parody of what the straight world back there in the U.S.A. must think of him now:

"In short, this young, handsome, successful, happily-married-three-lovely-children father was a fear-crazed dope fiend in flight to avoid prosecution on three felonies and god knows how many misdemeanors and seeking at the same time to sculpt a new satori from an old surf--in even shorter, mad as a hatter.

"Once an athlete so valued he had been given the job of calling signals from the line and risen into contention for the nationwide amateur wrestling crown, now he didn't know if he could do a dozen pushups. Once possessor of a phenomenal bank account and money waving from every hand, now it was all his poor wife could do to scrape together eight dollars to send as getaway money to Mexico. But a few years previous he had been listed in Who's Who and asked to speak at such auspicious gatherings as the Wellesley Club in Dah-la and now they wouldn't even allow him to speak at a VDC [Vietnam Day Committee] gathering. What was it that had brought a man so high of promise to so low a state in so short a time? Well, the answer can be found in just one short word, my friends, in just one all-well-used syllable:


"And while it may be claimed by some of the addled advocates of these chemicals that our hero is known to have indulged in drugs before his literary success, we must point out that there was evidence of his literary prowess well before the advent of the so-called psychedelic into his life but no evidence at all of any of the lunatic thinking that we find thereafter!"

To which he added:

"(oh yea, the wind hums time ago--time ago-- the rafter drums and the walls see ...and there's a door to that bird in the sa-a-a-apling sky time ago by-- Oh yeah the surf giggles time ago time ago of under things killed when bad was banished and all the doors to the birds vanished time ago then.)"

Meet the Author

Tom Wolfe is the author of a dozen books, among them such contemporary classics as The Bonfire of the Vanities, The Right Stuff, and I Am Charlotte Simmons. He lives in New York City.

Brief Biography

New York, New York
Date of Birth:
March 2, 1931
Place of Birth:
Richmond, Virginia
B.A. (cum laude), Washington and Lee University, 1951; Ph.D. in American Studies, Yale University, 1957

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The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 71 reviews.
CameronWeber More than 1 year ago
The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test is a first-person dissertation of Ken Kesey and his band of Merry Pranksters. After Kesey wrote One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, he discovered the mystical experience of taking LSD (acid). In 1967, He and his Pranksters wanted to share this wonder with the rest of the world, so they bought a 1939 International Harvester school bus, painted it with day-glo, and they were off, traveling the country soaring on acid, speed, and grass. Tom Wolfe rode along on this journey, although he passed on the narcotics in order to bring his readers an accurate representation of their trip. His writing style is like nothing I have ever seen. He sometimes breaks into poems or uses large numbers of colons in succession. His thought process is all over the place and, at times, difficult to comprehend. Overall, I thought this was a GREAT book because it tells about how acid was introduced into mainstream America, and it shows an outsider's perspective of countless trips, highs, hallucinations, and lows. Anybody who has seen and liked The Beatles' Magical Mystery Tour would enjoy reading this book. They have similar themes, and The Beatles actually were inspired to make that movie because of the Merry Pranksters' adventure. I would rate The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test at 9.961 out of 10.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Wow! this is most definately my favorite Tom Wolfe book, and probably my favorite book ever! the merry pranksters remind me of a greatful dead-esque typical 60's hippie group. even people born after the time of 'the hippies' (they're still everywhere in Berkeley!) can appreciate the descriptive and unique style of writing posessed by Tom Wolfe.This book gives intellectual qualities to a people thought to be the most unintelligent of their time. Trippy.
fattrucker More than 1 year ago
Once in a great while there is a sociological convergence, a synergy, that leaves it's mark on the world. It often takes an outsider to recognize it, tie it all together and objectively capture it for posterity. Read Hunter Thompson's "Hell's Angels", Kerouacs "On the Road" and Wolfe's "Electric Koolaid Acid Test", and you have a front row seat to the end of the fifties and the early sixties, the end of the beat generation and the beginning of the hippy culture, psychedelic drugs, the Hell's Angels, Nixon, Tim Leary, Kerouac, Neil Cassiday, Allen Ginzberg, the Gratefull Dead, acid rock, and especially the late great Ken Kesey, with "acid test" being the most objective account of the three. It was a magic, almost mythical time. We will never be that free again. EKAT is the best of Wolfe's sociological explorations, largely due to it's larger than life subject matter.
americangirlDLM More than 1 year ago
Was it a good idea for intellectuals, social advocates, musicians and young trendoids to go "further" with LSD and other psychedelic drugs? No matter your opinion, if you are interested in the subject, Tom Wolfe's creative journalistic account will not leave you feeling misinformed. The bliss and the paranoia, the spiritual revelations and the mental breakdowns, Wolfe includes it all; you will understand the powerful pull of "the bus" and also those who feared it. Reading about the charismatic persona and edgy social experiments of Ken Kesey, you will feel as if you have not only encountered his character, you have gone into and through it and come out the other side. For atmosphere, you've got to listen to some psychedelic jamming. The Grateful Dead were the house band for Kesey's Merry Pranksters, but there were others. Wolfe pays tribute in style and voice to Jack Kerouac's "On the Road," which in its time was the touchstone for young intellectuals beginning the journey "further" from middle class comforts, into experiments with drugs and contemplation of new social and sexual mores. Charlie Parker was the master "house musician" for Kerouac's "mad ones".
Guest More than 1 year ago
I've been interested in the counter culture of the sixties since my early teens. I read this one about 3 years ago and finished it in 2 days. It's very funny and a real page turner. Kesey and Babbs were quintessential figures of their generation and this is a must read for any 60's lover.
Guest More than 1 year ago
a very well researched and organized piece of literature. extremely accessable and interesting. provides a front row seat to the excesses and travelings of Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters. a remarkable book, highly HIGHLY recomended... amazing style of storytelling.
Guest More than 1 year ago
As soon as I came across this book while searching for books about the betnik population, this book struck my eyes first. Not only was it a great and entertaining read, but also gave a lot of information about Ken Kesey and his revolution. I had no idea that Ken Kesey was such a prominant figure in the whole era of the hippies, but after reading this book I now see all that Kesey did to promote the betnik population. The book begins with Kesey leavnig jail, on account for arrests dealing with drug charges. I new Kesey as the authro of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's nest, and the book describes his rise to fame from that book. It then goes on to tell of the early beginning of LSD, which was developed by Timothy Leary. Kesey starts a group, which gains many followers that gain the name The Merry Pranksters. They go on a crazy bus trip all across the United States, live aimlessly in La Honda, meet with the Hell's Angles, get arrested numerous times, and finally begin partying with the Warlocks, who are later to be known as the Greatful Dead. The book sis a time capsule through the sixties, from the time acid was first tested, until finally when Kesey escapes to Mexico. Not only does Tom wolfe vividly describe the adventure, but also along the way describes the scene of the whole American population and how the people of the United States were affected by they new wave of hippies and betnik's during the sixties.
Guest More than 1 year ago
In EKAT, Tom Wolfe, with his superb, flowing dialogue, gives humanity to a group long since thought to have no minds at all. The Merry Pranksters, led by Ken Kesey (One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest, Sometimes A Great Notion), gave rise to a whole new generation of 60's culture, influenced by LSD, love and freedom. Wolfe, although not present for most of the events of the book, beautifully words the breakthroughs and heartbreaks that severely forward thinking can bring. Swirly and surreal, the Merry Pranksters are immortalized by Wolfe with a respect and understanding that few people can bring to the table. Knowing that the Grateful Dead, the Who and even the Beatles took ideas and examples from the Pranksters' lives, one would think by now the whole world would know them, but alas, there are only a sad few. If you want to know about the Magical Mystery Tour, The Magic Bus or Truckin'...read this first, it's a MUST!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I was intrigued to read a description of the birth of the hippie movement but i found Ken Kesey unlikable; both dogmatic and bigoted. He had a singular vision of how to be enlightened and if you challeged him you found youself off the bus. Also he was paranoid enough to fake an inept suicide ruse and run off to mexico to avoid a marijuana charge. The saving grace was reading about Mountain Girl.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
An interesting read, especially for those intrigued by the psychedelic movement. The first half of the book is a bit more fast-paced and thus causes the second half to drag a bit. Flaws and all, this is a great documentation of a sub-culture and generation.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
No problem
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Oh thanks
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Auora: daddy? Leah: mhmmmmmk talie: sings
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Love u too
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Walks in
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Walks in and sits down wishin te older drake would talk to me
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Still holds up...always will
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