“[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, tirelessly working to promote cross-cultural religious and spiritual tolerance. Richard Alpert, a.k.a. Ram Dass, inspiring generations with his mantra, “be here now.” Andrew Weil, undisputed leader of the holistic medicine revolution. And, of course, Timothy Leary, the charismatic, rebellious counter-culture icon and LSD guru. Journalist Don Lattin provides the funny, moving inside story of the “Cambridge Quartet,” who crossed paths with the infamous Harvard Psilocybin Project in the early 60’s, and went on to pioneer the Mind/Body/Spirit movement that would popularize yoga, vegetarianism, and Eastern mysticism in the Western world.
Don Lattin is one of the nation's leading journalists covering 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 he covered the religion beat for nearly two decades. Lattin has also worked as a consultant and commentator for Dateline, Primetime, Good Morning America, Nightline, Anderson Cooper 360, and PBS's Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly. He is the author of Jesus Freaks: A True Story of Murder and Madness on the Evangelical Edge, and Following Our Bliss: How the Spiritual Ideals of the Sixties Shape Our Lives Today, and is the coauthor of Shopping for Faith: American Religion in the New Millennium.
What People are Saying About This
The Harvard Psychedelic Club is not only a great read, it’s also an unforgettable head trip. Lattin weaves a masterful tale of 1960s-style spirituality, professional jealousy, and out-of-body experiences. Lattin has done his homework and it shows. Read this book and expand your mind. No hallucinogenics required.
I suspect I’m not the only person who thought the psychedelics-at-Harvard story had been pretty well settled, but Lattin’s work has widened my perspective considerably. By focusing on Huston Smith and Andrew Weil as well as Leary and Alpert, he’s created a stimulating and thoroughly engrossing read.
With care and considerable humor, Don Lattin shows us how the interwoven relationships of four charismatic visionaries contributed to the expansion of mind that changed American culture forever. The way we eat, pray, and love have all been conditioned by their lives and teachings.
A revealing account of four iconic personalities who helped define an era, sowed seeds of consciousness, and left indelible marks in the lives of spiritual explorers to this day. The Conclusion is alone worth the price of the book.
Harvard Psychedelic Club 4.3 out of 5based on
More than 1 year ago
Very well researched. Took a while to get going, but what book doesn't? We learn the backgrounds of the people who had immense influence on the counter culture. I recommend it to those who lived it and to those who are curious about a period of great change in our nation's history.
railarson on LibraryThing
5 days ago
While undertaking a course on the psychology of religious conversion at the Graduate Theological Union, Bay Area religion writer Don Lattin cast back in his memory for his own ¿personal conversion narrative.¿ Like many of his generation, Lattin had experimented with psychedelics with¿in retrospect, predictably¿polarized results.What this reflection led Lattin to consider was that his encounters with LSD, both good and bad, were the beginning of a long process of spiritual awakening. A process closer, perhaps, to the journey of Huston Smith (who Lattin personifies as The Teacher), than the more convoluted roads that Timothy Leary (The Trickster), Ram Dass né Richard Alpert (The Seeker), and Andrew Weil (The Healer) traveled.Originally called in to help Smith finish his biography, Tales of Wonder, Lattin was approached to tell this story, a fascinating tale of an incredible time in human history. The editors at HarperOne realized they had inadvertently found just the right guy to do it justice.With a subtitle of ¿How Timothy Leary, Ram Dass, Huston Smith, and Andrew Weil killed the fifties and ushered in a new age for America,¿ the uninitiated may have the impression that the four men worked in consort toward that goal, however, the interesting push and pull of these four strong and very distinct personalities is what gives this story its legs.Weil¿s betrayal of Leary and Alpert that resulted in their expulsion from Harvard was the most shocking revelation of the early years of the quartet¿s transformation. It is surprising, even with the hindsight that the two men had to leave the confines of the institution¿one way or another¿to become what they ultimately became, that an enlightened person like Ram Dass still can¿t forgive the young Weil, a man that arguably no longer exists.The Harvard Psychedelic Club is a fast-paced read, with faces both famous and infamous popping up throughout the entire ride. The men independently show up with almost Zelig regularity at every important moment that collectively led to a shattering of the calcified paradigm of post-war American culture.While Weil was busy becoming the guru of the organic health movement, and Leary was spending a good deal of time and effort staying one step ahead of the law, Smith and Dass explored the Far East, found affirmation and enlightenment in India and Japan, and ultimately brought those lessons and attitudes back to a United States hungry for deeper meaning.It is these spiritual ramifications of the psychedelic experience that Lattin considers important, and, like many at the time, he discounts Leary¿s messianic tendencies as being antithetical to the possibility of positive change through inner exploration. Leary¿s surviving cohorts seem to hold him responsible for the unfortunate cessation of serious scientific research into the use of these drugs at the same time they realize that, as an archetypal ¿trickster,¿ he was playing as inevitable a part in the passion play as they had been.Lattin sums up the quartet¿s tumultuous history in his conclusion as such: ¿All four of these characters played a role in the social and spiritual changes that made the sixties such a pivotal decade in recent American history. They stirred up the water and then rode a wave of social change. The difference is that Timothy Leary never found ¿ the stability needed to bring those changes into his life in a positive, long-lasting way. Instead of finding an anchor, Leary tried to walk on the water.¿He then addresses a generation that, for a large part, has turned its back on the lessons learned in the era of questioning ¿the materialist, consumerist mind-set into which we were raised.¿ Lattin points out that, ¿Now more than ever, we need to remember the lessons of that idealistic era. It¿s time, once again, to find new ways to live together with equality, justice, and compassion.¿Amen, brother.
Citizenjoyce on LibraryThing
5 days ago
This is a very interesting book chronicling the the lives of the four men most involved in the popularization of psychedelic drugs. I like the way Lattin presents them as archetypes: Leary, the Trickster; Ram Dass, the Seeker; Smith, the Teacher; and Weil, the Healer. Weil comes off very poorly at first as vindictive and self serving, but he grows. All four men grow except Leary - he stays the Trickster: dishonest, self-promoting partier to the end. Strangely, in spite of success and acclaim in their chosen fields, only Huston Smith, the religious teacher is able to sustain a personal relationship. Maybe his ability to disengage from observational reality in the pursuit of religion is the same attribute that allows him to maintain an interpersonal relationship with his wife for over 60 years.I was interested in Lattin's claim that the over promotion of psychedelics helped launch the war on drugs and strengthened the conservative movement. Only The Trickster could have foreseen such an outcome.
auntmarge64 on LibraryThing
5 days ago
This is an entertaining, informative, and relatively brief (228 pages of text) overview of the interactions of four men involved in the Harvard psychedelic drug trials of the early 1960s. Timothy Leary is probably the most infamous, but Ram Dass (né Richard Alpert) has had a more lasting and positive influence on the lives of Westerners interested in delving into enlarging conscious awareness. The other two main subjects are Andrew Weil (more on him in a moment), and Huston Smith, an early partner in an effort to see if religious experience could be had by use of a biological or chemical substance. Alpert and Leary were not the first researchers to test LSD on Harvard students. In the 1950s the CIA used undergraduates, having as cover two medical doctors who worked with the blessing of Harvard. The CIA's goal was to see if LSD could be used as chemical warfare. (One of their test subjects was Theodore Kuczynski, later the Unibomber.) Leary and Alpert came on the scene a few years later, setting up the Harvard Psilocybin Project through the school's Center for Personality Research. Hundreds of graduate students, professors, and prison inmates were voluntarily given doses, although, untypical of drug trials, one or more of the Project's staff usually took the drugs with the volunteers. The researchers were barred from using undergraduates, and freshman Weil, who wanted very badly to participate and, on his own, experimented widely, became angry when he was turned down. Another undergraduate student, Ronnie Winston, who was a friend of both Weil's and Alpert's, was given some drugs, although not as part of the study. The vindictive Weil used his position as a reporter for the Harvard Crimson to bring them down. Not only did he serve as an informant for school authorities who were uneasy about the Project, but when no one would give evidence, he blackmailed Winston and his parents, threatening to name Winston in the exposé if they didn't come forward. Weil got his statement, the school got its ammunition, and Alpert and Leary were fired. Weil apologized years later after finding himself the subject of a similar attack, so perhaps karma has been served.Famous people and events of the era populate the pages. Aldous Huxley and Allen Ginsburg appear frequently, and the Haight-Ashury district of San Francisco, the Rolling Stones, the Fillmore, and other famous names rotate through the story. Near the end the author gives a synopsis of his subjects' lives for the last couple of decades. Leary, of course, crashed and burned, and he died in 1996. Ram Dass has been a spiritual teacher and guide for many of the Boomers, especially since [Be Here Now] was published in 1971. Smith went on to educate several generations on the underlying similarities in the teachings of the major religions, and to fight what he saw as the monstrosity of the doctrine of eternal damnation. And then there is Andrew Weil, now a famous doctor, speaker and author, who got his start by betraying Alpert and Leary. I find it hard to have much forgiveness, but it's also true that without that betrayal, Ram Dass might never have made his journey to India and returned to America to benefit so many. The experiments publicized for the first time some intriguing possibilities for the human mind, which, while not maintainable without drugs by the majority of those experimenting, were still an indication of untapped abilities. At the least, we learned more about ourselves. And for some who experimented, the whole world was changed.A couple of tidbits of special interest: "In his book What the Dormouse Said: How the Sixties Shaped the Personal Computer Industry, John Markoff shows how key Silicon Valley pioneers, including Apple cofounder Steve Jobs, and Douglas Engelbart, the man who invented the mouse, were inspired, in part, by their psychedelic experiences."Leary was arrested several times for having small quantities of marij
bodhisattva on LibraryThing
5 days ago
[[learytimothy::Timothy Leary]], [[dassram::Ram Das (or Richard Alpert)]], [[smithhuston:: Huston Smith]], and [[weilandrew::Andrew Weil]] -- all at Harvard in 1960. A good look at there and then.
More than 1 year ago
More than 1 year ago
More than 1 year ago
A closer look at the personalities & individual journies of these four influential players in the psychedelic awakening of our society.
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