A review by hilaritas
Acid Dreams: The CIA, LSD and the Sixties Rebellion by Laura Archera Huxley, Allen Ginsberg, Martin A. Lee, William S. Burroughs, Timothy Leary, Andrei Codrescu, Bruce Shlain, R. Gordon Wasson, Ken Kesey, Aldous Huxley


This is a pretty dang good history of the social impact of LSD. The early history of the CIA's involvement of the drug is stellar reporting, and the latter half of the book gives a great short account of the counterculture of the 1960's and early '70's and the role of psychedelics in the rise and fall of the New Left and affiliated figures. Michael Pollan should probably be paying Lee and Shlain royalties for how closely his book follows their account of the early psychiatric uses and subsequent wider dissemination of the drug. I'd say this book actually does a better job in tracing the paths of figures like Captain Al Hubbard and Timothy Leary. That said, Pollan is a better writer (this book has lots of really weird mixed metaphors and other oddities).

Lee and Shlain are clearly broadly sympathetic to the counterculture of the '60's, but this is a remarkably evenhanded account of just how the New Left imploded, and how it contained the seeds of its own destruction (and some judicious speculation, without firm conclusions, about the role the CIA played in it). Their fundamental point is that LSD is a kind of mirror in which the experience is deeply influenced by the psyche and expectations of the user. It's the same "set and setting" talk Pollan will give you, but these authors expanded that analysis to encompass social and political repercussions beyond the personal. It's surprisingly well-researched and focused narrative. It's too easy to turn polemical in highly-charged recent history (and books about drugs), but the authors largely walked a narrow path that made for a strong effort.

Written long before the connections could be overt, I was also nonetheless consistently impressed about their insights into mass media, public perception, and political polarization in a way that has a lot of resonance for our current historical moment. The book cuts off around 1990, which is a shame because this is superb historiographical approach that could have shed a lot of light on subsequent developments of the psychedelic scenes after 1990 and also tied to broader cultural movements on manipulation of neurochemistry and behavioral programming. Well worth the read even if it's a little dated.