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 by Don Lattin is a book that can bring us out of our comfort zones, to learn about and explore a world that most of us have little knowledge of—the world of psychedelic research. It illustrates past research methods, the challenges and successes of a group of Academic professionals who would each go on to change the world in their own unique way.
I was a little hesitant at first to read this book thinking it would not interest me that much, but it turned out to be a very valuable read. This book was fascinating to say the least and touched upon many areas dear to my heart like seeking enlightenment and raising our consciousness. It taught me more than I could have ever imagined about the world and culture that we had and have today. As well, it connected many, many dots for me about a number of things, some of which I will share with you below.
Book and Author
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 was written by author, Don Lattin. It is a work of non-fiction. The Harvard Psychedelic Club was published in January 2010.
Don is one of America’s leading journalists covering religion in America. He has several other published books, and numerous years of writing experience. He has appeared on many television programs and his work has also appeared in many magazines and newspapers. While that all sets a wonderful foundation for a great book, Don also has a personal tie and reason for writing this book. Without spoiling it for you, it made him perhaps the perfect person to write a book of this caliber.
Book Format and Structure
The book begins with a wonderful introduction that sets the tone for the book by giving a quick overview of what this book is really all about. I found this a fantastic and very beneficial touch, especially for someone like me who went into this not knowing much about the underlying history of this book.
The book then includes a short author’s note, just to let the reader know that this is the author’s rendition of the events based on many various interviews, written accounts and research.
It then opens up to 8 wonderful chapters and a conclusion. Each chapter is divided by a few lines telling the reader who (out of the 4 men) they are going to read about, and the main where and when of the events described.
The book finishes with a not to be missed afterword from the author. From cover to cover the estimated book reading time is about 9 hours.
The setting of the book takes place in the 1960s and shares the story of 4 men: Timothy Leary, Ram Dass (Richard Alpert), Huston Smith and Andrew Weil, and how they came together to literally change the face of America through some very extraordinary means.
Timothy Leary, also nicknamed by the author as the “Trickster” was a research psychologist and professor at Harvard. He was a proponent of enlightenment through LSD. Later in his life, he was an author, a speaker, a convict and an exile.
Richard Alpert, later in his life known as Ram Dass, and nicknamed by the author as the “ Seeker” was also a professor at Harvard in the area of psychology. Later in his life, upon traveling to India he became Ram Dass, a world famous spiritual teacher, author and speaker.
Huston Smith, nicknamed by the author as the “Teacher“, was an MIT philosophy professor. Later in his life, he became a speaker and published author, as well as a popular figure when it came to teaching about world religions.
Andrew Weil, nicknamed by the author as the “Healer“, was an undergraduate student at Harvard. He later became a Harvard medical school graduate, published author and is currently one of the top and most distinguished doctors of integrative medicine.
The book explains how the lives of these 4 men, along with many, many other personalities perfectly crossed paths in ways to bring about huge transformations in how people viewed life, religion and medicine.
The story begins as T. Leary and R. Alpert begin a project called the “Harvard Psychedelic Project” which they believe can help the world become a better place on many levels, mainly by raising one’s consciousness. What follows is an unexpected and very profound journey into love, compassion and wisdom, as well as lies, betrayal, and death.
Above all it is a story that demonstrates how these 4 ordinary individuals became extraordinary in changing the way we view the mind, body and spirit. During this process as the author states they “turned from intellect to intuition, from mechanistic thinking to mysticism, from the scholarly to the spiritual, from the scientific to the shamanic.”
Well, I have to tell you before this book I have never heard of T.Leary, R.Alpert or H.Smith and knew next to nothing about the 60′s. That was all way before my time. I knew a bit about the hippie culture of the 70′s but didn’t have much interest or reason to explore previous decades. As I mentioned to you I was well aware of Andrew Weil, but knew nothing about his personal journey. I vaguely heard of Ram Dass through other teacher’s like Wayne Dyer. So boy, was I in for a surprise on so many levels reading this book!
Upon starting this book, I have to tell you it was a bit confusing trying to keep all the names, dates and locations in check. The author definitely chronicled everything in amazing detail and there were so many more people involved in this story than just the 4 main characters. The research the author did to bring this together is in one word admirable. However, once I got into about half of the book it began to flow flawlessly and it hooked me more and more to reach the final conclusion of what this psychedelic drug movement meant for all of us today.
So for starters, as I love to learn, I cannot tell you how much I actually enjoyed learning about the 60′s and connecting the first set of dots as to why the 70′s were what they were, and where all this free love, peace and happiness disappeared to in the 80′s and 90′s.
Secondly, I loved learning about these key figures who had so much impact on shaping generations on so many levels – whether they may seem positive or negative. As well, it was intriguing to see how all the people that they influenced or were influenced by them played a part in the whole story. It made me realize even more how interconnected we really are!
Thirdly, I learned about drugs that I never even knew existed, in terms of their origins, reasons for their current laws, their effects on the human mind and their role in shaping a new way of thinking and looking at the world.
But above all these things, this book really allowed me to go beneath the surface and explore some of the roots where the thirst to raise the human potential and global consciousness came from in the modern Western culture, as well as the shift to connect the Eastern and Western ways of life.
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.*
Don Lattin, The Harvard Psychedelic Club
I am not one for drugs of any kind, but having read this book (and even before) I am not one for condemning anyone either. If these drugs helped these men change to become better human beings, or help society evolve for the better in some way, than who is any of us to argue that what they did was wrong?
Yes, as the author explains, to the critics it looked like these men were starting some kind of mystical “drug cult”. But to the men involved, they saw it as nothing more than noble efforts to try to help the world.
We all have our free choice to try whatever we think serves us at a particular moment. Yes, the men in this book can each be criticized for this or that, but ultimately the way I see it, they helped break through many barriers for all of us. They were the pioneers who lead forth so many new ways of thinking and seeing life. They were the voices who were not afraid to speak out against the status quo. I believe there is perfection even in what may be seen today as their “madness”.
Ultimately my stance on this issue is the same as the conclusion reached by 3 of the 4 men in the end. Drugs are obviously not the answer to saving the world. In fact, as they learned drugs need not be used to alter or raise ones consciousness at all. Love is the ultimate substance for anything we seek and it all comes down in the end to how we live our lives on a daily basis.
In the end, it’s not about the drugs. It’s about remembering all the life-affirming moments along the way – those glimpses of wonder and awe, empathy and interconnectedness – and finding a place for all of that in the rest of our lives.*
Don Lattin, The Harvard Psychedelic Club
So do I recommend this book? That all depends on what you are seeking and how open minded you are. It is a great book and invokes some emotion cleverly, but nonetheless it is definitely not a book for everyone.
If you are fascinated to learn about some history, politics, conspiracy and culture of the 1960′s and examine the role that the psychedelic drug movement played in shaping our thirst for higher consciousness, than I think you will definitely enjoy this book.
In the end, I applaud the author for bringing this book to light and helping especially those of us, for whom that period was foreign to better understand the nature of the human desire to connect to its higher state of being, no matter through what means.
The book can be easily purchased from major online book stores, like Amazon.com (below).