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Acid Dreams: The Complete Social History of LSD: The CIA, the Sixties, and Beyond [Paperback]

by Martin A. Lee, Bruce Shlain
4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (63 customer reviews)

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Book Description

January 21, 1994 0802130623 978-0802130624 Revised
Few events have had a more profound impact on the social and cultural upheavals of the Sixties than the psychedelic revolution spawned by the spread of LSD. This book for the first time tells the full and astounding story—part of it hidden till now in secret Government files—of the role the mind-altering drug played in our recent turbulent history and the continuing influence it has on our time.

And what a story it is, beginning with LSD’s discovery in 1943 as the most potent drug known to science until it spilled into public view some twenty years later to set the stage for one of the great ideological wars of the decade. In the intervening years the CIA had launched a massive covert research program in the hope that LSD would serve as an espionage weapon, psychiatric pioneers came to believe that acid would shed light on the perplexing problems of mental illness, and a new generation of writers and artists had given birth to the LSD sub-culture.

Acid Dreams is a complete social history of the psychedelic counter-culture that burst into full view in the Sixties. With new information obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, the authors reveal how the CIA became obsessed with LSD during the Cold War, fearing the Soviets had designs on it as well. What follows is one of the more bizarre episodes in the covert history of U.S. intelligence as the search for a “truth drug” began to resemble a James Bond scenario in which agents spied on drug-addicted prostitutes through two-way mirrors and countless unwitting citizens received acid with sometimes tragic results.

The story took a new turn when Captain Al Hubbard, the first of a series of “Johnny Appleseeds” of acid, began to turn on thousands of scientists, businessmen, church figures, policemen, and others from different walks of life.

Timothy Leary, Ken Kesey and his band of Merry Pranksters, Allen Ginsberg and the Beat generation, the Diggers and the Age of Golden Anarchy in Haight-Ashbury, William Mellon Hitchcock, Abbie Hoffman and the Yippies, the Beatles—these are just some of a motley cast of characters who stride through the pages of this compelling chronicle. What impact did the widespread use of LSD have on the anti-war movement of the late Sixties? Acid Dreams traces the way the drug intensified each stage of counter-cultural transition to break the “mind-forged manacles” of a new generation in rebellion.

In Acid Dreams, Martin Lee and Bruce Shalin have written the history of a time still only dimly understood. The events they recount and the facts they uncover supply an important missing piece of the puzzle of a crucial decade in our recent past.


“Engaging throughout. . . . At once entertaining and disturbing.”—Andrew Weil, M.D., The Nation

“Marvelously detailed . . . loaded with startling revelations.”—Los Angeles Daily News

“Excellent. . . . Captivating. . . . A generalist’s history that should replace all others.”—San Francisco Chronicle

“A landmark contribution to the sociopolitical history of the U.S. . . . Some of the liveliest, most absorbing, best-documented historical analyses to appear in recent years. . . . A seminal contribution to understanding America’s most turbulent modern decade.”—Choice

“This funny and irreverent book brings it all back.”—The Washington Post

“Recounts some of the most bizarre incidents in the history of U.S. intelligence.”—The Boston Globe

“A monumental social history of psychedelia.”—The Village Voice

“A blistering exposé of CIA drug experimentation on Americans. It’s all there.”—John Stockwell

“Highly readable. . . . Well researched. . . . Filled with entertaining and bizarre episodes.”—The Detroit Free Press

“An important study of cultural history. . . . The scholarship is exquisite and the methods sensible.”—Allen Ginsberg

“An engrossing account of a period . . . when a tiny psychoactive molecule affected almost every aspect of Western life.”—William S. Burroughs

“A missing link, a work of combat history, a devastating combination of facts and poetry that is bound to arouse controversy.”—Paul Krassner

“An important historical synthesis of the spread and effects of a drug that served as a central metaphor for an era.”—John Sayles

Frequently Bought Together

Acid Dreams: The Complete Social History of LSD: The CIA, the Sixties, and Beyond + The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test + The Doors of Perception: Heaven and Hell (Thinking Classics)
Price for all three: $27.06

Buy the selected items together

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

This fascinating study examines how the CIA tested LSD on unwitting residents of Greenwich Village and San Francisco. Of particular interest are profiles of Timothy Leary, LSD chemist Ronald Stark and others.
Copyright 1992 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Grove Press; Revised edition (January 21, 1994)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0802130623
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802130624
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 6 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (63 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #54,291 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
72 of 76 people found the following review helpful
This is surprisingly one of the best books I have read. The authors give a colorfully accurate account of the events that occured decades ago, all of which still echo into our current era. It covers the origin of LSD, as a drug the CIA funded research on for use as a tool for mind control applications using civilians and military personnel as test subjects. At the very outset, it was obvious that the CIA was well aware of the potential power of this substance in its ability to wreak havoc on the collective psyche, to shatter current assumptions and threaten cherished ego boundaries. Yet, eventually it became available to the masses who would come to extol it's use religiously and rise to the groundswell of counterculture in the 60's. This book, more than any other source I have encountered, explores the underlying causes of the demise of the cultural/political/self re-evolution of that time and gives us pause to reflect on the politics of consciousness - to see who really won The War Of The Mind. Proof again that truth <however relative> is stranger than fiction. Be this book.
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58 of 64 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars There was something special about the 60s... August 6, 2001
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
In 1969, the year of Woodstock, I was 16 years old. Acid Dreams actually takes us back, back, much further to the beginnings of the LSD phenomenon in America in the fifties, through the turbulent sixties, and beyond. I was completely mesmerized by energy and enthusiasm Lee injects into his prose. The history of the Baby Boom generation is not one to be dismissed lightly, as many try to do, especially those in positions of corporate power who would rather forget that "tune in, turn on, drop out," meant a diversion *away* from the great American past, consumerism, and corporate profit! If you aren't old enough to remember these times, and if you didn't learn about them in school (and I'll just bet you didn't!) this book should be mandatory reading in every high school! Because it condones and encourages the use of drugs? NO! Because it encourages critical thinking, questioning authority, and looking long and hard at the "war against drugs," which is nothing more, and nothing less, than a war for the *control* of who is going to make the money off them. That's not what LSD was about when it got away from the Government...for it was the Government that first brought LSD to these shores in an effort to control people to begin with. It flew in their faces as they watched the younger generation make it their own flight to freedom. The psychotic breakdowns of bad trips were largely scare tactics designed to put control back in the hands of the "experts" who originally "tabbed" thousands of people in this country without their knowledge and/or consent, which, with LSD, *creates* the paranoia of the "bad trip. Read more ›
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28 of 29 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Flashback. January 7, 2001
This one caught me by surprise. It's not the stuffy this-is-all-the-bad-stuff-that-happened textbook I expected, but rather a fascinating and thoroughly enjoyable study of LSD and the CIA's role in the cultural and political maelstrom of the 1960s. Over the past thirty years, from Watergate to Zippergate, Americans have learned that their government is capable of some pretty amazing shenanigans. That helps what we read in this book seem more plausible. What Lee and Shlain document in Acid Dreams, with an impressive volume of research, is the CIA's enormous effort to develop mind-control methods. These included various psychedelic drugs--with LSD topping the list--hypnosis, and more. The potential uses of such control range from military to civilian--and to downright bizarre. For example, they discuss the unresolved question--in some minds--of whether Sirhan Sirhan was actually a CIA-created murdering automaton, a drug-and-hypnosis-induced killer, programmed to kill Robert Kennedy.
Some the things they reveal are far-fetched and may be impossible to ever prove one way or another, but there's plenty more that is incontrovertible. And everything in the book is interesting. Acid Dreams adds a fresh and wonderful perspective on this aspect of our recent history. A more recent book called "Hepcats, Narcs, and Pipe Dreams," provides a complimentary education on this topic, covering a broader history of illegal drugs throughout America's past. Readers who enjoy Acid Dreams may want to follow up with this one.--Christopher Bonn Jonnes, author of Wake Up Dead.
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19 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars We Are Experienced May 28, 2003
You will count yourself experienced after reading this completely fascinating book. Lee and Shlain deliver the social history of LSD, along with the historical forces that shaped it and were shaped by it, with both investigative integrity and a refreshing amount of hip slang. You can't go wrong with a book that combines chemistry, political analysis, and sociology with witticisms like "listen to a digger rap it down" and "that great Dionysian rap dance." This book has it all: top secret government shenanigans, bizarre medical experiments, spooks and infiltrators, beats and hippies, radicals and revolutionaries, international drug cartels, outlandish conspiracy theories (with clarity and a grain of salt), rock n' roll and pop culture. It's all wrapped up in a stirring social history of the United States during the 1950's through 1970's, as the influence of LSD spread far beyond it's origins among chemists and CIA agents.
In addition to Lee and Shlain's completely insightful social history, they also deliver some keen revelations about the US government's shifting attitudes toward drug control, which are rarely based on sound science or medical studies. You'll learn that LSD was once heavily supported by the CIA as a mind control drug, but they disowned it when it hit the black market and inspired a generation of activists and free thinkers. LSD was then outlawed supposedly for public health reasons, but Lee and Shlain give plenty of evidence that these new drug laws were merely a tool of social control to hose down restless young people and nonconformists. The same could probably be said about most other drug laws. This is just one of the many intriguing revelations in this outstanding book. Not unlike its root subject, this book can blow your mind, simply by the power and fascination of the writing and investigation by Lee and Shlain. Highly recommended.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Book
This is my third copy of this book. It's amazing reading! I tell people to read it and get an idea of our Government and experiments.
Published 10 days ago by Linda D. Morisch
5.0 out of 5 stars Amazing shocking and very sad story
This is a great book about government abuse of citizens, military, mental patients and even each other in the interest of learning to control people. Read more
Published 2 months ago by Captain Bobs Rentals
5.0 out of 5 stars Indespensible-a great read on the early days of LSD.
I was looking for books on MK-ULTRA and came across this book, which was much more reasonably priced than the other books. Can't believe I hadn't read this before. Read more
Published 3 months ago by Rich L.
5.0 out of 5 stars Informative yet fun
Really funny/fun book to read, as it's endlessly shining light on topics and myths that you hear tossed around in pop culture or even among your family and friends. Read more
Published 3 months ago by James
4.0 out of 5 stars CIA, LSD and the End of the Dream
Great read. Lots of interesting stories regarding the CIA's alleged manipulations effecting drug use within the power elite particularly surrounding the use of LSD and the... Read more
Published 4 months ago by Sharon T. Squire
2.0 out of 5 stars Acid Dreams- One Sleepy Read
This selection provides a decent history lesson concerning acid. However, I was quite disappointed with the attention MK-ULTRA received. Very weak!
Published 5 months ago by troy lafferty
5.0 out of 5 stars extremely interesting!
i bought this for my husband as a gift. he loved it!! it's full of very, very interesting info. the only drawback is that he said it made him want to do acid! noooooooo!!!!! Read more
Published 8 months ago by icaro_satsuma
The authors wrote in the Prologue to this 1985 book, "The central irony of LSD is that it has been used both as a weapon and as a sacrament, a mind control drug and a... Read more
Published 10 months ago by Steven H. Propp
5.0 out of 5 stars A long fun trip
This is a fond memory for many and a mythological time for most. In 2013, where the creation of LSD is made nearly impossible by the US government, the mystique and the wonder of... Read more
Published 11 months ago by Charles A. Clemens
3.0 out of 5 stars Don't read if you have paranoia problems
Okay, I thought this book would be good in order to learn about the history of the CIA and LSD and whatever, but honestly it kind of just scares me. Read more
Published 11 months ago by Vance Merrill
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