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The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test Paperback – August 19, 2008

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

They say if you remember the '60s, you weren't there. But, fortunately, Tom Wolfe was there, notebook in hand, politely declining LSD while Ken Kesey and his Merry Pranksters fomented revolution, turning America on to a dangerously playful way of thinking as their Day-Glo conveyance, Further, made the most influential bus ride since Rosa Parks's. By taking On the Road's hero Neal Cassady as his driver on the cross-country revival tour and drawing on his own training as a magician, Kesey made Further into a bully pulpit, and linked the beat epoch with hippiedom. Paul McCartney's Many Years from Now cites Kesey as a key influence on his trippy Magical Mystery Tour film. Kesey temporarily renounced his literary magic for the cause of "tootling the multitudes"--making a spectacle of himself--and Prankster Robert Stone had to flee Kesey's wild party to get his life's work done. But in those years, Kesey's life was his work, and Wolfe infinitely multiplied the multitudes who got tootled by writing this major literary-journalistic monument to a resonant pop-culture moment.

Kesey's theatrical metamorphosis from the distinguished author of One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest to the abominable shaman of the "Acid Test" soirees that launched The Grateful Dead required Wolfe's Day-Glo prose account to endure (though Kesey's own musings in Demon Box are no slouch either). Even now, Wolfe's book gives what Wolfe clearly got from Kesey: a contact high. --Tim Appelo --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

"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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Product Details

  • Paperback: 434 pages
  • Publisher: Picador; Sixth Printing edition (August 19, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 031242759X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312427597
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.8 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (296 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #4,109 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Tom Wolfe is the author of more than a dozen books, among them such contemporary classics as The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, The Right Stuff, The Bonfire of the Vanities, and A Man in Full. A native of Richmond, Virginia, he earned his B.A. at Washington and Lee University and a Ph.D. in American studies at Yale. He lives in New York City.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

163 of 177 people found the following review helpful By Bruce Kendall VINE VOICE on June 23, 2000
Format: Paperback
I've savored just about every word this man's ever written. I still vividly recall him at a lecture he gave in Berkley in 1972 standing at the lectern in his white Gatsby suit, starched pink shirt and nattily knotted tie. I can't recall the ostensible topic. He covered so much ground and had such a wealth of ideas and insights that the topic was irrelevent anyway. He's always been our keenest observer of American culture, on subjects ranging from hippies, art snobs, wall street, the space race, to the Southern nouveau-riches.
In terms of unadulterated reading enjoyment, however, this book is still my favorite. He captures the era perfectly. This was the period in the mid-sixties when the hippie philosophy and lifestyle was still genuine, before it had become commercially exploited by the mass media, before Manson and Altamont and the seeds of evil. It was an uncorrupted, pure, joyous movement and moment. Owsley was the bay area chemist who produced hits of Sandoz-quality acid that sent the children out dancing blissfully through the night and into the purple dawn. It truly looked like a brave new world. If you are young and can't undertand why former hippies wax nostalgic about it, it's primarily (at least to me) because that tiny era of innocence can never be recreated.
If ever there were a work of either fiction or non fiction that captured the essence, freedom, and expectation of a marvelous era, this is it!
One of the great non fiction works of the 20th century!
BEK
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61 of 68 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on February 1, 1997
Format: Mass Market Paperback
"You're either on the bus...or off the bus." This is the choice facing you as you begin to read Tom Wolfe's classic saga of Ken Kesey's Merry Pranksters as they test the boundries of consciousness and test the limits of other human's patience. What is almost as amazing as the lengths to which the pranksters went to enjoy their existence on Earth, is the style that Wolfe has chosen to narrate the adventures. Brillliantly blending stream of consciousness writing and a journalistic sense of description, Wolfe immerses himself in Kesey's world in an attempt to understand the thoughts of a group of adults who would paint a school bus with day-glo colors and trek across the United States with pitchers full of acid and a video camera keeping an eye on it all. Who could resist a chance to find out what it was like to spend a quaint evening in the woods reaching altered states of consciousness with a group of Hell's Angels, or taking a peek inside the world of the budding hippie stars led by a youthful Jerry Garcia and the Grateful Dead. Whether or not you approve of massive drug use will not impact your liking of this book, and for anyone who takes an interest in the counterculture movement this book is a must-read. Also acts as a perfect companion to Kesey's "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest," and Jack Kerouac's "On the Road." Now you must decide, "Can YOU pass the acid test?"
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22 of 23 people found the following review helpful By J. Remington on November 8, 2001
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Regardless of one's ultimate attitudes about the permissive atmosphere that prevailed during the Pandora's Box that became the 1960's, Thomas Wolfe's detailed, passionate and fascinating portrait of Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters makes for required reading.
Whether for ill or well, Kesey and the Pranksters are responsible for creating much of what the popular masses call "The 60's". While reading this book, that mere (and ironic) fact becomes ever so clear.
When I recently visited Kesey at his ranch in Oregon, I asked him if Wolfe "got it right". Kesey's response? "Yes he did. But understand that he (Wolfe) gives a real East Coast version of what was essentially a West Coast phenomenon."
What I think that means essentialy validates many of the other positive reviews of this book: Wolfe uncannily possesses the ability to be "in the Pranster's world, but not of it".
This means that while Wolfe is fully willing and able to passionately incorperate the unique linguistic acrobatics of Kesey and the Pranksters in relating the narrative, he maintains somehow a cool, objective distance from all the proceedings. Kesey might be saying that while Wolfe was certainly "on the bus", he was never "ON THE BUS!".
This distance is communicated and maintained by Wolfe's refusal to judge the shennanigans. He never really says "yay" or "nay" to the invention of the "counter culture" (whatever in the hell that means). He relates the consequences both natural and man-made that befalls on such behavior, but never comes out from behind the page and says "booh!"
He wisely leaves all moral judgement in the place where it rightly belongs: in the hearts and minds of the readers.
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46 of 53 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on July 7, 2000
Format: Paperback
Let me preface this review by saying I was not alive in the 60's, and I never talked to my parents about their experiences, yet through this book, I feel as though I shared in the madness that were the Acid Tests. Tom Wolfe's masterpiece "The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test," is an absolutely amazing book written about a group of Hippies hell-bent on spreading they're organized chaos throughout the nation. Apart from the subject matter (which I'll get to) this book is as well written as you could imagine. Somehow, Wolfe captured the experiences of the Merry Pranksters with his writing style. His use of the elipses (...), run on sentances, and his insightful commentary actually puts the reader into this experience. The experience itself is a whirlwind journey accross the US, in a cloud of pot-smoke, a rush of speed and a series of mescaline and lsd induced hallucinations. All the while, this seemingly nonsensical journey is carefully laid out as only Wolfe could have done. To read a book about 15 men and women that travel the nation not knowing right from left, Wolfe explains everything in stunning imagery and intense detail. Whether or not you approve or liked the hippies movement, and even if your offended by drug related subject matter, you should read this book. As a purely literary work, it's easily top 10, and as a story of the acid movement and a historical look at the 60's, there's none better.
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