From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. It's hard for folks who didn't live through the 1960s to imagine what it was like to live in a drug- and sex-soaked culture, one where traditional values were drowned in a rush of hedonism and hippiedom. Names like Timothy Leary and Ram Dass bring back all the memories and all the conflicts. In this beautifully constructed study, Lattin (Jesus Freaks
) brings together four of the most memorable figures from that period. Each comes across as a flawed genius and irrepressible fanatic. The author says of Leary that he activate[d] conservative anxiety in America, but this could easily describe any of the players in this grim and gritty story. Laying out their stories side by side in roughly chronological form, the author traces the lives of each of the players, exposing a kind of dysfunctional relationship among them that is not part of our corporate memory. This is a fast-moving, dispassionate recounting of a seminal period in our history, and all in all, a wonderful book. (Jan.)
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*Starred Review* This would be a terrific social history of a fascinating historical period even if it didn’t star some of the most important influences on today’s culture. But Andrew Weil remains a guru of alternative medicine and nutrition, and Huston Smith’s books on world religion are required reading at almost every college, while Timothy Leary and Ram Dass are icons of consciousness exploration through drugs and Eastern religions, respectively. So this energetic study of the time all four were together at Harvard tells much about today’s culture. Lattin’s quasifictional techniques (most notably, reconstructed dialogue) bring to life the antics of trickster Leary, who once said that he’d turned seven million people on and only 100,000 ever thanked him, and seeker Ram Dass (originally Richard Alpert), who helped bring awareness of meditation and other Indian religious techniques to the West. Smith, son of Christian missionaries in China and early on a fellow traveler with Leary and Alpert, determined that drugs constituted but a shortcut to the religious ecstasy he sought, while Weil’s opposition was instrumental in ending Leary’s and Alpert’s tenures at Harvard (although he was himself experimenting with the same drugs). Some laugh-aloud passages make this an entertaining read, but the underlying exploration of the sociocultural reasons for the extravaganza that was the 1960s merits attention, especially from those interested in the period. --Patricia Monaghan