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Timothy Leary: A Biography Hardcover – June 1, 2006


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 704 pages
  • Publisher: Harcourt; 1 edition (June 1, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0151005001
  • ISBN-13: 978-0151005000
  • Product Dimensions: 9 x 6.5 x 1.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (51 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,419,179 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Greenfield, award-winning biographer of Jerry Garcia and Bill Graham, paints another '60s portrait in this scathing account of counterculture hero and LSD guru Timothy Leary (1920–1996). Largely based on interviews with Leary's friends and acquaintances, this book offers a highly detailed and decidedly ugly portrayal of a pathologically selfish, narcissistic yet complex man who lacked basic qualities such as empathy and compassion. Worse, Leary, the cynosure of the psychedelic movement, who preached the power of LSD and other drugs to expand human consciousness and foster change, fails to exhibit the capacity for inner growth. Greenfield's gaze alights as much on the quotidian (who cooked what for dinner when) as on the sensational (drugs, sex, Black Panthers, parades of famous figures like Allen Ginsberg and Abbie Hoffman). Despite the visceral dislike for Leary that readers are likely to develop, many will be intrigued by the unlikely course of his life, which took him from a prestigious position as a Harvard lecturer to the California penal system, and later to work as a government informer in an Algerian compound with Eldridge Cleaver . Leary ends up a dissipated, broken man, who remains self-promoting enough to suggest, in 1996, that he would kill himself while logged on to yet another new phenomenon, the Internet. (June)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* After launching his pioneering and brazen inquiry into the effects of psychedelic drugs at Harvard, Leary (1920-96) became the reigning psychedelic guru, declaring, "You must turn on, tune in, and drop out." In the first comprehensive biography of this notorious and puzzling figure, Greenfield trenchantly analyzes Leary's pseudospirituality, egoism, thrill seeking, strange brew of naivete and wiliness, and mind-boggling ability to ingest astronomical amounts of LSD, all the while meticulously and incredulously chronicling Leary's epic misadventures, including masterminding communal chaos at an estate in Millbrook, New York; a daring prison break; and exile in Algiers under the baleful eye of Black Panther Eldridge Cleaver. Charismatic and cunning, lacking in compassion and common sense, Leary--the emperor of acid, the jet-setting court jester of the counterculture, and an Elmer Gantry-like evangelist in the church of self-indulgence--lived at least nine lives. Greenfield masterfully shapes an unwieldy amount of astounding, often troubling material so that both the absurdity and tragedy of Leary's life come clear. A veritable who's who of the age of Aquarius and a real page-turner, Greenfield's cornerstone portrait of the acidhead who would be king brilliantly illuminates the paradoxes of the psychedelic age. Donna Seaman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

Customer Reviews

This book has a lot of really good information.
J. A. Buhrer
Having read Robert Greenfield's biography of Dr. Timothy Leary, I am left wondering what inspired Greenfield to write this gigantic book at all.
Patrick King
Sure there's lots of stories in the book but there is no sense of fun.
read it in books

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

62 of 68 people found the following review helpful By Bill on June 4, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Robert Greenfield has created an Epic Novel [masquerading as non-fiction] in his newly-released biography "Timothy Leary" [2006, Harcourt, $28.00].

I will state up front that I am long an admirer of Dr Timothy Leary who, along with The Beatles and Bob Dylan, was one of the most famous/infamous figures of the turbulent 1960's with his call to "change your mind" "Question Authority" and "Turn On Tune In Drop Out."

That said, I purchased a copy of Greenfield's book out of curiosity and with an awareness that the author's tone was less than sympathectic to his subject [advance praise for the book made that clear back in May 06].

Now, 689 pages later, I am compelled to write this review as a caution to others who may not fully know the Leary story from LEARY'S point of view.

Mr Greenfield makes a point of describing Timothy Leary [over and over] as self-centered, self-serving, a liar, a bad parent...there is nothing in Leary's 75 years of life that Mr Greenfield describes without derisive asides and "notes."

Worse, there is a FICTIONIALIZED DRAMATIC NARRATIVE that has been used to serve as a book-end to this dreary bio [Leary, in bed as a child, awaiting his father's arrival home for the inevitalbe beating his father would administer to Leary, in bed as a dying man, awaiting his 'punishment' from...?]

Most hard to take is the inference that Leary's masterpiece "Flashbacks" [1983 autobiography] was loaded with inaccuracies and lies. One such "lie" refers to Leary claiming to have slept with actress Marilyn Monroe.

I have copies of every edition of "Flashbacks" and none makes such a claim.
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25 of 28 people found the following review helpful By Miguel Luna on June 13, 2006
Format: Hardcover
This book was hard to put down.

I have always admired Timothy Leary and after reading this biography, I admire the man even more.

Okay ... he was selfish. He was a liar. He was a lot of things that many or all of us are. He was human.

Greenfield ends his volume by stating that "the man who advocated change but could never change himself" had died.

I take issue with his conclusion. Whether Leary "changed" or "grew" is something only Leary knew for sure. Even all of Leary's friends and "friends" couldn't judge that, even if they did get to share Leary's life with him.

Leary was an important man in modern history. He had the courage to point to very important things for people to know. Of course, more superficial people get hung up on the guy doing the pointing instead of what the guy is pointing to.

I never considered Leary to be anything other than a wounded, weak human, so I wasn't disappointed by what I read in this book.

If anything, it made me feel as though he really was a friend of mine, struggling with many of the same challenges that make life the riddle it often can be.

Unlike Greenfield and those who were interviewed for this book, I'm compelled not to make any value judgments on the man who was Timothy Leary.

I prefer to simply love him and be thankful that he helped point me toward reprogramming my own brain and questioning authority.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By L. A. Wayte on June 30, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This new biography of Leary presents him as a complex character full of flaws and tragic heroism. In particular, Leary's tragic personal life stands in stark contrast here to his larger-than-life counterculture heroics. Whether you love him or hate him, you will have to admit that his life makes for an amazing story. Greenfield tells that story in fluid prose, weaving together disparate first-hand accounts into a detailed chronological portrait. If the book has a flaw, it is that Greenfield perhaps loses his own voice at times, relying too much on quotes from others to tell the story. But, the flip side of that is that he does not let his own agenda interfere with telling the story. Another minor criticism is that he could have helped the reader out at places by providing more date references to keep the chronology clear -- there were times I had to go back several pages to remind myself what year was being discussed. But, at the end of this remarkable book, those flaws are minor indeed. If you have any interest at all in Leary or the '60s counterculture, this book comes highly recommended. Since reading it, I have found myself constantly thinking about Leary and processing the meaning of his life and times. That is what good books are all about.
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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Thomas M. Seay on July 13, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Greenfield's book suffers from the same disorder as most biographies: the author felt the need to find "A" narrative, "A" plumbline that runs through the life of Timothy Leary. In this case, he traces the psychedelic gurus propensity towards being a cad back to his earliest years. Indeed, the author does reveal the opportunistic side of his subject: Leary finked on lawyers and friends who had helped him in order to get a lighter sentence from authorities. This should sober those who treat the psychedelic guru as the ultimate anti-authoritarian.

But surely Leary is more than the monodimensional character that Greenfield depicts. Terence McKenna once said that Timothy Leary made more people happy than anyone else. That may be hyperbole, but Greenfield does not consider the positive opinion many had of Leary. He neither disputes nor affirms such claims. This is a major flaw in this "Life" which does include many fascinating tidbits. As an antidote to this one-sidedness, one should read Robert Forte's "On the Outside Looking In" which is a collection of perspectives on Leary.
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