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 audiobook 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 20 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.
©1985 Martin A. Lee and Bruce Shlain. Introduction ©1992 by Andrei Codrescu. Afterword ©1992 by Martin A. Lee and Bruce Shlain (P)2014 Audible, Inc.
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"Enjoyable but unstructured"
I really enjoyed this book - so much so that I want listen to it again, and soon. Having said that, it didn't deliver what I expected, especially given that I understand it's primarily regarded as a textbook. I thought it would focus on the development and dissemination of LSD, and it certainly started that way, but somewhere after the first third of the book, it became more and more an account of some key events of the late 60s and early 70s and a (selective) look at some of the personalities of that time. (I know it describes itself as a 'social history', but I still expected there to be a greater focus on the drug itself.) I liked the narrative turn, but unfortunately it felt pretty unstructured from this point: another reviewer described it as 'kaleidoscopic' - it certainly could be dis-orienting at times, as the authors focussed on one social movement or one personality, then circled back (in time) to follow another, rather than showing how these events and individuals interacted or influenced one another. I also hoped for more of a discussion about the development of the drug itself as manufacturing expanded, and the experience of users: it is clear that there is a wealth of evidence from the (then-legal) use of the drug in therapy, in government and defence contexts, and in personal journals, but the authors barely touch on this area.
Also, was it my imagination, or did the narrator change suddenly, towards the end (and then the original narrator returned)?! The narrator/s were good. The treatment of footnotes was a little odd: the footnotes seemed to be read at exactly the point they appeared in the original text, resulting in some strange diversions in already complex narratives! It would have been better to have treated them as endnotes, or at least to finish the sentence to which they related before reading the footnote in!
These negatives aside, if you are prepared to approach this book as more of a historical (though not linear) narrative of the 1960s and early 70s, albeit with a selective focus, constructed around the thread of LSD - rather than a concentrated consideration of the drug itself - then I am sure you will find plenty to keep your interest.
You may THINK you know all about the CIA and its LSD experiments on soldiers and civilians— but you don’t know the half of it.
Thought the hippies came up with the phrase “trip?” No— it was the military. The CIA was OBSESSED in the Cold War idea of a truth serum, convinced the Soviets had their own, but their experiments went way further. Their perversion will astound you: force-fed acid trips, doses there was no way to come back from, secrets and lies.
"Acid Dreams" is a thorough and serious book, but it’s full of juicy details and the kind of improbable stories that turn history into entertainment.
There have been other books about LSD after this, but nothing has surpassed this gem. It should have been on audio long ago. Tune in and turn on!
Acid Dreams is two books in one, both of them interesting, at least to those (like me) who remain fascinated by the 1960s. That is one strand followed closely by Lee and Shlain -- the history of the 1960s as seen through the prism of one of its primary catalysts, the drug that fuelled a generation that altered the course of American politics and society.
The other thread may prove to be topical even to readers who have no explicit interest in the 60s or in LSD -- the CIA's involvement in experimenting with this and other drugs as tactical tools during the Cold War, and possibly in illegal domestic efforts as agents provocateurs to discredit political dissidence, and maybe even (if you're into diehard conspiracy theory) to enrich themselves at the expense of the general welfare via the drug trade.
The book begins, after quickly reviewing the discovery of LSD, with the CIA's MK Ultra program, undertaken during the 1950s, centering around acid as a biological weapon, and going so far as to test the potent hallucinogen on unsuspecting Americans riding the New York subway system, released in aerosol form in a subway car. Crazy stuff, extremely disturbing. The book concludes with a look at the elusive Ron Stark, drug dealer supreme and formentor of revolution in the U.S. and beyond while likely working for the CIA.
There is an incredible cast of characters here, from the well-known -- Timothy Leary, Ken Kesey, Allen Ginsburg, Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin, Charlie Manson, the Beatles -- to others who exemplify the aphorism that truth is often stranger than fiction -- the Diggers, the Brotherhood of Eternal Love, Captain Al Hubbard, Billy Mellon Hitchcok, Owsley Stanley, the aforementioned superspy Ron Stark, and assorted figures of pure evil working for the CIA, epitomized by George White, his subway test only the most outrageous of his systematic dosing of unsuspecting people.
My only quibble with the book is that it cannot really be a "complete social history" without a closer look at the cultural aspects of psychedelia. There is no escaping the music, with the Beatles getting their due attention, but there was more to it than that, and the influence on cinema and art is ignored altogether -- which is a shame, because one of the biggest names to emerge from the psychedelic cinema of the 1960s, Jack Nicholson, is never mentioned in this book.
"A history of substance and cloture"
While the second half of the book does tend to dull over some small sections; overall this was a fantastic history of the substance. The authors did a great job of weaving in the counterculture in a way that shone light on the ideals and morals without making an overall judgment. I have already recommended this book, with the caveat that at times it only appealed to the scholar in me, and left part of me longing for more classic historical context.
Surprising, eye opening
Details of the pre-sixties government involvement.
Such a powerful part of my youth hitherto not understood. I have generally found LSD to be a taboo subject. Perhaps because the "experienced" fear a social stigma. Perhaps they are left with many questions and uncertainties better left undisturbed. Yet it remains one of the most powerful experiences of many lives.
This history of acid provided me with perspective. The authors illustrate amply the many conflicting points of view; the positive and negatives of the psychedelic experience. And, most importantly, it provides an opportunity for discussion.
Many thanks to the authors.
great book and well written. anyone interested in the 60's, LSD, or the CIA should read this book
"accurate, cited, and thought provoking"
a fantastic biography on the social history of LSD up to the 1990s. the narrator is a bit dry in his delivery at times, but the content wakes you up from any grandfather voice slumber you may have started to fall into. this book is a great introduction to the history of lsd for people who haven't learned about it, and also great for experts. it gives a broad overview while highlighting many connections you may not have known about
"such a fascinating history! "
This book tells the complex story of lsd in well written, captivating and journalistic way. The book spans crazy cia experiments, governement conspiracy, orgiastic lsd driven cults, and an overarching cultural revolution fueled by psychedelics.
Highly recommended as a window into a fascinating and relavant part of American history.
"A must read for people interested in drug culture"
Fascinating! Historical and great stories and facts. So many things I did not know. I highly recommend this book to people studying addiction.
"Answered a lot of questions."
If you lived in this era, then read this book. The questions I had about the better living through chemistry era were answered in this book. I loved it. I grew up in the Bay Area when I was a kid and lived this changing world. The doctors fed us speed for hyperactivity gave mom tranquilizer dad drank. We made it through. I miss the LSD. To bad it did not give out a formula.
This is an interesting book and the revelations about the origins of LSD and the connection between the drug and the CIA, even down to its manufacture, were fascinating. In the words of the Rolling Stones, 'it just goes to show things are not what they seem'. The book focussed on the early years of Acid which is fair enough as this was its most flamboyant and culture changing time and it was very interesting to hear about the development of the links and tensions between acid users and the Left political movement. I thought the book lost its way in the last quarter with its focus on a man who was both an Acid manufacturer and possibly (?) also on the payroll of the CIA and and I would like to have heard what those early psychedelic Acid users did next. However this was written in the early 1980s so is limited by its time but the writer was able to look at how the use of LSD later did not have spiritual connotations and was used as just another fun drug. I would like to have heard more of a discussion of this phenomenon but this may be be beyond the scope of this book which as its title says, did focus on the CIA.
The (American) reader did his best with English accents but as usual they were woeful when attempting Liverpudlian, however the book was well read apart from this.
I would recommend this if you want to know some of what was going on behind the 'flower power' of the late 60s but don't expect any great social analysis.
"Fascinating but a little dry. Excellent narration."
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This book is a great listen for anybody interested in psychedelics and LSD. Found the history of LSD and its involvement with the cia and its mind control programs in the 60's and 70's to be fascinating. Well narrated, would recommend.
"A wonderfully detailed account of LSD."
This is an excellent account of the history of.L.S.D extremely well written and well researched. The narration it good and the sound quality is excellent. The book is funny and serious at the same time, with a story that range from the ridiculous to highly political.
This is an excellent read on a fascinating part of 20th-century history.
"OK But Not Great"
thinking on that one
This book has no pace
The author has reseached this well and got a lot of Gov papers from it. If it was shorter it would have been better. Towards the later half it was getting repetitive but there is an interesting insight into the Gov's frame of mind during this period.
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