The Harvard Psychedelic Club
Timothy Leary took his first psychedelic trip the day I was born: August 9, 1960. With that first magic mushroom, the Sixties counterculture was born.
The Harvard Psychedelic Club journeys through the psychedelic explorations of four key players in the birth of the counterculture: Timothy Leary, Ram Dass, Huston Smith and Andrew Weil. Yes, that Andrew Weil. The initial experimentation was part of the Harvard Psylocibin Project.
Trickster, Teacher, Seeker and Healer. Author Don Lattin labels each man and thereby turns each into a symbol that represents the four paths they took. But Lattin does more than profile the key players; he digs up dirt.
The dirt is mostly on Andy Weil who dug up the dirt on Leary and Richard Albert (Ram Dass) that got them booted from Harvard. Weil also wrote an article about the scandal in the November 5, 1963 issue of Look magazine. Weil acted out of jealousy and spitefulness rather than a belief that Leary and Alpert’s experiments were immoral.
I have always respected smiley bearded Dr. Weil and his stance on health and nutrition. But The Harvard Psychedelic Club tainted my image of him, not because he indulged in consciousness-raising chemicals, but because he comes off as a vengeful nerd.
Post Harvard Lives
Readers don’t spend a lot of time at Harvard, but then again, neither did Leary and Alpert. Latinn takes us through the rest of their lives: Leary’s flight from the law, Alpert’s transformation into Ram Dass and Weil’s journey from drug taker to mainstream healer and marketer.
Huston Smith, a expert on the world’s religions, was a member of the Harvard project though he taught at MIT. His inclusion as a member of the club makes some sense, but I came away feeling like he was part of the periphery. Smith rejected Leary’s project pretty quickly.
Ralph Metzner, a graduate student, seems like a more integral member of the club. Metzner too went on to a lifetime of spiritual search, but perhaps Lattin did not perceive his story to be as compelling as Smith’s.
All four members of the Harvard Psychedelic Club dedicated their lives to the study of the human consciousness, including chemically induced altered states of consciousness. What separates Huston and Ram Dass is their understand that the real test of a person spirit is the way they live their lives. It’s what happens after the ecstasy. –Don Lattin, The Harvard Psychedelic Club
The book contains a few annoying tics, but let’s get real. If I ran into a hippie time-machined to the present, I would all find the hippie-speak annoying pretty fast. Latinn’s point of view seems contradictory in places. Pick one and stick with it, please. Or, tell your reader you are describing a character’s point of view. The writing feels choppy but we are recounting the Psychelic Sixties after all.
One final suggestion: don’t use song lyrics as part of your prose.