Hallucinations Made Clear

Don Lattin deals in deconstruction. Part detective, part historian, he uses interviews, documents, the public record, and his own experience to connect disparate events and trends to wrestle a sense of order — not to mention a gripping tale — from the chaos. In his 2007 book, Jesus Freaks, he started with a heinous crime — a teenager's killing of a woman and eventually himself — and traced this back to reveal the inner workings of a twisted religious group known as the Children of God, a cultlike order comparable to David Koresh's Branch Davidians or Jim Jones' Peoples Temple. His subject matter was no surprise, considering that he covered the religion beat for the San Francisco Chronicle for two decades. In his latest book, Lattin works his deconstructive magic in reverse, tracing much of the societal upheaval of the 1960s back to four men seeking breakthroughs in spirituality, hallucinogenics, and holistic medicine in a series of experiments at an Ivy League university in 1960 and '61. The result is The Harvard Psychedelic Club: How Timothy Leary, Ram Dass, Huston Smith, and Andrew Weil Killed the Fifties and Ushered in a New Age for America. Lattin parades some of the predictable characters from the Summer of Love — Jerry Garcia, Ken Kesey, Joan Baez — but he resists the lure of shallow name-dropping to show us the often turbulent relationships between the men involved in the Harvard Psilocybin Project and how their divergent paths and actions gave rise to much of the experimental nature of the 1960s. Lattin also offers analysis that questions some of the more cynical evaluations of the time from the likes of late gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson.
Wed., Jan. 12, 7 p.m., 2011

 
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