Acid Dreams: The Complete Social History of LSD: The CIA, the Sixties, and Beyond by Martin A. Lee & Bruce Shalin 

Reviewed by Sue DeGregorio-Rosen, Contributing Editor

This is one of those older but not dated books that captures a reader’s imagination from the first pages, particularly for those that experienced it directly or indirectly.

Martin Lee and Bruce Shalin have rewritten the history of a time that some of us may have experienced, while leaving others completely miffed. The events they uncover, some that are disturbing others full of love, while engaging with details that have needed to be told, remains most likely the best documented piece to date.

A general researcher by the name of Albert Hoffman worked with the Swiss chemical company, Sandoz, and the birth of lysergic acid diethylamide.  Hoffman was working with a chemical found in ergot, which is a fungus known to grow on rye among other grains.  Hoffman discovered the hallucinogenic effects in 1943 when he “accidently” ingested a small amount and experienced extradentary shapes along with a kaleidoscope of colors.

Acid Dreams is a comprehensive social history of the psychedelic counterculture that was experienced and enjoyed by many in the Sixties. The authors share information that was obtained through the Freedom of Information Act and expose how the CIA also used LSD during what was coined as “The Cold War”.  This story takes us to what follows as one of the more bizarre times in the covert history of U.S. intelligence.

We read about the very first “Johnny Appleseed” of acid, that seemed to intimidate many scientists, businessmen, church figures, policemen, and others and is filled with details a great understanding of a very turbulent time, a time that took us through the war in Vietnam, and the birth of the counterculture.  It begins with Timothy Leary, Ken Kesey, Andrew Weil, Ram Dass, and his band of Merry Pranksters, known as The Harvard Four, Allen Ginsberg and the Beatnik generation, the Beatles, Flower Power, and the glory days of anarchy in Haight-Ashbury, SF straight across to Greenwich Village, NYC. We are reintroduced to William Hitchcock, Abbie Hoffman and the Yippies, the Beatles, the generation of hippies, free love, and all that transcended into a generation that was filled with sex and drugs and rock n’ roll. We get to question what impact did the widespread use of LSD have on the anti-war movement of the late Sixties? Acid Dreams tells us how a hallucinogenic helped to strengthen each stage of the counter-cultural detail to a generation if not in rebellion, then seeking a change with a fresh definition of inner and external peace, the same generation I grew up in.

It’s a worthwhile read for a social-historical perspective.