The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test

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Tom Wolfe's The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test ushered in an era of New Journalism. "An American classic" (Newsweek) that defined a generation. "An astonishing book" (The New York Times Book Review) and an unflinching portrait of Ken Kesey, his Merry Pranksters, LSD, and the 1960s.
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Additional Information

Publisher
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
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Published on
Aug 19, 2008
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Pages
384
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ISBN
9781429961141
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Features
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Language
English
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Genres
History / United States / 20th Century
Social Science / Popular Culture
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Available on Android devices
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Eligible for Family Library

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Although the topic of habitual narcotic use first surfaced in the United States during the 1820s, it was not until after the Civil War that it became a subject of widespread public attention. Beginning in the 1870s, an increasingly urgent discussion of what some described as a national epidemic of "drug addiction" could be found in both medical journals and the popular press. Today, nearly a century and a half later, the term is so commonplace we speak of people being "addicted" to just about anything. Yet as Timothy A. Hickman argues in this revealing interdisciplinary study, the meaning of addiction has always been as much cultural as scientific and never fixed. In The Secret Leprosy of Modern Days, Hickman resituates the idea of addiction within its original late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century context. Through close readings of a broad range of literary, medical, and legal texts, he shows how Americans of that era conceptualized the dangers of drug addiction in terms of other preoccupations and fears. Anxieties about the accelerating pace of technological change, the loss of personal autonomy, and the degeneration of society attributed to both foreign influences and a decline of manliness all fed into a widespread sense of cultural crisis -- a crisis of which the spiraling "drug problem" was seen as both contributing cause and consequence. Not surprisingly, Hickman points out, deeply held assumptions of class, race, and gender also figured into the popular understanding of addiction. While white middle-class addicts were often depicted as helpless victims of the social and economic pressures of modern life, their less privileged and nonwhite counterparts were regarded as morally weak. Over time the distinction between "addict as patient" and "addict as criminal" came to be accepted by the emerging medical establishment and codified into law, eventually finding expression in the Harrison Narcotics Act of 1914, the first national anti-narcotic legislation in the history of the United States -- and the basis for much thinking about addiction and drug policy ever since.
The authors employ the techniques of oral history to penetrate the nether world of the drug user, giving us an engrossing portrait of life in the drug subculture during the "classic" era of strict narcotic control.

Praise for the hardcover edition:

"A momentous book which I feel is destined to become a classic in the category of scholarly narcotic books."
—Claude Brown, author of the bestseller, Manchild in the Promised Land.

"The drug literature is filled with the stereotyped opinions of non-addicted, middle-class pundits who have had little direct contact with addicts. These stories are reality. Narcotic addicts of the inner cities are both tough and gentle, deceptive when necessary and yet often generous--above all, shrewd judges of character. While judging them, the clinician is also being judged."
—Vincent P. Dole, M.D., The Rockefeller Institute.

"What was it like to be a narcotic addict during the Anslinger era? No book will probably ever appear that gives a better picture than this one. . . . a singularly readable and informative work on a subject ordinarily buried in clichés and stereotypes."
—Donald W. Goodwin, Journal of the American Medical Association

" . . . an important contribution to the growing body of literature that attempts to more clearly define the nature of drug addiction. . . . [This book] will appeal to a diverse audience. Academicians, politicians, and the general reader will find this approach to drug addiction extremely beneficial, insightful, and instructive. . . . Without qualification anyone wishing to acquire a better understanding of drug addicts and addiction will benefit from reading this book."
—John C. McWilliams, Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography

"This study has much to say to a general audience, as well as those involved in drug control."
—Publishers Weekly

"The authors' comments are perceptive and the interviews make interesting reading."
—John Duffy, Journal of American History

"This book adds a vital and often compelling human dimension to the story of drug use and law enforcement. The material will be of great value to other specialists, such as those interested in the history of organized crime and of outsiders in general."
—H. Wayne Morgan, Journal of Southern History

"This book represents a significant and valuable addition to the contemporary substance abuse literature. . . . this book presents findings from a novel and remarkably imaginative research approach in a cogent and exceptionally informative manner."
—William M. Harvey, Journal of Psychoactive Drugs

"This is a good and important book filled with new information containing provocative elements usually brought forth through the touching details of personal experience. . . . There isn't a recollection which isn't of intrinsic value and many point to issues hardly ever broached in more conventional studies."
—Alan Block, Journal of Social History
“An engrossing account” of the history of LSD, the psychedelic 1960s, and the clandestine mind games of the CIA (William Burroughs).
 
Beginning with the discovery of LSD in 1943, this “monumental social history of psychedelia” tracks the most potent drug known to science—from its use by the government during the paranoia of the Cold War to its spill-over into a revolutionary antiestablishment recreation during the Vietnam War—setting the stage for one of the great ideological battles of the decade (The Village Voice).
 
In the intervening years, the CIA 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 in countercultural transition sought to break the “mind-forged manacles” of cultural repression—among them, Timothy Leary, Ken Kesey, the Beatles, Allen Ginsberg, William Mellon Hitchcock, and Abbie Hoffman. Painting an indelible portrait of an unforgettable era and using startling information obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, Acid Dreams also exposes one of the most bizarre, shocking, and often tragic episodes in American history.
 
“An important historical synthesis of the spread and effects of a drug that served as a central metaphor for an era.” —John Sayles
 
“Marvelously detailed . . . loaded with startling revelations.” —Los Angeles Daily News
A dazzling work of personal travelogue and cultural criticism that ranges from the primitive to the postmodern in a quest for the promise and meaning of the psychedelic experience.

While psychedelics of all sorts are demonized in America today, the visionary compounds found in plants are the spiritual sacraments of tribal cultures around the world. From the iboga of the Bwiti in Gabon, to the Mazatecs of Mexico, these plants are sacred because they awaken the mind to other levels of awareness--to a holographic vision of the universe.

Breaking Open the Head is a passionate, multilayered, and sometimes rashly personal inquiry into this deep division. On one level, Daniel Pinchbeck tells the story of the encounters between the modern consciousness of the West and these sacramental substances, including such thinkers as Allen Ginsberg, Antonin Artaud, Walter Benjamin, and Terence McKenna, and a new underground of present-day ethnobotanists, chemists, psychonauts, and philosophers. It is also a scrupulous recording of the author's wide-ranging investigation with these outlaw compounds, including a thirty-hour tribal initiation in West Africa; an all-night encounter with the master shamans of the South American rain forest; and a report from a psychedelic utopia in the Black Rock Desert that is the Burning Man Festival.

Breaking Open the Head is brave participatory journalism at its best, a vivid account of psychic and intellectual experiences that opened doors in the wall of Western rationalism and completed Daniel Pinchbeck's personal transformation from a jaded Manhattan journalist to shamanic initiate and grateful citizen of the cosmos.
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