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Storming Heaven: LSD and the American Dream…
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Storming Heaven: LSD and the American Dream (edition 1998)

by Jay Stevens

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310435,978 (4.04)8
Member:jschonbr
Title:Storming Heaven: LSD and the American Dream
Authors:Jay Stevens
Info:Grove Press (1998), Paperback, 416 pages
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Storming Heaven: LSD and the American Dream by Jay Stevens

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  AdocentynLibrary | Jan 12, 2014 |
Storming Heaven is Jay Stevens’ biography of LSD, a drug that blossomed in the 1960s. I remember the 1960s as a time of war and rebellion but Stevens argues that LSD played a major role in the decade’s culture. The images that come to my mind when thinking about the 60s are not psychedelic; they are of a Vietnamese girl running from her flaming village, a women kneeling over Bobby Kennedy’s bleeding body, another woman kneeling over another bleeding body at Kent State. LSD and Timothy Leary only caught my attention in the 1960s only because of our shared first names and the fact that he was a Harvard professor, an achievement I was taught to respect. From my point of view Leary and LSD were filler for the newspapers, like the jokes on the bottom of the page in Readers Digest. Drugs were nothing new; I knew that from watching old movies. What was newsworthy about some well-educated addicts? According to Jay Stevens those “well-educated addicts” were dedicated to changing America in a way even more basic than the civil rights workers or woman’s liberation activists were.
LSD was born at Sandoz, a Swiss drug company in 1943s. It was a descendent of ergot, the fungus that grows on rye. Sandoz chemists had been working with ergot’s active ingredient for over a decade when they finally developed Lysergic acid diethylamide, LSD-25. (Stevens, 4) It was a cousin of the New World’s peyote and other psychedelic drugs slowly the psychiatric community took notice of it. LSD might have stayed in the sterile nursery of clinical psychiatry if in 1953 an English researcher working in Canada had not introduced Adlous Huxley to psychedelics. (Stevens, 53)
Huxley, author of Brave New World, and his longtime friend Gerald Heard, author of A Taste for Honey and other Sherlockiana, were dedicated mystics searching for enlightenment. They saw psychedelics and LSD in particular as a shortcut to spiritual completion. They believed that by exposing the worlds best and brightest to the world unlocked by the drug that society would become a better place.
1950s Beat icons Allen Ginsberg author of Howl, Jack Kerouac author of On the Road, William Burroughs author of Naked Lunch, and the person who inspired Kerouac’s book, Neal Cassady, play recurring rolls in LSD’s life story. The Beatles had been called the evangelists of LSD (Stevens, 345) but it was these four that traveled the continent spreading the good news. They appeared in New York, Mexico, Tangiers, Texas, San Francisco, Connecticut, spreading disaffection and apathy wherever they appeared. Although they appear in every stage of LSD’s development, they seem to appear at every major event, they are not as enthralled with LSD as the other players are, perhaps because drugs were already integral to their lifestyle when they were introduced to LSD.
Tim Leary and Dick Alpert, one of his Harvard associates, represent LSD’s adult hood. Both start as serious academics doing psychological research. Leary first experiences psychedelic mushrooms in 1960 on a research trip to Mexico. In the next six years he would become the face of LSD in the American media. He would be fired from Harvard, deported from Mexico, found a ‘research center’ on a Connecticut estate, produce movies, and land in jail. It was a wild ride and he took his teenaged children and Alpert along with him.
Research was Leary’s avowed goal but he soon he was talking and writing more like an eastern mystic than a research psychologist. His behavior became more and more outrageous and some suggested he was more interested in sex than research or mysticism.
The final phase of the life of LSD involves the most colorful characters, Ken Kesey, his Merry Pranksters, Hell’s Angels, and hippies of all descriptions. Kesey, newly wealthy from the proceeds of his first novel, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, and his entourage wanted to ‘turn on America’ Their ‘Acid Tests’ and ‘Human Be-Ins’ turned hundreds of people on at the same time. High on LSD and rock music they strove to form a group mind filled with love and understanding. Their events became more and more popular and drew more and more people. Unfortunately the chaos the Pranksters worked in proved to be the breeding ground for ‘bad trips’, terrifying excursions into the Otherworld. In their hands LSD became the gateway to heaven and hell.
The book began with the ancestors of LSD, ergot and peyote. Like any good biography it completes the family tree by discussing its decedents, Ecstasy and other ‘designer drugs”.
The people that Stevens brings into the story, in addition to those already mentioned, I found amazing. Author Anais Nin, jazz bandleader Maynard Ferguson, actress Marylin Monroe, ex FBI, ex convict G. Gordon Liddy to name a few.
Stevens’ book is well written; his conversational style of story telling is a welcome surprise in a history book. I started reading this book with some dread, as I am not a fan of mysticism. Huxley’s Brave New World, Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land, one of the Pranksters favorite texts, (Stevens, 239) and Herbert’s Dune all left me cold when I first read them. Stevens has to deal with the Otherworld and mystical beliefs but he does it unobtrusively. Someone like me can comfortably read Storming Heaven without feeling they are being evangelized. ( )
  TLCrawford | Jan 17, 2010 |
LSD is a drug with a good amount popular culture and folklore that has grown around it. This book tracks the history of LSD from its invention to its use by authors like Aldous Huxley and Ken Kesey, experiments by Timothy Leary and the Merry Pranksters, the CIA using it for mind control and much, much more. This engaging work of history reads like a novel and is endlessly fascinating. ( )
  Othemts | Nov 19, 2008 |
Alternately exhilarating and depressing as the author looks at the initial confusion then the enthusiasm and finally the fear surrounding this remarkable and misunderstood neurotransmitter. Would benefit from better editing. ( )
  latefordinner | Apr 1, 2007 |
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