[photo credit afgooey74]
LSD = D-lysergic acid diethylamide
When I was asked to review The Harvard Psychedelic Club, authored by Don Lattin, the request couldn’t have come at a better time. Plus, Mr. Lattin was formerly the religion writer for the San Francisco Chronicle, right in my own geographical backyard. Coolio!
I was born in autumn of 1970. Lately, I have been feeling an urge to learn about how people felt and perceived the decade that ended the year before I was born. These were the days of the Kennedy and MLK assassinations, first landings on the moon, and the ripples of the Vietnam war. The ‘60s seemed to have been a turbulent time, but also one brimming with discovery and energy.
To help fill in the piece of the puzzle, I rented a documentary-style film called, In the Shadow of the Moon (a Ron Howard film), which chronicles America’s quest to land on the moon, leveraging footage and interviews with astronauts who have been to the moon and are still walking the Earth with us. It was inspiring and filled in many holes (questions) about how the world felt during this time in history.
I highly suggest you watch it. This movie far exceeded my expectations.
I often quip that if this country can figure out how to land on the moon (and pay for it), we can figure out anything—especially when it relates to finding a way to care for people. To be clear, I’m talking about initiating a national health care system where people don’t fall though cracks or loose their life savings because they can’t qualify for or afford health insurance. I believe a lot can be ascertained about a society depending on how they take care of their people.
About the time the email arrived querying my interest in reviewing a book that discusses how a group of men from Harvard ushered in a new age for America, I had watched the Moon movie and this made perfect sense. Super! I can put another block of the ‘60s cultural puzzle in place!
On a literary note, I have to admit that I didn’t really like the way that the narrative was pieced together—I was a bit confused and felt tossed around like a Caesar salad. What saved the book for me was that all the components were savory ingredients—so yummy that I suggest reading the book despite potential confusion. It’s worth the occasional anchovy! The author absolutely did his homework as evidenced by the bibliography. To be fair, I’m not sure how I’d have written it differently. In my book, if you can’t propose a solution, you don’t get to complain.
Since I was sent a proof print, I wasn’t hard on myself for dog-earring the pages to mark juicy passages—normally an act of defilement punishable by permanently stamping one’s meal card “no dessert.” By the time I had reached the end, I had kinked about 20% of the 230 pages. That’s a high enough percentage for me to recommend the book to you and feel good about my recommendation.
I particularly enjoyed reading about the lives of many people I’ve come to learn about over the years, such as Andrew Weil, who always has rubbed me wrong. Sorry, Andy, you just do—on a professional level. I somehow laughed on the inside to hear Andrew was the rat that got Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert (later known as Ram Dass) fired. How ironic. You’ll understand why when you read the book.
Finally, you all know I have a Ph.D. in molecular biology/biochemistry so I can’t leave you without a comment (OK, it’s a borderline rant) about the experiments that were conducted and explained in the book.
[Note: The following has nothing to do with the review of the book and everything to do with the some of the characters portrayed in the book.]
I was amazed by what the researchers at Harvard got away with! IRB, anyone? Research using human subjects is not to be taken lightly—an IRB (Institutional Review Board) is required for research with human subjects and is accompanied by strict guidelines.
And they can’t use the argument, “Chill out, girl, it’s 1962 and no one really cares what goes on regarding research and human outcomes. Sit back, let’s tone it down with some LSD.”
Guidelines have been in place for decades prior to the LSD experimental work at Harvard.
Back in 1947, as a result of the Nuremberg Tribunals for war crimes against humanity during World War II, a landmark document on medical ethics and one of the most lasting products of the trial came to be widely respected. It employed ten directives for human experimentation—called the THE NUREMBERG CODE.
Here’s the tenth on the list:
“10. During the course of the experiment the scientist in charge must be prepared to terminate the experiment at any stage, if he has probable cause to believe, in the exercise of the good faith, superior skill and careful judgment required of him that a continuation of the experiment is likely to result in injury, disability, or death to the experimental subject.”
I may be a scientist, but I have a feeling anyone reading this *GETS* the meaning here. I do not find it ambiguous. Do you?
How can anyone, in his or her right mind, justify taking drugs WITH his or her research subjects (which is what happened)? I find this to be abhorrent and incredibly irresponsible.
I also find it sad that it took a snot-nosed student at Harvard to end these crazy experiments and get these guys kicked out of Harvard.
I’m not against understanding and investigating potential benefits of psychedelics and other mind-altering drugs, but, just because one works at Harvard, it’s no excuse to remove one’s scientist hat.
On a final note, I respect Lattin for exploring this topic, in part, as a way for him to understand his own experience during the ‘60s. Thanks, Mr. Lattin, for showing me what you have seen through your eyes.
On a final note, if you experienced the ’60s tell me something about your experience! Or, if you missed the decade, like me, what do you think you’re missing?
More reviews of this book:
• Wall Street Journal (by the author, Mr. Lattin)
• San Francisco Weekly (by Jonathan Kiefer)
• SF Gate (by Ari Goldman, professor of journalism at Columbia University)
• New York Times (by Dwight Gardner)
• Happy Lotus (by Nadia)
• Quest for Balance (by Lisis Blackston)
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