The Timothy Leary Project

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 03 Apr 2018

Member Reviews

This is a collection of drawn from Leary's archives.  I enjoyed the commentary, the introduction and the photographs.  I also discovered that reading about other people's trips can be boring.  Since this is really a presentation of the archives there is no critical commentary.  The book does provide a good introduction to Leary and his influence.  Enjoy
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This book was very well researched and written. I learned a lot!
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Zach Leary and Michael Horowitz provide intros for this carefully curated and often engaging volume which combines personal, political and social contexts to the life and work of this often infamously remembered advocate for consciousness upgrading. Jennifer Ulrich, a professional archivist who was brought in to curate the papers and correspondence included here has done a really good job of presenting an interesting, balanced and pretty well-rounded picture of a man that is suitable even for readers completely unacquainted with Leary.  For those of us more familiar with his life, work and legacy, there is the added bonus of some fantastic photos and reproductions of letters - from Allen Ginsberg, for example - as well as a potpourri of original event flyers, art and other ephemera much of which is being seen here in print for the first time. In short it's an excellent primer for Leary novices and this era's resurgence of interest in psychedelic research and history.
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The Timothy Leary Project: Inside the Great Counterculture Experiment is a biography put together by the phycologist's notes, letters, and other documents. Jennifer Ulrich is the curator of the documents as well as editor and author of this book. Leary's son, Zach, provides the forward.

Leary was ultimately known for the use of psychedelic drugs to increase human consciousness and experience. This work shows the transformation of a middle-class phycologist into the counterculture guru. Early correspondence is with Allen Ginsberg but is not limited to the Beat culture although it did offer a starting point for experiments and documentation. Leary conversed with others too like Carl Sagan.

Documents include "trip reports" from various volunteers. Leary turned to Albert Hofman, the first person to synthesize LSD and take it. Hofmann is also known for writing his experience of riding a bicycle while on LSD. Aldous Huxley is also a source of letters and information until his death in 1963.

Some space is given to Leary as a fugitive.  His 1965 Laredo arrest under the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937 lead to a conviction and a thirty-year sentence.  The Marijuana Tax Act was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.  Although Leary was free, it did lead to the creation the DEA and federal controlled substance laws under Nixon.  Leary was arrested again in California in 1970 and sent to a low-security prison.  He promptly escaped and moved to Algiers, then Switzerland.  Returning back to Switzerland from Afghanistan he was taken into custody by US agents.  Governor Brown would later pardon him in 1976.  In an interesting change of events, Leary took to personal computers as his new savior.  In fact, one of Leary's last acts was posting a recipe for an edible marijuana bud on a Ritz cracker. 

An interesting look at Leary through his personal documents.  It's not quite a biography in a traditional sense but an examination of personal papers.  A book for the reader with knowledge of Leary's life and work but wants to see more of the original documents.
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This is a highly descriptive and kind look on Leary's life, which was, to it mildly, adventurous. To stack all of his experiences in the way the authors/editors have intended here, by splicing letters to Leary with photographs and descriptions of people, events and keeping a chronological timeliness, they mostly keep a cool head through a jagged passage. It's a trip, without Jest, this book, and very much recommended for a sample of what happened in Leary's life. I think the part of Leary's escaping the USA for Algiers should have been expanded on, but that's what we'll have another book, Minutaglio/Davis's "The Most Dangerous Man in America" for.
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Psychologist Timothy Leary was not only a central figure of the American counterculture, he has always been controversial and his views have been contested - which is the very reason why the guy is so interesting and the questions regarding his legacy are so relevant against the background of changing societal circumstances. And this brings us right to the heart of the problem I have with this book: It is a pure celebration of Leary's achievements, it is lacking nuance and critical distance that would help to evaluate and critically assess Leary's agenda.

Timothy Leary, who was at one point a professor of psychology at Harvard, was an advocate for the use of LSD in order to achieve consciousness expansion and conducted research about psychoactive drugs. It is fascinating to read how he built a network that included people like Aldous Huxley, Allen Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs, Ken Kesey, and John Lennon, how he was a pioneer in promoting the idea of exploring the self, and there is also no doubt that he seriously aimed to contribute to a better, more peaceful society. Ulrich, an archivist who spent more than a year working with Timothy Leary’s papers at the New York Public Library, presents many wonderful photographs, letters, posters, research sheets etc. that illustrate the life and times of Leary.

But it would certainly not be heresy to ask some critical questions: While Leary spoke out against the abuse of LSD, he promoted the controlled use of it - where do you draw the line? When laws were passed and the use of the drug was forbidden, he tried to evade these laws by creating his own church, so the use of LSD might be protected under the right to religious freedom - isn't that a pretty questionable move? Most importantly, though: A book about Leary simply must discuss whether his basic premise, that the use of LSD is beneficial, makes sense and what current research suggests. 

That's not what we get here. "(...) for Leary himself, the close of the decade (the 60's) was to see the limits of his vision decidedly challenged by the system." The spread of LSD was "a threat to the establishment."  So there is no legitimate reason whatsoever for questioning whether the use of LSD is a good idea? Not only this framing of Leary as a martyr is annoying, it is also striking that some facts are hardly explained and dropped quickly: For instance, when giving testimony in front of the Special Subcommitte on Narcotics, "(...) he stated a case for regulation, (but) was not able to convey his usual positive message regarding the drug." And on another note, what was Leary's role as an FBI informant?

All in all, this feels like a missed chance.
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Well written and researched, but lost my attention halfway through
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This is a very in depth look into the life of a man well before his time. The story is touching in the way his child writes it, and views of her father oversee the vision others have of him.
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