Timothy Leary: A Biography

Robert Greenfield, Author . Harcourt $28 (689p) ISBN 978-0-15-100500-0

Greenfield, award-winning biographer of Jerry Garcia and Bill Graham, paints another '60s portrait in this scathing account of counterculture hero and LSD guru Timothy Leary (1920–1996). Largely based on interviews with Leary's friends and acquaintances, this book offers a highly detailed and decidedly ugly portrayal of a pathologically selfish, narcissistic yet complex man who lacked basic qualities such as empathy and compassion. Worse, Leary, the cynosure of the psychedelic movement, who preached the power of LSD and other drugs to expand human consciousness and foster change, fails to exhibit the capacity for inner growth. Greenfield's gaze alights as much on the quotidian (who cooked what for dinner when) as on the sensational (drugs, sex, Black Panthers, parades of famous figures like Allen Ginsberg and Abbie Hoffman). Despite the visceral dislike for Leary that readers are likely to develop, many will be intrigued by the unlikely course of his life, which took him from a prestigious position as a Harvard lecturer to the California penal system, and later to work as a government informer in an Algerian compound with Eldridge Cleaver . Leary ends up a dissipated, broken man, who remains self-promoting enough to suggest, in 1996, that he would kill himself while logged on to yet another new phenomenon, the Internet. (June)

Reviewed on: 04/03/2006
Release date: 06/01/2006
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