cover image It’s All a Kind of Magic: The Young Ken Kesey

It’s All a Kind of Magic: The Young Ken Kesey

Rick Dodgson. Univ. of Wisconsin, $26.95 (250p) ISBN 978-0-299-29510-3

“Kesey’s name is so identified with the sixties that it is easy to forget that he was a product of the forties and fifties,” writes Lakeland College historian Dodgson in his pleasant, if slight biography of the charismatic author’s early life. Exploring the forces that influenced Kesey—best known as the author of One Flew over the Cukoo’s Nest and, later, as a member of the Merry Pranksters—Dodgson places the author in his historical context. The volume follows Kesey from his birth in Colorado in 1935 through his years at the University of Oregon, to the famed Stanford University writing program that also nurtured Larry McMurtry and Robert Stone. Kesey took part in early LSD experimentation, and Dodgson does an excellent job of describing the drug culture of the era. Since Dodgson only takes his subject up to the early 1960s and J.F.K.’s assassination, he leaves readers tantalizingly looking ahead to the tumultuous late ’60s. Dodgson’s preface entertainingly explains how he came to write about Kesey for his dissertation, eventually meeting the man himself. Kesey allowed the young historian access to his personal papers, and, along with his Prankster cohort Ken Babbs, proved supportive and enthusiastic. Unfortunately, permission to quote from the unpublished sources was rescinded, and the book reflects the absence of Kesey’s unfettered voice. Photos. (Oct.)