The most interesting gem unearthed in James Fadiman's book The Psychedelic Explorer's Guide? Francis Crick, discoverer of DNA, perceived the double-helix shape while tripping balls on acid. The other 300 pages are dedicated to outlining safe and effective ways of using psychedelics, detailing their history, and relating first-person accounts of various people who ingested psychedelics for specific reasons, be they spiritual, therapeutic or problem-solving. The result is an unsurprisingly haphazard yet interesting discussion of psychedelic use for therapy that doesn't come close to blowing up the familiar conversation with a rainbow laser.
Fadiman (he has a Ph.D. in psychology from Stanford University, though it was awarded back in the loosey-goosey '60s) makes his strongest case for the benefits of what he calls "psychedelic therapy" with myriad personal reflections from those who experienced a guided session. It's interesting to read accounts of engineers, architects and furniture designers tripping to solve professional problems. It's also remarkable that they had mostly positive results. Suspiciously remarkable, really. "Clifford" eats acid directly before an important final exam in college and it works out for him, which seems relatively unlikely.
The main problem with Fadiman's subject matter is that people who use psychedelics are disconnected from people who don't. Those without psychedelic experience generally don't want it, and those who do don't need Fadiman's book. The guidelines he outlines for "a successful voyage" are so basic it's almost comical ("have at least eight hours of music on hand"). He covers all the important bases—history, possibilities, user data—and unabashedly drops the important names: Fadiman's wife is Ken Kesey's ex, and he chats about Ram Dass, Aldous Huxley and Timothy Leary. Unfortunately, it's all been done better.
GO: James Fadiman will speak at Powell's Books on Hawthorne on Sunday, Nov. 13, at 4 pm. Admission is free.