CominG Soon from Grand Central, January 14, 2024.
“Benjamin Breen has crafted a brilliant and original history of the chemical dreamscape of American democracy. With a driving narrative and unforgettable cast of characters, Tripping on Utopia resurrects the promise, dangers, and sheer weirdness of one of the twentieth century’s unsung frontiers of discovery: the quest to change the world by altering humans’ perception of it.”
―Charles King, Georgetown University, author of Gods of the Upper Air and Midnight at the Pera Palace
• Selected by Publisher’s Weekly as a Top 10 pick among upcoming history books.
• “Top New Release” on Amazon.
Tripping on Utopia is a new history of psychedelic science in the twentieth century that rewrites much of what we thought we knew about the field’s origins.
Throughout the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s, an international group of scientists centered around the Macy conferences — and brought together in large part by Margaret Mead and her third husband Gregory Bateson — began to suspect that the therapeutic use of substances like mescaline and LSD could help push society away from feedback loops of aggression and toward peaceful, even utopian ends. Their study was buoyed by the surge of government funding for experimental drug research that followed in the wake of World War II and the advent of the nuclear era. The result was the emergence of a new science of consciousness expansion that focused not just on treating disease or addressing psychiatric symptoms, but on enlarging the limits of human potential itself.
In the process, however, many of the researchers involved became entangled in the espionage and militarism of the Cold War. Others simply became disenchanted. Their work revealed the transformative potential of twentieth-century pharmacology — but it also offered a profound case study of the ways that technological utopianism can (and does) go wrong.
“Tripping on Utopia is epic in its scope, cinematic in its rendering. This masterpiece of storytelling is underpinned by impeccable research and extraordinary material that will have you questioning everything you think you know about America’s history of psychedelic drug use. Breen is an exciting new voice in narrative non-fiction.”
―Lindsey Fitzharris, New York Times Bestselling Author of The Facemaker
“Part biography, part intellectual history, this kaleidoscopic book reveals the century-long search for psychological liberation at the heart of today’s fascination with psychedelics. It’s a marvel of scholarship and impossible to put down.”
―Fred Turner, Stanford University, author of From Counterculture to Cyberculture: Stewart Brand, the Whole Earth Network, and the Rise of Digital Utopianism
“In this strikingly original new history of psychedelic science, Benjamin Breen focuses on its origins in the interwar years alongside the expansive utopian projects of that era: anthropologists studying how cultures change, cybernetic dreams of reprogramming the brain, and the fascination with other wonder drugs such as hormones, truth serums and tranquilisers. The result is a thrilling history of ideas, deeply rooted in archival research and narrated with infectious energy and enthusiasm. Tripping on Utopia is full of surprises and beautiful writing.”
―Mike Jay, author of Psychonauts: Drugs and the Making of the Modern Mind
“The hidden history of how psychedelic drugs spread from CIA clinics and chic parties into the American counter-culture is not quite as wild as an LSD trip — but as this book makes clear, it’s close. Deeply researched but also highly imaginative, Tripping on Utopia uncovers a maze of startling connections among some of the strange and fascinating characters who shaped a dazzling chapter of American cultural history.”
―Stephen Kinzer, author of Poisoner in Chief
“A captivating tale of scientific idealists and Cold War spies, love triangles and tripping dolphins, and the never-ending search to maximize human potential and make the world a better place. Deeply researched and alive with extraordinary human stories, this book will change your mind about the origins of the counterculture and the people who shaped it.”
―Margaret O’Mara, University of Washington, author of The Code: Silicon Valley and the Remaking of America