Timothy Leary is one of the most famous 1960s icons, both for his advocacy of LSD, and his visions of a future where humanity is liberated from outdated morality. And now, you can learn about the man's inner life in a fascinating new biography written by R.U. Sirius — free online.
The short book is called Timothy Leary's Trip Thru Time, and it manages to be both witty and thought-provoking. Sirius is known for his subversive futurist writing, including as editor of the legendary digital culture magazine Mondo 2000. He was also a friend of Leary's, and appreciates the goofy side of the famous man as well as his more philosophical work.
Organized as a kind of oddball timeline, the book takes us from Leary's troubled attempts to live outside the mainstream during the 1940s and 50s while he earned a Ph.D. in clinical psychology — through his rise to countercultural stardom in the 60s and 70s. If you want to know where the idea to "tune in, turn on, and drop out" really came from, you shouldn't miss this book.
Sirius begins by introducing the surprisingly complicated guy behind the madcap persona:
When I first met Timothy Leary in 1980, he told me “credibility is overrated. I want to be incredible.”
Nevertheless, there’s a great temptation, in writing up Leary’s life, to perform an intervention against the popular caricature of him as the sort of madcap, slightly brain-fried acid doctor who brought bedlam to middle class America, and to, instead, make him as credible as possible. And he was, frequently, credible... insightful... erudite... scholarly... well informed... culturally sophisticated — an intellectual’s intellectual. He was a renaissance man — conversant in nearly all of the sciences; in everything to do with psychology; in literature and the arts, history, sociology and popular culture. He was an inveterate theorist and a sometimes fierce combatant in the cultural and political discourses of his time (and not just those related to drugs). By being very selective, one could do a fairly impressive job of dressing him up in academic tweeds. But were he around to participate in that, at some point, he would shuck it off. He would kick off his metaphorical shoes and light out for the territories like the fictional character he most identified with - Huck Finn.
Leary’s life and work subverts — and intentionally so — any attempt to get the adjudicators of serious intellectual credibility to give him another look. After all, more than anything else, he longed to extract the giant stick from their collective rectums, leaving them bereft and... laughing.
And so, we have ahead of us, in this book, several Timothy Learys (Leary claimed their were 24 of him).