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The five best books on psychedelics and culture

Updated: May 19

My recent review over on Shepherd, where I listed my five favourite books on psychedelics and culture, with a justification for each. Here's my review of True Hallucinations.

The rollicking work of creative non-fiction that is the closest we have to a memoir, penned by the man Leary later dubbed “the Timothy Leary of the nineties.” The Magister Ludi of language, patron saint of psychedelics, holy fool, triple scorpio, I Ching decoder, timewave surfer, butterfly hunter, sheesh smuggler, mushroom cultivator, DMT hyperspace traveler, “machine elf” consortee. All reside in the repertoire of Terence Kemp McKenna, and all make their appearance in this classic freak odyssey. Featuring McKenna’s travails in Nepal, Tokyo, Sulawesi, among other locations, the chief subject is the sojourn to the Columbian Amazonas in Feb-Mar 1971, where Terence and his brother Dennis went in search of DMT, only to stumble upon a bounteous supply of Psilocybe mushrooms. La Chorrera is depicted as ground zero of psychedelic history and culture, the site of an “experiment” that would alter the course of their lives and send Terence on a quest for the “transcendental object at the end of time.”

Suffused with alchemy, millenarianism, hyperspace, and redemption, the journey was a psychedelic rite of passage that takes its place in a fabulous tale dissolving the boundary between truth and fiction, and that rivals other literary accomplishments in the “psychedelic” tradition (such as Fitz Hugh Ludlow’s The Hasheesh Eater). True Hallucinations has a background as fascinating as the book’s content. While published in 1993, the book has a twenty-year production history. First released as a “talking book” in 1984, the work began as an effort to resolve the “UFO enigma” that possessed McKenna in the wake of his experience with a “flying saucer” in La Chorrera in 1971. This book convinced me that a biography of McKenna ought to be attempted.