OT. T. LEARY a Biography ...
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Mon Jun 26 08:26:58 EDT 2006
Review by LUC SANTE
Published: June 25, 2006
IT has been a mere 10 years since Timothy Leary's death, but already his
career seems improbable. A onetime psychologist who advocated the use of
psychedelic drugs for personal growth, Leary loomed large in the 1960's as
something of a cross between a pop star and a religious leader. Both those
roles involve performance, but Leary, although blessed with considerable
charm, was not a terribly effective performer. He didn't sing or dance; he
was a vague speaker and a hopeless writer; his personality, up close, did
not inspire confidence. And although he was among the major protuberances
in the cultural bouillabaisse we call The Sixties, he was not much of a
60's type himself, as Robert Greenfield demonstrates in his thorough and
judicious biography. While he may have been the leading spokesmodel for
LSD, Leary remained to the end an old-fashioned booze hound, as well as a
snake-oil peddler of the most traditional American sort. Had he been born
a decade or two earlier, he would probably have been offering to cure
arthritis through the application of the electric belt.
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By Robert Greenfield.
Illustrated. 689 pp. A James H. Silberman Book/Harcourt. $28.
Obituary: Timothy Leary, Pied Piper of Psychedelic 60's, Dies at 75 (1996)
First Chapter: 'Timothy Leary' (June 25, 2006)
Forum: Book News and Reviews
Nearly every page is riveting in "Timothy Leary," which unfolds like the
great novel Sinclair Lewis might have written had he lived to the age of
120. Greenfield is not one of those biographers who set out to besmirch
their subjects and deplore their lives, and for whom every detail is an
indictment. Neither, unlike many, does he seek foreshadowing in every
trespass of his subject's youth. Nevertheless, he cannot exactly airbrush
a life that comes so lavishly shadowed: abandonment of the family by
professional-drinker father in 1933, when Tim was 13; dismissal from West
Point for blatant transport of hooch; suicide of first wife as a
consequence of his dogging around under the banner of non-bourgeois
unpossessiveness, of course.
Still, Leary went places. He was ambitious as well as charming and worked
his way up the postgraduate ladder to Berkeley and, in 1959, to Harvard.
He was initially known as an expert on personality assessment, but, whil
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