Cover: Tripping on Utopia

Tripping on Utopia

Margaret Mead, The Cold War and the Birth of Psychedelics
Benjamin Breen


£22.00 | 25 April 2024 | ISBN: 9781804441091


£16.99 | 25 April 2024 | ISBN: 9781804441107

‘It was not the Baby Boomers who ushered in the first era of widespread drug experimentation. It was their parents.’

The generation that survived the second World War emerged with a profoundly ambitious sense of social experimentation. In the ’40s and ’50s, transformative drugs rapidly entered mainstream culture, where they were not only legal, but openly celebrated. American physician John C. Lilly infamously dosed dolphins (and himself) with LSD in a NASA-funded effort to teach dolphins to talk. A tripping Cary Grant mumbled into a Dictaphone about Hegel as astronaut John Glenn returned to Earth.

At the centre of this revolution were the pioneering anthropologists – and star-crossed lovers – Margaret Mead and Gregory Bateson. Convinced the world was headed toward certain disaster, Mead and Bateson made it their life’s mission to reshape humanity through a new science of consciousness expansion, but soon found themselves at odds with the government bodies who funded their work, whose intentions were less than pure. Mead and Bateson’s partnership unlocks an untold chapter in the history of the twentieth century, linking drug researchers with CIA agents, outsider sexologists and the founders of the Information Age.

‘A brilliant and original history of the chemical dreamscape of American democracy…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, author of Gods of the Upper Air and Midnight at the Pera Palace

‘A marvel of scholarship and impossible to put down.’Fred Turner, author of From Counterculture to Cyberculture

‘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 tranquillisers. The result is a thrilling history of ideas…narrated with infectious energy and enthusiasm.’Mike Jay, author or Psychonauts: Drugs and the Making of the Modern Mind

‘Breen is an engaging writer invigorated by his topic, and to synthesize so much information is an accomplishment’New York Times

About the Author

Benjamin Breen is the author of The Age of Intoxication: Origins of the Global Drug Trade, winner of the 2021 William H. Welch Medal from the American Association for the History of Medicine. He is an associate professor of history at the University of California, Santa Cruz and was previously a postdoctoral fellow at Columbia University.