Not just about an utterly fascinating topic (psychadelic drugs), in terms of history (LSD turning from a scientific wonder drug to illegal), his personal experiences, and the neuroscience behind it, but also just extremely well-written -- a real page-turner. A crazy potent combination of science, spirituality (from a skeptic), and narrative. I expect his book will be a significant part of why psychadelic drugs will be legalized in the near future specifically for therapeutic purposes.
Also +1 for 2017's Why We Sleep . After reading it, I couldn't believe how shockingly ignorant I'd been of how I spend a full third of my life, and how much it affects the other two-thirds -- and the degree to which a lack of sleep prevents us from perceiving the effects of lack of sleep, in a kind of vicious cycle.
Here's the review I left on Amazon (2 star):
"How tot change your mind" delivers and important core message, but it should have been an article or a podcast episode. Cutting the fluff offers vast room for lossless compression.
If you listen to the episode of Russ Robert's Econtalk (a podcast) with Pollan you'll know everything the book has to say.
When LSD and psilocybin (the active ingredient in magic mushrooms) were first studied by western science, there was a lot of hope for their potential use as medical treatment. Recreational use exploded and governments around the world banned the drugs, crudely throwing psychedelics in the same bucket as Heroin. Research stalled for 40 years but has recently picked up again. Partial legalization and increased medical use can be expected in the near future.
Psychedelics can move humans away from the "default mode" of consciousness and lead to ego dissolution. This is a trans formative experience for many.
Psychedelics harbor the potential for alleviation: Within the right medical setting (non-supervised usage is discouraged), the use of these substances can help addicts, those close to death and the depressed.
LSD and psilocybin are neither toxic or addictive.
According to some, it is possible to reach the enlightened states through a long term meditative practice, psychedelics can be seen as a shortcut.
What annoyed me about the book is that acronyms are spelled out repeatedly (for readers who don't pay attention?) while deeper explanations, especially regarding Timothy Leary are made too late in the book (e.g. only after the name has been mentioned several times - I am reminded of the frequent mentioning of John Galt in Ayn Rand's "Atlas Shrugged").
Numerous academic researchers are introduced, I'm fine with an elaboration on their respective academic affiliations and educational backgrounds - but spending a third of a page on the description of their physical appearance is disrespectful of the reader's time.
How others can refer to this book as "the best book they've ever read" is beyond me. I'm going to try to send the book back, I don't want it in my library.
I respect your opinion, but your verdict is just not the single truth out there. Personally, I read such books very different from reading at a younger age or non-fiction books.
Encounter a paragraph which does not catch your interest or you don't like the writing style? Skim over it. Familiarize yourself with the rough contents of a chapter before you read it, as to understand the general topic - makes skipping single paragraphs much easier.
The goal is not school like reading, where you ought to know all the contents to fill out a standardized test, but reflect your own personal values and experiences against what you are reading. If there are passages which don't give you anything - people are very diverse - then, well, skip them. The author did not conspire to make the experience unpleasant for you.
Ultimately, this is a fascinating topic for many, whether you prefer the podcast or the book should be left for everyone personally to decide.
But many (if not most?) people do enjoy narrative -- they enjoy the build-up and suspense of what did Timothy Leary do that was so bad instead of getting straight to it, literary descriptions that paint a picture of a main character visually and personality-wise, and sentences that are natural and conversational (not a science article full of acronyms).
This is why I specifically mentioned the book is a combination of science and narrative -- which comes out of fiction. Born to Run is another classic example.
It's very rare that an author is excellent at clearly explaining science, excellent at writing narrative that hooks you, and also covers a topic that is very timely, widely unknown, and fascinating. That's the kind of triple-threat combination that makes it a best book for me.
Personally, I tried (what I think was) LSD a few times, mushrooms a half dozen times; in short, it was the most amazing thing I've ever done. Super-highly recommended. Mushrooms especially, as you know what you're getting. Do it with someone who knows what they're doing and you trust.
PiHKAL: A Chemical Love Story by Dr. Alexander Shulgin and Ann Shulgin
It's an autobiographic story from the creator of MDMA and 2C-B — an amazing account of scientific approach and original thinking — in addition to an amazing love story and the history of progressive-thinking Bay area
(one of my favorite books I've read in 2018)
The Shallows - What the internet is doing to our brains