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DISTILLED SPIRITS by Don Lattin

DISTILLED SPIRITS

Getting High, Then Sober, with a Famous Writer, a Forgotten Philosopher, and a Hopeless Drunk

By Don Lattin

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 2012
ISBN: 978-0-520-27232-3
Publisher: Univ. of California

A former religion reporter details the occasionally intersecting lives of three spiritual seekers in order to tell the story that compels him more, a personal account of addiction, recovery and sobriety.

“Aldous Huxley, Gerald Heard, and Bill Wilson set the stage for the spiritual revolution of the 1960s and 1970s,” writes the author of the “famous writer,” “forgotten philosopher” and “hopeless drunk” of his subtitle. “They distilled the spirits of organized religion into a powerful new blend that would help change the way Americans practice their faith and live their lives.” Though Lattin (The Harvard Psychedelic Club: How Timothy Leary, Ram Dass, Huston Smith, and Andrew Weil Killed the Fifties and Ushered in a New Age for America, 2010) maintains an engaging, conversational tone as he meanders through the lives of these three, their selection might seem arbitrary, with Heard seemingly the odd man out. Even if one accepts his influence on The Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, written by Wilson, the co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, the reader might agree with one contemporary who says, “There was something not quite right about Gerald Heard.” The increasingly mystic and ascetic philosopher meditated six hours a day, practiced celibacy while advising married couples to stop having relations, and retreated from contact with formerly close friends such as Huxley. As for Wilson, who published pieces by both of the other two in his AA Grapevine publication, he was an early advocate of LSD who remained addicted to sex and tobacco, and he howled for whiskey on his deathbed. The key figure in this “blend of memoir and biography” is Lattin, whose narrative arc might be the strangest. He somehow balanced his religion reportage with a descent into cocaine addiction and alcoholism, and he sees this book as a crucial element in his ongoing sobriety (five years now), even though some may feel it violates the anonymity precept of AA. “One of the things I learned from AA is that many of us drink in an effort to quench a religious thirst,” he writes. “It’s how we get some temporary relief from the spiritual emptiness.”

The book might provide more inspiration to fellow alcoholics than it will add to the scholarship on three figures of various accomplishment and renown.