The Most Dangerous Man in America: Timothy Leary, Richard Nixon and the Hunt for the Fugitive King of LSD
Timothy Leary was once the subject of a two-year international manhunt, and from what I can tell, “there was never a dull moment,” said Kevin Canfield in the San Francisco Chronicle. Leary, the onetime Harvard psychologist who had become the Johnny Appleseed of recreational LSD, was facing 10 years in a California prison on the September 1970 night when he climbed a tree in the yard and escaped over a wall. President Richard Nixon called him “the most dangerous man in America,” but as we watch Leary lead his pursuers to Algeria, then Switzerland, then Afghanistan, he emerges as “a brilliant, ridiculous main character.” Bill Minutaglio and Steven Davis’ well-researched page-turner “isn’t what you’d call an important work of history.” It is, however, “awfully entertaining.”
The book “brings to vivid, lucid light the chaos of the era,” said Eric Liebetrau in The Boston Globe. Viewed by his enemies as a man bent on washing away morality in a flood of drugs and free love, Leary was sentenced to miss the entire decade merely for being caught with two marijuana joints. But the Weathermen and other subversives soon teamed up to spring him free, and in revolutionary Algiers, Leary found shelter at a Black Panther outpost until his relationship with Panther leader Eldridge Cleaver soured. Then it was on to Beirut and later Switzerland, where he was pampered by a weapons dealer seeking the rights to Leary’s story. Leary had other ideas, and headed to Afghanistan—home, “not incidentally,” to the best hash in the world.
U.S. agents were waiting for him, all but ending the book’s wild ride, said John Williams in The New York Times. By cooperating with the feds, Leary won release from prison in 1976. But even before that, he becomes wearying—naïve, narcissistic, and overly needy. As the cat-and-mouse pursuit unfolds, the co-authors choose to let many of the big social and political issues of the day “pass by as background blur.” That’s fine, but “what’s left is a chase in which we end up half-rooting for the escapee to get caught.” ■