From University of California Press
By Don Lattin
Distilled Spirits is an intoxicating concoction that blends a religion reporter's memoir with the compelling stories of three men —Aldous Huxley, Gerald Heard, and Bill Wilson—whose work and inspiring friendship transformed the landscape of Western religion and spirituality in the twentieth century.
Huxley, the prophetic English essayist and celebrated author of Brave New World, ignited a restless generation that chased utopian dreams and sought enlightenment through psychedelic drugs. Heard, an Anglo-Irish mystic, journeyed to California with Huxley in the 1930s to lay the foundations for the New Age and human potential movements. Wilson, the co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, joined forces with Huxley and Heard in the 1940s and 1950s, when Wilson began a series of little-known experiments to see if LSD could be used to help diehard drunks discover a power greater than themselves.
Their life stories are gracefully brought together by veteran journalist Don Lattin, who reveals his own sometimes painful, sometimes hilarious misadventures as a religion writer "worshiping at the altar of drugs and alcohol." Lattin recounts his rocky personal journey from 1960's and 1970's counter-culture, through the fast-living, cocaine-fueled 1980's and 1990's, to his long struggle to get sober and find a faith that works for him. By weaving an intimate account of his own recovery with the lives of the book's three central characters, Lattin shows us the redemptive power of story telling, the strength of fellowship, and the power of living more compassionately, one day at a time.
Newspaper Reviews and Author Profiles
“Distilled Spirits” is a successful peek through many different lenses by a highly motivated truth seeker who is also a meticulous researcher and an excellent storyteller, able to bring to life not just the ideas of three remarkable individuals, but the individuals themselves. In the end, of course, the most remarkable character in the book is Lattin, who achieves the breakthrough he has been seeking and, in the process, discovers that he has been “looking not so much for the meaning of life but for the experience of being alive.”
Bestselling author Don Lattin does some of his most profound work in the “Winchester mystery basement” of his Alameda home. With his dog's well-worn easy chair next to a writing desk and esoteric books lining the shelves against the walls, Lattin's literary man cave was a fitting place to write a book about the transformative friendship of three influential men.
Sobriety memoirs are a dime a dozen these days, but Don Lattin's is different -- really. Lattin is a reporter -- a religion reporter, to be exact -- and it's that ethos that defines the book...Vividly written, about an exceptionally interesting subject, and imbued with the kind of gravity and understanding only someone who's been there and back can understand."
“Distilled Spirits” is quite a story. Part group biography, part memoir, Lattin details the somewhat unlikely friendship between Aldous Huxley, whose books “Brave New World” and “The Doors of Perception” are still widely read, and Gerald Heard, whose more than three dozen books are unknown outside philosophy circles...Lattin traces the influences Heard, Huxley and Bill Wilson had on the American religious landscape and, eventually, on Lattin himself.
Advanced Praise for “Distilled Spirits”
This remarkable book deserves the widest readership it can get, for more clearly than any other book I know it shows the depth to which the human spirit can descend and still rebound. Aldous Huxley and Gerald Heard were close friends and my most important mentors, and I spent one memorable afternoon with Bill Wilson. Don Lattin's astonishing book brings their life stories alive. It is carefully researched and disarmingly honest.
— Huston Smith, renowned scholar and
It is difficult for me to hide my enthusiasm for this book. It is a fascinating biography/memoir with an abundance of heart -- courageously honest, philosophically nuanced, and peppered with the most delightful sense of humor. It's easy to be romantic about drugs and mysticism -- tougher to be both morally rigorous AND honestly ecstatic about the real openings they offer. I'm grateful that Lattin can hold this tension while also weaving a mesmerizing story."
— Jeffrey Kripal, chair of the Department of Religious
This extraordinary book blends careful historical research with rich personal reflections. Lattin describes the intersecting lives and lasting influence of three men who helped transform American spirituality. Distilled Spirits offers readers a rare opportunity to gain both knowledge and wisdom.
— Marion S. Goldman, Professor of Sociology and Religious Studies,
The painful journey from addiction, to relapse, to recovery has become the Pilgrim's Progress of our era. In this riveting fusion of memoir and tripartite biography, the noted religion reporter Don Lattin aligns his own pilgrimage to sobriety with the inspiration offered by three transformative twentieth-century figures who also found spiritual value as the basis for corrective action.
— Kevin Starr, Professor, University of Southern California
Don Lattin knows how to tell a ripping good story. This book explores the connections between the spiritual search and the substances that produce altered states of consciousness. It's a trip, as they used to say, and a great read.
— Wes 'Scoop' Nisker, Buddhist teacher, performer and
An eye opening and mind expanding read. I highly recommend this book to anyone and everyone who is interested in consciousness, spiritual exploration, recovery and awakenings. Don is a masterful story teller and writer. He weaves together the lives of these men in way that is intriguing and wise. Read it, then start a revolution!
— Noah Levine, author of Dharma Punx
Don Lattin writes knowledgeably and elegantly about these three
— Eric Weiner, author of Man Seeks God
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My own belief is that, though they may start by being something of an embarrassment, these new mind changers (psychedelic drugs) will tend in the long run to deepen the spiritual life of the communities in which they are available…From being an activity mainly concerned with symbols, religion will be transformed into an activity concerned mainly with experience and intuition.
First, there are the colors and the beauties and designs and the way things appear. But that's just the beginning. At some point you notice that there aren't these separations that we normally feel. We are not on some separate island -- shouting across and trying to hear what each other are saying. Suddenly you know. You know empathy. It's flowing underneath us. We are parts of a common continent that meets underneath the water. And with that comes such delight – the sober certainty of waking bliss.”
I am certain that the LSD experience has helped me very much. I find myself with a heightened color perception and an appreciation of beauty almost destroyed by my years of depression…The sensation that the partition between "here" and "there" has become very thin is constantly with me.