Michael Pollan Drops Acid — and Comes Back From His Trip Convinced

Michael Pollan has long been concerned with the moral dilemmas of everyday life. “Second Nature,” his first book, was ostensibly about gardening, but really about ways to overcome our alienation from the natural world. “A Place of My Own,” his second, chronicled the “radically unhandy” Pollan’s construction of his writing studio. “The Botany of Desire,” his third and possibly greatest book, put him back in the garden, though in a more global state of mind. He then went on to write four searching books that wrestled, in one way or another, with the ethics of eating, one of which contained Pollan’s now widely shared haiku: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”

Unlike many best-selling nonfiction writers, Pollan doesn’t write self-help books that cross-dress as narrative nonfiction. He’s entirely too skeptical for that. At the same time, though, he’s an often relentlessly sunny, affirmative writer. “In Defense of Food,” Pollan’s most polemical book, despairs of American eating habits, yet concludes with the dainty recommendation to eat local as often as possible. Pollan’s literary persona has a rare, almost Thoreauvian affect: the lovable scold.

With “How to Change Your Mind,” Pollan remains concerned with what we put into our bodies, but we’re not talking about arugula. At various points, our author ingests LSD, psilocybin and the crystallized venom of a Sonoran Desert toad. He writes, often remarkably, about what he experienced under the influence of these drugs. (The book comes fronted with a publisher’s disclaimer that nothing contained within is “intended to encourage you to break the law.” Whatever, Dad.) Before starting the book, Pollan, now in his early 60s, had never tried psychedelics, referring to himself as “less a child of the psychedelic 1960s than of the moral panic that psychedelics provoked.” But when he discovered that clinical interest had been revived in what some boosters are now calling entheogens (from the Greek for “the divine within”), he had to know: How did this happen, and what do these remarkable substances actually do to us? Read the whole review here.