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April 24, 2007

Booksmart - Reviews

Timothy LearyBy Robert Greenfield. Harcourt Publishing. 689 pgs., $28.Timothy LearyTim Leary lived a life few can capsulize. His military service and his work at Harvard were mere prologue. Leary’s LSD epiphany begins the ’60s. His troubles bring the era to an end. He gets arrested numerous times, jailed and eventually escapes, supposedly helped by The Weathermen. He is exiled to Algeria with fugitive Black Panther Eldridge Cleaver. Algeria proves disastrous. Leary and his revolutionary hosts actually believed he could live below the radar whilst traveling with a series of gorgeous women (Leary’s second marriage was to Uma Thurman’s mother; it lasted months) and tripping daily, traversing Europe and Asia until finally bagged and returned to the United States. Things get crazier: Leary turns informant; friends turn against him; the press feel they’ve been conned; his wife is having an affair; money is stolen; the drugs aren’t working; he is impotent; his medical outlook is grim.Thus, Tim’s podcast “suicide” becomes a brief media sensation before being revealed as a hoax. Like a frozen Ted Williams or Hunter Thompson shot from a cannon, some folks cannot go quietly. Leary championed acid and Buddhism, both said to squash the ego, but his life personified egomania. Similarly, the LSD, said to minimize confrontation and “end war,” in Leary’s life caused never-ending conflict.So against the backdrop of an unpopular war, Tim Leary is on the bookshelves and Henry Kissinger is furtively advising a furtive White House. We continue to relive the ’60s. Black MondayBy R. Scott Reiss. Simon and Schuster; 342 pgs., $25.Black MondayThe thriller genre has undergone fundamental changes since 9/11. The emphasis now seems to no longer be on serial killers and calculating extortionists but rather on quasi-terrorists with well-worked-out schemes to destroy entire cities, countries and peoples. Refining this new formula is R. Scott Reiss, a sort of highbrow Michael Crichton, who posits a “plague that will plunge the world into a dark age,” but “a plague that will make nobody sick.” “Black Monday” offers a scenario wherein a microbe living in crude oil brings society to a grinding halt, disabling factories, power plants, cars and governments and making planes fall from the sky. The scene is not terribly implausible, but nor is the writing terribly good. Reiss, a purported Washington insider whose bio provides no significant information other than a boast that his book has already been optioned by Paramount Pictures, writes like E. Howard Hunt or Arnaud de Borchgrave, which is to say he writes like a low-level spy put out to pasture at a job sugar-coating propaganda. Tom Clancy was probably Reiss’ high school English teacher — oh, no, Clancy was probably designing missile guidance systems or something back then.Reiss’ book is not bad, but it’s not literature either. We can eagerly await the movie and hope the inevitable Bruckheimer production team does not skimp on the gore and the explosions.