Acid Test: LSD, Ecstasy, and the Power to Heal by Tom Shroder is a book that examines the history, government restrictions, and clinical uses of hallucinogens. Shroder is an award winning journalist with many years as a writer and editor for the Washington Post. He is the author and co-author of several books many covering current events.
I picked this book up looking for a traditional nonfiction. Instead, it written as narrative nonfiction. This is an apparently popular way of telling factual stories in a form that reads like nonfiction. Katherine Boo won the National Book Award with her Behind the Beautiful Forevers written in the same manner. Although this format has its fans, many nonfiction readers find it frustrating because none of the information can really be verified because there are no citations, notes, or bibliographies. This style of writing seems to be a favorite of reporters and investigative journalist who usually obtain first hand information and experiences for their writing. In this case, I am pretty sure the Shroder did not witness all the events in the book. If he interviewed the participants, he should have noted in the standard format. This is all standard procedure taught in college and grad school. Document your work.
I do understand that writers have paid their dues and are entitled some latitude. Many times journalists report first hand and do not need to cite their own experiences. However, when writing nonfiction and wanting the reader to believe you, you need to document. Another former journalist Kathryn Schultz published Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error. She included fifty pages of notes for her four hundred page book. If she were to tell me something far fetched as truth, I would tend to believe her because I know she is meticulous in her work and presenting factual information. Even if I was unsure, I know I could check her source material.
Acid Test takes the reader through several decades of work in the field of hallucinogens as clinical drugs. It starts with background on mescaline and ergot, which will lead to LSD. Each decade in the book centers around a single person and their work in the field or as in the case of the Marine and sadly how he became involved in the process. The book covers early testing and treatments along with the fight with the DEA to remove Ecstasy from the Schedule I list. The book looks at the clinical and recreational use of these drugs in almost a plea to allow the medical professor access to these drugs.
I really do not know what to think of this book. The only part I could fully believe was Nick’s story, the Marine. The Marine Corps doesn’t change much over time still the same type of people, discipline, and attitude. To be honest it was the Marine’s story that kept me reading. The other parts of the book left me feeling like I was reading a script for a movie “based on a true story.” Perhaps Shroder’s work is diligently researched; I don’t know and can’t know. However, if this style of writing increases the number of people reading nonfiction and the authors demonstrate integrity in their work, maybe it could be a good thing.