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Distilled Spirits

Getting High, Then Sober, with a Famous Writer, a Forgotten Philosopher, and a Hopeless Drunk

Don Lattin (Author)

Available worldwide

Hardcover, 320 pages
ISBN: 9780520272323
October 2012
$29.95, £24.00
Distilled Spirits blends a religion reporter’s memoir with the compelling stories of three men—Aldous Huxley, Gerald Heard, and Bill Wilson—who transformed the landscape of Western religion and spirituality in the twentieth century. Huxley, celebrated author of Brave New World, ignited a 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.

Their life stories are gracefully brought together by veteran journalist Don Lattin. Lattin recounts his own rocky personal journey from 1960s and 1970s counter-culture, through the fast-living, cocaine-fueled 1980s and 1990s, to his long struggle to get sober. 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.

1. Wounded
2. Bloomsbury
3. Revelation
4. Abroad
5. Hollywood
6. Trabuco
7. Psychedelic
8. Sixties
9. Sober

Acknowledgments and Amends
Don Lattin is the author of The Harvard Psychedelic Club: How Timothy Leary, Ram Dass, Huston Smith and Andrew Weil Killed the Fifties and Ushered in a New Age for America, Jesus Freaks: A True Story of Murder and Madness on the Evangelical Edge, Following Our Bliss: How the Spiritual Ideals of the Sixties Shape our Lives Today and Shopping for Faith: American Religion in the New Millennium. For more information, please visit
“’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.’”—Peter Magnani San Jose Mercury News
“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.”—Ellen Cushing East Bay Express
“The religion journalist weaves his own memoir into the stories of three key figures in Western religion: the author of Brave New World, an Anglo-Irish mystic, and the founder of Alcoholics Anonymous.”—Kristin Yinger Los Angeles Magazine
“I congratulate Don for an honest exposure of his own remarkable story, wrapped in the amazing tale of these three great spirits from history.”—Carl T. Hall Pacific Media Workers Guild
“While his research on the historical trio is fascinating, it is Lattin's description of his own humble journey that is the heart of Distilled Spirits. . . . Lattin's intriguing assemblage of vignettes illustrates how much of the eruption of new spiritual ideas in 20th-century California can be traced to a surprisingly few key people and moments.”—Cherie Ann Parker Shelf Awareness (2 Copies)
“Right up until the end, this book felt like one of those fancy cocktails: different liquors occupying different layers, each with its own distinctive color. . . . The book is about wending one's way in and out of intoxicating substances in a noble but messy effort to discover some universal truth.”—San Francisco Chronicle
“The key figure in this ‘blend of memoir and biography’ is Lattin, whose narrative arc might be the strangest. He somehow balanced his religion reportage with a descent into cocaine addiction and alcoholism, and he sees this book as a crucial element in his ongoing sobriety. . . . ‘One of the things I learned from AA is that many of us drink in an effort to quench a religious thirst,’ he writes. ‘It’s how we get some temporary relief from the spiritual emptiness.’”—Kirkus Reviews
“’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.”—Kimberly Winston Religion News Service
“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, author of Esalen: America and the Religion of No Religion

“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, author of The American Soul Rush

“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, author of The World’s Religions

"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, University Professor, University of Southern California

“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 knows how to tell a ripping good story, and there are many in this book. The scene of Lattin interviewing the Pope as their plane lands in Miami is alone worth the price of admission. Add to that some fascinating stories about Aldous Huxley and Bill Wilson, the founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, and you’ve got yourself a great read. There is some irony in the fact that Don Lattin was doing drugs and drinking heavily while reporting on religion for the San Francisco Chronicle. But it all comes together in this book, which 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 author of Essential Crazy Wisdom
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Podcast interview with Don Lattin, author of Distilled Spirits

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