Skip to main content


Former SOF Fellow Benjamin Breen publishes new book: Tripping on Utopia

Fellows, SOF Fellows

January 21, 2024
Cover of Tripping on Utopia

2015–2017 Society of Fellows member Benjamin Breen's latest book has been published by Grand Central Publishing. Tripping on Utopia: Margaret Mead, the Cold War, and the Troubled Birth of Psychedelic Science provides an origin story for psychedelic science that spans the espionage of WWII to the scientific revolutions of the Cold War.

The book's many early accolades include a starred review from Publisher's Weekly, which calls the book "a riveting exploration of a shadowy episode in 20th-century history." The New Yorker selected Tripping on Utopia as one of their best books of 2024 so far, celebrating it as "lively and engrossing," and praising Breen for his "eye for the telling detail, and a gift for introducing even walk-on characters with brio." Breen was also interviewed about the book by Terry Gross for NPR’s Fresh Air.

Buy the book here.

About the Book

A bold and brilliant revisionist take on the history of psychedelics in the twentieth century, illuminating how a culture of experimental drugs shaped the Cold War and the birth of Silicon Valley.

"It was not the Baby Boomers who ushered in the first era of widespread drug experimentation. It was their parents."

Far from the repressed traditionalists they are often painted as, the generation that survived the second World War emerged with a profoundly ambitious sense of social experimentation. In the '40s and '50s, transformative drugs rapidly entered mainstream culture, where they were not only legal, but openly celebrated. American physician John C. Lilly infamously dosed dolphins (and himself) with LSD in a NASA-funded effort to teach dolphins to talk. A tripping Cary Grant mumbled into a Dictaphone about Hegel as astronaut John Glenn returned to Earth.

At the center of this revolution were the pioneering anthropologists—and star-crossed lovers—Margaret Mead and Gregory Bateson. Convinced the world was headed toward certain disaster, Mead and Bateson made it their life’s mission to reshape humanity through a new science of consciousness expansion, but soon found themselves at odds with the government bodies who funded their work, whose intentions were less than pure. Mead and Bateson's partnership unlocks an untold chapter in the history of the twentieth century, linking drug researchers with CIA agents, outsider sexologists, and the founders of the Information Age.

As we follow Mead and Bateson’s fractured love affair from the malarial jungles of New Guinea to the temples of Bali, from the espionage of WWII to the scientific revolutions of the Cold War, a new origin story for psychedelic science emerges.