Poisoner in Chief: Sidney Gottlieb and the CIA Search for Mind Control

Holt. Sept. 2019. 368p. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9781250140432. $30; ebk. ISBN 9781250140449. HIST
Is it best to know ugly truths about the past, especially if they hurt the American notion of democracy? These questions come to the forefront of Kinzer’s (All the Shah’s Men and The True Flag) exposé about chemist Sidney Gottlieb (1918–99). Kinzer dives into the CIA’s dreadful secrets, many of which Gottlieb oversaw—secrets with direct links to the horrors of Nazi experiments—then describes how Gottlieb created the MK-ULTRA program, which devised techniques to break the human mind. These experiments used both unknowing and unwilling participants and occurred at sites in West Germany, Korea, and most disturbingly, the United States. Gottlieb had a particular fascination with LSD as a truth serum, and Kinzer does a thorough job of detailing how LSD affects the brain at the time of use and its aftereffects. This is not a light read and, at times, is infuriating. Exploring how hysteria fueled perverse policy decisions during the Cold War, Kinzer reveals how disturbing the ramifications of these policy decisions can be if left unchecked.
VERDICT Highly recommended. This work sheds light on misdeeds done in the name of American democracy and should have wide appeal among general readers.

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