The best books about madness, drugs, and rock’n’roll

Why am I passionate about this?

Until the millennium, I was a features journalist with an abiding fascination in Sixties counter-culture. Being a friend of Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour, I heard Syd’s story first-hand. After having my own breakdown and psychiatric treatment, I decided to apply my experience and interests in writing an account of Syd’s short but sweet creative life. With Gilmour’s tacit blessing, his contemporaries – including Floyd co-founder Roger Waters – gave me access. And through interviewing them, I came to my own understanding of Barrett: by turns a crazy diamond and a dark globe.


I wrote...

Madcap

By Tim Willis,

Book cover of Madcap

What is my book about?

Beautiful, charismatic, prodigiously talented, Syd Barrett virtually invented the British psychedelic scene. In 1966, he founded Pink Floyd. He wrote, played the lead, and sang on their first album. By 1968, he was suffering from severe mental illness. Two chaotic, haunting, solo albums followed before Barrett withdrew to a suburban existence in his native Cambridge. For 35 years, he gave no interviews (save for a short conversation with Willis). But in his half-life, Barrett became a cult: the dead rock star who hadn’t died. In the first edition of this book (2002), Willis traced a hopeful history of rock’s lost genius, helped by family and old friends. For the second edition, following Barrett’s death in 2006, Willis revisited his subject’s terraced home – and his own impressions.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Hangover Square

Tim Willis Why did I love this book?

George Bone is a sensitive drunk with a touch of psychosis and a modest private income. Leading a rackety life in pre-war Earls Court, he’s in love with a sponger, a failed actress who wants to exploit him for his connections, and he bears her humiliations without complaint. But sometimes, something clicks in his brain and he imagines killing her and her seedy sidekick and going home to Maidenhead and peace. Boarding houses and bottle parties, blow-outs in the West End and Brighton: Hamilton captures a miserable, boozy, coarse and uptight world, and provides an ending to match.

By Patrick Hamilton,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Hangover Square as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Set in late 1930s London, Hangover Square is the brilliant and disquieting tale of George Harvey Bone, a perpetual drunk. He suffers from 'dark' moods, which click on and off without warning, as if someone has tripped a switch in his head. On his supposedly better days, George whiles away his time nursing a pint or six and obsessing about the attractive but cruel small-time actress Netta. Disgusted by his own helpless devotion and his increasingly erratic behaviour, George is driven to the edge - culminating in Hangover Square's spectacular and haunting climax.
Read by Julian Rhind-Tutt, esteemed actor who…


Book cover of The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test

Tim Willis Why did I love this book?

This classic of New Journalism (applying the techniques of experimental fiction to reporting) is a chronicle of the long, strange trip across America taken by the so-called Merry Pranksters in the days before LSD was criminalised. Their transport – the original ‘magic bus’ – was loaded with lights, cameras, and sound equipment. Their house-band was the Grateful Dead. Their fate was a deflating come-down.

By Tom Wolfe,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

I looked around and people's faces were distorted...lights were flashing everywhere...the screen at the end of the room had three or four different films on it at once, and the strobe light was flashing faster than it had been...the band was playing but I couldn't hear the music...people were dancing...someone came up to me and I shut my eyes and with a machine he projected images on the back of my eye-lids...I sought out a person I trusted and he laughed and told me that the Kool-Aid had been spiked and that I was beginning my first LSD experience...


Book cover of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

Tim Willis Why did I love this book?

If you thought the hippies were flimsy thinkers, this 1962 novel by the leader of the Merry Pranksters – see above – will set you right. The tragic tale of a cheeky conman who takes on the regime of a psychiatric hospital and loses, it is narrated by a fellow-inmate, a Native American, and can be read as an allegory of how the System crushes the individual. But it’s much, much more than that. Kesey’s characters, and the emotions they stir, linger in the mind like a chemical cosh.

By Ken Kesey,

Why should I read it?

10 authors picked One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Boisterous, ribald, and ultimately shattering, Ken Kesey's 1962 novel has left an indelible mark on the literature of our time. Now in a new deluxe edition with a foreword by Chuck Palahniuk and cover by Joe Sacco, here is the unforgettable story of a mental ward and its inhabitants, especially the tyrannical Big Nurse Ratched and Randle Patrick McMurphy, the brawling, fun-loving new inmate who resolves to oppose her. We see the struggle through the eyes of Chief Bromden, the seemingly mute half-Indian patient who witnesses and understands McMurphy's heroic attempt to do battle with the powers that keep them…


Book cover of Bad News

Tim Willis Why did I love this book?

No one captures the self-loathing and paradoxical liberty of the moneyed junkie as well as St Aubyn (except perhaps Anna Cavan). The second novel in his almost-autobiographical Patrick Melrose series, Bad News finds our fucked-up anti-hero on a gargantuan smack binge in New York at the age of 22. How the author – now clean – can reconstruct his frame of mind is remarkable; how he can do it with such precision and wit is mind-blowing.

By Edward St Aubyn,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Bad News as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Bad News is the second of Edward St Aubyn's semi-autobiographical Patrick Melrose novels, adapted for TV for Sky Atlantic and starring Benedict Cumberbatch as aristocratic addict, Patrick.

Twenty-two years old and in the grip of a massive addiction, Patrick Melrose is forced to fly to New York to collect his father's ashes. Over the course of a weekend, Patrick's remorseless search for drugs on the avenues of Manhattan, haunted by old acquaintances and insistent inner voices, sends him into a nightmarish spiral. Alone in his room at the Pierre Hotel, he pushes body and mind to the very edge -…


Book cover of A Theatre for Dreamers

Tim Willis Why did I love this book?

Wouldn’t it have been cool to have been hanging on Hydra in the early Sixties, when writers and artists – and the young Leonard Cohen – made the Greek island their home? Yes and no, says Samson, in this beautifully observed account. Samson’s powers of description constantly delight and combine with painstaking research to re-create those high times so vividly that the reader can sometimes forget this is actually fiction.

By Polly Samson,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked A Theatre for Dreamers as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

THE SUNDAY TIMES BESTSELLER

'Delicious' Nigella Lawson
'Clever and beguiling' Guardian
'Sublime and immersive' Jojo Moyes

Erica is eighteen and ready for freedom. It's the summer of 1960 when she lands on the sun-baked Greek island of Hydra where she is swept up in a circle of bohemian poets, painters, musicians, writers and artists, living tangled lives. Life on their island paradise is heady, dream-like, a string of seemingly endless summer days. But nothing can last forever.

'A surefire summer hit ... At once a blissful piece of escapism and a powerful meditation on art and sexuality' Observer
'Heady armchair…


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Mindleap: A Fresh View of Education Empowered by Neuroscience and Systems Thinking

By Jim Brown,

Book cover of Mindleap: A Fresh View of Education Empowered by Neuroscience and Systems Thinking

Jim Brown Author Of Mindleap: A Fresh View of Education Empowered by Neuroscience and Systems Thinking

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

I have spent my entire professional life quietly patrolling the frontiers of understanding human consciousness. I was an early adopter in the burgeoning field of biofeedback, then neurofeedback and neuroscience, plus theory and practices of humanistic and transpersonal psychology, plus steeping myself in systems theory as a context for all these other fields of focus. I hold a MS in psychology from San Francisco State University and a PhD from Saybrook Institute. I live in Mount Shasta CA with Molly, my life partner for over 60 years. We have two sons and two grandchildren.

Jim's book list on brain, mind, and consciousness

What is my book about?

In this thoroughly researched and exquisitely crafted treatise, Jim Brown synthesizes the newest understandings in neuroscience, developmental psychology, and dynamical systems theory for educators and others committed to nurturing human development.

He explains complex concepts in down-to-earth terms, suggesting how these understandings can transform education to engender optimal learning and intelligence. He explores the nature of consciousness, intelligence, and mind.

Brown then offers a model of optimal human learning through lifelong brain development within a supportive culture--drawing on the work of Piaget, Erickson, Maslow, Kohlberg, and Steiner--and how that work is being vastly expanded by neuroscience and dynamical systems thinking.

Mindleap: A Fresh View of Education Empowered by Neuroscience and Systems Thinking

By Jim Brown,

What is this book about?

In this thoroughly-researched and exquisitely crafted treatise, Jim Brown synthesizes the newest understandings in neuroscience, developmental psychology, and dynamical systems theory for educators and others committed to nurturing human development. He explains complex concepts in down-to-earth terms, suggesting how these understandings can transform education to truly engender optimal learning and intelligence. He explores the nature of consciousness, intelligence, and mind. Brown then offers a model of optimal human learning through life-long brain development within a supportive culture--drawing on the work of Piaget, Erickson, Maslow, Kohlberg, and Steiner--and how that work is being vastly expanded by neuroscience and dynamical systems thinking.


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