Psychonauts: Drugs and the Making of the Modern Mind (Paperback)

Psychonauts: Drugs and the Making of the Modern Mind By Mike Jay Cover Image
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“Fascinating.”—Thomas W. Hodgkinson, The Guardian

“Richly detailed and frequently illuminating.”—Rhys Blakely, Times (UK)

“Excellent.”—Clare Bucknell, New Yorker

A New Yorker Best of the Week Pick

A provocative and original history of the scientists and writers, artists and philosophers who took drugs to explore the hidden regions of the mind
Until the twentieth century, scientists investigating the effects of drugs on the mind did so by experimenting on themselves. Vivid descriptions of drug experiences sparked insights across the mind sciences, pharmacology, medicine, and philosophy. Accounts in journals and literary fiction inspired a fascinated public to make their own experiments—in scientific demonstrations, on exotic travels, at literary salons, and in occult rituals.
But after 1900 drugs were increasingly viewed as a social problem, and the long tradition of self-experimentation began to disappear.
From Sigmund Freud’s experiments with cocaine to William James’s epiphany on nitrous oxide, Mike Jay brilliantly recovers a lost intellectual tradition of drug-taking that fed the birth of psychology, the discovery of the unconscious, and the emergence of modernism. Today, as we embrace novel cognitive enhancers and psychedelics, the experiments of the original psychonauts reveal the deep influence of mind-altering drugs on Western science, philosophy, and culture.

About the Author

Mike Jay has written extensively on scientific and medical history and contributes regularly to the London Review of Books and the Wall Street Journal. His previous books on the history of drugs include Mescaline, High Society, and The Atmosphere of Heaven.

Praise For…

“Jay is a leading expert on the history of Western drug use, and Psychonauts is the latest in a series of excellent studies in which he has investigated the roots of a kind of psychoactive exploration that we tend to associate with the nineteen-fifties and sixties.”—Clare Bucknell, New Yorker

Psychonauts is a timely reminder that a prohibitive approach to drugs is not the historical norm. Drugs are changing and Jay hopes the term itself will change with them.”—Marcus Ellingham, Financial Times

A New Yorker Best of the Week Pick, 2023

“Fascinating book . . . not something you get taught at school.”—Thomas W. Hodgkinson, The Guardian

“In this richly detailed and frequently illuminating book, Mike Jay argues that Davis and Weil were merely reviving a centuries-long tradition—inebriation in the name of science.”—Rhys Blakely, Times (UK)

“A splendidly curated collection of the accounts brought back from those far worlds by self experimenting travellers; a parade of brave, curious and charismatic character.”—Charles Foster, Times Literary Supplement

“Jay’s book has serious contemporary relevance given our current problems.”—John Quin, The National (Scotland)

Listed in New Statesman’s Best Books of the Academic Presses, 2023

“The history is captivating, and [Jay] does a great job balancing research with vivid anecdotes and fascinating excerpts from cultural figures’ writings. It’s a welcome reconsideration of the role drugs play in life, medicine, and science.”—Publishers Weekly

“Looking for something . . . narrative and absorbing to read this summer? Then pick up Psychonauts.”—Jessica Stillman, Inc.

“Author Mike Jay . . . is among our finest big-picture analysts and popular historians of global intoxicants. . . . [Psychonauts] is [a] wide-ranging and lavishly illustrated account.”—Lucas Richert, Science

“Jay’s been writing for years. . . . This book is like a medley . . . of the earlier works that Jay did looking at the history of drug-taking in modernity. . . . [He] has woven them all together into this remarkable story.”—Erik Davis on The Ezra Klein Show

Psychonauts is a riveting story of how modern notions of science, morality, and consciousness coalesced under the influence of a range of highly potent potables.”—John Semley, The Baffler

An Inc. Summer Reading List pick, Psychology Books

“Fascinating. . . . Complex and riveting. . . . Readers should anticipate quite a trip.”—Tony Miksanek, Booklist

“Mike Jay has done it again . . . and produced a page-turner of a book. Psychonauts tells a fascinating story of some of the insatiable appetites that have contributed to our modern understanding of drugs and human consciousness.”—Erika Dyck, Journal of Medical Humanities

A Behavioral Scientist “Summer Book List” selection

Received the 2024 James A. Duke Award sponsored by the American Botanical Council (ABC)

Winner of the Cheiron Book Prize, sponsored by the International Society for the History of Behavioral and Social Sciences

“Mike Jay is at the forefront of global research on the history of psychoactive substances. In this moment of renaissance in research on the mind-altering properties of psychedelics, Jay’s Psychonauts offers crucial intel and historical perspective.”—Marcus Boon, author of The Road of Excess

“A thought-provoking history of the pioneering questers who self-experimented with drugs in the name of science and creativity. Mike Jay’s account of coked-up doctors, hashish-eating poets, mushroom-munching mystics and toad-licking scientists is an exhilarating read.”—Anna Katharina Schaffner, author of The Art of Self-Improvement

“With this rich, nuanced account, Mike Jay posits the War on Drugs as a mere blip on the long, proud, and very influential history of self-experimentation with psychoactive substances by artists, scientists and philosophers—the titular explorers of the mind.”—Carlyn Zwarenstein, author of On Opium

“With elegance and erudition, Mike Jay conveys the fascinating, often quixotic history of scientists, philosophers, and other daring ‘psychonauts’ self-experimenting with a pharmacopeia of substances, exploring the mysteries of consciousness by chemically altering the brain. Jay deftly guides the reader through the most confounding puzzles about our mind’s pictures of reality; about meaning-making, truth and illusion. A gorgeously written, page-turning pleasure to read.”—Brian D. Earp, author of Love Is the Drug

“Breezy and profound, Psychonauts is a wildly entertaining history of drugs through the writings of stoned intellectuals like Sigmund Freud, William James, and Baudelaire. They got high, saw God, tried to articulate the experience, and mostly failed. But their attempts, like this book, are a total blast.”—Ben Westhoff, author of Fentanyl, Inc.

Product Details
ISBN: 9780300276091
ISBN-10: 0300276095
Publisher: Yale University Press
Publication Date: April 30th, 2024
Pages: 384
Language: English