Today's Reading

INTRODUCTION

In the late 1990s, inside a former nuclear missile silo in Kansas, Leonard Pickard set up what was probably the biggest LSD lab of all time. The choice of this site for such a large-scale operation seems symbolic, given that the history of the powerful substance is tightly interwoven with that of the Cold War and its arms race. On twenty-eight acres of land, behind electronically controlled gates and a hundred-ton steel door that could withstand even a nuclear attack, Pickard was alleged to have produced a kilogram of the drug per month—due to its potency, an unimaginably large amount. With it, the graduate of Harvard's Kennedy School of Government was said to have provided 95 percent of the world's supply of LSD.

On November 7, 2000, the day of the presidential election between George W. Bush and Al Gore, Pickard was inspecting the facility when he noticed that his gray Zen robe, which normally would have been carefully folded and put away, had been left carelessly in a corner. Quickly snatching up the garment, Pickard and his partner decided to clear out of there. Though they were careful to stay under the speed limit, they soon saw flashing lights behind them. "This is it," Pickard radioed to his buddy, who was behind him driving the truck with the lab equipment. Pickard didn't obey the order to pull over and was pursued by officers with sirens blaring. All the while the acid chemist could think of only one thing: his wife, a Ukrainian student at UC Berkley, was nine months pregnant and would be giving birth to their daughter any day now.

When he reached a residential neighborhood, the fifty-five-year-old pulled his silver Buick over to the side of the road, pushed open the passenger door, scrambled over the seat, and leapt out of the car. An experienced long-distance runner, he shook off his pursuers and after a few miles crossed the ice-cold Big Blue River, a tributary of the Kansas River, to mask his scent from the search dogs.

In the moonlight, Pickard followed a set of train tracks, which led him to a small town with the big name of Manhattan, Kansas. Unsure whether he should try to blend in among other people or flee into the woods, he chose the latter. In the distance he heard helicopters, which searched for him with infrared scanners all through the night. He hid for hours in a concrete pipe that masked his body heat from detection, and in the morning, frozen to the bone, found a solitary farm and sought refuge in a truck parked out in the barn. At around seven o'clock the farmer's dog found him there and alerted its master with its barking. Pickard asked the man to give him a ride into town, and the farmer agreed to do so. But this was only for show: while watching television at breakfast he had seen a wanted photo of Leonard Pickard. Soon a sheriff's car was speeding their way. Again Pickard fled, running across open farmland. The police car followed him over the grain stubble, swerving as it drew ever closer to him. Finally the cop leapt out with weapon drawn and placed him under arrest. The first thing he did was to pull off Pickard's wedding ring. Two life sentences without the possibility of parole, the verdict later read.

Leonard Pickard had never raised a hand against another. He hadn't stolen anything or harassed anyone. All he'd done was manufacture a substance that half a century earlier had been considered the most promising pharmaceutical development of all time, a quality product made by the Swiss pharmaceutical company Sandoz. But in the years since then something had happened with LSD. It had been knocked off course, had been misunderstood and misused, and had fallen into the disreputable category of prohibited drugs that a United States official named Harry J. Anslinger, head of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, had created almost singlehandedly after the Second World War. Over the years friends and supporters spoke out in support of Pickard, and in the depths of the coronavirus pandemic the unexpected occurred: a judge granted a "compassionate release," and just like that, after more than twenty years behind bars, he found himself a free man.

Leonard Pickard's unexpected release can be seen as symbolic of a broader reversal within society with regard to the treatment of LSD. Pickard, who was once judged so dangerous that the law wanted him locked away in a high-security prison for the rest of his life, now serves as a scientific advisor to a fund that targets opportunities at the intersection of psychedelics and technology, hoping to identify the pharmaceutical giants of tomorrow. He also advises international corporations and universities on the development of psychedelic medicines. Every morning from six to nine he studies the latest publications coming out of research institutions around the globe. The early history of LSD would always have been fascinating, but in the current moment it seems especially relevant. A specter looms over the world: the specter of legalization. More and more governments are beginning to rely on scientific knowledge rather than bow to the ideological demands of the Cold War.
...

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Today's Reading

INTRODUCTION

In the late 1990s, inside a former nuclear missile silo in Kansas, Leonard Pickard set up what was probably the biggest LSD lab of all time. The choice of this site for such a large-scale operation seems symbolic, given that the history of the powerful substance is tightly interwoven with that of the Cold War and its arms race. On twenty-eight acres of land, behind electronically controlled gates and a hundred-ton steel door that could withstand even a nuclear attack, Pickard was alleged to have produced a kilogram of the drug per month—due to its potency, an unimaginably large amount. With it, the graduate of Harvard's Kennedy School of Government was said to have provided 95 percent of the world's supply of LSD.

On November 7, 2000, the day of the presidential election between George W. Bush and Al Gore, Pickard was inspecting the facility when he noticed that his gray Zen robe, which normally would have been carefully folded and put away, had been left carelessly in a corner. Quickly snatching up the garment, Pickard and his partner decided to clear out of there. Though they were careful to stay under the speed limit, they soon saw flashing lights behind them. "This is it," Pickard radioed to his buddy, who was behind him driving the truck with the lab equipment. Pickard didn't obey the order to pull over and was pursued by officers with sirens blaring. All the while the acid chemist could think of only one thing: his wife, a Ukrainian student at UC Berkley, was nine months pregnant and would be giving birth to their daughter any day now.

When he reached a residential neighborhood, the fifty-five-year-old pulled his silver Buick over to the side of the road, pushed open the passenger door, scrambled over the seat, and leapt out of the car. An experienced long-distance runner, he shook off his pursuers and after a few miles crossed the ice-cold Big Blue River, a tributary of the Kansas River, to mask his scent from the search dogs.

In the moonlight, Pickard followed a set of train tracks, which led him to a small town with the big name of Manhattan, Kansas. Unsure whether he should try to blend in among other people or flee into the woods, he chose the latter. In the distance he heard helicopters, which searched for him with infrared scanners all through the night. He hid for hours in a concrete pipe that masked his body heat from detection, and in the morning, frozen to the bone, found a solitary farm and sought refuge in a truck parked out in the barn. At around seven o'clock the farmer's dog found him there and alerted its master with its barking. Pickard asked the man to give him a ride into town, and the farmer agreed to do so. But this was only for show: while watching television at breakfast he had seen a wanted photo of Leonard Pickard. Soon a sheriff's car was speeding their way. Again Pickard fled, running across open farmland. The police car followed him over the grain stubble, swerving as it drew ever closer to him. Finally the cop leapt out with weapon drawn and placed him under arrest. The first thing he did was to pull off Pickard's wedding ring. Two life sentences without the possibility of parole, the verdict later read.

Leonard Pickard had never raised a hand against another. He hadn't stolen anything or harassed anyone. All he'd done was manufacture a substance that half a century earlier had been considered the most promising pharmaceutical development of all time, a quality product made by the Swiss pharmaceutical company Sandoz. But in the years since then something had happened with LSD. It had been knocked off course, had been misunderstood and misused, and had fallen into the disreputable category of prohibited drugs that a United States official named Harry J. Anslinger, head of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, had created almost singlehandedly after the Second World War. Over the years friends and supporters spoke out in support of Pickard, and in the depths of the coronavirus pandemic the unexpected occurred: a judge granted a "compassionate release," and just like that, after more than twenty years behind bars, he found himself a free man.

Leonard Pickard's unexpected release can be seen as symbolic of a broader reversal within society with regard to the treatment of LSD. Pickard, who was once judged so dangerous that the law wanted him locked away in a high-security prison for the rest of his life, now serves as a scientific advisor to a fund that targets opportunities at the intersection of psychedelics and technology, hoping to identify the pharmaceutical giants of tomorrow. He also advises international corporations and universities on the development of psychedelic medicines. Every morning from six to nine he studies the latest publications coming out of research institutions around the globe. The early history of LSD would always have been fascinating, but in the current moment it seems especially relevant. A specter looms over the world: the specter of legalization. More and more governments are beginning to rely on scientific knowledge rather than bow to the ideological demands of the Cold War.
...

Join the Library's Online Book Clubs and start receiving chapters from popular books in your daily email. Every day, Monday through Friday, we'll send you a portion of a book that takes only five minutes to read. Each Monday we begin a new book and by Friday you will have the chance to read 2 or 3 chapters, enough to know if it's a book you want to finish. You can read a wide variety of books including fiction, nonfiction, romance, business, teen and mystery books. Just give us your email address and five minutes a day, and we'll give you an exciting world of reading.

What our readers think...