Mike Jay

Mike Jay’s most recent book is Mescaline: A Global History of the First Psychedelic.

That Ol’ Thumb: Hitchhiking

Mike Jay, 23 June 2022

I’mtrying to remember the last time I saw someone standing by the side of the road with their thumb out, holding a cardboard sign. Like innumerable other bygones – the last milk bottle on a doorstep, the last rag and bone cart – it’s a sight that disappeared without fanfare. Growing up in West London close to the M4 I would see hitchhikers all the time, and by my...

On​ 25 August 1835, the New York Sun ran a sensational scoop: the ‘Great Astronomical Discoveries, Lately Made by Sir John Herschel, L.L.D., F.R.S., &c, at the Cape of Good Hope’. Herschel – former president of the Royal Astronomical Society and son of William Herschel, the discoverer of Uranus – had sailed from Britain to South Africa two years before with a...

It​ was during the fallout from Watergate that the American public first heard of MK-Ultra, the most notorious of the secret mind control programmes that the CIA ran through the 1950s and 1960s. After Nixon’s men were caught breaking into the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee in June 1972, Richard Helms, then director of the CIA, refused to help with the cover-up. In...

Edward James​ was charming, eccentric, generous and immensely wealthy. For most of his life, his greatest talent was placing himself in interesting situations, often having used his wealth to make them happen. In 1931, he was the first to publish John Betjeman, who had been a fellow student at Oxford. In 1933 he financed the final collaboration between Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill. When...

On Michael Neve

Mike Jay, 21 November 2019

MichaelNeve died on 9 October. I first met him in 1995, at a funeral. We had been taught Nietzsche by the same lecturer at Cambridge; that had been enough academia for me, but Michael had advanced (or, by his own account, stumbled haplessly) to the position of senior lecturer at the Wellcome Trust Centre for the History of Medicine at UCL. He had a contract with Penguin for an anthology of...

The Unpredictable Cactus: Mescaline

Emily Witt, 2 January 2020

My own experience with peyote was inconclusive. I now know that a confusing occasion I got involved in by accident in 2013 was in fact a Native American Church meeting. A friend had invited me to what...

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Dephlogisticated: Dr Beddoes

John Barrell, 19 November 2009

In 1794 Robert Watt, an Edinburgh wine merchant, together with a few associates, was arrested for allegedly framing a plot to seize the Edinburgh post office, the banks and the castle, and to...

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