The bestselling author of All the Shah's Men and The Brothers tells the astonishing story of the man who oversaw the CIA's secret drug and mind-control experiments of the 1950s and '60s.
The visionary chemist Sidney Gottlieb was the CIA's master magician and gentlehearted torturer--the agency's "poisoner in chief." As head of the MK-ULTRA mind control project, he directed brutal experiments at secret prisons on three continents. He made pills, powders, and potions that could kill or maim without a trace--including some intended for Fidel Castro and other foreign leaders. He paid prostitutes to lure clients to CIA-run bordellos, where they were secretly dosed with mind-altering drugs. His experiments spread LSD across the United States, making him a hidden godfather of the 1960s counterculture. For years he was the chief supplier of spy tools used by CIA officers around the world.
Stephen Kinzer, author of groundbreaking books about U.S. clandestine operations, draws on new documentary research and original interviews to bring to life one of the most powerful unknown Americans of the twentieth century. Gottlieb's reckless experiments on "expendable" human subjects destroyed many lives, yet he considered himself deeply spiritual. He lived in a remote cabin without running water, meditated, and rose before dawn to milk his goats.
During his twenty-two years at the CIA, Gottlieb worked in the deepest secrecy. Only since his death has it become possible to piece together his astonishing career at the intersection of extreme science and covert action. Poisoner in Chief reveals him as a clandestine conjurer on an epic scale.
"Winding through the spy-loving Eisenhower-Kennedy years, Kinzer's book is a Tarantino movie yet to be made: it has the right combination of sick humor, pointless violence, weird tabloid characters, and sheer American waste. It is also frightening to read . . . [and] compelling, not least in the way it illustrates how the law of unintended consequences in covert action can work with an almost delirious vengeance." --Adam Gopnik, The New Yorker
"Absolutely riveting. Stephen Kinzer's Poisoner in Chief reads like a spy thriller--but his revelations about the macabre career of the CIA's Sidney Gottlieb are deeply disturbing. Kinzer's work underscores once again the narrative power of biography to unearth our collective history." --Kai Bird, Pulitzer Prize-winning coauthor of American Prometheus, author of The Good Spy, and executive director of the Leon Levy Center for Biography
"Stephen Kinzer has done a great public service with this absorbing and informative portrait of the life and career of Sidney Gottlieb, a CIA scientist who was the Agency's Dr. No in the Cold War--a producer of poison pills, poison darts, and leader of the hunt for the perfect killing machine, a la the Manchurian Candidate. It's all in the bone-crunching detail, and Kinzer, a master of American perfidy, has done it again." --Seymour M. Hersh, author of Chain of Command: The Road from 9/11 to Abu Ghraib and Reporter: A Memoir
Kinzer's retelling of the MK-ULTRA story is unsparing in its gruesome details, but not overwrought . . . Gottlieb has previously been treated as a historical footnote, but Kinzer elevates him to his proper place as one of the C.I.A.'s most influential and despicable characters. --Sharon Weinberger, The New York Times