The Most Dangerous Man in America, by Bill Minutaglio and Steven L. Davis

The Most Dangerous Man in America by Bill Minutaglio and Steven L. Davis

Based on official documents, journal entries, interviews, recordings, and news coverage, Minutaglio and Davis present a rollicking, outrageous caper that reads like a gonzo version of Candide. Narrated in a fast-paced present tense, Most Dangerous Man takes place in the tumultuous early 1970s. Widespread outcry against the Vietnam War and the political status quo has erupted into violence. Once-peaceful protests are now being met with brutal crackdowns, and parts of the counterculture movement have traded in “flower power” for dynamite.


Amid dismal approval ratings, first-term president Richard Nixon is growing increasingly desperate to prove that he is the strong leader America needs. He needs a symbol of crime and moral decay he can triumph over, and he chooses a man – Timothy Leary, former Harvard psychologist, LSD evangelist and countercultural guru. Imprisoned in California on trumped-up drug charges and facing additional ones that could keep him behind bars for the rest of his life, Leary decides to escape from prison and live his life as a fugitive. Aided by radical leftists, Leary embarks on a globe-trotting, substance-fueled odyssey as he tries to survive beyond Nixon’s grasp.


The Most Dangerous Man paints Leary as a complex and unlikely (but not unlikeable) protagonist, and the authors do an outstanding job of contrasting his intellect and charisma with his flaws and poor decisions. What keeps the perpetually stoned Leary relatable, however, is his frequent haplessness and his juxtaposition with less sympathetic figures. Nixon, the main antagonist, is portrayed as mentally unstable, vindictive, and surrounded by cronies who frequently indulge his most sinister tendencies. Meanwhile, Leary's supposed allies prove just as problematic for him, as he time and time again gets shaken down by (literally) bomb-throwing Weathermen and Black Panthers, a loose network of drug trafficking hippies, shady lawyers, and a real-life Bond villain. What emerges is a portrait of a man who thought he had only his chains to lose, but learns quickly how wrong he was, and whose initial fecklessness ends up costing him dearly.


The Most Dangerous Man in America is also available as an excellent audiobook. Narrator Peter Ganim reads with a winning balance of gravitas and absurd self-awareness. He voices the major players with aplomb, rendering them distinctly without making them sound like clichés – even Nixon’s jowly, difficult-not-to-caricature delivery. Listening to this in the car will definitely make your commute feel shorter.

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