Aldous Huxley’s Hands by Allene Symons (book review).

Allene Symons memories of Science Fiction author Aldous Huxley comes largely from her father, Howard Thrasher, who knew the author when he was in the USA and mementoes from the time period putting things together as his starting point. The title ‘Aldous Huxley’s Hands’ comes from a reference how having particular types of hands can identify particular types of work people are more suited to. Although this research has now been largely abandoned, the photographic evidence of shape of hands related to job interest or medical complaints has some significance. Nothing to do with the lines on the hands incidentally, just shape. Symons covers her Dad’s work in some detail although oddly doesn’t give his name until a third of the way through the book. Oh, you do get to see a picture of Huxley’s hand.


As I didn’t really know much about Huxley, this book has ended up as a starting point, although less on his written material but more on his interests and history in America. Something that I didn’t know was after a childhood accident, Huxley was blind in one eye and partially-sighted in the other, resulting in him wearing pinhole glasses to sharpen his remaining vision. If anything, this improved his memory as he had to rely on it so much and ability to learn and, after being educated, turned to writing. A committed pacifist, Huxley and his wife, Maria, were marooned in the USA for the opening three years of World War Two and became involved in scriptwriting with Christopher Isherwood and was friendly with a lot of people, many who became or were famous. He also became interested in ESP and the odd religion as well ran by British ex-pat journalist Gerald Heard.

Huxley’s thoughts on Rhine cards, despite him being friends with J.B. Rhine, was that he didn’t think ESP could be measured in predicting card faces and took a serious interest in the subject. With the dawn of mescalin and LSD, used under mostly controlled conditions, he was also quite happy to dabble with it. If you thought only Philip Dick was the only SF drug-user, this was quite an eye-opener to me. Not that I would condone it as even Huxley had some of the side-effects from testing it. He did write a book, ‘The Doors Of Perception’, after his first experience and, just in case you didn’t know, a certain rock band took its name from the title a few decades later. I didn’t realise that Huxley also came up with description of ‘psychedelic’ to be associated with LSD and other drugs of that nature.

Please don’t treat this book as a complete history of Aldous Huxley but more about his involvement with American culture and LSD. At the back of the book, Symons voices her opinions of the use of LSD, especially for some medical conditions. As someone who prefers to be in charge of my mind, I do tend to more wary of such things and certainly should be avoided if you have any mental condition. However, if you’re interested in its initial use and purpose, this book will clue you in on LSD’s earlier uses before it was seen as a means for a chemical trip.

GF Willmetts

January 2016

(pub: Prometheus Books, 2015. 304 page illustrated indexed enlarged paperback. Price: $18.00 (US). ISBN: 978-1-63388-116-7)

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