Kesey studied (and participated in LSD tests) at Stanford, which is also the alma mater of seemingly half of Silicon Valley today, including the founders of Google, Yahoo and countless other tech companies. Stewart Brand, who created the hippie bible "Whole Earth Catalog" was instrumental in some of the first online message boards, and Apple co-founder Steve Jobs made no secret of the fact that he took LSD and it had a profound effect on his life. There's a direct line from that culture through the early days of Wired Magazine through Burning Man through burned-out Googlers taking offline R&R breaks at a Big Sur resort.
Many of today's signature — and, to outsiders, most annoying — quirks of Silicon Valley tech culture are startlingly similar to the culture described among Kesey's little in-group. The nearly cult-like devotion to visionaries like Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk — only these visionaries started multibillion-dollar corporations that amassed unprecedented power and influence instead of leading a busful of unshaven hippies.
Or the widespread belief among tech workers that they're inventing the future, that optimizing ad placement or disrupting health insurance isn't just a job and a way to shift revenue from old businesses to newer ones, but is actually part of a larger mission to change society.
Terms like "hive mind," which once described the weird collective consciousness among fellow trippers, have been refigured to describe the weird collective consciousness that's emerged among huge online communities like Twitter. Even the sex parties haven't gone away -- they've just moved upscale and been repackaged under euphemisms like "cuddle puddles."
There was a dark side to all this, too, which Wolfe chronicled. The egos got out of control and led to infighting. Some people were selfish and took more than their share. Some of the visions of the future turned out to be false or unsustainable, more hallucination than reality. The drugs wore off and were replaced by more, and more destructive, drugs. Woodstock turned into Altamont. (The dark side of the hippie era and its aftermath in San Francisco are captured wonderfully in another book, "Season of the Witch" by David Talbot.)
You could imagine some of today's Silicon Valley companies — and the entire tech culture — will follow similar paths and play out in similar stories.
But for every ego-driven collapse and dot-com bust, there'll be 10 more starry-eyed engineers and assorted hangers-on who move to Silicon Valley with the earnest belief that, if only they could convince everybody else to join in, they'd be able to change the world for the better.
That's what Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters were about — at least in Wolfe's telling. And it's a heck of an entertaining read, too.
Correction: Tom Wolfe died on Monday at the age of 88. An earlier version misstated his age. "The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test" was published in 1968. An earlier version misstated the title.