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Here, in what has become a classic of its kind since its publication in 1978, is the fascinating story of Jack Kerouac, "King of the Beats" and American literary legend, recorded through the voices of his friends and lovers. Authors Barry Gifford and Lawrence Lee retraced Kerouac's life at home and on the road and talked with the prophets, musicians, poets, socialites, and Here, in what has become a classic of its kind since its publication in 1978, is the fascinating story of Jack Kerouac, "King of the Beats" and American literary legend, recorded through the voices of his friends and lovers. Authors Barry Gifford and Lawrence Lee retraced Kerouac's life at home and on the road and talked with the prophets, musicians, poets, socialites, and working people who knew Jack Kerouac. Some are famous like Allen Ginsberg, Gore Vidal, William Burroughs, Gary Snyder, among others; and some are not like Jack's boyhood buddies, his lovers, and his barroom companions. All, however, have contributed to a remarkably vibrant, riveting portrait of a life. We see Jack at Columbia University and on the scene of Greenwich Village; speeding across the tarmac of America with Neal Cassidy ("Dan Moriarty" in Kerouac's classic novel, On the Road); at home with his possessive mother; in California, drinking wine and talking Buddhism; and finally, in Florida, where his life ends tragically at forty-seven years old. Jack's Book, like Kerouac's novels, makes a unique contribution to our understanding of a man and a generation that shaped the dreams and visions of those who followed.


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Here, in what has become a classic of its kind since its publication in 1978, is the fascinating story of Jack Kerouac, "King of the Beats" and American literary legend, recorded through the voices of his friends and lovers. Authors Barry Gifford and Lawrence Lee retraced Kerouac's life at home and on the road and talked with the prophets, musicians, poets, socialites, and Here, in what has become a classic of its kind since its publication in 1978, is the fascinating story of Jack Kerouac, "King of the Beats" and American literary legend, recorded through the voices of his friends and lovers. Authors Barry Gifford and Lawrence Lee retraced Kerouac's life at home and on the road and talked with the prophets, musicians, poets, socialites, and working people who knew Jack Kerouac. Some are famous like Allen Ginsberg, Gore Vidal, William Burroughs, Gary Snyder, among others; and some are not like Jack's boyhood buddies, his lovers, and his barroom companions. All, however, have contributed to a remarkably vibrant, riveting portrait of a life. We see Jack at Columbia University and on the scene of Greenwich Village; speeding across the tarmac of America with Neal Cassidy ("Dan Moriarty" in Kerouac's classic novel, On the Road); at home with his possessive mother; in California, drinking wine and talking Buddhism; and finally, in Florida, where his life ends tragically at forty-seven years old. Jack's Book, like Kerouac's novels, makes a unique contribution to our understanding of a man and a generation that shaped the dreams and visions of those who followed.

30 review for Jack's Book: An Oral Biography of Jack Kerouac

  1. 4 out of 5

    M. Mangan

    I was not a Kerouac fan per se, but I was able to read this book one summer as part of my job for the Park Service in his hometown of Lowell. It was one of the best biographies that I ever read. I was completely engrossed. One of my favorite aspects was that they would interview several people for the same incident, and let you hear from each of them separately--rather than mashing it into a whole. It was very Rashomon-esque. And it was so interesting to see how the individual's perspectives affe I was not a Kerouac fan per se, but I was able to read this book one summer as part of my job for the Park Service in his hometown of Lowell. It was one of the best biographies that I ever read. I was completely engrossed. One of my favorite aspects was that they would interview several people for the same incident, and let you hear from each of them separately--rather than mashing it into a whole. It was very Rashomon-esque. And it was so interesting to see how the individual's perspectives affected their view of the event. Tremendous as a life tale, really.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Manick Govinda

    This was my bible when I was 16-17yrs old. How I dreamed of being a beat, and how I copied such style in my diary entries of the time. I give it high marks purely for nostalgia.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Rachel

    ABSOLUTELY FASCINATING. I love biographies, though I don't read them very often. Probably the most interesting book I've ever read is "Natasha," a biography of Natalie Wood. This one is a very, very close second. My favorite part of biographies is reading the quotes/stories from the people who knew the person the biography is about. This being an "oral biography" meant that the majority of it IS quotes from these people, most of them fascinating and famous people in their own right (like Allen G ABSOLUTELY FASCINATING. I love biographies, though I don't read them very often. Probably the most interesting book I've ever read is "Natasha," a biography of Natalie Wood. This one is a very, very close second. My favorite part of biographies is reading the quotes/stories from the people who knew the person the biography is about. This being an "oral biography" meant that the majority of it IS quotes from these people, most of them fascinating and famous people in their own right (like Allen Ginsberg). Reading how these people perceived Jack, perceived his behavior and his thoughts and certain events that happened, was fascinating, because some of it didn't really make sense, some of it was contradictory, and some of it was profoundly insightful. Among all these stories comes the "essence" of Kerouac, and it doesn't seem like the exact details matter much. It's too bad Jack, with his incredible memory, wasn't able to give an interview for this book. The end of the book has a section that identifies who in Kerouac's novels is supposed to be who in his real life, which is going to be an immensely helpful resource when I start delving into his body of work. It seems absolutely essential to read something like this before reading any of his fiction, because his books are so derived from his life that their meaning would be so much less without a knowledge and understanding of who Kerouac was, what he did, where he came from, and how he related with people.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Blake Nelson

    I never seem to get tired of reading about the Beat Generation. Maybe because it's a time in American culture and history that reminds me so much of right now. (super social conservatism, rampant conformism among the young, irrational fear of non-existent enemies). To add to stuff I already knew is a lot of dirt, sexual mostly. So if you're wondering who slept with who among the beats, the answer is: "everyone".

  5. 4 out of 5

    Allan

    Great book. The personal reflections of the actual participants of Kerouac's stories, make this book a unique and valueable resource. Would recommend it to any Kerouac fan.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Jay C

    Great oral biography of a great writer (& tragic figure in literature). Helps if you already have a background in Kerouac and have read most of his books. Might not make a lot of sense otherwise. Great oral biography of a great writer (& tragic figure in literature). Helps if you already have a background in Kerouac and have read most of his books. Might not make a lot of sense otherwise.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Chris Meger

    I hate what the world did to Kerouac. But after reading this book, at least I understand it better.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Teresa

    An excellent book for those wanting to know more about Kerouac and the cast of characters featured in his books. Also an interesting read for those familiar with his work. A mixture of biography affirmed by friends and family member's memories. As it was written in 1978 includes many of those no longer with us, including Stella Sampas his last wife, Luanne Henderson, "Mardou Fox" the woman from The Subterraneans who asked she only be identified by the pseudonym "Irene May." Ginsberg. Corso, Burr An excellent book for those wanting to know more about Kerouac and the cast of characters featured in his books. Also an interesting read for those familiar with his work. A mixture of biography affirmed by friends and family member's memories. As it was written in 1978 includes many of those no longer with us, including Stella Sampas his last wife, Luanne Henderson, "Mardou Fox" the woman from The Subterraneans who asked she only be identified by the pseudonym "Irene May." Ginsberg. Corso, Burroughs, Huncke, Lucien Carr, and others also interviewed.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Jay

    When I was younger Jack Kerouac turned me on to reading. And when I was older Barry Gifford turned me on to writing. So what happens when I come across Giffords oral biography of Jack Kerouac? Double the pleasure. Double the fun. I 19m glad a lot of my college English professors hated Kerouac. They talked his ideas down. They disrespected his writing style. They thought he was a phony as a person. So, man, that motivated me more than ever to read 1COn the Road, 1D and 1CThe Dharma Bums, 1D and 1CV When I was younger Jack Kerouac turned me on to reading. And when I was older Barry Gifford turned me on to writing. So what happens when I come across Giffords oral biography of Jack Kerouac? Double the pleasure. Double the fun. I 19m glad a lot of my college English professors hated Kerouac. They talked his ideas down. They disrespected his writing style. They thought he was a phony as a person. So, man, that motivated me more than ever to read 1COn the Road, 1D and 1CThe Dharma Bums, 1D and 1CVisions of Cody 1D I 19m not so sure how much I appreciated the books, but someone who could piss off so many snotty professors had to have something going for him. Gifford, the author of my favorite novel 1CPort Tropique 1D may have been inspired my the man 19s life. In Jack 19s Book, Gifford concentrates on the reflections of people closest to Kerouac at his peak. Through a series of intimate interviews Gifford is able to picture a spirit that inspired a generation. In fact, many of the people that Gifford interviewed the book had actually served as models for real characters in the novels. My favorite passage involves Carolyn Cassidy. In real life she became Neal Cassady 19s wife. In 1COn the Road, 1D she was the dark-haired Camille. Through her recollections, we get a real good feeling for how spirited and insane and colorful these people were against the stodgy black, white and grey backdrop of the 1950 19s Midwest. Carolyn seems like a hip chick, but she 19s never seen anything like the beats. Gifford 19s eye for detail and emotion not only give us a good story, but help us penetrate the writer behind the adventure.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Jeff Buddle

    “Jack’s Book” by Barry Gifford and Lawrence Lee is an oral biography stitching together the voices of Jack Kerouac’s contemporaries, the people that populate his novels. It’s been out of print for years, but I tracked it down after finishing “Dharma Bums.” Reading the latter, I had a hard time believing that Kerouac was as steeped in Buddhism as his character, fiction being the place where a writer can embellish his life and not be branded a liar. I was wrong, to an extent. Jack was the one who i “Jack’s Book” by Barry Gifford and Lawrence Lee is an oral biography stitching together the voices of Jack Kerouac’s contemporaries, the people that populate his novels. It’s been out of print for years, but I tracked it down after finishing “Dharma Bums.” Reading the latter, I had a hard time believing that Kerouac was as steeped in Buddhism as his character, fiction being the place where a writer can embellish his life and not be branded a liar. I was wrong, to an extent. Jack was the one who introduced Allen Ginsberg to Buddhism, not the other way around. And Gary Snyder reveals that Jack was indeed deeply invested in Buddhism, happy that it didn’t require him to abandon his ingrained Catholicism. Snyder reports that the account in “Dharma Bums” was pretty much what happened. In “Jack’s Book,” Gifford and Lee have let their subjects speak for themselves, stitching together a chorus of voices with connective tissue that turn what could easily be raw material into a narrative that limns Jack Kerouac’s life, his early exuberance, raw talent, and eventual decline and fall. It’s a brilliant book, simultaneously as readable as a novel and raw material for future scholars. Gifford and Lee interviewed ‘em all: Ginsberg, Burroughs, Lucien Carr, Gary Snyder, Gregory Corso, Huncke, etc. And the women, wives, and girlfriends normally peripheral to the Beat narrative are front and center here. The ghost in the room is –of course—Neal Cassady, long dead by the time this book was put together. Anybody embarking on either a serious or casual study of the Beats should include “Jack’s Book” on their reading list.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Robert

    (5.30.12) Merrill and I took a trip to Portland and spent Monday morning in Powell's. Nordstrom bought her $600 of fashion books. I bought this plus 'Desolation Angels' and 'The Practice of the Wild'. (7.7.12) I read this over the last couple of weeks. It has some fascinating stuff in it, obviously all the more fascinating when it relates to the novels you've read recently. Also his relationship with his mother will delight Freudians everywhere. There's maybe too much on Neil Cassady, but the stu (5.30.12) Merrill and I took a trip to Portland and spent Monday morning in Powell's. Nordstrom bought her $600 of fashion books. I bought this plus 'Desolation Angels' and 'The Practice of the Wild'. (7.7.12) I read this over the last couple of weeks. It has some fascinating stuff in it, obviously all the more fascinating when it relates to the novels you've read recently. Also his relationship with his mother will delight Freudians everywhere. There's maybe too much on Neil Cassady, but the stuff on Burroughs and Ginsberg made me want to read them, which I am ashamed to admit I've never done. The last 50 pages are at once tragic and anticlimactic because he descends so swiftly into alcoholism. It would also have been very useful to have known when and in what circumstances the interviews were conducted. Anyway yesterday I bought both the Town and the City and On the Road at the U bookstore. Their selection of Beat related books is excellent and makes me think they must do a Beat course.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Taylor Church

    I have read several other Kerouac biographies, but this one was done in such a unique and wonderful way. The truth behind beat stories and mythological tales were revealed in their gritty reality and renewed grandeur. Reading this book makes you want to read all of the contemporary "beat literature" by all of jack's friends who were writers and poets. But most of all reading these pages make you want to go and read every book, every essay, and every article that Mr. Kerouac managed to publish in I have read several other Kerouac biographies, but this one was done in such a unique and wonderful way. The truth behind beat stories and mythological tales were revealed in their gritty reality and renewed grandeur. Reading this book makes you want to read all of the contemporary "beat literature" by all of jack's friends who were writers and poets. But most of all reading these pages make you want to go and read every book, every essay, and every article that Mr. Kerouac managed to publish in his short life. The final chapter makes you cringe at the squandered talent that was flushed away with the premature death of Jack due to uncontrolled alcoholism. A great cultural piece of true 1950's americana.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Matthew

    I love reading tragedy and Kerouac's life is such a grand tragedy and to read about that tragedy from the people who knew and love him only makes that tragedy so much more grand. Jack's Book offers great insight of how Kerouac touched the lives of so many people over the course of his brief life. I really enjoyed reading the words offered by Luanne Henderson mostly because of how Kerouac vilified her in On the Road that it was nice to hear her voice. Jack's Book is definitely tailored to the sea I love reading tragedy and Kerouac's life is such a grand tragedy and to read about that tragedy from the people who knew and love him only makes that tragedy so much more grand. Jack's Book offers great insight of how Kerouac touched the lives of so many people over the course of his brief life. I really enjoyed reading the words offered by Luanne Henderson mostly because of how Kerouac vilified her in On the Road that it was nice to hear her voice. Jack's Book is definitely tailored to the seasoned Kerouac reader and is a great addition to the library of any Kerouac enthusiast.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Wilfriedhoujebek

    As far as the biographical content of this book is concerned the interview form appears a bit too rough. This is not so much a proper biography as it is raw material from which future biographers can plunder quotes for centuries to come. What is great about this book is that it explains and shows things you won't find anywhere else: the effect Neal Cassady had on people, the atmosphere at the Burroughs/Volmerr farm in Texas, the way various people responded to each other (positively and negative As far as the biographical content of this book is concerned the interview form appears a bit too rough. This is not so much a proper biography as it is raw material from which future biographers can plunder quotes for centuries to come. What is great about this book is that it explains and shows things you won't find anywhere else: the effect Neal Cassady had on people, the atmosphere at the Burroughs/Volmerr farm in Texas, the way various people responded to each other (positively and negative). This book is a joy to read but I would recommend to read a real biography alongside it.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Leoni Horton

    I've read many books about Kerouac, heard his story in a variety of ways but this book was standout, a biography told through the eyes of his closest friends, ex loves, his boyhood friends and his critics. A well rounded telling of the man whom I admire so much, those who knew him were not afraid to speak of him as he was, warts and all.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Chuck O'Connor

    Kerouac was my bridge from comic books to literature, when I was a teenager so he will always hold a nostalgic place for me. This book is a great presentation of his history. It is very sad. Another bright talent squandered by alcoholism. I came away sadder about Jack's slow-motion suicide now that I am about the same age as he was when he died.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Rebecca

    beautiful book about a great poet (the term writer is not fitting) told in the words of people who not just knew him but loved him and hated him, lived and died with him. must read if you're a true fan of kerouac, like i am.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Michael Mayer

    A most excellent book with tons of interviews with people who knew Kerouac intimately. I highly recommend this book if you enjoy Kerouac's work and other "beat" writers.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Carlos Escobedo

    What a sad life! success was the worst thing that could have happened to him. his tragic life story is very compelling and puzzling. I really enjoyed the oral history style of this book

  20. 5 out of 5

    Ronald Gregor

    One of the best bios about Kerouac.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Craig Spraggon

    If your going to read a biography of Kerouac it might as well be this one ... but I wonder if perhaps its better to not know the story behind the stories and just let the novels sing by themselves.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Jack Goodstein

    Keroac's friends, lovers and acquaintances wax eloquently at times not very coherently about the man they thought they knew. Hopefully from the mass of testimony some sort of truth emerges.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Angela Hurt

    This book let's you dive deeper into the"Beat Generation" than anything I've come across. I love this book! I found this book when i was 15 at a Barnes and Noble. I lost the book part way through and had a really hard time finding it. I was so excited to find it on Amazon and finish the tour through Jack Kerouac's life. Reading through it this time was a much more enriching experience. I was able to stop and dive into the lives of each character in the book and get a deeper understanding of the e This book let's you dive deeper into the"Beat Generation" than anything I've come across. I love this book! I found this book when i was 15 at a Barnes and Noble. I lost the book part way through and had a really hard time finding it. I was so excited to find it on Amazon and finish the tour through Jack Kerouac's life. Reading through it this time was a much more enriching experience. I was able to stop and dive into the lives of each character in the book and get a deeper understanding of the entire generation and all of the back stories. I also now realize, I don't like Jack Kerouac as a person, but i understand him better. He's just not quite who i thought he was, none of them were. Except maybe Allen. I'd say he was the one true Beat.

  24. 4 out of 5

    W. Koistinen

    It's a good book, at least if you wanna here the voice of Kerouac's contemporaries, and at the same time have a quick peak at Jack's life. The actual biographical part is quite brief, and I noticed many small errors compared to Nicosia's biography, which is v-e-r-y thorough. So if you want accurate biographical information, I would recommend that. On the other hand this book reveals, not just Jack's, but his friends personalities also, and deepens them a bit. So, all in all, a good add to other It's a good book, at least if you wanna here the voice of Kerouac's contemporaries, and at the same time have a quick peak at Jack's life. The actual biographical part is quite brief, and I noticed many small errors compared to Nicosia's biography, which is v-e-r-y thorough. So if you want accurate biographical information, I would recommend that. On the other hand this book reveals, not just Jack's, but his friends personalities also, and deepens them a bit. So, all in all, a good add to other books about Jack, but not necessarily the number one source to his life.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Guy Salvidge

    Pretty interesting. I read this because it was by Gifford, not about Kerouac, but maybe I ought to give Keroauc more of a go than I did in my twenties. I only ever read On the Road, Big Sur and The Dharma Bums. Now I'm interested in reading a few more...

  26. 4 out of 5

    Art

    A fleshing of a lovely man.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Mat

    (Review in progress)

  28. 4 out of 5

    CM Peterson

    I read this book in full over a decade ago and I still think about it. Of all the adventures the writers of The Beat Generation has taken me on, it wasn't until this oral biography that I truly felt close to them. It's a fantastic, easy read and it changed my mind about oral biographies. I often think about sharing it with a friend, passing it along, but I just can't let it go because it's one of my favorites and honestly, I haven't seen my edition out in the wild. Highly recommended especially I read this book in full over a decade ago and I still think about it. Of all the adventures the writers of The Beat Generation has taken me on, it wasn't until this oral biography that I truly felt close to them. It's a fantastic, easy read and it changed my mind about oral biographies. I often think about sharing it with a friend, passing it along, but I just can't let it go because it's one of my favorites and honestly, I haven't seen my edition out in the wild. Highly recommended especially for those who love Kerouac and his mates.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Erika Martinez

    "Man, you don't see a plant like that grow right in front of your face without LOVING it." A telling of Jack's story told largely through interviews of his closest friends and lovers. Intimate and sweet. Tragic and heartbreaking.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Ralph

    Really fine way to tell the life of Jack Kerouac. Loved the interviews.

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