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Desolate Angel: Jack Kerouac, The Beat Generation, And America

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"A blockbuster of a biography . . . absolutely magnificent."--San Francisco Chronicle Jack Kerouac--"King of the Beats," unwitting catalyst for the '60s counterculture, groundbreaking author--was a complex and compelling man: a star athlete with a literary bent; a spontaneous writer vilified by the New Critics but adored by a large, youthful readership; a devout Catholic bu "A blockbuster of a biography . . . absolutely magnificent."--San Francisco Chronicle Jack Kerouac--"King of the Beats," unwitting catalyst for the '60s counterculture, groundbreaking author--was a complex and compelling man: a star athlete with a literary bent; a spontaneous writer vilified by the New Critics but adored by a large, youthful readership; a devout Catholic but aspiring Buddhist; a lover of freedom plagued by crippling alcoholism. Desolate Angel follows Kerouac from his childhood in the mill town of Lowell, Massachusetts, to his early years at Columbia where he met Allen Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs, and Neal Cassady, beginning a four-way friendship that would become a sociointellectual legend. In rich detail and with sensitivity, Dennis McNally recounts Kerouac's frenetic cross-country journeys, his experiments with drugs and sexuality, his travels to Mexico and Tangier, the sudden fame that followed the publication of On the Road, the years of literary triumph, and the final near-decade of frustration and depression. Desolate Angel is a harrowing, compassionate portrait of a man and an artist set in an extraordinary social context. The metamorphosis of America from the Great Depression to the Kennedy administration is not merely the backdrop for Kerouac's life but is revealed to be an essential element of his art . . . for Kerouac was above all a witness to his exceptional times.


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"A blockbuster of a biography . . . absolutely magnificent."--San Francisco Chronicle Jack Kerouac--"King of the Beats," unwitting catalyst for the '60s counterculture, groundbreaking author--was a complex and compelling man: a star athlete with a literary bent; a spontaneous writer vilified by the New Critics but adored by a large, youthful readership; a devout Catholic bu "A blockbuster of a biography . . . absolutely magnificent."--San Francisco Chronicle Jack Kerouac--"King of the Beats," unwitting catalyst for the '60s counterculture, groundbreaking author--was a complex and compelling man: a star athlete with a literary bent; a spontaneous writer vilified by the New Critics but adored by a large, youthful readership; a devout Catholic but aspiring Buddhist; a lover of freedom plagued by crippling alcoholism. Desolate Angel follows Kerouac from his childhood in the mill town of Lowell, Massachusetts, to his early years at Columbia where he met Allen Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs, and Neal Cassady, beginning a four-way friendship that would become a sociointellectual legend. In rich detail and with sensitivity, Dennis McNally recounts Kerouac's frenetic cross-country journeys, his experiments with drugs and sexuality, his travels to Mexico and Tangier, the sudden fame that followed the publication of On the Road, the years of literary triumph, and the final near-decade of frustration and depression. Desolate Angel is a harrowing, compassionate portrait of a man and an artist set in an extraordinary social context. The metamorphosis of America from the Great Depression to the Kennedy administration is not merely the backdrop for Kerouac's life but is revealed to be an essential element of his art . . . for Kerouac was above all a witness to his exceptional times.

30 review for Desolate Angel: Jack Kerouac, The Beat Generation, And America

  1. 4 out of 5

    Cheryl McEnaney

    Extremely well-researched and written, this book gives a remarkably intimate sense of Kerouac's personal complexity and intense artistic dedication. It also brilliantly brings to life Ginsberg, Cassady, Burroughs, Corso, and various other contemporaries of the "Beat" era, following them with great articulation through the morphing social contexts of their active decades, and drawing interesting parallels to musicians and visual artists of their time. A very impressive work.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Ed

    That fact that Jerry Garcia asked McNally to write about the Grateful Dead after reading this book; telling him that his insights about Neal Cassidy were the same as Garcia's, was enough of a recommendation for me to go out and find this book. I have not been disappointed. So far I'm finding it a factual, readable narrative.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Joseph Egan

    More than anything, I found this to be a terrifying cautionary tale.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Tom Walsh

    I stared this book today. "Jean" Kerouac had a Catholic upbringing and was darkly affected by the death of his younger brother, who he adored. His younger days were sadder than I ever imagined. He was, truly, a poet of the streets. I can begin to see where "On The Road" originated. Recommended to all who like The Beats.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Adam

    I met McNally backstage at a Ratdog show and because of that, I got to shake Bob Weir's hand. Oh and this is a great read too. So many ridiculous stories.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Julia

    Really good! I just loved reading all of the beats, despite the fact that they were sexist SOB's.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Jay Jasch

    Eye, mind, heart opening experience. Total spooky synchronicity throughout.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Donald

    Poor Jack. A victim of his own success. This is a very thourogh biography of Jack Kerouac, and it has quite a bit about the other people in the "Beat" movement, and a little bit about the events and people that shaped the times. Jack is the focus of the book, and his story, to me, is a sad one. It's just a shame that his personal demons ended up overshadowing his literary genius. I visited his grave in 2001, and mourned all of this before. And 19 years haven't changed how I feel. Some lighthearted Poor Jack. A victim of his own success. This is a very thourogh biography of Jack Kerouac, and it has quite a bit about the other people in the "Beat" movement, and a little bit about the events and people that shaped the times. Jack is the focus of the book, and his story, to me, is a sad one. It's just a shame that his personal demons ended up overshadowing his literary genius. I visited his grave in 2001, and mourned all of this before. And 19 years haven't changed how I feel. Some lighthearted rememberances in here too! My favorite was this quote, as it combines my love of baseball with my love of Kerouac: Jack “... defended Ted Williams and attacked baseball’s Boudreau shift (which put virtually the entire team on one side of the field to stop Ted) as “unnatural,”...” I totally agree with the man, as those shifts are now so commonplace in the game. I hate the shifts!!! “Goodbye, drunken ghost.” "Above all else, the road endures."

  9. 4 out of 5

    Sami Eerola

    Good biography about Jack Kerouac. I did not like the stream of consciousness style of writing in this book. It only works in novels, not in non-ficion. Some times it was difficult to understand what was happening and why. For example i totally missed why Kerouac wrote "On the road" in toilet paper. But still this book captures perfectly the beat-writters personality and depression. Big bonus is the impartiality of this book. Kerouac was a weird men, with antisemitic, fascists, conservative and Good biography about Jack Kerouac. I did not like the stream of consciousness style of writing in this book. It only works in novels, not in non-ficion. Some times it was difficult to understand what was happening and why. For example i totally missed why Kerouac wrote "On the road" in toilet paper. But still this book captures perfectly the beat-writters personality and depression. Big bonus is the impartiality of this book. Kerouac was a weird men, with antisemitic, fascists, conservative and liberal views. Hated politics, but supported Nixon. Started the 60's counter culture, but hated hippies.

  10. 5 out of 5

    David Burns

    "The myths and dreams and the art remain, to disturb or inspire. Above all else, the road endures."

  11. 5 out of 5

    Bill

    I feel torn when I consider this book. See, I think it was a good book, and clearly well researched. However, having read about four other Kerouac biographies, plus Go, plus Carolyn Cassady's Off the Road, I really feel like I was just hearing the same story again with a few more details thrown in here and there, while some other things were glossed over a bit. I suppose more than anything I was a bit let down by the fact that, to my taste, the author didn't really go all that in depth in connec I feel torn when I consider this book. See, I think it was a good book, and clearly well researched. However, having read about four other Kerouac biographies, plus Go, plus Carolyn Cassady's Off the Road, I really feel like I was just hearing the same story again with a few more details thrown in here and there, while some other things were glossed over a bit. I suppose more than anything I was a bit let down by the fact that, to my taste, the author didn't really go all that in depth in connecting Kerouac and his works to the shifting American landscape. Yes, there were references here and there, but I was hoping that would be more the focus of this book rather than strict biography. If you haven't read Kerouac biographies, check this one out, but if you've read as much on Kerouac as I have, I wouldn't say it's a must-read.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Doug Eymer

    Tom Davis of the comedy duo, Franken & Davis, recently passed away. I was watching a video of a presentation Tom gave in 2009. On stage with him was Dennis McNally, who has been involved with The Grateful Dead for 30+ years. Prior to his involvement with The Dead, he researched the life of Jack Kerouac. I have always wanted to read Kerouac's, On the Road but felt that this book would be helpful in preparing for that task. Amazing book. Tom Davis of the comedy duo, Franken & Davis, recently passed away. I was watching a video of a presentation Tom gave in 2009. On stage with him was Dennis McNally, who has been involved with The Grateful Dead for 30+ years. Prior to his involvement with The Dead, he researched the life of Jack Kerouac. I have always wanted to read Kerouac's, On the Road but felt that this book would be helpful in preparing for that task. Amazing book.

  13. 4 out of 5

    rebecca hutchinson

    He tells no lies He tells no lies yes I would recommend this book why not it's jacks story ,why did he let his mother Controll him what about his daughter, any will sad in a way that he ended up ,was he ever happy didn't like his mother loved his friends and jack needed love not the bottle

  14. 5 out of 5

    Sam Mills

    Poorly edited, inaccurate. Author consistently uses the word "bitch" and "bitched" instead of "complain" or "complained." Kerouac's girlfriend Alene Lee is referred to by the name of her fictional counterpart "Mardou Fox" from The Subterraneans, with "Alene Lee" missing altogether from the index. That error alone calls the rest of his research into question.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Mirva

    If I hadn't been so interested in Kerouac, then I would never have finished this book, because it was pretty badly written. Too melodramatic, too depressing (although I admit, the life of an alcoholic probably isn't great).

  16. 4 out of 5

    Aaron Novak

    The definitive Kerouac biography. A great read - informative, insightful, comprehensive, sympathetic. I'm embarrassed that I had not read this book earlier. Thankfully a friend bought this for me as a gift and set me straight. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

  17. 5 out of 5

    GK Stritch

    Thoughtful bio of a "larger than life character of astounding erudition and honesty," that ends in sadness.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Jeff Bottrell

    One of the best biographies I've read.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Matt Shaw

    one of my very first books

  20. 5 out of 5

    Reid

    I thought this was well done, pretty good history.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Elyssa

    After immersing myself in Kerouac's writings, it was interesting to learn about the man behind the novels and realize that he is very different from the characters he created to portray himself.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Brock Littles

  23. 5 out of 5

    Anthony Tefertiller

  24. 5 out of 5

    Aj Buckle

  25. 5 out of 5

    Michael Zadoorian

  26. 4 out of 5

    Meghan Colvin-Daley

  27. 4 out of 5

    Justin Settle

  28. 4 out of 5

    Renato

  29. 5 out of 5

    Zachary Harless

  30. 5 out of 5

    Sissy

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