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Literary Outlaw: The Life and Times of William S. Burroughs

4.12 of 5 stars 4.12  ·  rating details  ·  1,334 ratings  ·  42 reviews
William Burroughs, author of Naked Lunch and Junky, has been in every sense an outlaw: he has spent time in jail: he shot and killed his wife; he was a drug addict, forced to spend most of his life in exile from America, often on the run; he was openly homosexual at a time when homosexuality was a criminal offence.

Literary Outlaw is the compulsively readable biography of o
Published December 12th 1991 by Pimlico (first published 1988)
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Burroughs is one of the great characters out of American literature. He's almost a fictional character, but it is own creation. He is also one of the funniest writers in the 20th century. I think he goes beyond the 'Beats' and more in league with the Dorothy Parkers/and other humorists of that generation. But that's my take on him.

I do find it disturbing that he was a gun nut even after shooting his wife by accident by playing William Tell with an apple. He missed! For me that would say 'no more
Matthew W
"It was no accident that I went to the Los Alamos Ranch School where they couldn't wait to make the atom bomb and drop it on the Yellow Peril" stated Nordic degenerate William S. Burroughs. Burroughs felt the atom bomb symbolized America's final loss of innocence and that here on out "everything was permitted." Burroughs was also a fan of German genius Oswald Spengler's two volume pessimistic masterpiece "The Decline of the West" and Burroughs himself was symbolic of this decline. The Grandson o ...more
Ben Lovegrove
This is probably the longest Burroughs biography I've read. It goes into masses of detail but the problem is it uses pseudonyms for the names of some real people who presumably don't want to be identified. My favourite biography is the one by Barry Miles which is shorter and more concise, but I would say that both are worth a read. Perhaps the Miles one first for an introduction then this. I liked this one because it details his road trips through Mexico to see the volcano and various anecdotes.
This is one of the all time great writer's biographies. It not only tells an interesting story in an engaging fashion, but it also presents the connection between events in Burroughs' life and the purpose and content of his writing.

I believe Burroughs and Morgan were friends, at least withing the context of the project, and the text shows a sympathetic portrayal of the man who has written works that have moved millions of fans and offended others.
One of the best biographies I've read. Superb. A really heavyweight treatment for a heavyweight character.
Dean Prichard
3 1/2 stars. When the author sticks to describing the strange life of WSB, the book is great for the most part. The earlier parts of the book, as well as the chapter on Billy were quite interesting. Also very good are the sections on WSB's interactions with other famous and not-so-famous artists, including most of the Beats. Where it falls flat for me is where he tries to discuss and analyze WSB's books. I also think that overall, the author being a fan and friend to WSB in the end was a detrime ...more
David B
Ted Morgan has written a detailed biography of the writer and media personality William S. Burroughs that explores his many contradictions. Like so many great biographies, it also serves as a fascinating prism through which to view the times and circumstances that informed his life--the Beat movement of the 50s and 60s. Burroughs produced highly personal, often violent and even pornographic work that reflected his homosexuality, his drug dependence, and his somewhat addled, magical view of the u ...more
Stephen Bird
This book changed my life, as did Camille Paglia's "Sexual Personae" when I first read it 19 years ago. "Literary Outlaw" is a great window onto the post-WWII-beatnik culture--specifically the friends & people constituting Burroughs' Columbia University / Times Square NYC / Mexico City / Tangiers / Paris / London and again and finally New York City communities--in the 40's and 50's & beyond. Thus this text provides necessary background info missing from "The Letters of William S. Burroug ...more
This was a fascinating and thoroughly enjoyable read. It was the most exciting book I have read in quite a while, and yet I have to stop short of saying that it actually meant something to me personally. It was the best book that I have read about the "Beat Generation", and I think it belongs in the reading list of any serious aficionado.

Burroughs had a fascinating life, and the biographer had total access to the subject. To his credit, Burroughs had no interest in sanitizing his life to please
Dec 15, 2007 Gravity rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: everyone interested in Beat literature
This is the best biography I've ever read. Ted Morgan does an excellent job of researching W.S.B.'s life and the people around him. And even though his subject is interesting enough, this book shines because he examines the mid-century literary scene that surrounded Burroughs and made the publication of his books possible, like the obscenity trials and the rise of Grove Press. Great literary history!
Better than say the Miles biography. As with many authors, Burroughs's life is in many ways more compelling than his books.

One odd thing, this is for the most part a soberly written book, yet Morgan will often throw a "shit" or "fuck" into the text while not quoting anyone. A bit odd. Did Morgan also drop random profanities into his biography of FDR?
GK Stritch
Excellent, entertaining WSB bio, worth every one of its 700-some pages, not only for all the info on Bill, but a great Beat history.

"Bill on Will and Writing"

"Two Young Men and Two Paintings on a Hot Summer Day"

"Dream of Ridiculous Me"
Since Burroughs crossed paths with so many interesting people during his life, Ted Morgan's biography is rich in interesting tidbits, filling the reader in with information about all these nooks and crannies.
Mar 04, 2008 Thomas rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Beats Young and Old (and Even Dead)
Recommended to Thomas by: Al G.
The bio of Burroughs is better than any of his actual writings... such a wild and crazy and rich life. Reading this will give you a slew of other authors and works to search out.
A very influential book from my impressionable youth, however I never turned into a queer junky so guess I didn't ultimately follow Burroughs' lessons very well...

Raegan Butcher
The whole sordid story,from birth in St Louis to life as the grand old man of avant-garde letters in Lawrence, KS. A very full portrait of Mr Burroughs.
Excellent book. Must read for Beats. Only the Lou Reed part is faulty.
Michael Wilson
Ever wonder about the enfant terrible of American letters? He was really a teenage adventure writer who didn't censor anything or leave anything out. This is a great book about the life and times of one of the punkest of punks that ever lived, who, when he died, was living like a rough-and-tumble country squire in Lawrence, Kansas.

This was a book with particular frisson for me. Ted Morgan was the Americanized name of Sanche de Gramont (Ted Morgan is an anagram of de Gramont), in whose apartment
A compelling account of the peripatetic struggle of a deviant intellectuals struggle against authority,whilst all the time battling his own demons.
Although a hefty tome,the level of the uniqueness of the subjects character makes for a fascinating read,that rarely drags or becomes too reliant on names and dates in a technical manner.
The author builds the various characters up in a manner that ensures you become familiar with them and have no trouble recalling their presence when they reappear
Al L
A solid book, but I was a little disappointed given the inherently interesting subject and the usually interesting author- Ted Morgan. The experimental techniques Mr Morgan uses, inner monologues, stream of consciousness, and his own version of "cut ups" add little our understanding of Mr Burroughs. The size of the book and the completeness of examination of the author is impressive though and overall it is a worthwhile way to spend several hours.
I recently finished this biography and I must say it was one of the most interesting ones I have read. I, as well as the other two reviewers of this book, am amazed that such a detailed history of a cultural icon is out of print. This book starts with Burrough's Grandfather and ends with him in his life in Lawrence Kansas. In between, you will find a life that few people could claim to have led, and still be alive well into their 80's. The book also goes into great detail about the lives of the ...more
Emer Martin
Loved this book. Not just for the insight into Mr Burroughs, but also for the surrounding characters. All the Beats come alive here in this extensive, entertaining well written biography. Writer does seem to have it in for Lou Reed though.
Omar Ali
A must read if you are Burroughs fan. And may make you a Burroughs fans if you are not (that was my route to Burroughs...i read his books AFTER I read this one).
This extremely long biography of William S. Burroughs rambled a bit too much for my taste. DNF.
John Millard
Well written and easier to understand then many of his actual works.
Leonard Makin

Fantastic autobiography.
William S. Burroughs is a deity, and lived one of the most intriguing lives in recorded history. My complaint is that this book is too fucking much. When it branches out to give the backstory of Burroughs' son, fine. And Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac, okay. But when it starts giving you the detailed history of the doctor who did the son's surgery, it's too fucking much. But this is everything you could possibly want to know about Burroughs, and every single person he's ever met.
His life more interesting than his writing.
George Ilsley
Very readable, and a comprehensive overview of Burroughs and of course the rest of his world -- Ginsberg et al. I still pick it up sometimes and read from it at random, which is, I suppose, a kind of "cut up" reading style. The story of the son is long, and tragic and very sad. In fact, most of Burroughs' personal life is sad. Perhaps this is what inspired his dry and wry humour.
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Born St. Charles Armand Gabriel, Comte de Gramont; he used the name Sanche de Gramont for a byline until he had his name legally changed to Ted Morgan in 1977; came to the United States in 1937, naturalized in February, 1977. He won the Pulitzer Prize, 1961, for local reporting written under pressure of a deadline; National Book Award finalist, 1982, for Maugham.
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