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Literary Outlaw: The Life And Times Of William S.Burroughs

4.13  ·  Rating Details  ·  1,408 Ratings  ·  46 Reviews
With a new preface as well as a final chapter on William S. Burroughs’s last years, the acclaimed Literary Outlaw is the only existing full biography of an extraordinary figure. Anarchist, heroin addict, alcoholic, and brilliant writer, Burroughs was the patron saint of the Beats. His avant-garde masterpiece Naked Lunch shook up the literary world with its graphic descript ...more
Hardcover, First Edition (U.S.), 659 pages
Published October 1988 by Henry Holt & Co. (first published 1988)
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Tosh
Nov 28, 2007 Tosh rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
...more
Paul
Jan 22, 2011 Paul rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
One of the best biographies I've read. Superb. A really heavyweight treatment for a heavyweight character.
Matthew W
Mar 25, 2010 Matthew W rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"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
Mar 31, 2012 Ben Lovegrove rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: american-lit
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.
Phillip
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.
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
Nov 16, 2013 David B rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Jul 26, 2010 Stephen Bird rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Tim
Jan 12, 2015 Tim rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography, america
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
...more
Gravity
Dec 15, 2007 Gravity rated it it was amazing  ·  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!
Jeff
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
Jan 02, 2014 GK Stritch rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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"

http://www.beatdom.com/?p=2747


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

www.beatdom.com/?p=2636


"Dream of Ridiculous Me"

www.beatdom.com/?p=2892
Petersfo
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.
Thomas
Mar 04, 2008 Thomas rated it it was amazing  ·  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.
Andrew
Feb 16, 2008 Andrew rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Tommy
Feb 04, 2009 Tommy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Excellent book. Must read for Beats. Only the Lou Reed part is faulty.
Michael Wilson
Jan 18, 2009 Michael Wilson rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
...more
Nicholas
Aug 04, 2013 Nicholas rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
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
...more
Denton McCabe
I love Burroughs' work and I have done a lot of back reading to understanding his dense writing, delving into books like The Necronomicon, Book 4 by Crowley, Shakespeare, The Bible (#notjoking), books on drugs, etc.

My main problem with this book is that it is a very engaging read until Burroughs begins to write Naked Lunch, and then - for the typical Burroughs fan - it becomes page after page of information one has assimilated previously in one periodical or another.

So, yes, a very engaging re
...more
Al L
Jan 24, 2014 Al L rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
David
May 01, 2012 David rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jul 13, 2014 Emer Martin rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
Ryan Page
May 02, 2016 Ryan Page rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Incredible document of Burroughs and the scene surrounding him. Wish the author could have cut the little outbursts on punk rock and other trivial things where he jumps out of his role of biographer/historian and turns into a cranky uncle for several paragraphs, but it's ultimately a minor complaint. More generally in the second half, the writing feels slightly rushed in places. Regardless, highly recommended reading, and a very useful historical document.
Omar Ali
Nov 25, 2014 Omar Ali rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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).
Cherie
Jun 16, 2014 Cherie rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, beats
This extremely long biography of William S. Burroughs rambled a bit too much for my taste. DNF.
John Millard
Oct 01, 2015 John Millard rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Well written and easier to understand then many of his actual works.
Brian O'neill
May 01, 2016 Brian O'neill rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Outstanding - the most complete Burroughs Biography.
Leonard Makin
Feb 17, 2016 Leonard Makin rated it it was amazing


I LIKE WILLIAM BURROUGHS. THIS BOOK GIVES A COMPLETE PICTURE OF THE WRITER WITHOUT ANY
SANITIZING OF DETAILS.
IT AMOUNTS TO A HISTORY OF THE BEAT MOVEMENT WITH ANECDOTAL SNAPSHOTS OF KEROUAC AND
GINSBERG.
THOROUGHLY ENJOYED READING IT - AND FOR SUCH A LONG BOOK - NEVER LOST INTEREST - COULDN'T
WAIT TO PICK IT UP AND CONTINUE.
GAVE THE NOVELS A BACKGROUND, AS IT WERE, MADE ME WANT TO RE-READ THEM ALL AGAIN, WITH
MORE INSIGHT, PLACED THEM INTO THE CONTEXT OF BURROUGHS' LIFE WHEN HE WAS WRITING TH
...more
Shane
May 11, 2015 Shane rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Fantastic autobiography.
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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.
More about Ted Morgan...

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