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Burning Furiously Beautiful: The True Story of Jack Kerouac's On the Road

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Fueled by coffee and pea soup, Jack Kerouac speed-typed On the Road in just three weeks in April 1951. He’d been traveling America for the past ten years and now, at last, the furious energy of his experiences flowed through his fingertips in a mad rush, pealing forth on a makeshift scroll that he laboriously taped together. The On the Road scroll has since become literary legend, and now Burning Furiously Beautiful sets the record straight, uncovering, among other things, the true story behind one of America’s greatest novels.

Burning Furiously Beautiful explores the real lives of the key characters of the novel—Sal Paradise, Dean Moriarty, Carlo Marx, Old Bull Hubbard, Camille, Marylou, and others. Ride along on the real-life adventures through 1940s America that inspired On the Road. By tracing the evolution of Kerouac’s literary development and revealing his startlingly original writing style, this book explains how it took years—not weeks—to ultimately write the seemingly sporadic 1957 novel, On the Road. This revised and expanded edition of Jack Kerouac’s American Journey (2007) takes a closer look at the rise of Jack Kerouac and the Beat Generation.

Paul Maher Jr. is the author of the critically acclaimed biography Kerouac: His Life and Work and Empty Phantoms: Interviews and Encounters with Jack Kerouac.

Stephanie Nikolopoulos is an editor and writer based in New York City.

Maher and Nikolopoulos are currently co-authoring Visions of Kerouac for Rowman & Littlefield (2014).


First published January 1, 2013

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About the author

Paul Maher Jr.

33 books28 followers
Maher was born in Amarillo, Texas, where his father was stationed in the Air Force. Shortly afterwards the family moved to Lowell, Massachusetts, where Maher remained through childhood. Upon graduating from Dracut High School, he joined the United States Navy where he served in the Persian Gulf aboard the USS Ramsey. Upon discharge, Maher returned to Lowell. He attended Middlesex Community College and the University of Massachusetts Lowell, where he obtained an undergraduate degree in American studies. He later completed a master's degree in Education with a concentration in English.

From 2004 through the present, Maher authored and edited seven books for publication. He has been translated and published in five countries.

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Displaying 1 - 4 of 4 reviews
Profile Image for Meg.
417 reviews178 followers
January 17, 2023
Opening chapter has some good energy but it gets tiresome quick, and if I hadn't been trying to ferret out some information for a potential essay I definitely would have abandoned this one.
1,139 reviews13 followers
July 30, 2018
Confession: I’m conflicted about On the Road. I love the poetry of its prose and some of the beautiful glimpses of people and places who had been overlooked until the Beats started telling their stories. However, women and people of color are still in the background in his novel, and the character based on Neal Cassady, even when toned down for the page,is a tool. What I appreciate about Burning Furiously Beautiful is its emphasis on both what I considered the strengths and weaknesses of Kerouac’s novel. This book surpasses its source material by leaving out no detail of Jack Kerouac’s influences and experiences that helped create the classic On the Road. His and his friends’ flaws receive plenty of attention as well.

By taking a distanced, warts-and-all approach, the authors show not only why the work has been meaningful for readers past and present, but also for the original author himself and the culture that surrounded him. Drawing attention to all the beauty and ugliness in the true story, this story behind the story is remarkable and beautiful on its own. Kerouac and Cassady were self-centered jerks, but the former witnessed a lot of beauty and left a striking witness of it. By focusing on the right details, Burning Furiously Beautiful is a work of art in its own right.
Profile Image for David Lee.
2 reviews
May 31, 2020
An intimate and insightful examination that brings new information and insights to our understanding of the Jack and his Generation.
Profile Image for Taylor Church.
Author 4 books15 followers
October 28, 2014
I am honored to be the first person to review this lovely and well-written book. I love Jack Kerouac, and have read 4 of his books thus far. A biography was just what I needed to fuel me forward to finish is collective works. The author clearly was passionate about the subject matter, and spared no time in researching and fact checking. It probably needs to be mentioned that you should familiarize yourself with the Beat Generation and at least On The Road before you start reading this, but it is splendid and worth the read for any fan of the beatnik revolution or the life and endless charisma of Mr. Jack Kerouac.
Displaying 1 - 4 of 4 reviews

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