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Kerouac: A Biography

4.10  ·  Rating details ·  1,508 ratings  ·  38 reviews
Now that Kerouac's major novel, On the Road is accepted as an American classic, academic critics are slowly beginning to catch up with his experimental literary methods and examine the dozen books comprising what he called 'the legend of Duluoz.' Nearly all of his books have been in print internationally since his death in 1969, and his writing has been discovered and enjo ...more
Paperback, 432 pages
Published October 15th 1994 by St. Martin's Griffin (first published 1973)
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 ·  1,508 ratings  ·  38 reviews

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Paul Bryant
Nov 17, 2007 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: ex-hitch hikers
Shelves: biography
This is strange and I don't understand it. The received idea is that once On The Road beat-fame sluiced all over Kerouac's life he couldn't take it and he became a misanthropic drunk and eventually a dead beat, at the age of 47, cursing everything and everyone but especially the hippies he had so inspired. Most of that is true, but this 12 year burn-out goes like this :

The Dharma Bums (1958)
Lonesome Traveler, short story collection (1960)
Big Sur (1962)
Desolation Angels (1965)
Satori in Paris
Jul 04, 2008 rated it really liked it
The definitive biography of Jack Kerouac. Helps dispell the myth of Kerouac as a total free spirit and liberated beatnik who helped pave the way for the sixties. Rather, it shows him to be the extremely conflicted man that he was, caught between two opposing value systems that he could not reconcile within himself and that eventually destroyed him, leaving him to retreat into isolation, alcoholism, and closed-mindedness at the end of his unfortunately short life.
I recommend paring this reading
Simon Robs
"On The Road," the "Little Rock Nine" and "Sputnik" all came about in Sept./Oct. of 1957, oh, and so did I - looking back now with age creeping in at the corners of memory to worldly events surrounding one's birth and wondering if along with DNA could these outside dynamics play a role as imprints on un/consciousness? I, without full credulity, [like to] think so, in that once denied borders were crossed, new horizons were envisioned and doors of perception flung wide open to the making it new.

Ronald Wise
Jul 22, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I don't think I've ever ready anything by Kerouac, but this was the second time I've read this biography from my personal library. Coincidentally I read it this time when the 50th anniversary of the publishing of his On the Road was being noted in the media, and so I heard a lot of supplemental biographical information on National Public Radio. It also meant more to me this time because I've had close personal encounters with individuals in the last five years who were selfish and/or self-destru ...more
Jan 15, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Excellent, intimate look at Kerouac's adult life. Nicosia's biography is richer, with more information and analysis of each of Kerouac's books. Where Charters succeeds is in giving us a vivid portrait of the tragedy of Jack Kerouac's life - a masterful, groundbreaking writer whose influence can still be felt, and the deeply flawed man. Jack Kerouac was Beat in both senses of the word. He was beaten down, crushed by his shyness and self doubts, as well as the pressures of being a celebrity. He wa ...more
Sep 14, 2008 rated it it was ok

Interesting...don't know how objective it is. Charters is good about putting all the facts in, but manages to excuse a lot of things that, if you were close to Kerouac and his compatriots, were probably not excusable. I enjoyed reading something set in the 1940s and 50s that wasn't Donna Reed-esque...reinforces that all the societal problems we have today were around, the mainstream and media just ignored them.
Feb 11, 2012 rated it liked it
I would have given it more stars, if I hadn't read "Memory Babe". If you're looking for a brief overview of Kerouac's life, Charter's book will suit you just fine. If you're really interested in the beat generation, Kerouac and his work get the biography written by Nicosia. ...more
"In Lowell, Kerouac's grave still has no marker. Not that he would have cared. His books are evidence of his presence, the young Jack still alive on his pages to rush on to the next adventure so long as there are people who read the Legend of Duluoz." ❤️ ...more
Anna Ligtenberg
Oct 09, 2013 rated it really liked it
I've always reviewed books for semi-business-like reasons, but the ones I really love, own? Never. THAT felt a bit like... these are my friends, let's talk about strangers! Suddenly, I'd like to review my way through my own shelves before I die... and since I'm accident prone and living alone for the first time in eons... it seems like death by tripping down the stairs on the ragged hem of a pair of jeans... seems like that could be right around the corner, some days. Yep... Bob Dylan and Jack K ...more
George K. Ilsley
Somehow I've always managed to avoid reading this book. Even Charters is apologizing in the newish introduction. The book is at its worst with Buddhist elements. Kerouac desperately needed a teacher and Charters is even more lost trying to explain 3rd or 4th-hand Buddhist concepts to us. Life is Suffering is given as "Buddhist law" but it is merely an observation-- one of what is known as the four noble truths. Poor drunk Jack took refuge in suffering and his ego did not let go. There are three ...more
Bryan Duffy
Sep 28, 2007 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Kerouac fans
Will tell you every little secret you did and didnt want to know about Kerouac. Warning, you might not like the guys persona after reading it. Youll respect him more as a writer...but youll find some things about him that you may not have found in his novels.

Jason Evans
Nov 13, 2007 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: all kerouac fans
Shelves: biography
I realize you think you know all about Jack's life because that is what he mainly writes about, right? Not so fast my friend! Ann takes you behind the scenes, the real stories and Jack's maniacal writing sessions, fast and frenzied. Good read for Kerouac fans. ...more
Dec 02, 2007 rated it really liked it
a good critical work about kerouac's life and writing. gets under the public and mythic persona that has developed. ...more
Oct 02, 2008 rated it really liked it
My favorite bio on Dulouse! Charter gets her info right as far as I know, and she did get to work with him before he died. And I like Charter's style...lays it down, very readable. ...more
Harriett Milnes
May 26, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: 3-star-books
enjoyable, easy to read, sad at the end.
Joseph Cochran
Jan 13, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Definitive Biography of one of the greatest writers of all time. Kudos to Charters on the Research
Don Clark jr
Mar 23, 2013 rated it it was amazing
this is a Kerouac biography that I revisit at least once a year. Ann Charters gives me a glimpse into a world I can only wish I had been born early enough to witness firsthand.
Feb 03, 2011 rated it it was amazing
One of the great bios I've read. ...more
Jun 24, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I fell in love with On the Road, then The Dharma Bums, then Big Sur, then his poetry, then things here and there. Kerouac was my go-to. I thought I knew him like an old friend, "ol' reliable." And then I read this biography by Ann Charters, which gave me an entirely different perspective on the life and times of my beloved Kerouac. I'll be honest, it's a hard pill to swallow at times. There are things about Kerouac's life and behavior that are hard to come to terms with after having revered him ...more
Feb 08, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Magnificent. It would be hard to write a book about Jack Kerouac that isn't interesting to be honest, but I feel Ann Charters does a fantastic job here. I was entertained throughout the whole book, even though at times Mr Kerouac's life was seriously dragging... The author never dwindles on a topic or segment of his life for too long, and the story skips along and gives us all the great juicy gossip that is Jacks life from the age of four to his death, and boy did I learn a thing or too about Ja ...more
May 19, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
3.5 / Really enjoyed reading this. Gave me a good idea of Kerouac's life to understand his works better and the time he lived in. Charters knew him so what she wrote seems more realistic and accurate than biographies of people just studying his works. I also really liked that its not just about him but also his friends and the people who influenced him. She doesn't conceal his bad characteristics though not giving a subjective opinion about them e.g. denying child support and care for his childr ...more
Aug 09, 2017 rated it really liked it
Good in-depth read on the life of Jack Kerouac.
Jan 21, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: biography
An excellent biography. Perfect to take to the beach and read passages out loud to friends. which is what I did.
Guy Salvidge
Oct 25, 2019 rated it liked it
Kinda skimmed over this. Not sure why I felt the need to read a second Kerouac biography after Jack's Book, really. ...more
Charles Cuthill
Jul 10, 2020 rated it liked it
Great, thoroughly researched book. Cassidy, Ginsberg, Kerouac are all brought to life. These were wild and interesting writers at the peak of their abilities in the conservative 40's and 50's. ...more
Tyson Call
Sep 04, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I had always read that Kerouac was troubled, leading a tumultuous life before finally dying from the effects of severe alcohol abuse. This was always the summary—his end glossed over like it was expected of any hedonistic deviant. This bothered me, as after reading On the Road a few times I had an inkling that the man was actually sweet and mostly harmless, despite the reputation that he obtained through the counter-culture content and themes of his books. I wondered why a writer who was as belo ...more
Mar 03, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: beat-poets
I was pretty disappointed with Charters' biography of Kerouac. She's an acknowledged expert on the Beats, and certainly knew them about as well as anyone. Yet somehow this biography is incredibly dry. She never looks beyond the surface of what he said or did, just relates the facts as she knows them. There's little insight into motivations. She'll say he did something, but won't say if he did it on purpose, by accident, because he got paid to do it, or because he was drunk. It just left me wanti ...more
Jan 06, 2008 rated it really liked it
A thought out, intimate biography that reads like a narrative. charters seems to have done her homework compiling the life of a self destructive-alcoholic-zen loony-mommma's boy, who of course, captured the spirit of america in his writings.
read this book if you love kerouac's books, because if you love his books than you love his life. i warn you, though, its damn depressing, and whoever your ideal jack kerouac is, be prepeared for the real one to fall short.
Mar 08, 2015 rated it really liked it
Charters did a nice job of discussing his early work and the success he eventually found with On the Road, but I felt like her recounting of how his life spiraled downhill wasn't fleshed out enough.

Ultimately, Jack is presented as someone who desperately wanted to be a hero, but found that it came with consequences he couldn't handle. That message of the book was conveyed effectively and heart-wrenchingly.
Jul 27, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Sometimes I think that it takes a woman to write an honest biography, especially of a man, and I think that is exactly what Charters has done here. She sees through the mythology that has sprung up around Kerouac since his untimely death in 1969.

In some ways, this is a tale of men behaving badly, even shockingly at times. But it also a fascinating insight into a sub culture of the post war years and a country coming to terms with itself after t
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