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Allen Ginsberg: A Biography

4.22  ·  Rating details ·  453 ratings  ·  31 reviews
Allen Ginsberg occupies a significant, enduring position in American literature. Following his death in '97, Barry Miles has drawn on both his long friendship with the poet & on Ginsberg's journals & correspondence to produce an immensely readable account of one of the 20th century's most extraordinary poets.
Childhood: Paterson
A Columbia education: the origins of the Beat
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Paperback, 640 pages
Published 2002 by Virgin Books (first published 1989)
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On the Road by Jack KerouacChronicles by Bob DylanJunky by William S. BurroughsHowl and Other Poems by Allen GinsbergQueer by William S. Burroughs
Beatniks
150 books — 14 voters
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Tristy
This is one of the best biographies I have ever read, and at 585 pages, it is a commitment! Barry Miles blends Ginsberg's own words beautifully with newspaper and historical accounts of the time. As Miles says in the Afterword, Ginsberg gave Miles complete access to his unpublished letters and journals. What a treasure! Ginsberg's continuous approach to authenticity is astounding and completely inspiring. And I love how Miles does not sugar-coat Ginsberg's life. True to how Ginsberg approached h ...more
Alex Kurtagic
Feb 25, 2016 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
This detailed biography of the vile Beat poet and pederast is both eye-opening and eye-watering on a variety of levels. Seldom does one read about a creepier and more revolting individual. In the 1960s he came to embody the hippie movement, of which he could for a while—too long, in fact—be regarded as the living cliché, despite being much older than the addled youths he helped to lead astray. A clear example if there was any of an influential figure whose influence was entirely negative and was ...more
Jonathan
Apr 30, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: lives, poetry, queer-lit
This is a sizeable biography of Allen Ginsberg, but I loved every moment reading it. Barry Miles writes with authority and details all the major events of his subject's life in a non-judgemental way, much like Ginsberg himself. Some of the things he got up to were no doubt shocking to the establishment at the time, especially as many considered him America's most well known (if not lauded) living poet for much of his life, but he was resilient to all forms of criticism, whether it was his person ...more
Susan
Apr 04, 2017 rated it it was amazing
One of the best bios I have ever read. 'Nuff said!
Kelly Proudfoot
Feb 13, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This was the book that solidified my love for Allen Ginsberg - and the Beat Generation. Barry Miles is one of the best biographers around. He's thorough, a true story-teller, compassionate - yet - not starry eyed. (I also loved Pink Floyd: A Visual Documentary, Jack Kerouac: King of the Beats: A Portrait, The Beat Hotel: Ginsberg, Burroughs, and Corso in Paris, 1958-1963 and William S. Burroughs: A Life.)

In Allen Ginsberg: A Biography - I was deeply moved by the story of his mother, Naomi - who
...more
Zack Andresen
Oct 16, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Barry Miles is the ultimate Beats know-all. This book was amazing.
W. Koistinen
May 12, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: biography
Have been reading about Ginsberg mostly through Burroughs biographies. The only book I half read about Allen was Morgan's "I Celebrate Myself", which tells Allen's life through his diaries. I think Miles' book gives better overall picture, so if I had to choose one, it would be this. Nothing really new here, but ok read. Quite long, but there's also a lot of things happening all the time, so not boring. For me the biggest revelation was how instrumental Allen was in making that generational shif ...more
David
Jun 16, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I've read many books by Barry Miles, on the beats, Bukowski etc and he's always able to dot all the eyes and cross all the t's. It seems he knows more about the persons life than the person. ginsberg's life is incredible from jewish scholrarly kid from NJ to Columbia to hanging with criminals to being the original beat with burroughs and keroauc, to writing howl on the west coast, LSD, eastern meditation, its too much to even list.

but the seminal moment in book was the incident at naropa when g
...more
Sarah Rigg
Sep 05, 2019 rated it really liked it
I was juggling this, a collection of his poems, and his letters to Neal Cassady all during my sophomore year of college. I got obsessed with the Beats and read a lot by them/about them in my teens and early 20s.
Heidi Eckman
Jun 19, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
My first biography that I have ever read and I loved it!
Erica Basnicki
Jun 23, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A monster of a book that I couldn’t put down. Thoroughly researched and superbly written. Never have I read such a compelling biography!
Erik Graff
Nov 11, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Ginsberg fans
Recommended to Erik by: no one
Shelves: biography
Ginsberg's Howl was an important poem in high school, the City Lights publication of it being proffered to my friend Richard by his older brother Steve and read by Richard, Hank and myself, some of it aloud, in the basement of Richard and Steve's parents, a regular hang-out in those days. Later, I obtained my own copy, reading it silently, and went on to read Walt Whitman on my own, beyond the little that had been assigned for English class, so similar were their styles.

I "met" Ginsberg during t
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emma
Aug 03, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Enjoyed this immensely. At almost 600 pages it can look a tad daunting on the bookshelf, but it's extremely readable. A couple of other reviews mentioned too much detail - personally I thought it struck the perfect balance, giving enough detail to give a good sense of time and place without leading to glazed eyes. It's not an easy read, there's a lot of tragedy and senseless death and mental destruction, but it gives a valuable, unvarnished view of the lives Ginsberg and the other Beat sorts - K ...more
Jake
Jul 14, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
An informative look into the life of Ginsberg and those close to him. Although I did appreciate the read I wouldn't say that it was enjoyable. Too many talented people falling to pieces when a little common sense could have made the difference. This crew participated in an invigorating and unusual lifestyle. Miles reveals inner workings and developments of an important subculture launch pad. The most valuable aspect of Ginsberg's life was his unyielding support of friends and those he believed ...more
Yehya Kouzi
Dec 18, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This was the best book I read this year! I'm grateful I'm in love with such a poet. It's not easy to get a love affair with a man from the 20th century. But Here I AM! I LOVE ALLEN GINSBERG. The first time I read HOWL ( the banned book), I felt the urge to dig into the many lives of such a marvelous revolutionary figure. This can go on and on. If you ask me about Him I'd keep talking till dawn and I'd still have things to say. Ginsberg had a big influence that propagates still on two major issue ...more
Katie
Jul 05, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A great, personal biography, albeit with a feeling of incompleteness (no mention of the NAMBLA scandal and other things I wanted to learn more about). But really powerful looks at Allen's difficult childhood, his extensive world travels, and how his ideas helped shape the 60s.

As a student of Ginsberg's Jack Kerouac School, it ended up giving me the feeling of reading a religious text, an origin story of our dear poet leader who was a prophet and a catalyst in so many ways. Definitely worth a rea
...more
Jack Brånfelt
Dec 02, 2015 rated it it was ok
Mostly very entertaining, delving deep into the poetry and character of Ginsberg, as well as the bohemian 50s and the counter culture of the 60s; however the portraits of Kerouac - the drunk, misogynistic right-wing, psuedo-buddhist - and Burroughs - emotionally disturbed junkie - clearly lacks nuances in order to enhance the saintliness of Ginsberg (though also quite a fresh perspective when combined with other, not nearly as negative, biographies about the two (such as Ann Carter's biography o ...more
Michael
Jul 21, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography
Excellent book. I don't know that I consider Ginsberg to be one of the major poets of the 20th Century, but he certainly is a top minor poet. He also is probably one of the most famous poets of the last century.
His life is inspiring to me, and it was fun to read about all the things he did in addition to writing his poetry. Great to compare and contrast to my own life. How much of an artist am I?
Rennie
Sep 05, 2012 rated it really liked it
Always great to read of these characters adventures.. what a crazy world.. makes me want to travel even more to far and exotic lands... Had to knock a star off because I didn't enjoy all the stuff about Kerouac.. Did not understand just how much of a mean and asshole drunk he became in later years.. Ginsberg is one crazy dude.
Emma
Oct 22, 2012 rated it liked it
Ah, the Beats. An intriguing bunch of characters. Enjoyed reading about Ginsberg and friends. The level of detail made it tough going at times but it was worth sticking it out. It's rare to find a biography so rich in detail and with so many interviews with really integral people in the subject's life. This crew were not only from another time, they were from another planet.
Lockhart
Aug 25, 2008 rated it it was amazing
A very readable and sympathetic portrait of this great poet who led an incredible and quixotic life. The book will encourage you to seek out more of the great man's work and enhance your understanding, not just of Ginsberg's work but of modern poetry generally.
David Clement
Aug 05, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I loved this book. A thorough and non-biased account of one of the most controversial figures of the past 50+ years. Few polarise opinion like Ginsberg and this book examines the the doubts and uncertainties that troubled him as well as the creative highs that characterised his successes.
James
A great biography that sometimes gets bogged down in excessive detail about hard drugs and sex, but it's still a great resource for anyone intersted in this fascinating figure in American poetry.
Haylee
Oct 06, 2010 rated it it was amazing
I love Barry Miles. When I took "The Life and Works of William S. Burroughs" in college he came and spoke to our class. I have read several of his books and have enjoyed them all.
Chris
Feb 14, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
One of the most rapid fire, compelling biographies I have encountered. Great fun to dip into: what a character!
Just A. Bean
Oct 22, 2012 rated it really liked it
Well laid out, accessible, not afraid to shy from controversy, and very connected to his poetry. Pretty much every thing I want in a biography.
SJ
Jan 17, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Just finished this epic biography - had no idea Ginsberg was so interesting and so intrumental in so much of what we take for granted today - a totally recommended must read.
Tracy Laaveg
Jul 13, 2013 rated it really liked it
Very compelling, thoughtful, and detailed story of a remarkable man. I enjoyed reading this book.
Samantha Emily Evans
May 01, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Amazing! Great overview- very entertaining.
Vin
Apr 27, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Heart. Heart. Heart.
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Author of several books and biographies, most pertaining to musicians and the sixties.

Miles has written biographies of Paul McCartney, The Beatles, William Burroughs, Jack Kerouac, Frank Zappa, Charles Bukowski and Allen Ginsberg, in addition to books on John Lennon, The Beatles and The Clash.

He is occasionally inaccurately credited as "Miles Mabbett" due to his co-authoring a book with Andy Mabb
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