The Beat Books

As a follow-up to my previous post, I wanted to throw out there for everyone some of the best/my personal favorite books on the Beats (excluding their poetry here, of course) that I came across during my research for my own book, The Trickster in Ginsberg: A Critical Reading. (And, just so you know, I also highly recommend that everyone check out their local libraries for this stuff — public/local libraries are often surprisingly well stocked and responsive to order requests! I’m all for selling books but libraries are amazing and dramatically underutilized resources.)

Jonah Raskin, American Scream

This book is incredible! Raskin has a terrific narrative voice and uses it to craft a dynamic history of the Beats during the time of Ginsberg’s construction of Howl. This book is chock-full of delicious details you aren’t likely to find elsewhere and is extremely well researched. Definitely worth a read for anyone who loves Ginsberg, the Beats, poetry, or who simply appreciates a well written history.

Jason Shinder, The Poem that Changed America: “Howl” Fifty Years Later

I cannot speak highly enough of this anthology. It provides an impressive diversity of writing styles and includes pieces by non-American writers (though this component could have been significantly expanded, in my opinion), demonstrating how Howl impacted not only American audiences but readers as far as Transylvania as well. Shinder brought in writers you’ll recognize immediately as well as writers you likely haven’t encountered before. I also appreciate this anthology for just how reflective it invited its contributing authors to be; this freedom resulted in a collection of pieces that are both informative and emotional, giving us a unique glimpse into how this poem intimately touched some of our great critical minds.

Lewis Hyde, Trickster Makes This World: Mischief, Myth, and Art 

love Lewis Hyde!! His writing is so smooth and so enjoyable that you’ll find yourself immediately reaching for another of his books. In Trickster Makes This World, he weaves in personal narrative and reflection with rigorous research to create a truly unique introduction to the concept of “the Trickster.” In this work, he also discusses Allen Ginsberg specifically and how Ginsberg demonstrated or possessed certain trickster characteristics. He incorporates a wild array of elements and ideas into one solid and clear narrative — Hyde’s got game.

Allen Ginsberg, 50th Anniversary Edition of Howl: Original Draft Facsimile Edition

This is Amazing! I mean, if you are interested in Howl, this is absolutely a resource you need to check out. It includes tons of material from the original manuscripts (including edits from Kerouac and other contributors) as well as pages and pages of annotations and edits from the author himself, Ginsberg. His annotations are invaluable for understanding his thought processes behind certain components of the poem and its composition. His annotations are also very useful for reconstructing different parts of Beat history and characters such as William Cannastra. And, if you’re interested in learning more about the “stream of consciousness” writing style, this is a great guide for seeing it in action.


And here are a few others to definitely check out but that I’m too lazy to write about at the moment (we are in the middle of a major move, after all):

Bill Morgan & Nancy J. Peters, Howl on Trial: The Battle for Free Expression

Brenda Knight, Women of the Beat Generation

Anne Waldman, The Beat Book: Writings from the Beat Generation

John Tytell, Naked Angels: Kerouac, Ginsberg, Burroughs

Gary Snyder and Allen Ginsberg, The Selected Letters of Allen Ginsberg and Gary Snyder ***Another one of my favorites!!

Bill Morgan, I Celebrate Myself: The Somewhat Private Life of Allen Ginsberg


What are your favorite Beat books? And do forgive me for the brevity of the list — it’s not meant to be comprehensive by any means 🙂


3 thoughts on “The Beat Books”

  1. Not a book, but let me suggest the collection of Ginsberg’s personal kodak photographs. The collection was shown originally at the National Gallery of Art in 2010, as “Beat Memories: The Photographs of Allen Ginsberg.” I was fortunate to see the exhibit when it first opened (actually I saw it at the National Gallery the day before the official opening of the exhibit, but that’s another story for another day). I believe the exhibit has been traveling the museum circuit intermittently ever since.

  2. You should also check out “A Different Kind of Beat” which is an anthology of writings from the often forgotten women of the Beat Generation. And so many, many more… but I can’t think of them at the moment. (I used to read everything I could get my hands on by/about the Beats, but that was several years ago)

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