A first: the first serious critical study of the drug- and jazz-oriented writers of the '50's who came to be known as the beats. (Bruce Cook's The Beat Generation (1971) was more intimate and impressionistic.) Even now, twenty long years after the initial shockwave, ""Howl,"" On the Road and Naked Lunch are unsettling enough to ensure that this work will arouse controversy. Tytell's (English--Queens College, NY) introductory essay places the beats in a stifling, cold war, conformist cultural matrix, and nominates them as prophets of the social upheaval to come and as beacons of sanity in an increasingly one-dimensional America. Tytell has done all the scholarly homework, working from primary sources to chart the initial meetings of Burroughs, Ginsberg and Kerouac near the Columbia campus, where the older Burroughs supplied dope and modern literature to the green students whose academic experiences were limited to Galsworthy and Swinbume. Neal Cassady--and to a lesser extent, Buddhaphile Gary Snyder--provided a model for their hipster archetype. Of Tytell's critical evaluations of the beat canon, his essay on Ginsberg and the messianic tradition is most convincing if least complete. He may have overestimated the durability of Burroughs' cut-up hallucinations, but his homage to the naked angels-this band of infernal romantics in revolt against the Organization-is overdue and should confer some respectability on three long misunderstood literary pariahs.