A stunningly rich set of letters that at times reads like a new Kerouac novel. The ground covered here will not be new to those who have read Charters's biography of the writer (Jack Kerouac: A Life, not reviewed), but the sheer pleasure of hearing Kerouac's voice in this correspondence makes it well worth reading. The letters cover the years from Kerouac's college days at Columbia (1940-44) through 1956, when On the Road was published; it was the period in which he produced most of works that later made him famous. Through his correspondence with his mother, sister, Allen Ginsberg, Neal Cassady, William S. Burroughs, and others, we see the young writer's reactions to his circumstances and the growth of his self-understanding as a literary artist. The long letters back and forth between Kerouac and Ginsberg offer a valuable reminder that these revolutionary stylists were also deeply traditional in their belief that study of those who had preceded them was essential: They read, reread, discussed, dissected, and sometimes revered writers ranging from Percy Bysshe Shelley to Thomas Wolfe. Burroughs appears larger than life as he both engages and eludes his peers in the generation that would redefine American literature. The near-constant flow of family communication is perhaps even more delightful, as the young artist reports on his wild travels to his doting mother and loving sister. Selections describing events that show up later in the novels -- Kerouac's first meetings with Neal and Carolyn Cassady in Denver, promiscuous indulgences in Mexico, long cross-country road trips, dissipations in New York City -- will be irresistible to fans of Jack and the Beats. Throughout, Kerouac comes across as a sincere and honest soul who was fiercely devoted to friends, family, and the search for passionate experience and art. Its value for scholars shouldn't obscure this terrific volume's broader appeal.