Ponderously serious book about a California cult upheaval that prefigured the better-known rage of hippie bohemianism. Applying the full academic treatment, self-described historian Maynard, a Californian, delivers a defeating book that seems always to be promising a breakthrough for its beatnik subjects--and yet releases them only in death. There are some fast pages midway where the beatniks of Venice West attain a single season in the sun, but the public appetite for fads moves on, and the town goes into a long, lingering death rattle that cannot lift Maynard's literary sociology into brilliance and great humor. Venice was founded in 1905 ``as a genteel retreat for esthetically-minded Los Angeles businessmen'' and quickly became ``the Coney Island of the West.'' The ocean-front town was built in imitation of Venice, Italy, with a Grand Canal, Bridge of Sighs, miles of canals, and imported Venetian gondolas. It was much in decay by the late 1950's (Orson Welles used it as the vile bordertown in 1958's Touch of Evil), when Lawrence Lipton was readying his research on his fellow Venice bohemians, to be called The Holy Barbarians. Lipton--who seems to have been an oddly repulsive fellow--surrounded himself with callow, unformed poets, wanted to make a big statement of his opinions, and chose to ride his friends as a hobbyhorse for his breast-beating and tub-thumping. Alas for Lipton, the Kerouac/Ginsberg axis stole much of his thunder, and Venice West never achieved quite the recognition of Haight Ashbury. Despite some early ink in Life magazine and time on TV, which suddenly threw a hot spotlight on Venice, the town soon closed up as a beat enclave and its greatest literary lights (dim bulbs all) could not survive drugs, cancer, madness, or old age. What should have been a lively, eccentric book wilts under a pall of dreary sociology.