A triumph of scholarship.

An exemplary biography of the Beat icon and his development as a writer.

With unprecedented access to the New York Public Library’s extensive Berg Collection of Kerouac artifacts, Johnson (Missing Men, 2005, etc.) tells the familiar story of the rise of the reluctant “king of the Beats” through the unfamiliar lens of his notebooks, manuscripts and correspondence with family, friends, lovers, editors and writers. The collection was unavailable to scholars for three decades, and access to it is still tightly controlled by the Kerouac estate. Johnson uses her opportunity as a pioneer in this new era of Kerouac scholarship to turn a laser-sharp focus on Kerouac’s evolving ideas about language, fiction vs. truth and the role of the writer in his time. She ends her chronology in late 1951, as Kerouac found the voice and method he’d employ for the rest of his brief career while seeking a publisher for On the Road and working on the novel he considered his masterpiece, Visions of Cody. While still detailing the chaotic and occasionally tragic events of the writer’s life—from mill-town football hero to multiply divorced dipsomaniac mama’s boy/cult idol—Johnson’s focus allows her to trace a trajectory of success rather than follow his painfully familiar decline into alcoholism and premature death. “[T]o me,” she writes, “what is important is Jack’s triumph in arriving at the voice that matched his vision.” Of perhaps most interest was her discovery of just how important his French-Canadian heritage was to Kerouac’s sense of identity. He considered its earthy patois his native language and seems to have translated his thoughts from it into the muscular English with which he’s associated. There’s plenty of life in these pages to fascinate casual readers, and Johnson is a sensitive but admirably objective biographer.

A triumph of scholarship.

Pub Date: Sept. 18, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-670-02510-7

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: July 31, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2012


The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006



Well-told and admonitory.

Young-rags-to-mature-riches memoir by broker and motivational speaker Gardner.

Born and raised in the Milwaukee ghetto, the author pulled himself up from considerable disadvantage. He was fatherless, and his adored mother wasn’t always around; once, as a child, he spied her at a family funeral accompanied by a prison guard. When beautiful, evanescent Moms was there, Chris also had to deal with Freddie “I ain’t your goddamn daddy!” Triplett, one of the meanest stepfathers in recent literature. Chris did “the dozens” with the homies, boosted a bit and in the course of youthful adventure was raped. His heroes were Miles Davis, James Brown and Muhammad Ali. Meanwhile, at the behest of Moms, he developed a fondness for reading. He joined the Navy and became a medic (preparing badass Marines for proctology), and a proficient lab technician. Moving up in San Francisco, married and then divorced, he sold medical supplies. He was recruited as a trainee at Dean Witter just around the time he became a homeless single father. All his belongings in a shopping cart, Gardner sometimes slept with his young son at the office (apparently undiscovered by the night cleaning crew). The two also frequently bedded down in a public restroom. After Gardner’s talents were finally appreciated by the firm of Bear Stearns, his American Dream became real. He got the cool duds, hot car and fine ladies so coveted from afar back in the day. He even had a meeting with Nelson Mandela. Through it all, he remained a prideful parent. His own no-daddy blues are gone now.

Well-told and admonitory.

Pub Date: June 1, 2006

ISBN: 0-06-074486-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Amistad/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2006

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