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Literary Outlaw: The Life and Times of William S. Burroughs [Paperback]

Ted Morgan
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)

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Book Description

12 Dec 1991
William S. Burroughs, author of "Naked Lunch", "Junkie" and other underground classics, is an odd yet central literary figure. He has been in every sense an outlaw. He spent time in jail, he shot and killed his wife and he was a drug addict forced to spend much of his life in exile from the United States, often on the run. He flaunted his homosexuality at a time when it was a criminal offence. From his upbringing in a middle-class St Louis suburb, his life has been counter-cultural. This biography details his education at Harvard, his involvement with drugs and petty crime, his authorship of bizarre novels, and even his induction into the staid and august Institute of Arts and Letters. Ted Morgan tells Burroughs' story with a feeling for the times he lived through. He gives mention to the characters who inhabited his world - Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, Jean Genet, Mick Jagger, Paul Bowles and Samuel Beckett. The result is an account of an era and a writer's life.


Product details

  • Paperback: 672 pages
  • Publisher: Pimlico; New edition (12 Dec 1991)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0712650407
  • ISBN-13: 978-0712650403
  • Product Dimensions: 23.2 x 15.4 x 5.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 702,876 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating Life and Times of Cultural Icon 1 Nov 2007
Format:Paperback
This is no mere biography, but rather as the title suggests also a portrait of the times William Burroughs lived through, and to some extent even instigated. Burroughs lived a long and highly eventful life, and so the book details much travelling between four different continents, and a highly diverse cast list which includes some of the most famous artists and movers and shakers in the 20th century, from Jack Kerouac to Mick Jagger.

Born to a wealthy family, Burroughs rejected the upper-middle class life he saw and after his university educationn (and a period in between-wars Vienna studying medicine), he joined the legion of hustlers arond Times Square, eventually experimenting with and becoming addicted to heroin. But here, also, would converge the first glimmerings of the Beat generation, with friendships with Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg developing, as well as his relationship with Joan Vollmer, who would become his common-law wife despite his homosexuality. Morgan is frank about Burroughs' sexual needs and desires, just as Burroughs himself was, and it's fascinating to read about the fluidity of sexuality in different circumstances.

The settings and friendships change frequently throughout the book - Mexico, Tangiers, Paris, London, New York; people such as Al Ansen, Maurice Girodias, Timothy Leary, Brion Gysin, Samule Beckett, Alex Trocchi - but they are deftly drawn, and for anyone wishing for an overview of the counterculture in the post-war era, this book serves as an excellent intorduction. For Burroughs was at the start of the Beat generation; he worked with Tim Leary on the consciousness-expanding possibilties of LSD (and deplored the latter's methods); he was venerated by the punks; and later on even did a collaboration with Kurt Cobain and Sonic Youth.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A Thorough Depiction of Life and Times 25 Oct 2007
Format:Hardcover
This is no mere biography, but rather as the title suggests also a portrait of the times William Burroughs lived through, and to some extent even instigated. Burroughs lived a long and highly eventful life, and so the book details much travelling between four different continents, and a highly diverse cast list which includes some of the most famous artists and movers and shakers in the 20th century, from Jack Kerouac to Mick Jagger.

Born to a wealthy family, Burroughs rejected the upper-middle class life he saw and after his university educationn (and a period in between-wars Vienna studying medicine), he joined the legion of hustlers arond Times Square, eventually experimenting with and becoming addicted to heroin. But here, also, would converge the first glimmerings of the Beat generation, with friendships with Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg developing, as well as his relationship with Joan Vollmer, who would become his common-law wife despite his homosexuality. Morgan is frank about Burroughs' sexual needs and desires, just as Burroughs himself was, and it's fascinating to read about the fluidity of sexuality in different circumstances.

The settings and friendships change frequently throughout the book - Mexico, Tangiers, Paris, London, New York; people such as Al Ansen, Maurice Girodias, Timothy Leary, Brion Gysin, Samule Beckett, Alex Trocchi - but they are deftly drawn, and for anyone wishing for an overview of the counterculture in the post-war era, this book serves as an excellent intorduction. For Burroughs was at the start of the Beat generation; he worked with Tim Leary on the consciousness-expanding possibilties of LSD (and deplored the latter's methods); he was venerated by the punks; and later on even did a collaboration with Kurt Cobain and Sonic Youth.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Biography of a True Genius 9 Jan 2014
Format:Paperback
When I originally read this book it had just come out and Burroughs in his waif-like figure was still clinging onto life like it was the first step in the journey of the rest of his life. The man could of easily slipped into a routine early on after doing well in Harvard in the U.S.A. & his father (Or Grand-Parents) having invented one of the first adding machines. You can still see the make 'Burroughs' on ATM machines up and down America. He was given an allowance of $200 a month plenty in the late Mid-30's but he had no interest in following the Rat-Race (Maybe destroying the Rats). He met & lived Hubert Humble a fellow Junkie & they soon became firm friends, Bill, always dressed in a nice (Maybe a little thread-bare 3 piece suit) Hubert* *(I might have the names a little mixed up around here & even later in his life). Bill was still a little unaware of his Sexuality & he met & married & bore a Son with his 2nd wife Joan Vollmer, Billy Jnr. This happened later in his continually eventful life he had drawn attention to himself in New York City by hitting up Doctors for Prescriptions or just plain stealing them.After being knocked back by the Navy etc. (He probably made a meal of being Homo-sexual) he, along with a few other friends & acquaintances, he, Joan, & Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac, formed the embryonic stages of the Beat Generation (Not that Burroughs showed much interest).
In the mid-40's while others fought in WWII he finally got addicted to Morphine & their troubles increased when Lucien Carr shot & killed a homo-sexual lover with the Gun Vollmer had borrowed her then G.I. husband. They temporarily moved to New Orleans in 1948; where Joan rid herself of first husband & married Bill Snr. - it was 1946.
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