First, and foremost, John Suiter's exceptional photos and detailed biographical text in Poets on the Peaks are NOT, as the previous reviewer wrote, merely "The history of Kerouac's 'rucksack mode'...co-starring Gary Snyder & Philip Whalen." On the contrary, it is so much more than this; it is the story of the 50's Zeitigeist, when much of American cultural discourse expanded to include the more rugged, natural venacular of the West Coast. In this sense, Snyder (born and raised on the West Coast) and Whalen play the leading roles, in my opinion, while Kerouac plays a lesser role (though not slighted in the least by Suiter).
Don't get me wrong - I dig Kerouac. But this fecund book is more about the a cultural movement, say, the interaction between the old, established East Coast literary tradition (from which Kerouac was fleeing but could never quite break away) and the new, wildy independent West Coast tradition, headed up by the likes of Rexroth and Jeffers, than it is about any single poet.
Logistically, the photos are superb. Also, readers already familiar with Snyder, Whalen, and Kerouac will find new tidbits of information here, I think. Suiter simply KNOWS his subject, inside and out, from the mountains to the poets to the sacred Buddhist texts that so inspired them. For example, Suiter's description of Snyder's epiphany on reading the Diamond Sutra while hitch hiking was, for me, simply sublime; but to Suiter's credit, he presents such moments in an understated, matter of fact way.
Finally, I would like to offer a personal insight from the book. It seems to me that an individual can - and usually does, at some point in their life - come face to face with the universe, or in this case the Void so represented by the mountains, and go radically in one of two directions: flip out, like Kerouac, seeing the world as infinitely meaningless, and therefore sad (read: Desolation Angels); or imbue the emptiness, like Snyder (and the Buddhist tradition), with one's own meaning, seeing the world as infinitely playful and beautiful. Artistically speaking, neither response is inherently more correct, I would argue, but the latter is certainly healthier, I should think, judging by how long Snyder has been around (vs. Kerouac's alcoholic demise).
I cannot recommed this text enough.