on 22 September 2000
An exhaustive and brilliantly executed biography of 'the most famous poet in America', Allen Ginsberg. The reader is left feeling simultaneously up-lifted and saddened by the life and premature death of Ginsberg of lung cancer in 1997. When Howl was first published in 1956, little did Ginsberg realise the public backlash this small, anonymous looking book would achieve. The obscenity trial that followed would prove to be a triumph for literary freedom of speech over censorship and Ginsberg and other 'members' of the so-called Beat Generation would reach a wider audience than ever before. His next book of poetry, Kaddish, followed in 1961, then immortality beckoned. But Ginsberg's life was not just poetry. He was a life long supporter of many causes - he was the first poet to begin a charity for inpoverished writers and artists and championed gay rights (he himself was notoriously wonderfully flagrantly gay), not to mention the numerous other human rights causes he believed in. I would not be exaggerating if I was to call Ginsberg the voice and activist of the 60's. 'Ginsberg' chronicles the life, loves and many adventures of the last real literary character of the 20th century - a writer with true integrity, an indefatigable vigour for life, a role-model and most importantly (but sometimes forgotten), a true literary genius. However, this book never loses sight of Ginsberg's downfalls, and whilst Barry Miles was a close friend of Ginsberg he never enters into sycophant territory and due to this friendship, we are privy to certain details which only Ginsberg himself could have contributed. This is the only biography to read this year. A Great Loss Indeed.
on 4 February 2007
This is a great biography about one of the greatest poets in the XXth century. It's a little bit long, though, but Barry Miles prose is so fluent that is really easy to read for hours in a row. In almost 600 pages, he narrates not only Ginsberg's life, but also analyses his poetry, explains Howl and Kaddish and gives lots of details about the Greenwich Village days of the Beat Generation.
So, if you like Ginsberg's poetry (or poetry in general...), if you have a fascination with the Beats or simply like biographies, you should definitely buy this book.
on 10 June 2011
The poetry of Ginsberg cn be quite daunting if you dont have a background knowledge of what it actually means. There are a lot of personal lines and references to things that the reader will not understand.
This is where this book is invaluable. Not only does it give a fantastic description of Allen's life and his relationship to the other beats, place and controversy in society and the impact his work has had upon whole swathes of people, it opens up Ginsbergs poetry so it can be understood and placed in context. An example is the book references to carl solomon who is the chief subject of Howl. The book reads really well and a hundred pages can just fly past! Highly recommended