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William S. Burroughs: A Life Hardcover – 6 Feb 2014

4.9 out of 5 stars 10 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 736 pages
  • Publisher: W&N (6 Feb. 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0297867253
  • ISBN-13: 978-0297867258
  • Product Dimensions: 16.2 x 5 x 23.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 70,818 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Review

'Occult guru, literary genius, dystopian visionary, violent psychopath - no post-war writer has been so mythologised.'

(THE DAILY TELEGRAPH)

'...An astonishing and wholly successful attempt to give order to the glorious, terrifying chaos of Burroughs's long life. This 700-page book reads like a picaresque adventure and is utterly compelling.' (PD Smith THE GUARDIAN)

Burrough's work I can do without. But the life- the life! The example of the life is indispensable: The ultimate un-American Dream... Barry Miles's book... has a kind of speed-freak intensity, with every detail recalled and brought vividly to life, a book of a million wows... Giant, blistering, painful warts, reproduced in brilliant Technicolour. A 700-page literary anatomy textbook: one of the most gratifying, sickening detailed biographies I have ever read. (Ian Sansom LITERARY REVIEW)

It is an action-packed, sensational story (Edmund Gordon THE SUNDAY TIMES)

Barry Miles has achieved something quite phenomenal: 600 oppressive yet irresistible pages that recount in intricate detail a sordid life...Miles is a great admirer of his subject, worked with him for 30 years and catalogued his archives. Yet despite that close connection he has produced a biography remarkable for its detachment and devoid of the obsessive worship that characterises the Burroughs cult. The life of this disturbing and disturbed man has never been so perfectly told. (Gerard deGroot THE TIMES)

William S. Burroughs lived his life in the grand transgressive tradition of Lord Byron and Oscar Wilde and, like all dandies, he had a nose for hedonistic hot sports which he could mythologise along with himself. On the occasion of his centenary, Barry Miles takes us through these gorgeous, macabre scenarios with an attention to detail reminiscent of Dadd of Bosch... (Duncan Fallowell THE SPECTATOR)

Mile's biography separates the cult from the man and shows us that there were, in fact, deep roots to Burroughs's other-worldly, alienated and unsettlingly affectless fiction - about which literary opinion is still divided. Which, 100 years after his birth, is quite impressive, really. (Nicholas Lezard EVENING STANDARD)

It's enough to put you off breakfast (THE MAIL ON SUNDAY)

In the first biography to include the writer's final years, longstanding friend and Burroughs scholar, Barry Miles, documents his journey in unflinching detail. (THE INDEPENDENT)

One long, strange, profoundly American literary life. Burroughs's work has had a profound if often oblique influence on the writing of his century and this one. I can scarcely imagine what it would be like to read Barry Miles's biography without being thoroughly familiar with the outline of the narrative. Truly, stranger than fiction. (William Gibson)

William S. Burroughs takes us deeply inside the magical life of the great writer. Miles's decision to tell the epic story through William Burroughs's search for his 'Ugly Spirit' makes for sensational reading. Burroughs called his life an evil river. In Miles's biography he negotiates it with courage and remarkable drive. Brilliant, tragic, controversial, and inspiring, William S. Burroughs is a beautiful work. (Victor Bockris author of With William Burroughs: A Report from the Bunker, Conversations with William Burroughs and Andy Warhol, and Burroughs in the Bunker)

William S. Burroughs is the most intimate portrait to date of one of the twentieth century's most complicated, troubled, and influential figures. Miles's deep knowledge of the man and the work also provides a cultural history of the scene in Tangiers in the 1950s, the Beat era, and the emerging Punk scene in New York in the 1980s. The end of Burroughs's days, spent in Lawrence, Kansas, explore Burroughs's deep reckoning of what he called 'The Ugly Spirit'-the force which rendered him powerless, for most of his life over the demons that plagued him. It is a compelling biography and social history unlike any other." (Ira Silverberg coeditor of Word Virus: The William S. Burroughs Reader)

William S. Burroughs is full of energy and surprise and is a delight to read. Barry Miles combines his intimate knowledge of Burroughs with the meticulous research of Burroughs's companion James Grauerholz, to produce an extremely accurate, readable, and entertaining biography of one of the most inventive writers of the twentieth century. Reading this extraordinary book is like hanging around with Burroughs himself and is impossible to forget. (Bill Morgan author of I Celebrate Myself: The Somewhat Private Life of Allen Ginsberg and The Typewriter is Holy)

By any standard Burroughs's was an unusual life, full of scandal, subversion, and sensitivity hidden behind a cold blue gaze. He brought elegance to the Bowery, eloquence to the language of an underworld, and an international mystique to American letters. Miles enriches this 'life of an artist' with decades of dedicated immersion in the work both published and unpublished, digging deep into archival material and manuscripts, incorporating journals of friends and acquaintances. With great authority and verve, he brings up to date the legacy of a true American original who grows, even years after his death, in fascination. (Regina Weinreich author of Keroauc's Spontaneous Poetics and editor of Kerouac's Book of Haikus)

'Counterculture chronicler Barry Miles and William Burroughs are the perfect match, and Miles's biography of the cult writer...is as insightful as you'd expect, placing Burroughs in his wider social and cultural context.' (Simon Evans CHOICE)

Book Description

Authoritative biography of cult writer William Burroughs (1914-1997).

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Format: Hardcover
If you have any interest in Burroughs at all then you have to read this well-written and informative biography. It builds on the earlier biography of Ted Morgan in that Miles had access to both Morgan’s taped interviews with Burroughs and to James Grauerholz’s extensive research. I think it sensible that James handed over the writing of this volume to Miles in that it must have been most difficult for James to write on a life in which he had been so closely involved. I hope we can look forward to a more intimate volume of memories from James in due course. Although Miles knew Burroughs over many years, he is a practised biographer of people that he has known well, and an experienced and very readable writer.

Sensibly Miles has chosen not to dwell on the most well known and already much documented events in Burroughs’ life, namely the deaths of David Kammerer and Joan Vollmer. There are interesting details of his earlier friendship with David Kammerer and Lucien Carr, but there is little more that seems to be able to be written on these matters unless the deaths of all the main protagonists has freed up sources that could not be used previously due to the seriousness of the crimes. However, there is a wealth of new information regarding Burroughs’ childhood and adult life prior to meeting Jack, Allen and Joan, which I found most interesting in giving me more of a sense of where he was coming from prior to the Beat saga. There is also much more detail on his social contacts in Tangier and on his later life in Kansas….and in fact much of interest in every phase of Burroughs’ life.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
as usual, Barry Miles (a very talented & sympathetic yet rigorous biographer - having previously done Allen Ginsberg & Frank Zappa among other luminaries) has done a very thorough yet congenial job in laying out Burroughs' long & fruitful, albeit revolutionary life before us in all its varied panoply. Burroughs & his works, ideas & sympathies are judiciously put into context - having always been seen in terms of pejorative or reducible cliché,(drugs, homosexuality, loose living,unorthodoxy) - as a pariah's/outsider's & very 'weird', such as is seen in his notable works: Junky, Naked Lunch, Exterminator, Interzone, The yage letters, The cat Inside, & the Late trilogy (Cities of the red night, The place of dead roads,The western lands). we are given all the documented, colourful facts of this great writer's picaresque wanderjahre, with all his travels & encounters examined in fine detail. the controversial maverick that Burroughs was is empathetically explored & many angles pertaining to his rich & multifaceted life & ideas are exhaustively looked into. Burroughs' iconoclastic writing methods & the umpteen concerns & the significances that they deal with are gone into by Miles, without sparing us any of those more salacious or unconventional low-downs or indeed, without cosmeticising them or giving them a revisionist gloss. unlike that other, earlier biographer, Ted Morgan, whose nevertheless excellent biography of Burroughs petered out after arriving at Burroughs' 60's, Miles goes the entire distance by regaling us with the very wide-ranging & eventful lifespan right up to & including Burroughs' senescence, death & the aftermath in literary, cultural, & political terms & his inevitable absorption into the mainstream. notwithstanding, for those that may have not read his books, this biography renders a very informative & entertaining read & celebrates the life & works of arguably one of the greatest modern writers/thinkers gracing western culture . . . highly recommended
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So much detail and vividly written. But at the end of it all I felt it was quite soulless really - but that's the nature of autobiographies of drugged up wanderers. Nonetheless much to think about and I'm glad I read it
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Extremely detailed biography, even more so then Ted Morgan's 'Literary Outlaw'. If you dig Burroughs, you will dig this.
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Great book really gets into the soul of Burroughs,you will read this with an open mouth.
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