The best Beat Generation books

8 authors have picked their favorite books about Beat Generation and why they recommend each book.

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Book cover of On the Road

On the Road

By Jack Kerouac,

Why this book?

On the Road by King of the Beats—Jack Kerouac—is where it all began for me. Looking for ways to escape the dreary inner-city council estate I grew up on, books such as, On the Road, served to both inspire me and satisfy the need for escapism in my life. I read this great book when I was fifteen, and saying that it changed my life is an understatement! Dean Moriarty and Sal Paradise crisscrossing America on endless car journeys, with some of the best topographical writing you’ll ever read. These epic trips conjured up enticing images that encouraged me…

From the list:

The best road novels of all time

Book cover of The Dharma Bums

The Dharma Bums

By Jack Kerouac,

Why this book?

“The little flowers grew everywhere around the rocks, and no one had asked them to grow, or me to grow.” The joy in Kerouac is stumbling along with his absent-minded musings and finding the stretches of poetry that really speak to you. Dharma Bums is spiritual and inward-focused, but the characters spend time in nature, trying to figure out their place in it. It’s the kind of companion that you want to have with you on a canoe trip or sharing space with you on a hammock on a warm fall day. 

From the list:

The best fictional books about our place in nature

Book cover of Visions of Cody

Visions of Cody

By Jack Kerouac,

Why this book?

This book is sort of an alternate take of On the Road. Cody Pomeroy here is Dean Moriarty, this book is his legend, and instead of unravelling it all in a chronological spiel it's the koans and page-long dreams of remembrance, some of the richest extended prose he ever made.

The writing is true to the soul and heart of the continent and it captures the electric twentieth century.

He wanted to roll up all his books together, standardize the names, and call it The Duluoz Legend. When I read him now I think of all those words as…

From the list:

The best big, lyrical books packed with poetic prose

Book cover of Off the Road

Off the Road

By Carolyn Cassady,

Why this book?

Although not a book about travel I feel this book fits the list, as it is essentially an extended love letter to both Jack Kerouac and Neil Cassady, who at certain stages in her life, were the lovers of the author. What this book also describes is how people who decide to stay at home, while their lovers and friends embark on endless road trips, survive the ordinary hardships of day-to-day living. The book is incredibly insightful and sheds new light on the lives of the aforementioned famous Beat Generation authors. It also warns that the perils of living in…

From the list:

The best road novels of all time

Book cover of The Practice of the Wild: Essays

The Practice of the Wild: Essays

By Gary Snyder,

Why this book?

A Buddhist activist and Pulitzer Prize-winning beat generation poet, Snyder celebrates “wildness” as a moral principle. It gives value to the living world and invites us to the wild places within, the inner wilderness that carries us beyond the comforting assurances of the mind. He cautions against looking for metaphorical and spiritual meanings “beyond and through” the natural world. This risks our not “seeing what is before our very eyes: plain thusness” … which in itself is more than enough to astound!

From the list:

The best books on spirituality and wilderness

Book cover of Big Sky Mind: Buddhism and the Beat Generation

Big Sky Mind: Buddhism and the Beat Generation

By Carole Tonkinson,

Why this book?

One of the first places I heard about Buddhism was through Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, and Gary Snyder. The joy of reading Kerouac has worn off a bit, but Snyder and Ginsberg have become lifetime companions and real sources of inspiration for me, not least in their engagement with Buddhism. This collection of poems, essays, letters, and other writings brings them together with a much wider range of writers – Diane di Prima and Philip Whalen, Anne Waldman and Kenneth Rexroth, William Burroughs and Lawrence Ferlinghetti – showing how the best minds of two generations heard, felt and responded to…

From the list:

The best books on Buddhism and the West

Book cover of Book of Haikus

Book of Haikus

By Jack Kerouac,

Why this book?

While Jack Kerouac can arguably be synonymous with the Beat generation, the poems in this collection reveal a lesser-known and seldom seen but poignant side of Kerouac’s legacy. He distills his surroundings into short vignettes, reminiscent of the Beat style and motif, but incorporates a significant amount of nature imagery. They’re beautiful glimpses of the world through the eyes of one of America’s most influential authors.

From the list:

The best contemporary nature poetry books

Book cover of Sometimes a Great Notion

Sometimes a Great Notion

By Ken Kesey,

Why this book?

This is a novel published by Ken Kesey in 1964. Not only is it one of the best books to understand personality, but it is one of the best novels ever. It tells the story of an American family whose patriarch, Henry Stamper, is a classic narcissist. Stamper could be described as a confident, callous, Controlling Wanderer. He is an independent logger and owns his home and business on a river on the central coast of Oregon. He defies the small town, his neighbors, and the national union. His behavior ultimately leads to much pain and suffering. However, Henry has…
From the list:

The best books to understand personality and who you are

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