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Perhaps no poet in the history of America, with the exception of Walt Whitman, has so dominated the popular imagination as has Allen Ginsberg. From the close of World War II to the end of the Cold War, Ginsberg has been in the vanguard of every popular movement; from the emergence of the Beat Generation in the Fifties to the hippie and antiwar movements of the sixties, to Perhaps no poet in the history of America, with the exception of Walt Whitman, has so dominated the popular imagination as has Allen Ginsberg. From the close of World War II to the end of the Cold War, Ginsberg has been in the vanguard of every popular movement; from the emergence of the Beat Generation in the Fifties to the hippie and antiwar movements of the sixties, to the ecology movement and the Buddhist revival of the seventies, Allen Ginsberg has given voice to his generation's spirit in poetry of astonishing power. Michael Schumacher has spent eight years researching and writing this dramatic biography, with Ginsberg's full cooperation and with access to all his journals and papers, as well as spending thousands of hours interviewing Ginsberg's friends and enemies alike. With the sweep of an epic novel Schumacher tells the story of this quintessentially American poet and his times, with fascinating portraits of such contemporaries as Jack Kerouac, Neal Cassady, and William Burroughs, among many others, along with many rarely seen photographs. This is undoubtedly the most complete portrait we are ever likely to see of one of the most influential writers of the twentieth century.


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Perhaps no poet in the history of America, with the exception of Walt Whitman, has so dominated the popular imagination as has Allen Ginsberg. From the close of World War II to the end of the Cold War, Ginsberg has been in the vanguard of every popular movement; from the emergence of the Beat Generation in the Fifties to the hippie and antiwar movements of the sixties, to Perhaps no poet in the history of America, with the exception of Walt Whitman, has so dominated the popular imagination as has Allen Ginsberg. From the close of World War II to the end of the Cold War, Ginsberg has been in the vanguard of every popular movement; from the emergence of the Beat Generation in the Fifties to the hippie and antiwar movements of the sixties, to the ecology movement and the Buddhist revival of the seventies, Allen Ginsberg has given voice to his generation's spirit in poetry of astonishing power. Michael Schumacher has spent eight years researching and writing this dramatic biography, with Ginsberg's full cooperation and with access to all his journals and papers, as well as spending thousands of hours interviewing Ginsberg's friends and enemies alike. With the sweep of an epic novel Schumacher tells the story of this quintessentially American poet and his times, with fascinating portraits of such contemporaries as Jack Kerouac, Neal Cassady, and William Burroughs, among many others, along with many rarely seen photographs. This is undoubtedly the most complete portrait we are ever likely to see of one of the most influential writers of the twentieth century.

30 review for Dharma Lion: A Biography of Allen Ginsberg

  1. 5 out of 5

    Jeff Buddle

    This is a massive book for a figure that -like him or not- loomed large over 20th-century poetry. There's no denying the impact of poems like "Howl" or "Kaddish," but given such a prodigious and uneven output, it's difficult to rate him as a poet. But as Michel Shumacher points out in Dharma Lion, Allen Ginsberg was as much a cultural icon as he was a poet, and his work and life impacted more than just the world of literature. In "Dharma Lion" we see a Ginsberg who was both insecure and egotistic This is a massive book for a figure that -like him or not- loomed large over 20th-century poetry. There's no denying the impact of poems like "Howl" or "Kaddish," but given such a prodigious and uneven output, it's difficult to rate him as a poet. But as Michel Shumacher points out in Dharma Lion, Allen Ginsberg was as much a cultural icon as he was a poet, and his work and life impacted more than just the world of literature. In "Dharma Lion" we see a Ginsberg who was both insecure and egotistical, who considered himself a great poet even before he had written anything of substance. When he fell in with his well-known comrades (Burroughs, Cassady, Kerouac) in his early 20s his life was changed forever. Hanging out with his literary friends, and the petty criminals that were hangers-on to that crowd, Ginsberg found himself drawn into an underworld of crime and drugs, relationships that led to him being arrested and jailed. But he was lucky. Instead of prison, Ginsberg found himself in a madhouse, and in this madhouse, he met Carl Solomon, a mentally disturbed but brilliant individual with whom Ginsberg immediately struck up a rapport. Ginsberg would go on to dedicate "Howl" to Solomon, who he considered one of the "best minds of his generation." The others in Howl are directly drawn from his experience, Kerouac, Cassady, and the many junkies and crooks he knew are incorporated into the poem. Of course, Ginsberg's oeuvre includes far more than just "Howl." Readers of his poetry are almost always overwhelmed by the man's output. I have his "Collected Poems" that includes every single poem that Ginsberg published in his lifetime. The first time I read it, some poems fell flat to me. Going back to it with this fine biography brought depth to the autobiographical poems, knowing the backstory made them all the better. Ginsberg was a poet, a Buddhist, an activist, an advocate of mind-expanding drugs, and a teacher. He was also an egoist, a huckster, and a self-promoter. But the Ginsberg that emerges from these pages is also generous, sincere and kind. He was fiercely loyal to his friends, even when his friends offended him. He was the vanguard for change, out ahead of the civil rights movement, the hippy/yippy movement, the women's movement, the ecological movement, the gay rights movement. In "Dharma Lion" Shumacher stops just short of saying that Ginsberg and the Beats transformed the world to be what it is today, that its influence made us better people, but that seems to be what he implies. He's right, to some degree, but with every bit of good comes some bad. The Beats were drug-addled savants, talented fools, those of them that could write left behind a legacy, but those that didn't just died only remembered because of the texts the others left behind. Out of the bunch, Ginsberg emerges as the only one to have a moral core, but one that falters. If anything, "Dharma Lion" is a means to better understanding both Ginsberg and his poetry. It's a long book (707 pages), but well worth reading.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Jo

    Probably the longest nonfiction book I’ve read in my whole life, and one of the most engaging and well-written ones, too. It reads like a novel. It is, in fact, a literary matryoshka in that it’s not only a comprehensive Ginsberg biography, but also a history of the Beat Generation as well as a brief history of American counterculture: hippies, anti-war movement, anti-nuclear movement, gay liberation, the fight against the demonization of certain drugs … Man, Ginsberg WAS counterculture! This boo Probably the longest nonfiction book I’ve read in my whole life, and one of the most engaging and well-written ones, too. It reads like a novel. It is, in fact, a literary matryoshka in that it’s not only a comprehensive Ginsberg biography, but also a history of the Beat Generation as well as a brief history of American counterculture: hippies, anti-war movement, anti-nuclear movement, gay liberation, the fight against the demonization of certain drugs … Man, Ginsberg WAS counterculture! This book is massive, but very rich in detail and rather wonderful.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Joy

    Michael Schumacher did such a good job writing ALLEN GINSBERG's life that often I felt as if I were with Allen ... as if Allen actually wrote this book through Schumacher. What a truly fascinating, gifted, talented, courageous man Allen Ginsberg is. I highly recommend this book to everyone. There is no one that would not benefit from reading this book ... your life ... your views ... your ideals will shift and morph and change ... you will be a more well-rounded person for it.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Doug

    Sympathetic treatment of Ginsberg. Wide coverage of his doings and dealings as poet, celebrity, friend. Review cut short by carpal tunnel syndrome and/or boss visiting cubicle...

  5. 5 out of 5

    Brooke

    EXCELLENT biography of Ginsberg - very comprehensive.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Kuldeep Pandey

    One of the best biographies ever written

  7. 5 out of 5

    Jeremy

  8. 4 out of 5

    Laura

  9. 5 out of 5

    Michael

  10. 5 out of 5

    Megan

  11. 4 out of 5

    amy ricigliano

  12. 5 out of 5

    Jenelle

  13. 5 out of 5

    Cody

  14. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer

  15. 4 out of 5

    Kimberly

  16. 5 out of 5

    Ashley Young

  17. 4 out of 5

    Olivia

  18. 5 out of 5

    Colin

  19. 5 out of 5

    Baron S.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Chris Hinkle

  21. 4 out of 5

    William

  22. 4 out of 5

    Joyce

  23. 4 out of 5

    Christine Roth

  24. 4 out of 5

    Tina

  25. 4 out of 5

    Nicholas

  26. 4 out of 5

    Jeri Fallon

  27. 4 out of 5

    Wallace

  28. 5 out of 5

    Frederic

  29. 4 out of 5

    David

  30. 4 out of 5

    Nancy

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