NONFICTION

The Essential Ginsberg

Harper Perennial. May 2015. 464p. ed. by Michael Schumacher. photos. index. ISBN 9780062362285. pap. $17.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062362292. LIT
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OrangeReviewStarThe work, and not just the poetry, of Ginsberg (1926–97), one of 20th-century America's most important and notorious literary figures, has finally been given the career-arching overview it deserves. Schumacher (Dharma Lion) has compiled the poet's greatest hits into this volume, including the regularly anthologized "Howl," "Kaddish," "A Supermarket in California," "America," and "Kral Majales." What distinguishes this book from other posthumous Ginsberg collections is that it also presents small samples of his songwriting, essays, interviews, letters, journal excerpts, and understated photography. Ginsberg's position at the center of the Beat Movement is made clear through Schumacher's selections, which highlight his key relationships with Jack Kerouac, William S. Burroughs, and Neal Cassady, among others. Similarly, his involvement in the burgeoning American counterculture of the 1950s and 1960s is at the heart of many of these selections. By making this volume similar to the ones in Viking's "Portable Library" series, Harper Perennial has all but ensured this book's place in university classrooms for years to come.
VERDICT An essential starting point for any reader encountering the artist's still-controversial work for the very first time.

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