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Literary Outlaw: The Life and Times of William S. Burroughs [Kindle Edition]

Ted Morgan
4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)

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Book Description

“Almost indecently readable . . . captures [Burroughs’s] destructive energy, his ferocious pessimism, and the renegade brilliance of his style.”—Vogue

With a new preface as well as a final chapter on William S. Burroughs’s last years, the acclaimed Literary Outlaw is the only existing full biography of an extraordinary figure. Anarchist, heroin addict, alcoholic, and brilliant writer, Burroughs was the patron saint of the Beats. His avant-garde masterpiece Naked Lunch shook up the literary world with its graphic descriptions of drug abuse and illicit sex—and resulted in a landmark Supreme Court ruling on obscenity. Burroughs continued to revolutionize literature with novels like The Soft Machine and to shock with the events in his life, such as the accidental shooting of his wife, which haunted him until his death. Ted Morgan captures the man, his work, and his friends—Allen Ginsberg and Paul Bowles among them—in this riveting story of an iconoclast.

Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

In his detailed, highly readable biography, Morgan provides important insights into Burroughs's life and art. He sees the writer as an outlaw, as someone bent on achieving fame even at the cost of becoming infamous. Morgan closely examines Burroughs's life in light of his relationships with family, lovers, and friends, including fellow Beats Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg. In fact, if the book has a fault, it is that in its coverage of other Beat figures, the focus occasionally slips off Burroughs. While not a definitive portrait, Morgan's book is an accurate and serviceable biography of one of America's foremost authors. Essential reading for anyone interested in Burroughs, it belongs in all serious literature collections. William Gargan, Brooklyn Coll. Lib., CUNY
Copyright 1988 Reed Business Information, Inc.


“I was captivated. . . . Funny. . . exhaustive . . . clear-sighted.” — Paul Theroux

“Triumphant. . . . Unsparingly naturalistic reporting at its best.” — Washington Post

Product Details

  • File Size: 2588 KB
  • Print Length: 768 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; 1 edition (July 31, 2012)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B007714AEC
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #444,138 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The amazing life of a junkie genius September 18, 2001
The late William S. Burroughs was one of the most compelling and frustrating writers of our times. For every work of dryly humorous genius like Junky and Naked Lunch, there were dozens of frustrating, obscure works that seemed to be more the product of Burroughs' infamous heroin addiction than his own imagination. As others have stated, to truly understand much of Burroughs' work, one has to first understand the man himself and, to my knowledge, there is no better resource than Ted Morgan's long, detailed, but never boring biography. In Literary Outlaw, we get the details of Burroughs' seminal friendships with such future literary icons as Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac and we also explore the most controversial aspect of the man's life -- the shooting death of his wife, Joan. (After shooting her in the head, Burroughs claimed they were simply playing a game of "William Tell.")
If just for this information, this book would be a valuable resource but Morgan goes further. He details Burroughs' life after his fame as one of the original beat writers faded. He explains what was actually going on in Burroughs'head when he created the later works that left so many readers not only confused but often rather angry at this man they'd previously clutched to their own artistic souls (perhaps a bit too quickly, as Morgan reveals with an unflinching candor).
The Burroughs who emerges in this book is neither the decadent bohemian of the literary imagination nor the devil incarnate that so many of his critics imagined him to be. Instead, William S. Burroughs comes across as nothing less than the Forrest Gump of modern literature.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Biography May 3, 2000
I was shocked to click on this page to find that this book was out of print and only had one other reviewer. This was not only one of the best literary biographies I've ever read but also one of the best biographies in general. I actually found this biography to be more interesting than William S. Burrough's writing. Not only does the book gives a detailed account of Burrough's life as well as the lives of other beat luminaries, but it also captures the era in which they created.
First rate writing- pick up this book if you can find it.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars FIND THIS BOOK! January 11, 2002
When I read this book in 1990, or thereabouts, I had only read William Burroughs' book Junky, and I had read nothing by Jack Kerouac or Allen Ginsberg.
After I finished reading Literary Outlaw, by Ted Morgan, I was so fascinated that I read all of Burroughs' novels, and several books by Kerouac and Ginsberg. I also read two more Burroughs biographies, just to get more information on this weird old guy.
Literary Outlaw is just that good.
There are newer biographies of Burroughs by Barry Miles and also Graham Caveney. Nevertheless, Literary Outlaw remains the definitive Burroughs biography written to date.
This is a fascinating biography that reads like a pageturning novel. Burroughs grew up in a privileged St. Louis family, spent some time at a rough ranch-style boarding school in New Mexico, attended Harvard, travelled in Europe, and lived in New York, Mexico, New Orleans, Texas, Tangier, London, New York (again), and finally Kansas. Along the way he became the most scandalous figure in modern letters. His adventures and misadventures are related in this marvelous book.
Literary Outlaw is more exhaustive than either Caveney's or Miles' biographies. Chapters with titles like "Tangier: 1954-1958" and "The London Years: 1966-1973" make for easy navigation. As the book's coverage ends in 1988, there is no information on Burroughs' life in the 1990s, but the essays in the book Word Virus (by James Grauerholz) act as a good supplement, for biographical information.
Morgan did a good job. He wrote a page-turning biography, but not at the expense of Burroughs' literary reputation. Burroughs' value as a writer is challenged throughout, and it holds up. Biographical detail is linked to popular criticism of the texts. There is an extensive section of notes. There is an index.
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
I have never written a review for before but I had to add my two cents to the few reviews listed here. This book changed my life. I was already familiar with Burroughs' writing and had read several of his books before I found Morgan's excellent biography. I've read this lengthy tome several times, but I remember the feeling after I finished the first reading: I was inspired to write, write, write. The book cleared up my writer's block and has continued to do so every time I read it. His life really was as strange or stranger than his fiction, and it reminds me always to write what I know. I can't believe this is out of print. Highly recommended to all writers and all fans of biographies.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Possibly the best book about the beat generation August 3, 2012
This was a fascinating and thoroughly enjoyable read. It was the most exciting book I have read in quite a while, and yet I have to stop short of saying that it actually meant something to me personally. It was the best book that I have read about the Beats, and I think it belongs in the reading list of any serious beat afficionado.

Burroughs had a fascinating life, and the biographer had total access to the subject. To his credit, Burroughs had no interest in sanitizing his life to please the sensibilities of others. This is a true portrait of a remarkable but troubled man, a man whose life spanned a few generations of American culture and touched the lives of many important cultural figures. I won't bother recapping any of his story here, because once I begin, where would I stop? Morgan chose an anecdotal format for his work, one full of the everyday ups and downs, moments of laughter, and interpersonal encounters. This does not read like a literary biography normally does. It sometimes seem like a very long Vanity Fair piece. I don't say this derisively, because the result is a book that is fun and enjoyable, and that also provides a full portrait of his subject. Morgan also has a clear-eyed view of Burroughs's work - the stunning significance of Naked Lunch, and the disappointing lack of importance of some of his other pieces.

Burroughs was a man who experienced the dregs of society and life in this country - he was a petty criminal, drug addict, alcoholic, and homosexual. He was also the grandson of a famous inventor who was brought up in a comfortable upper middle class home, and he had a Harvard degree. He was literate, intelligent, humorous, and creative, but also destructive and more than a little crazy.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars Three Stars
a bit boring for me
Published 3 months ago by sandy morrow
5.0 out of 5 stars Amazing how Burroughs managed to survive his constant drug abuse
A very interesting detailed account of his lifestyle, written in a non judgemental attitude.Amazing how Burroughs managed to survive his constant drug abuse, and still... Read more
Published 8 months ago by foxx
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Great book.
Published 9 months ago by DEAN
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant book
This bio of William S. Burroughs manages to provide an exhaustive look at the whole Beat ethos, the sickness of Western culture -- literal addiction to power, the psyche of its... Read more
Published 20 months ago by Anne
5.0 out of 5 stars Exhaustive and brilliant
Not much to say. This is the definitive biography on William S. Burroughs. Highly recommended both for Burroughs fans and avid readers, this is the story of an extraordinary man... Read more
Published 23 months ago by Alberto Curutchet
5.0 out of 5 stars Best biography
This is, in short, the best biography I have read so far on the life of this interesting writer. He is one of those writers who's life is as exiting to read about as his own books. Read more
Published on December 23, 2012 by Jesper Deleuran
5.0 out of 5 stars Literary Outlaw - William S. Burroughs
One of the best books that I have ever read!! A true perspective of the Beat Generation from the insight of William S. Burroughs. Also a preview to Naked Lunch.[...]
Published on October 28, 2011 by Gayle A. Mitchell
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent biography
Ted Morgan has written a detailed biography of the writer and media personality William S. Burroughs that explores his many contradictions. Read more
Published on August 24, 2010 by David Bonesteel
5.0 out of 5 stars An Exhilirating Study of WS Burroughs the Writer & the Character
This book changed my life, as did Camille Paglia's "Sexual Personae" when I first read it 19-20 years ago. Read more
Published on July 25, 2010 by Stephen C. Bird
5.0 out of 5 stars A pleasure to read
I read this book in 1989 shortly after it was first published, and very much enjoyed it. I discovered a second hand copy in a bookstore in Brisbane in 2004, bought it and then... Read more
Published on April 4, 2010 by Timothy Boroughs
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More About the Author

Ted Morgan is the author of more than fifteen books, including FDR: A Biography and Reds: McCarthyism in Twentieth-Century America. As Sanche de Gramont, he was the only French citizen to win the Pulitzer Prize (for journalism). He lives in New York City.

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