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Mile Marker Zero: The Moveable Feast of Key West Hardcover – October 4, 2011

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Crown; First Edition edition (October 4, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307592006
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307592002
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.1 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (31 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #355,726 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


“A tall but telescopic-sight-true tale of Hunter Thompson, Jimmy Buffet, Tom McGuane, and a large cavorting cast running around with sand in their shoes at ‘ground zero for lust and greed and most of the other deadly sins:’ Key West.”—Tom Wolfe

"Mile Marker Zero is a wonderful zinger of a book. Never before have the literary traditions of the Conch Republic been mined for such gold nugget anecdotes. McKeen has once again proven why he is perhaps the most lucid and imaginative professor of journalism history in modern-day America. Every page sings a story worth a 
Jimmy Buffett song." —Douglas Brinkley

"Not just another paean to sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll, William McKeen's gritty, no-holds-barred oeuvre, Mile Marker Zero, carefully and thoroughly establishes the groundwork for understanding and appreciating the achievement of literary mavericks and artists of Key West in the Seventies. This treatment of the personal lives and works of Tom McGuane, Jim Harrison, Russell Chatham, Jimmy Buffet, Hunter S. Thompson…offers an arresting and instructive rendering of this colorful cadre of characters, in the shadow of Key West's most famous resident, Ernest Hemingway, drawn together in this tropical Greenwich Village to establish a new enclave on the fringe." —Beef Torrey, Co-Editor of Jim Harrison:  A Comprehensive Bibliography, Conversations with Hunter S. Thompson, and Conversations with Thomas McGuane

"An engrossing tell-all in which Key West's most notable residents struggle to find sanity, sobriety and a place to call home." —Kirkus Reviews

“McKeen's portrait of Key West as a onetime bohemian utopia and hotspot is atmospheric, and…his anecdotes are absorbing.”—Publishers Weekly

“A romp….a rollicking chronicle of the musicians, artists, writers and filmmakers who created a vibrant if nihilistic scene in the 1970s. Deft storytelling…a good story about good times (and bad)” —Wall Street Journal

“Make McKeen's tale your next trip to the island.” —Sun Sentinel

"You may not believe that these writers were able to take their eyes off the famous Key West sunset to focus on their work, but every feast needs a backdrop."—Cape Cod Times

“[E]nthralling…Mr. McKeen is perfectly placed to relay the antics of this decadent decade, not merely because of his academic credentials, but more importantly because of his fine use of the English language. His words would most certainly draw a nod of approval from all those he writes about and clearly admires…Well-crafted observations….are indicative of just how in tune with the era the author is.
There is a saying that if you remember the sixties, then you weren’t there; in the same vein, this book should be read by not only anyone with even a passing interest in this fascinating period of literary creativity, but also by anyone who actually was in Key West during the seventies—they could probably use a few reminders of just what was buzzing on the island at the time anyway."—New York Journal of Books

“[O]nly enhances the appeal of the Conch Republic….a tale of the island's famous personalities that flows as easily as an ocean breeze."—Orlando Sentinel 


About the Author

WILLIAM McKEEN teaches at Boston University, where he chairs the department of journalism. He is the author or editor of nine books, including the acclaimed Hunter S. Thompson biography Outlaw Journalist. He is married and the father of seven children and lives on the rocky coast of Cohasset, Massachusetts.

Customer Reviews

McKeen's book, sadly, does little to change that summation.
I highly recommend this book if you're planning a trip to Key West!
Timothy L. Strawn
If you've read the work of these writers, you'll love this story.
Michael Stolper

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By J. Marvel on October 11, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Upon finishing William McKeen's "Mile Maker Zero," I headed to my computer and started looking for flights to Key West. It's a gift when an author has the ability to drop you smack into a place during a period of time and McKeen wields this magic throughout as he writes of interesting times in an amazing place. I truly felt I was belly up at the Half Shell with Jim Harrison, dodging with Tom McGuane as we ducked furniture thrown by Elizabeth Ashley, watching sunrise with Jimmy Buffet, and shaking my head in amazement as Hunter S. Thompson is holding court with cocktail in one hand and joint in the other. When creative types descend on a destination and make it their own, chaos and legend often ensues. McKeen filters the lies as he explains the lure of a small island town and its inspiration on some of 20th century America's artistic greats. Don't be surprised if, when the journey of "Mile Marker Zero" is over, you find yourself sipping Havana Club on ice and hoping Margot Kidder stops by in a bikini top and cutoffs.
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful By milo66 on April 9, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
William McKeen's MILE MARKER ZERO is the first non-fiction account of Key West life (that I know of) focused specifically on the interesting transitional period from Navy town (through the 60s) to Spring Break and cruise-ship destination (80s and beyond). As such, it was highly anticipated by this reader. I've been to Key West many, many times and any story told by a long-time Key West resident inevitably ends with the coda, "You really had to be there." McKeen's book, sadly, does little to change that summation. After you set aside the book's rehashing of oft-told tales of the island's Indian/Spanish past (Cayo Hueso) and Papa Hemmingway, plus lengthy off-island accounts of the main protagonists' lives in Montana and Tennessee and Hollywood, you're left with a pretty slim volume. Part of this may stem from the fact that there's just not that much to say about a few years of epic drinking and fishing and more epic drinking.

But McKeen also seems to have stretched too small a canvas. He restricts the narrative to the exploits of Jimmy Buffett, Thomas McGuane, Hunter S. Thompson, Jim Harrison, and Tom Corcoran, but appears to have only spoken to Corcoran and Thompson at any length. Indeed, the exploits are few in number, and many of them are told more than once. The handful of Buffett incidents are mostly cherry-picked from the musician's best-selling memoir, and McGuane appears to have no interest in shedding any new light on the two wasted years that effectively extinguished his reputation as a promising new American novelist. The best parts of the book come from the mouths of Tom Corcoran (who should write his own 70s history of Key West) and Key West lifers like Dinky Bruce. I wished there was more of that stuff.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Jackson Quigley on October 19, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Imagine my surprise when the book started out with my friend Tom Corcoran landing in Key West. I was even more surprised to learn that he was called the "Taco Man" on the island.

My Kindle says I'm only 33% through the book, and already it's the best book about Key West I've ever read. This book, and Jimmy Buffett: The Key West Years by Tom Corcoran will become the bookends of my Buffett Book Collection. I can't even wait to finish it to write my review. That's how bad I want to be the first to turn my Parrot Head Friends on to this book! This is the book we thought Jimmy would some day write. Learn all about the early "Boogie" dazes of Key West and Ernest Hemingway and Tennessee Williams. Learn all about the people the streets you've been riding your Red Bike up and down all these years and the stories about the men they were named after. Learn more about one of our favorite Key West authors, and Jimmy's good buddy, Tom Corcoran. Meet Jimmy's brother-in-law, Thomas McGuane. Meet his drinking buddies Jim Harrison and Vaughn Cochran. Learn the complete story about Jerry Jeff Walker introducing Jimmy to the Keys.

I've been a Jimmy Buffett/Parrothead Historian for years. I even wrote a book about Parrotheads and the Internet JimmyDOTcom : The Evolution of a Phan. This book has instantly increased my Key West/Jimmy Buffett Knowledge an easy Ten-Fold! In fact, I'm I've been hired to write a book called "Jimmy Buffett FAQ," and "Mile Marker Zero" has become my most important piece of research material. And even though I have a Kindle version, tonight I bought the Hardback (it's on sale folks) just so I could see how many of the people mentioned in the book I could get to autograph it. I know "Papa" and "Captain Tony" are no longer available...
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By Michelle on July 24, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I didn't enjoy the book and I don't know if it's the angle the writer took or the true life stories themselves or just a generational gap. The memoir catalogs an era where male writers could act like frat boys and be tolerated, not just by society, but their wives as well. They had multiple marriages, multiple children and for the most part, spent no time with them. Instead they were out carousing, fishing, doing drugs or banging a never ending line of girls.

The impression I came away with is the writers of that generation lead cheap, tawdry, disconnected lives and then somehow wrote books with more depth than their realities. Perhaps it's true that everything relies on poop, from fertilizing crops to writing books.

As I read, I found myself wanting to hear what the wives thought. How did they put up with these men? Was it worth it? Their story is almost more interesting to me because this was a time when women could have careers, but it was still common to set them aside in favor of marriage. One wife was an editor for Vogue, but became a housewife when she married one of the writers. How did she feel about that? I wanted to know, but instead I had to sit through page after page of drunken carousing from all these male writers. It's like the 60s and 70s version of straight white boys texting (google that, you'll find it).

I did like reading about Corcoran and Buffet. They seemed more self aware and connected to their families than the other guys. They had depth. Tennessee Williams piqued my interest but the book doesn't really go into detail about his life. I would have liked more on him especially as he seems to have been at the center of gay culture in Key West.

So in the end, mixed feelings from me. I'm going to Key West in a few weeks and this book certainly took the bloom off the rose for me!
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More About the Author

For Hemingway and Fitzgerald, there was Paris in the twenties. Later generations had Big Sur, Greenwich Village and Woodstock.

But in the Seventies, there was Key West. That was where a generation of artists -- Thomas McGuane, Jim Harrison, Jimmy Buffett, Hunter Thompson and others -- found their style and artistic voice.

In Mile Marker Zero (Crown, 2011) William McKeen tells the story of these remarkable artists and how this two-by-four island at the end of the road shaped their lives. For hundreds of years, pirates and poets and pot smugglers and painters have called the wacky little town home. Here are the stories of a generation that nearly went crazy from the heat. Grab your margarita and lock up your children.

McKeen is the author of Outlaw Journalist (W.W. Norton, 2008), Highway 61 (W.W. Norton, 2003), Rock and Roll is Here to Stay (W.W. Norton, 2000) and several other books about American music and popular culture.

He's also completed an anthology of stories about growing up in Florida called Homegrown (University Press of Florida, 2012).

He teaches at Boston University and chairs its journalism department. He was a newspaper reporter and magazine editor before beginning his teaching career.

He is a father of seven children and lives with his wife Nicole, a magazine editor, on the rocky coast of Cohasset, Massachusetts.

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