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90 of 94 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Worth every penny!
Man, I don't know where to start. "The Dharma Bums" is a masterpiece of the Beat Generation and a novel I will not soon forget. After The Loser's Club by Richard Perez, this is the best book I've read all year.
Jack Kerouac wrote this story about his days as a Zen Buddhist and rucksack wanderer. His alias in the book is Raymond Smith, and he is living in Berkley with...
Published on August 14, 2003

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38 of 43 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars paperback quality for hardcover price
My review is not focused on the content of The Dharma Bums as much as the production of the book itself. Let it be known this is one of my favorite books of all time and I consider it Kerouac's best. My issue is with the publisher, Penguin, who has simply revamped its "Penguin Classic" edition with Ann Douglas's intro to make a Hardcover. Yes, Douglas's intro is...
Published on October 27, 2008 by Jizo43


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90 of 94 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Worth every penny!, August 14, 2003
By A Customer
This review is from: The Dharma Bums (Paperback)
Man, I don't know where to start. "The Dharma Bums" is a masterpiece of the Beat Generation and a novel I will not soon forget. After The Loser's Club by Richard Perez, this is the best book I've read all year.
Jack Kerouac wrote this story about his days as a Zen Buddhist and rucksack wanderer. His alias in the book is Raymond Smith, and he is living in Berkley with his good buddy Alvah Goldbook(Allen Ginsburg). Ray meets a Zen Lunatic named Japhy Ryder(Gary Snyder), and together they travel the mountains and pastures of Central California trying to find themselves and find the true meaning of life. Ray also journies to Desolation Peak in Washington and lives there alone for the summer, which is just another chapter to this amazing piece of literature.
Another part of this book that impressed me was the beginning, when Kerouac wrote about his experience at the San Francisco Poetry Renaissance, and spoke of Alvah Goldbook's first reading of his poem "Wail", which in reality was Allen Ginsburg's legendary first reading of "Howl", which to this day is a Beat Literature classic.
While reading this book, I was constantly marking lines and passages, because some of the descriptions and poetry Kerouac included in this novel are simply amazing. "The Dharma Bums" is one of those books I will treasure forever and read over and over again.
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61 of 63 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars In search of the eternal state of being, August 23, 2007
By 
James Ferguson (Vilnius, Lithuania) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)   
As Kerouac notes in the introductory chapter, he met Gary Snyder, a.k.a. Japhy Ryder in 1955, just before Snyder went off to Japan to immerse himself in Zen Buddhism. What follows is a free-wheeling account of their time together in perhaps Kerouac's most appealling and certainly most postive book. Dharma Bums is a celebration of American Buddhism, which was budding in San Francisco at the time, with a number of Beat poets reading their haikus and free-verse poems at the Six Gallery in San Francisco. Once again, Kerouac revels in changing names, but among the many prominent faces presented in this autobiographical novel are Allen Ginsberg, Kenneth Rexroth and Lawrence Ferlinghetti. Snyder was the rising star, a Buddhist scholar and translator of books of Japanese and Chinese poetry while studying at Berkley. Snyder, like Kerouac, had working class roots and the two hit it off from the start, exulting in each other's state of being.

Kerouac devotes Dharma Bums to Snyder in the same way he did On the Road to Neal Cassady. It was one of Kerouac's more happy times, as he was heavy into Buddhism, and sought out Snyder as a soulmate and mentor. Kerouac sets the stage wonderfully, coming across a hobo reading from St. Theresa on a train bound for LA, coming back from Mexico. He then hops the "Zipper" up to San Francisco, which whirled along at 80 miles an hour on the California coastline. Kerouac hangs out at Ginsberg's cabin in the Berkley hills, but it is Snyder's spartan cabin that draws his attention. Snyder had already chosen to live the life of an aesthete, giving up most of his worldly possessions, except for his famous rucksack and orange crates of books, mostly of poetry. Kerouac captures some wonderful moments as they all gathered around drinking wine and engaging in yab yum with a girl who went by the name of Princess.

The heart of the story revolves around Jack's and Gary's hike to the Matterhorn in the Sierra Nevada, in which the two form a strong bond that propells Kerouac on other adventures, including a summer at Desolation Peak in the northern Cascades that would become the subject of his next book, Desolation Angels. Kerouac's writing shines in this book, as he is able to maintain such an ecstatic high throughout the narrative, almost seeming to touch the sky. Of course, having such a positive person like Gary Snyder to wrap the book around gave Kerouac the impelling force he needed, as on his own Kerouac often sank into melancholy and despair, which characterized his later years. One marvels at the free and easy nature of this pair as they search out their respective enlightenment, drawing on nature and their sense of the eternal cosmos.

One doesn't have to be well versed in Buddhism to appreciate this book, although allusions and references are many and may confuse some readers. Just let yourself go and enjoy the free flow of the narrative, which is Kerouac at his best.
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41 of 44 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Life is great!, August 15, 2000
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This review is from: The Dharma Bums (Paperback)
Having heard me praise this book countless times, my wife finally read it for herself. Her response? "You know, I was expecting some stereotype of `cool' Beatniks, trying to be so hip and detached. But that's just some popular media image. The people in this book are exuberant, thoughtful, even spiritual!" That sums it up as well as anything. Forget the glib idea of alterna-cultural one-upmanship that passes for a Beat attitude these days - "The Dharma Bums" is about naïve exuberance, anything-but-ironic soul-searching, an eager exploration of life's sorrows and joys, and the sheer, exhilarating, wondrous zest of being alive and aware in an endlessly fresh world. If reading this clear mountain stream of a book doesn't make you want to change your life and your way of looking at life, then you're just hopelessly blind to something precious! Life is so much more than the neatly packaged, pre-imagined commercial that society would love to sell you, and "The Dharma Bums" will gladly show you one possible way of finding your true path.
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26 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A cool drink, May 3, 2004
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This review is from: The Dharma Bums (Paperback)
DHARMA BUMS came out a year after ON THE ROAD. While the latter is the beat manifesto celebrating the peripatetic lifestyle, BUMS focuses on the beat romance with Buddhist enlightenment and the building of an inner life. ON THE ROAD was an instant, memorable success, and while BUMS no doubt fed a desire for more of the same, it stands apart, its own satisfying work of art, its own way of sending telegraphs from the heart of the beat movement. Many of the episodes are based on actual events and experiences that were still fresh memories as the book was written.
Ray Smith is the first person narrator of DHARMA BUMS, a look alike for Jack Kerouac. For most of the book, he slyly puts Japhy Ryder at the center of attention. Ryder is a stand-in for poet Gary Snyder who survives, who as a young man in his twenties was already a natural leader. Surrounding them are other familiar figures from the era, including Alvah Goldbook (translates to Allen Ginsberg). They all write poetry and love jazz, women, and a casual lifestyle. They seek spiritual enlightenment. They delight in trolling for clothes in the Good Will and Army and Navy stores, they savor the simplest meal over a campfire. They are the Dharma Bums, rejecting the paralyzed emptiness they ascribe to middle class life.
I really like this book. The prose is clear and concrete, even when sorting through abstract notions. It is often funny. Kerouac had extraordinary insight into individual nuances and desires, and plays them into the tension of the journey and the sorting out. He had a gift for seeing how outsiders might perceive him and his crowd and how history might come to interpret the present he was portraying. Though he is legendarily perceived as a spontaneous artist, there is extraordinary control and shape imposed on these pages. Only twice does he momentarily break his world: once, in my edition, he slips and refers to Japhy as Gary, and another time, slipping out of the immediacy of the action, he pays a compliment to a simple meal on the road, noting that even as a lionized young writer in New York, he had not had a better meal in an upscale restaurant. Those curious nanoseconds can be forgiven, however. This book is a joy.
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19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A light-hearted mix of religious lunacy and zest for nature, December 8, 2000
By 
Marcus Walker (Frankfurt , Germany) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Dharma Bums (Paperback)
'The Dharma Bums' is a tale of social dropouts in California who search for Buddhist enlightenment and truth (dharma) amid wine, sex, hitchhiking and mountain scenery. It's a good introduction to Kerouac - shorter, lighter and more accessible than On the Road, which is a more epic but also has some monotonous bits.
If religious certainties turn you off, you might tire of dharma-bum narrator Ray's Buddhist slogans and the dogmatic Zen views of Japhy, Ray's buddy. But though Kerouac portrays Buddhism as liberating, he also laughs a lot at kooky piety. At some points - like Ray's 'banana sermon' - religion becomes either profound or hilarious, or both.
Ray tries to reach nirvana by convincing himself the world's an illusion, which makes it ironic that the best bits in this novel are poetic descriptions of mountains and travel. The final lonely mountain-top vigil - based on Kerouac's experience as a fire lookout, described in Lonesome Traveller - is a tour de force. Kerouac's prose flair allows him to string 10 adjectives in front of a noun, a heinous crime in modern writing fashion, and get away with it.
Kerouac balances Ray and Japhy's Buddhist belief that the world is illusory against the earthbound views of world-weary poet Alvah Goldbook, a thinly veiled Allen Ginsberg. Alvah's quest to soak up his surroundings rather than transcend them puts him closer to the philosophy of On the Road, in which the travelling bums reach a jubilant but sad-hearted state of raw appreciation of their phsyical world.
Through the Ray-Japhy-Alvah triangle and all the minor characters, 'The Dharma Bums' gives various answers to Kerouac's big question in this and other books: how to lead a free existence in a conformist careerist consumerist society. Fifty years later, the question's got more vital. Youthful rebellion and boheme are just marketing motifs for soft drinks, CDs and snowboards now, but Kerouac shows you it's possible to be authentically free - if you have the guts.
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27 of 29 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Dharma Bums, August 18, 2007
By 
Following the success of "On the Road", Kerouac's publishers initially rejected his manuscripts such as "The Subterraneans" and "Tristessa." But his publisher asked him to write an accessible, popular novel continuing with the themes of "On the Road." Kerouac responded with "The Dharma Bums" which was published late in 1958. "The Dharma Bums" is more conventionally written that most of Kerouac's other books, with short, generally clear sentences and a story line that is optimistic on the whole. The book was critiqued by Allen Ginsberg and others close to Kerouac as a "travelogue" and as over-sentimentalized. But with the exception of "On the Road", "The Dharma Bums" remains Kerouac's most widely read work. I had the opportunity to reread "The Dharma Bums" and came away from the book deeply moved.

As are all of Kerouac's novels, "The Dharma Bums" is autobiographical. It is based upon Kerouac's life between 1956--1957 -- before "On the Road" appeared and made Kerouac famous. The book focuses upon the relationship between Kerouac, who in the book is called Ray Smith and his friend, the poet Gary Snyder, called Japhy Ryder, ten years Kerouac's junior. Kerouac died in 1969, while Snyder is still alive and a highly regarded poet. Allen Ginsberg (Alvah Goldbrook) and Neal Cassady (Cody Pomeray), among others, also are characters in the book. Most of the book is set in San Francisco and its environs, but there are scenes of Kerouac's restless and extensive travelling by hitchiking, walking, jumping freight trains, and taking buses, as he visits Mexico, and his mother's home in Rocky Mount, North Carolina during the course of the book.

The strenght of "The Dharma Bums" lies in its scenes of spiritual seriousness and meditation. During the period described in the book, Kerouac had become greatly interested in Buddhism. He describes himself as a "bhikku" -- a Buddhist monk -- and had been celibate for a year when the book begins. I have been studying Buddhism myself for many years, and it is easy to underestimate Kerouac's understanding of Buddhism. As with many authors, he was wiser in his writing that he was in his life. There is a sense of the sadness and changeable character of existence and of the value of compassion for all beings that comes through eloquently in "The Dharma Bums." Smith and Ryder have many discussions about Buddhism -- at various levels of seriousness -- during the course of the novel. Ryder tends to use Buddhism to be critical of and alienated from American society and its excessive materialism and devotion to frivolity such as television. Smith has the broader vision and sees compassion and understanding as a necessary part of the lives of everyone. Smith tends to be more meditative and quiet in his Buddhist practice -- he spends a great deal of time in the book sitting and "doing nothing" while Ryder is generally active and on the go, hiking, chopping wood, studying, or womanizing. At the end of the book, he leaves for an extended trip to Japan. (He and Kerouac would never see each other again.)

"The Dharma Bums" offers a picture of a portion of American Buddhism during the 1950s. It also offers a portrayal of what has been called the "rucksack revolution" as Smith and Ryder take to the outdoors, and, in a lengthy and famous section of the book, climb the "Matterhorn" in California's Sierra Mountains. In the final chapters of the book, Kerouac spends eight isolated weeks on Desolation Peak in the Cascades as a fire watchman. He comes back yearning for human company.

Sexuality plays an important role in the book, against the backdrop of what is described as the repressed 1950's, as young girls are drawn to Ryder and he willingly shares them with an initially reluctant Smith. The book includes scenes of wild parties tinged, for Smith, with sadness, in which people of both sexes dance naked, get physically involved, and drink heavily. Near the end of the book, Ryder offers Smith a prophetic warning the alcoholism which would shortly thereafter ruin Kerouac's life.

"The Dharma Bums" is a fundamentally American book and it is full of love for the places of America, for the opportunity it offers for spiritual exploration, and for its people. Kerouac's compassion was hard earned. In his introduction to a later book, "The Lonesome Traveller" he
aptly described his books as involving the "preachment of universal kindness, which hysterial critics have failed to notice beneath frenetic activity of my true-story novels about the 'beat' generation. -- Am actually not 'beat' but strange solitary crazy Catholic mystic." I found a feeling of spirituality, of love of life in the face of vicissitudes, and of America in "The Dharma Bums." The work was indeed a popularization. But Kerouac's vision may ultimately have been broad.

Robin Friedman
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34 of 38 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The greatest book from the greatest American writer, May 24, 2000
This review is from: The Dharma Bums (Paperback)
I cannot write enough words to describe how wonderful this book is. I could write a book about its greatness, its mind-numbing beauty, its special place in the pantheon of great human achievements. Jack Kerouac was a shooting star, a dharma bum in the truest sense of the word. This man has a style and fluidity to his writing that is otherworldly, and yet so magically human. He synthesizes poetry and prose in a way that not many have ever approached. His writing is lyrics to his life, my life, your life. He can express the human condition better than anyone I have ever encountered. In the Dharma Bums, he tells about his adventures with Japhy Ryder (Gary Snyder), a man who lived his life the way that Kerouac wrote. Spontaneous, beautiful and pure. This is a book with power, that has changed many peoples lives, including mine, and has the power to influence so many more. Buy five copies of this book and loan them out to your friends and strangers. Kerouac's dream of a rucksack revolution is one of the most beautiful ideas that I have ever known, and this book is the starting point for that inevitable revolution. So get this book and get started. Hit the road and things will never be the same. peace.
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38 of 43 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars paperback quality for hardcover price, October 27, 2008
By 
Jizo43 (New England) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Dharma Bums: 50th Anniversary Edition (Hardcover)
My review is not focused on the content of The Dharma Bums as much as the production of the book itself. Let it be known this is one of my favorite books of all time and I consider it Kerouac's best. My issue is with the publisher, Penguin, who has simply revamped its "Penguin Classic" edition with Ann Douglas's intro to make a Hardcover. Yes, Douglas's intro is excellent, but the only difference with this new Hardcover 50th Anniversary Edition is that is has 2 or 3 pages of a letter in which Henry Miller writes about The Dharma Bums. For me who is a bibliofile. I don't want a cheap quality cardboard book. I used to work for an Univ. Press and know about production options. Penquin basically chose the cheapest. Every single copy in 3 bookstores were banged up. You might say this isn't the publisher's fault, but it is because they didn't make a quality product that could stand even being stacked on a shelf, imagine opening it and reading it. People who want a 50th Anniversary edition want something special because it has a special meaning to them, if not buy the paperback. So I guess that's what I suggest. The Penguin Classic edition has new artwork, quality paper and the same intro, without the high price. I wish Penguin would follow Knopf's example and do beautiful books like those in their Everyman's Library Series.
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18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Zen Man On a Mountain, December 5, 2003
By 
Jimmy Chen (San Francisco) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The Dharma Bums (Paperback)
Westerners tend to have under-adjusted encounters with Buddhism, because they are usually attached to the `idea' of their being detached-- a fallacy because Buddhism asserts the `end of self' altogether. Thus, it is difficult to write about Buddhism in a western context, especially in a first person narrative, which is what Kerouac rather successfully has done. Kerouac is self-aware of this dynamic and creates two characters (Ray and Japhy) who start off traveling together, but become more adverse as their philosophies clash. Japhy becomes deeply attached, almost smug, to his spiritual evolution, while the more modest Ray continues the search for self, without the stringent belief system of his former companion. Readers may find it a tad convenient that Kerouac appropriate himself as the closer to truth Ray. Whatever the case, the polarity is an affective device.
Similar to On The Road, Kerouac writes with ease and eloquence, and at times, profound insights. Some of the more predictable scenes in the book feature hippy parties, road trips, and drug use, for which the author is famous. However, the book is just as full of sweet, quirky, and new ideas on Zen Buddhism that are slipped in between the sentences, along with a dozen or so lovely haikus. The crucial redeeming quality with this book is that Ray doesn't become too heady or obsessed with his philosophical inclinations. He simply goes about his way, making light comments about things without becoming the author's mouthpiece, an unfortunate aspect of many books.
From Oregon, California, Ohio, and the Carolinas (to name a few), Ray ends up home with his family, a failure in the context of the bohemian life he strived for. It is at this unlikely place he undergoes an experience that perhaps is as close and earnest as one can ever get to a selfless experience.
Kerourac manages to write a book about truth and God without being pedantic or self-righteous. Ray is humble and friendly, so readers are not intimidated, rather, they are that much more eager to join the quest. This is a warm, hope filled, and youthful novel written by an author who embodies the search in all of us.
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29 of 34 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars ...THE BOOK THAT RUINED MY LIFE!!!!!..........!, March 24, 2010
...This is the book that saved me from a career in Accounting!....after reading this at 17...
I took off on my first hitch-hiking trip, adventured some (then some!), lost my virginity, got
published in the poetry rags.....and haven't looked back since!....hell, I'm still reading the damn thing
30 years later!.....like I said, THE BOOK THAT RUINED MY LIFE!.....praise the LORD!.....
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The Dharma Bums: 50th Anniversary Edition
The Dharma Bums: 50th Anniversary Edition by Jack Kerouac (Hardcover - September 18, 2008)
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