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The Dharma Bums Paperback – May 27, 1971

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Editorial Reviews Review

One of the best and most popular of Kerouac's autobiographical novels, The Dharma Bums is based on experiences the writer had during the mid-1950s while living in California, after he'd become interested in Buddhism's spiritual mode of understanding. One of the book's main characters, Japhy Ryder, is based on the real poet Gary Snyder, who was a close friend and whose interest in Buddhism influenced Kerouac. This book is a must-read for any serious Kerouac fan.


Autobiographical novel by Jack Kerouac, published in 1958. The story's narrator, Raymond Smith, is based on Kerouac himself, and the poet-woodsman-Buddhist, Japhy Ryder, is a thinly disguised portrait of the poet Gary Synder. The book contains a number of other characters who are drawn from actual poets and writers. The plot unfolds when Smith, who is suffering spiritual conflicts amid the emptiness of middle-class American life, meets Ryder, whom he immediately recognizes as a spiritual model. The novel tells of the growth of their friendship and Smith's groping toward personal understanding. Much of the story occurs on the American West Coast. -- The Merriam-Webster Encyclopedia of Literature

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 244 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books; Reissue edition (May 27, 1976)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140042520
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140042528
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.4 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (307 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #11,111 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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More About the Author

Jack Kerouac (1922-1969), the central figure of the Beat Generation, was born in Lowell, Massachusetts, in 1922 and died in St. Petersburg, Florida, in 1969. Among his many novels are On the Road, The Dharma Bums, Big Sur, and Visions of Cody.

Customer Reviews

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71 of 73 people found the following review helpful By James Ferguson VINE VOICE on August 23, 2007
Format: Paperback
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.
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95 of 102 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on August 14, 2003
Format: 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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51 of 54 people found the following review helpful By William Timothy Lukeman TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on August 15, 2000
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
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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31 of 32 people found the following review helpful By C. Ebeling on May 3, 2004
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
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.
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