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The Letters of Allen Ginsberg Hardcover – September 2, 2008

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In 1962 Allen Ginsberg wrote to Bertrand Russell: All I know is, I've lived in the midst of apparent worldly events and apparent transcendental insights, and it all adds up to I don't know what. Both the worldliness and the transcendence come through in these letters by the beat poet, published for the first time. As the poet's biographer and prolific literary archivist, Morgan has selected just 165 out of more than 3,700 letters. They offer a comprehensive look at Ginsberg's life, from his earliest letter to the New York Times in 1941 to his dying message to Bill Clinton requesting an arts prize unless it's politically inadvisable or inexpedient. Ginsberg wrote at length to just about anyone: Kerouac and other literary colleagues, of course, but also journalists and literary critics who failed (in his estimation) to fully appreciate what the beats had accomplished. The playful, experimental side of his personality comes through, from his youthful attempts to attract the attention of Ezra Pound to his experiments with LSD. Ginsberg's admirers will be glad Morgan has followed the poet's instructions not to smooth out rough horny communist un-American goofy edges. (Sept. 15)
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Columbia College Today, Jan/Feb 2009
“Morgan has put together the best of Allen Ginsberg ‘48’s letters to friends and fellow writers.”

Augusta Metro Spirit, 6/25/08
“A stunning display of the mind at work…A talented editor with firsthand knowledge of the subject, Morgan is able to craft a fascinating journey through the mind of one of the world’s best poetical voices…Crafted with supreme care, organized under a chronological format, and placed together in a series of thrusts from the mind of a master thinker now gone, this collection of letters serves as a collective howl into the cognitive recesses within the open-minded free thinkers of today.”

Library Journal, 9/01/08
“Always intelligent, sometimes gossipy, and occasionally cranky and impatient, Ginsberg is accurately reflected in these letters taken together…On the whole, [Morgan’s] quest to compile ‘a greatest hits album’ of Ginsberg’s correspondence succeeds admirably. Highly recommended for all literature collections.”

Q Syndicate, 8/25/08
“[A] mouth-watering sampling of correspondence across six decades…Rich and revealing...Stamp this meticulously edited collection of letters ‘transcendent.’” It was also the column’s “featured excerpt.”

The Advocate, 9/9/08
“The Beat poet comes alive in his first letter to the editor of The New York Times at age 15, the desperate breakup note to writer Neal Cassady, and throughout his lifelong engagement with politics, literature, and famous friends.”

Beat Scene, 9/08
“Ginsberg was the central information centre for the Beat Generation and that is so evident from these letters…A major collection…Any self respecting observer of the Beat Generation should have this book.”

“Worshippers of Howl and the Beat Generation will revel in this impressive collection of correspondence between Ginsberg and myriad other luminaries…The letters…are extraordinary in their quality, in their content, and in their revelations about his personal and poetic desires, his struggles and success.”

Washington Blade
, 8/22/08

“A historical epistolary novel…A guide to the Beat generation.”  

New York Post
, 9/14/08

“Full of wonderful tidbits about Ginsberg.” 

San Francisco Chronicle
, 9/20/08

“This wonderfully rich collection of 165 letters from the 1940s until the poet's death in 1997, put together by his longtime archivist, Bill Morgan, gives us a firsthand view of the man behind the poems, someone of whom it can be truly said that the personal was political…This remarkable collection by someone who perhaps invented the concept of ‘oversharing’ long before it became fashionable, reminds us of why he mattered then, and still does now.”

Details, October 2008
“Morgan has catalogued 165 of the poet-activist’s letters to people you’d expect and some you wouldn’t.” 

USA Today’s Pop Candy, 9/26/08
“Good stuff!”, 10/08
“Will surely interest anyone who read [Ginsberg’s] work.”

Electric Review, September/October 2008
“The art of Ginsberg’s letters is captured in stunning form…Indispensable to all serious students of literature…A book that embraces the wonders of communication, each selection reveling in the sheer excitement of the connection…Followers of the Beat Generation will find countless hours of enjoyment here.”

Reference & Research Book News, November 2008
“From topics as personal as a recommendation of medicine for dysentery to Kerouac, to his excitement at discovering the painter Francis Bacon, to frank comments on his own work and that of others, the letters are captivating. Through them we see not only into the mind of a seminal poet but also into the society that shaped him.”

Curled Up with a Good Book, 10/08
“Since [Ginsberg’s] friends and correspondents included some of the great figures of his times, this epistolary collection has a deep footprint…If you want to understand the Beat generation, the hippies, the intellectual drug scene, the intellectual gay scene and poetry, this is a must-read.”, 10/30/08
“To Ginsberg fans and scholars, his letters provide insight into his personality, his creative process, and his works.”

Gay & Lesbian Review, 11/08
“Will doubtless serve a purpose for the many scholars and students of the Beat generation.”

January, 11/24/08
“Morgan has—once again—done a terrific job with Ginsberg’s words. In many ways, what we have here is the very heart of the Beat Generation. A wonderful book.”, 12/2/08
“We are served the spectrum of Ginsberg’s many moods and interests and his who’s-who guide of a rolodex…Some of the letters from the early ‘50s, pre-Howl, provide remarkable insight into the poems written around the same time…What The Letters offers that previous editions of Ginsbergalia, including the two biographies that have come out recently, cannot is the raw glimpses into the poet’s love life.”, 12/08
“A superb collection that mirrors the beauty, humor, and energy of Ginsberg's work, and will serve well those who entered, and maybe never left, their Beat stage.”

Magill Book Reviews
[The letters] indicate just how thoroughly Ginsberg often thought about a subject or situation, and just how much control he had of the rhetorical devices which make non-fiction prose an informative and illuminating form…A fascinating glimpse into an important part of American cultural history, as well as a kind of autobiographical account of the poet’s primary political and aesthetic concerns…[Morgan’s] concise, knowledgeable explanations and contextual formulations are invaluable in leading the reader, even one familiar with Ginsberg’s life, to a more complete understanding of the writer’s thoughts and emotional condition at the time of the writing. Ginsberg’s life has been adequately covered in various biographies and commentaries, but this volume adds to and complements all of them, a compilation of enduring interest to anyone interested in the poet’s life and times.”

Santa Fe New Mexican, 12/19/08
"A fascinating story...Morgan deftly injects notes before many of the 165 letters to give readers a sense of context. This turns Ginsberg's most private thoughts into a cohesive narrative...Watching Ginsberg mature as an artist in his private letters is a pleasure.", 1/25/09
“Reading The Letters of Allen Ginsberg is an unexpectedly moving experience…His letters show that…there was something rare and genuine about Allen Ginsberg. He may have been a fool, but he was a holy fool; and next to his holiness, the maturity and realism of his critics can look a bit unlovely.”, 1/24/09
“[An] extraordinary collection.”

Choice, 3/09
“Given that the academy still slights the Beats and that collections of letters frequently disappoint, this volume is a rewarding surprise…The letters develop narrative pull…The volume reminds the reader that despite his deference to Jack Kerouac, Ginsberg played a significant role in the Beat movement and era…Recommended.”

“Writing in the Mountains,” 1/30/09
“Interesting to read, just to get a glimpse into Ginsberg's life and the inner workings of his rambling mind. I found much humor throughout but also a lot of self-inflicted pathos which made the pages turn a bit faster.”

Hudson Review, Spring 2009
“Beat fans who aren’t sated by the Ginsberg-Snyder correspondence will also want to purchase, or steal, The Letters of Allen Ginsberg.”

“Full of everything one could hope for in a book of letters…The letters are informative, juicy, and poetic…A uniquely pleasing work.”


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 468 pages
  • Publisher: Da Capo Press; 1st Da Capo Press Ed edition (September 2, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0306814633
  • ISBN-13: 978-0306814631
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 6.4 x 1.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #814,154 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By mary helen wiesel on September 18, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Is the art of letter writing obsolete? Has the computer overtaken this longstanding form of communication that gives all writers their emotional and comfortable voice?

I read THE LETTERS OF ALLEN GINSBERG, edited by Bill Morgan, which proves the case for the importance and collection of such discourse, letter writing. Morgan has again compiled a masterpiece of Ginsberg's work to equal his brilliant biography, I CELEBRATE MYSELF: THE SOMEWHAT PRIVATE LIFE OF ALLEN GINSBERG with his latest collection of 165 letters selected from more than 3700 letters in a "greatest hits album" as Bill Morgan calls it. Morgan has selected correspondence of Ginsberg with such notables as : Jack Kerouac, William S. Burroughs, Lionel Trilling, Arthur Miller, Ken Kesey, Timothy Leary, Gregory Corso, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and many more on a huge variety of political and social issues.

I found every letter in the book very interesting. One that intrigued me was the correspondence on 10/04/1962 between Ginsberg and Bertrand Russell, the Nobel Prize Lauereate who stated that nuclear destruction of the planet was inevitable. Ginsberg became very concerned and replied in a letter about the end of existence. He said in one point of his letter, " All I know is, I've lived in the midst of apparent wordly events and apparent transcendental insights, and it all adds up to I don't know what. I hardly trust any appearance anymore, statistical or intuitive. I'd rather drift and see. "

I think Ginsberg's philosophy was just that, a drifting observation of the world events around him. He truly was a literary genius of the twentieth century, and I congratulate Bill Morgan for another masterwork on Allen Ginsberg. If ten stars were available to obtain for a superb collection of letters, this book would easily meet that expectation.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By W. H. McDonald Jr. on September 12, 2008
Format: Hardcover
A wonderful and insightful collection of letters that have been saved like the historic documents they really are. This collection of words from one of the great beat poets, Allen Ginsberg, was a delightful and intellectual discovery. I will have to admit to being a huge fan of the poets of that era; they expressed freedom not just with their words but with their lives. His words give the reader a better look at his naked soul. The letters show his emotional and spiritual evolution; and at times, the negative dark side that was also a part of Gingsberg. I felt it was a statement of who he was at those particular periods of his life.

This book is truly amazing for having preserved and recovered such an array of personal letters to so many famous and powerful souls. The creative circle that surrounded Gingsberg is impressive. His communications with them are insightful and sometimes whimsical or angry or funny but always entertaining and interesting!

This is a treasure chest of golden prose and the thoughts of the beat generation. It covers a long period of Gingsberg's adult life. Through his correspondence you can witness how he engaged every kind of issue from sex, and politics to religion and personal relationships. This is the kind of book that says more than any biography ever could have. We see and feel life and the world through the eyes of this most noble and free thinking poet; one that we will perhaps, never see the likes of again in our lifetimes!

I fully recommend this book to all lovers of poetry, the beat movement, history or those who love great prose. It is well worth your time! Definitely a FIVE STAR BOOK!
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