We gave it a B+
The reputations of Kerouac, Ginsberg, Burroughs, and company have depended less on their literary legacy than on a sort of lifestyle contagion that they started. The Birth of the Beat Generation: Visionaries, Rebels, And Hipsters, 1944-1960, Steven Watson’s informal, episodic account of the Beats’ chaotic lives and works, with quotes in the margins and lots of pictures, amounts to a coffee-table book. But it’s also a mesmerizing mix of melodrama and farce. It leaves out none of the squalid details — jail terms, bisexual bedroom scenes, mistreatment of women, and enough drugs to start a pharmaceutical chain. It also leaves you respecting their sullen, manic integrity: They had the courage of their reckless convictions.