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Dharma Bums, The

Product no.: 0-14-004252-0
The best of Kerouac's autobiographical novels, The Dharma Bums is based on experiences the writer had during the mid-1950s while living in California.

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Publisher's Synopsis
Influenced by Gary Snyder and others, Kerouac began to study Buddhism in the early 50s. His novel opens with its autobiographical hero, Ray Smith, hopping a freight train, quoting from the Diamond Sutra, and almost believing "that I was an oldtime bhikku in modern clothes wandering the world (usually the immense triangular arc of New York to Mexico City to San Francisco) in order to turn the wheel of the True Meaning, or Dharma, and gain merit for myself as a future Buddha (Awakener) and as a future Hero in Paradise."

Kerouac's sequel surpassed On the Road, paving the way for the sexual freedom and cosmic consciousness of the '60s by introducing Tantric and Zen Buddhist principles to the West.


"Lyrical, moving, poetic, more real than real, The Dharma Bums by Jack Kerouac is almost a memoir, detailing his growth and experiences as a Buddhist and his adventures with his poetic friend and mentor, Japhy Ryder. Though never the bestseller On the Road was, The Dharma Bums has nonetheless been a very influential novel, a harbinger of the Beat Poets, the hippie movement, and the desire of an increasing number of Americans to go back to nature to embrace a simpler but more spiritually meaningful lifestyle.

This book is a classic that deserves a seat of honor on the Olympian heights of American literature. It expresses a soul-searching yearning and rootlessness, a search for the meaning of life and one’s place in this crazy illusory world of ours, one of the Big Themes prevalent in some of the world’s best literature."      ~Douglas R. Cobb


"Suddenly I heard a beautiful broken yodel of a strange musical and mystical intensity in the wind, and looked up, and it was Japhy standing on top of California and in all that rushing fog. But I had to hand it to him, the guts, the endurance, the sweat, and now the crazy human singing: whipped cream on top of ice cream. I didn't have enough strength to answer his yodel. He ran around up there and went out of sight to investigate the little flat top of some kind (he said) that ran a few feet west and then dropped sheer back down maybe as far as I care to the sawdust floors of Virginia City. It was insane.

Then suddenly everything was just like jazz: it happened in one insane second or so: I looked up and saw Japhy running down the mountain in huge twenty-foot leaps, running, leaping, landing with a great drive of his booted heels, bouncing five feet or so, running, then taking another long crazy yelling yodelaying sail down the sides of the world and in that flash I realized it's impossible to fall off mountains you fool and with a yodel of my own I suddenly got up and began running down the mountain after him doing exactly the same huge leaps, the same fantastic runs and jumps ...leaping and yelling like mountain goats or I'd say like Chinese lunatics of a thousand years ago..."


The American writer Jack Kerouac, b. Jean Louis Kerouac, Lowell, Mass., Mar. 12, 1922, d. Oct. 21, 1969, became the leading chronicler of the beat generation, a term that he coined to label a social and literary movement in the 1950s. After studying briefly at Columbia University, he achieved fame with his spontaneous and unconventional prose, particularly the novel On the Road (1957).

After the success of this work Kerouac produced a series of thematically and structurally similar novels, including The Dharma Bums and The Subterraneans (both 1958), Doctor Sax (1959), Lonesome Traveler (1960), and Big Sur (1962). His loosely structured, autobiographical works reflect a peripatetic life, with warm but stormy relationships and a deep social disillusionment assuaged by drugs, alcohol, mysticism, and biting humor.

Author Kerouac, Jack
Book Type Trade Paperback
Page Count 244 pp.
Publisher Penguin Books 1986
Gold Medal

Gold Medal


  Gold Medal Essential Reading

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