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Cambridge University Press
Online publication date:
February 2020
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Book description

Kerouac. Ginsberg. Burroughs. These are the most famous names of the Beat Generation, but in fact they were only the front line of a much more wide-ranging literary and cultural movement. This critical history takes readers through key works by these authors, but also radiates out to discuss dozens more writers and their works, showing how they all contributed to one of the most far-reaching literary movements of the post-World War II era. Moving from the early 1940s to the late 1960s, this book explores key aesthetic and thematic innovations of the Beat writers, the pervasiveness of the Beatnik caricature, the role of the counterculture in the post-war era, the involvement of women in the Beat project, and the changing face of Beat political engagement during the Vietnam War era.


Choice Outstanding Academic Title, 2021, Choice Reviews


'If you’re thinking ‘Not another book about the Beats!’, then think again. Steven Belletto’s literary history is surely the first to bring together the rigorous command of scholarly and critical analysis found in specialist studies with the capacious engagement found in cultural histories or essay collections. The book’s double achievement is to read deeply and yet wonder broadly, keeping the writing always center stage. Grasping both how the Beats have been represented and how ‘representation’ was itself the subject of their literary innovations, this is at once a sophisticated self-reflexive inquiry and a highly readable vademecum for anyone with an interest in the field.'

Oliver Harris - President, European Beat Studies Association

'Deeply researched and artfully composed, Steven Belletto’s The Beats: A Literary History presents along a historical arc a detailed and thorough exposition of the languages and literatures of Beat and Beat-influenced mid-twentieth-century American writers in literary and political contexts. Belletto’s comprehensive vision of Beat production will well serve scholars, graduate students, Beat course instructors, and serious fans of this critical school in American literary history - putting the field of Beat Studies forever in his debt.'

Nancy M. Grace - editor, Journal of Beat Studies

'Steven Belletto tracks the nascent gathering of a ‘libertine circle’ as their literary movement rose to worldwide literary and social significance. Deeply researched, intelligently organized, superbly analyzed, The Beats: A Literary History clarifies the historical, cultural, and aesthetic challenges of a widely inclusive cast of Beat artists. Indispensable to both scholars and general readers, this is the most comprehensive, levelheaded book on the Beat Generation and its era.'

Matt Theado - editor, The Beats: A Literary Reference

'Thoroughly researched, deftly organized, and perfectly pitched, The Beats: A Literary History immediately takes its place as the authoritative scholarly account of an exemplary literary and cultural movement. In every respect, this book is a first-rate work of literary scholarship and cultural history.'

Michael LeMahieu - author of Fictions of Fact and Value: The Erasure of Logical Positivism in American Literature, 1945–1975

'This book is highly-informative, and will appeal to both Beat enthusiast and Beat scholar alike. By placing well-known as well as lesser-known texts into a productive dialogue, Belletto has created a book that is extremely relevant and timely - a much-needed overview of Beat writing that provides a general introduction to their work while simultaneously advancing important claims. Through a series of insightful readings of Beat 'classics' as well as the work of those marginalized in the Beat canon, The Beats: A Literary History shifts attention away from Beat exploits and towards Beat writing, offering the reader a novel and better-nuanced account of the 'Beat sensibility' in the process. The Beats: A Literary History is an essential text for anyone trying to come to terms with that difficult-to-define concept, ‘Beat.’'

Erik Mortenson - author of Translating the Counterculture: The Reception of the Beats in Turkey

‘Belletto’s re-telling of Beat cultural history deserves every recognition, truly fresh boots on the ground.’

Robert Lee Source: European Beat Studies Network (

'… magisterial and encyclopedic …’

Loren Glass Source: Los Angeles Review of Books

‘I am sure young readers will turn on to this literature, will do well to encounter the work in The Beats, will see themselves as their heirs - as long as they call themselves anything but Beat.’

Regina Weinreich Source: The Brooklyn Rail

‘A … grounded, well-researched study …’

David Gewanter Source: Times Higher Education

‘A scholarly and trenchant contribution to Beat studies … Highly recommended.’

W. M. Gargan Source: Choice

‘Having defined a good literary history as one with a coherent and consistent intellectual perspective, I enthusiastically recognize Steven Belletto’s The Beats as the best example of the genre published this year … The Beats is not just good history; it is a good story, well told.’

David J. Nordloh Source: American Literary Scholarship

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