Jack Kerouac, along with William S. Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg , is considered to be a pioneer of the Beat Generation. On the Road is Kerouac’s most renowned novel, but many people ‒ with me being one of them ‒ consider The Dharma Bums to the superior novel.
The Dharma Bums is the semi-fictional accounts of Ray Smith, based on Kerouac, and Japhy Rider, based on poet Gary Snyder. This novel even has a few scenes with Alvah Goldbook, who is based on Allen Ginsberg. This book tells the tale of Smith as he travels around California, flirts with Zen Buddhism, parties with Goldbook in a makeshift shack in someone’s yard, and climbs Matterhorn Peak in California with Rider and Morley. The Dharma Bums is a unique book as it introduces the reader to the elementary foundations of Zen Buddhism, introduces the reader to what the Beat Generation was, and is written as a series of accounts and not as a comprehensive novel. Smith (or Kerouac) goes from getting high and having orgies in Goldbook’s little shack, to getting lost in the Mexican deserts, to traveling from California to North Carolina to get to his childhood home for Christmas, then to climbing Matterhorn Peak with no previous climbing experience. If you want a book that will encourage you to get up and get outside, this book is for you.