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Beggars of Life: A Hobo Autobiography

by Jim Tully

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1013215,254 (3.6)2
A bestseller in 1924, this vivid piece of outlaw history has inexplicably faded from the public consciousness. Jim Tully takes us across the seamy underbelly of pre-WWI America on freight trains, and inside hobo jungles and brothels while narrowly averting railroad bulls (cops) and wardens of order. Written with unflinching honesty and insight,Beggars of Life follows Tully from his first ride at age thirteen, choosing life on the road over a deadening job, through his teenage years of learning the ropes of the rails and -living one meal to the next. Tully's direct, confrontational approach helped shape the hard-boiled school of writing, and later immeasurably influenced the noir genre.Beggars of Life was the first in Tully's five-volume memoir, dubbed the "Underworld Edition," recalling his transformation from road-kid to novelist, journalist, Hollywood columnist, chain maker, boxer, circus handyman, and tree surgeon. Jim Tully(1891-1947) was a best-selling novelist and popular Hollywood journalist in the 1920s and '30s. Known as "Cincinnati Red" during his years as a road-kid, he counted prizefighter and publicist of Charlie Chaplin among his many jobs. He is considered (with Dashiel Hammett) one of the inventors of the hard-boiled style of American writing. In Oakland, California on March 24, 2015 a fire destroyed the AK Press warehouse along with several other businesses. Please consider visiting the AK Press website to learn more about the fundraiser to help them and their neighbors.… (more)
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I'm not sure what I find so appealing about hobo literature, but stories of men on the road, fending for themselves or banding together with others for temporary advantage, are fascinating. Seeing how little one can survive on--seeing the kindness of strangers--or seeing the horror of something like the lynching Tully describes near the end of this book. It all rings true and real, although I understand it isn't strictly nonfiction. What counts is that Tully could write with the best of them. His prose is straightforward, but not unadorned. There is no monotony, just solid description and the ability to put the reader in the middle of a pitch-black train car or a hobo jungle during a downpour. His observations, such as his high opinion of what he calls "women of the underworld," are convincing. The book ends with a paean to reading, citing some of his favorite authors and confessing to a lot of book thefts. Unlike most of the men he met on the road, Tully ended up thriving. And good for him. But let's spare a moment to appreciate the lives of the other men who lived by the code of the road and didn't fare so well. Tully's book is a fitting memorial for them. ( )
  datrappert | Apr 25, 2017 |
1924. A rollicking good tale of life on the road. Tully tells it like it was. He basically goes around begging and stealing and trying not to get too mixed up with the rougher criminal types. His depictions of incidents involving black people show the brutal way they were often treated among white hoboes and in society in general. It's not a nice or genteel book. He frequents brothels and isn't too kind to the women there, but neither is he entirely an unfeeling beast. He seems to be trying to report a faithful record of what happened, through a lens of his own prejudices, which I can only imagine must have been fairly typical of the time period. People are beaten frequently, injured and killed on the trains, and he witnesses a lynching at one point. It's a bit graphic sometimes. Overall, an interesting window into another era.
  kylekatz | Aug 17, 2014 |
There's some good anecdotal stories here but not much for plot; the chapters are snapshots of a life on the rods tied up in the end with a bit of socio-cultural commentary. What's most interesting about this book is the fact it's been out of print for decades and this publisher (Nabat) has spent time researching the archives of the Library of Congress to find books of this nature and republish them (i.e. You Can't Win by Jack Black - highly recommended). A publisher myself, and very interested in American history-culture-society, this strategy appeals to me.
  NateJordon | Feb 26, 2009 |
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A bestseller in 1924, this vivid piece of outlaw history has inexplicably faded from the public consciousness. Jim Tully takes us across the seamy underbelly of pre-WWI America on freight trains, and inside hobo jungles and brothels while narrowly averting railroad bulls (cops) and wardens of order. Written with unflinching honesty and insight,Beggars of Life follows Tully from his first ride at age thirteen, choosing life on the road over a deadening job, through his teenage years of learning the ropes of the rails and -living one meal to the next. Tully's direct, confrontational approach helped shape the hard-boiled school of writing, and later immeasurably influenced the noir genre.Beggars of Life was the first in Tully's five-volume memoir, dubbed the "Underworld Edition," recalling his transformation from road-kid to novelist, journalist, Hollywood columnist, chain maker, boxer, circus handyman, and tree surgeon. Jim Tully(1891-1947) was a best-selling novelist and popular Hollywood journalist in the 1920s and '30s. Known as "Cincinnati Red" during his years as a road-kid, he counted prizefighter and publicist of Charlie Chaplin among his many jobs. He is considered (with Dashiel Hammett) one of the inventors of the hard-boiled style of American writing. In Oakland, California on March 24, 2015 a fire destroyed the AK Press warehouse along with several other businesses. Please consider visiting the AK Press website to learn more about the fundraiser to help them and their neighbors.

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