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You Can't Win by Jack Black
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You Can't Win (original 1926; edition 1999)

by Jack Black

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5711232,310 (4.21)6
"Much of this book is about loneliness. Yet its pages are bracingly companionable. It is one of the friendliest books ever written. It is a superb piece of autobiography, testimony that cannot be impeached. While it is a statement of an American tragedy, it has laughter, brevity, style; as a book to pass the time away with, it is in a class with the best fiction." - Carl Sandburg, New York World "Nothing half as rewarding has come down the highway of books about thieves, tramps, murderers, bootleggers and crooks in years " - New Republic "I believe Jack Black has written a remarkable book; it is vivid and picturesque; it is not fiction; it is a book that was needed and it should be widely read." - Clarence Darrow, New York Herald Tribune A major influence on William S. Burroughs and other Beat writers, this lost classic was written by Jack Black, a drifter and small-time criminal. Born in 1872, Black hit the road at the age of 16 and spent most of his life as a vagabond. In this plainspoken but colorful memoir, he recaptures a hobo underworld of the early twentieth century, a time when it was possible to pass anonymously from town to town. Black's firsthand accounts of hopping trains, burglaries, prison, and drug addiction offer a compelling portrait of life outside the law and honor among thieves. AUTHOR: The travelling criminal known as Jack Black was born in 1872 and disappeared in 1932. Black spent most of his life as a petty thief, opium addict, and convict. His matter-of-fact autobiography, You Can't Win, was published in 1926, and its stranger-than-fiction accounts of hobo life exercised an enormous influence on William Burroughs and other Beat novelists.… (more)
Member:scrapple318
Title:You Can't Win
Authors:Jack Black
Info:Nabat Books (1999), Edition: New Ed, Paperback
Collections:Your library
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You Can't Win by Jack Black (1926)

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» See also 6 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 12 (next | show all)
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  gakgakg | May 28, 2020 |
Smiler - “Kid, I’ll never try to rob another Mormon. I’ll go to work first.”

The author, Salt Chunk Mary, the Sanctimonious Kid (Sanc), Civil War veterans and all manner of ’yeggs’, vags, bums, winos, and ‘hypos’ fill this book with a cornucopia of colorful characters! Heck, even Bat Masterson is in here! And the 1906 earthquake in San Francisco! Black is a thief, albeit not a very lucky one, and his travels across the U.S.A. and Canada, and his travels through the jail cells of both countries, are quite an adventure to read about! He describes everything with great detail, including his heroin addiction, and he even gives his opinions on prison reform and ways to improve the legal/justice system. But it's his adventures that make this such a good read, and one can see the impact this book, and those adventures, would have on future generations, especially Kerouac and the Beats. This almost reads like a thief's version of "On the Road"! I sure am glad I picked it up! ( )
  Stahl-Ricco | Feb 11, 2020 |
Very readable, human and fairly open. I enjoyed reading it, but also think my feelings about it should be more complicated than they are. There is a lot going on with regard to morality, ethics, society and crime that really doesn't get reflected on as deeply as it should.

It sounds like a really wild life, which makes me wonder whether any of it was embellished. I looked around and haven't found any references to someone fact checking the book, which I'd be interested in seeing done. ( )
  reg_lt | Feb 7, 2020 |
i have read two autobiographies in a row now, and they couldn't be more different--Chateaubriand and Jack Black! No, not that Jack Black. This is former criminal and hobo Jack Black, who published this book in 1926. Like Chateaubriand, he gives an incisive picture of his life and times. Of course, the milieu is a bit different. Chateaubriand has the French Revolution for a background, whereas Jack Black has hobo jungles, cheap hotels, and prison. Both write well, however, although in very different ways. Chateaubriand's work is a literary masterpiece. You Can't Win is a masterpiece of straightforward storytelling using the jargon of the times. Both authors were well read, actually. Chateaubriand seems to have read every book ever written. Black, mostly during his spells in prison, had lots of time to read as well, and even ended up as a newspaper librarian once he decided to go straight, a few years before publishing his autobiography. So, while you might not be quoting or underlining passages in Black's book for their literary quality, you'll certainly remembers his stories of his apprenticeship in crime from a series of colorful, criminal, but somehow admirable characters--some of whom meet very bad ends. The preparation for the crimes and the details of how they were committed is fascinating. Home burglaries took place while the victims were asleep, and since valuables such as wallets and jewelry were usually kept in the bedrooms, that's where the thief went. Even if it meant putting a hand under a sleeping victim's pillow to find the loot. Other heists are a bit simpler, but not usually. And so many things can go wrong, as we learn from this chronicle. Of course, Black ends up in jail or prison. Jails of all types and prisons of all types, including in Canada, where a good portion of the book takes place. We also get interesting pictures of Chicago, Kansas City, Salt Lake City, San Francisco, and other places. Criminals must travel. The book uses a few words to describe ethnicities that aren't politically correct, but Black doesn't seem to bear any animus to any race or creed. He goes out of his way to praise the Mormons he did time with, for instance (most of the polygamists) for their generosity in sharing everything they had. Black also attests to the honesty of Chinese. He spent quite a bit of time with them due to his hop (opium) habit, which is one of the interesting sub-plots of the book.

Anyway, I highly recommend this book, as I did the first part of Chateaubriand's Memoirs from Beyond the Grave. Unfortunately, there is no sequel by Black. He apparently died just six years after this book was published, a presumed suicide. Details are sketchy--he disappeared and is presumed to have taken his own life after coming to the point where he didn't feel like living any more. This readiness for death is also a trait he shares with Chateaubriand--who just kept on living even when he had little interest in doing so! ( )
1 vote datrappert | Mar 25, 2019 |
Definite classic that not many seem to have read. ( )
  Paperpuss | Feb 25, 2019 |
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» Add other authors (1 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Black, Jackprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Lane, Rose WilderCollaboratorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Burroughs, William S.Introductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Clark, Bernard SetaroNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Disend, MichaelAfterwordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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"Much of this book is about loneliness. Yet its pages are bracingly companionable. It is one of the friendliest books ever written. It is a superb piece of autobiography, testimony that cannot be impeached. While it is a statement of an American tragedy, it has laughter, brevity, style; as a book to pass the time away with, it is in a class with the best fiction." - Carl Sandburg, New York World "Nothing half as rewarding has come down the highway of books about thieves, tramps, murderers, bootleggers and crooks in years " - New Republic "I believe Jack Black has written a remarkable book; it is vivid and picturesque; it is not fiction; it is a book that was needed and it should be widely read." - Clarence Darrow, New York Herald Tribune A major influence on William S. Burroughs and other Beat writers, this lost classic was written by Jack Black, a drifter and small-time criminal. Born in 1872, Black hit the road at the age of 16 and spent most of his life as a vagabond. In this plainspoken but colorful memoir, he recaptures a hobo underworld of the early twentieth century, a time when it was possible to pass anonymously from town to town. Black's firsthand accounts of hopping trains, burglaries, prison, and drug addiction offer a compelling portrait of life outside the law and honor among thieves. AUTHOR: The travelling criminal known as Jack Black was born in 1872 and disappeared in 1932. Black spent most of his life as a petty thief, opium addict, and convict. His matter-of-fact autobiography, You Can't Win, was published in 1926, and its stranger-than-fiction accounts of hobo life exercised an enormous influence on William Burroughs and other Beat novelists.

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