Year
1957

The New York Times gives “On the Road” a rave review

On September 5, 1957, New York Times writer Gilbert Millstein gives a rave review to “On the Road,” the second novel (hardly anyone had read the first) by a 35-year-old Columbia dropout named Jack Kerouac. “Jack went to bed obscure,” Kerouac’s girlfriend told a reporter, “and woke up famous.”

“On the Road” is an autobiographical novel about a series of cross-country automobile trips that Kerouac made between 1947 and 1950, both by himself and with his friend Neal Cassady. Cassady–Dean Moriarty in the book–was a colorful character, a charming and good-looking hustler, occasional car thief (or not-so-occasional: he claimed to have stolen more than 500 cars while growing up on the streets of Denver), and aspiring writer who accompanied Kerouac on most of his journeys. (Cassady usually drove; after a childhood car accident, Kerouac hated to be behind the wheel.) In fact, Kerouac was inspired by Cassady’s straightforward, vernacular writing style–the poet Frank O’Hara described it as “I do this, I do that”–and he adapted it to his own epic narrative: To tell the story of his journey, he just wrote down what happened.

Legend has it that Kerouac wrote “On the Road” in just three weeks, typing it on a 120-foot scroll made from taped-together sheets of tracing paper. The scroll exists–in 2001, the owner of the Indianapolis Colts pro football franchise paid $2.4 million for it–but in fact the process of writing the book was hardly as improvisational as it sounds. After typing that first draft, Kerouac spent six years revising his manuscript before it was published.

 ”Just as, more than any other novel of the twenties, ‘The Sun Also Rises’ came to be regarded as the testament of the ‘Lost Generation,'” Millstein wrote in his Times review, “so it seems certain that ‘On the Road’ will come to be known as that of the ‘Beat Generation.'” Millstein’s prediction came true: Kerouac’s became one of the leading voices of that Cold War–era cohort of young people known as the Beats, who were disillusioned by the militarism, materialism, conformity, and emptiness they saw all around them.

Though Jack Kerouac wrote more than 25 books, “On the Road” was his most noteworthy success. He died in 1967 of liver damage caused by alcoholism. He was 47 years old.

ALSO ON THIS DAY

Sam Houston elected as president of Texas

On this day in 1836, Sam Houston is elected as president of the Republic of Texas, which earned its independence from Mexico in a successful military rebellion. Born in Virginia in 1793, Houston moved with his family to rural Tennessee after his father’s death; as a teenager, he ...read more

Russo-Japanese peace treaty signed

The Russo-Japanese War comes to an end as representatives of the two nations sign the Treaty of Portsmouth in New Hampshire. Russia, defeated in the war, agreed to cede to Japan the island of Sakhalin and Russian port and rail rights in Manchuria. On February 8, 1904, following ...read more

Ford assassination attempt thwarted

In Sacramento, California, an assassination attempt against President Gerald Ford is foiled when a Secret Service agent wrests a semi-automatic .45-caliber pistol from Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme, a follower of incarcerated cult leader Charles Manson. Fromme was pointing the loaded ...read more

First Continental Congress convenes

In response to the British Parliament’s enactment of the Coercive Acts in the American colonies, the first session of the Continental Congress convenes at Carpenter’s Hall in Philadelphia. Fifty-six delegates from all the colonies except Georgia drafted a declaration of rights ...read more

Crazy Horse killed

Oglala Sioux chief Crazy Horse is fatally bayoneted by a U.S. soldier after resisting confinement in a guardhouse at Fort Robinson, Nebraska. A year earlier, Crazy Horse was among the Sioux leaders who defeated George Armstrong Custer’s Seventh Cavalry at the Battle of Little ...read more

Battle of the Marne begins

Thirty miles northeast of Paris, the French 6th Army under General Michel-Joseph Maunoury begins attacking the right flank of German forces advancing on the French capital. By the next day, the counterattack was total. More than two million soldiers fought in the Battle of the ...read more

U.S. forces seize more of New Guinea

On this day in 1943, Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s 503rd Parachute Regiment land and occupy Nazdab, just east of Lae, a port city in northeastern Papua New Guinea, situating them perfectly for future operations on the islands. New Guinea had been occupied by the Japanese since March ...read more

Joffre gives order to attack at the Marne

On the evening of September 5, 1914, General Joseph Joffre, commander in chief of the French army during World War I, readies his troops for a renewed offensive against the advancing Germans at the Marne River in northeastern France, set to begin the following morning. With the ...read more

Calley charged for My Lai massacre

Lt. William Calley is charged with six specifications of premeditated murder in the death of 109 Vietnamese civilians at My Lai in March 1968. Calley, a platoon leader in Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 20th Infantry, 11th Infantry Brigade (Light) of the 23rd (Americal) Division ...read more

Massacre begins at Munich Olympics

During the 1972 Summer Olympics at Munich, in the early morning of September 5, a group of Palestinian terrorists storms the Olympic Village apartment of the Israeli athletes, killing two and taking nine others hostage. The terrorists were part of a group known as Black ...read more

Londoners desperately attempt to halt fire

Firefighters in London begin blowing up homes in a desperate attempt to halt the spread of a great fire through the city on this day in 1666. All other attempts to stop the progress of the flames over the previous three days had failed. By the time the fire was finally snuffed ...read more