19 of 21 people found the following review helpful
on November 16, 2001
Let me start by saying that if you have never read anything by Dr. Thompson before, do not start with this book. Rather, start with some of his earlier material (Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas or one of his many articles for Rolling Stone).
I don't recommend this book to first-time Thompson readers because it is so disjointed that the reader, without knowing Thompson's style, may give up on Thompson before discovering his other great writings.
This is not one of Doc's greatest books, but its entertaining, none the less. Its almost worth it just for the funny pictures/faxes and the vicious jabs thrown at all of the canidates.
I rated this book with four stars because I thoroughly enjoyed the book. I enjoyed it so much because I am a Thompson fan and eat up almost everything he writes. Other people, however, would be better off starting with something written a little bit earlier in Thompson's career.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on July 24, 2000
Within the context of HST's work this definitely represents the low end. Having read most of his books it is painfully apparent that The Good Doctor wrote this one he was operating somewhere close to the nadir of his creative powers. Which is sad, because HST has chiseled his initials onto that mystic tablet of the cultural subconscious as one of the great voices of the twentieth century. You just wouldn't know it from reading Better Than Sex. When the folks at the end of the next century look back at ours to weed through the one-sided histories, buried testimonies, and hazy lies so they might weigh and measure the "truths" of our time, Thompson's version will be one that rings true.
Sweeping criticisms and grandiose statements aside, if you like Thompson after having read some of his other stuff, especially the political writing, then you will enjoy this book. It is still a fun book to read, its just not at the same level as his good stuff.
There are occasional bright points, notably the picture of HST with James Carville and the bit about HST resembling Bill Clinton's childhood nemesis, Tommy Stukka, which is mercilessly funny (starts around p. 136).
In short: if you are new to Thompson, buy something else (FLLV, Great Shark Hunt, Generation of Swine) ; but, if you familiar with the Good Doctor and his particular brand of journalism, meaning you know what you're getting into when you open up an HST book, then buy this book and read it and for so doing your world will be better, or at least a little less savage.
11 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on November 10, 2000
Like many another of his kind, Hunter S Thompson has outlived his greatness. When he started out, he was the most dangerous man in his vocation; now, even the Secret Service considers the guy harmless. Sad, but true: when he places bizarre calls to the White House switchboard and hollers "I feel like killing somebody!" in a crowded bar at the Capital Hotel on election night, it's hard to escape the suspicion that he's no longer doing this for the hell of it, he's doing it to live up to a character - doing what's expected of him. A well-behaved, sober Hunter Thompson would be more genuinely subversive than the caricature that slouches through the pages of this shoddy collection of faxes, scrawled memos, pictures, and a less-than-riveting central narrative that fails to plug us into the momentum of the campaign, so that the pay-off of the election itself doesn't carry any zing. But that's not to say it's a bad book. It's simply not an uplifting one - not that Thompson's earlier works weren't gloriously sordid and deranged, but here there's a lingering sense of waste, of failure, and it's hard not to see why. HST is a spiritual anarchist not truly at home in any civilized environment, and the only decade for him was the Sixties. He chronicled the downward spiral of the next two decades fiercely, but this final decade of the twentieth century seemed impossibly dull and discouraging to him. "The standard gets lower every year, but the scum keeps rising," writes Thompson in the defining passage of the book. "A whole new class has seized control in the nineties. They call themselves 'The New Dumb' and they have no sense of humor. They are smart, but they have no passion. They are cute, but they have no fun except phone sex and line dancing...." There were no heroes in the '92 election. Thompson backed Clinton, but only because he had a chance to beat George Bush ("a raving human sacrifice," says HST of Geo. W.'s dad, and "a criminal fraud worse than Nixon") and considers Perot beneath contempt, a spotlight-crazed little runt with no good in him. As for Bill Clinton, HST has a few positive words but no illusions about his "low-rent accidental fascist-style campaign." It's hard to forget the story of his extremely weird encounter with the future President in a restaurant in Little Rock; it's laugh-out-loud funny all right, but also very creepy in a way it's hard to put your finger on. As with much of the guy's work, it's sometimes hard to distinguish fact from forgivable hyperbole from outright nonsense, and maybe it's more fun that way. But HST saves his knockout punch for the very end, almost as an afterthought: his Rolling Stone obituary for Richard Nixon. If this weren't also available somewhere on the internet, its inclusion would justify purchasing Better Than Sex. Much earlier in the book, he remembers his shock on first reading H. L. Mencken's vicious obituary of William Jennings Bryan - "I remember thinking...Ye gods, this is evil. I had learned in school that Bryan was a genuine hero of history, but after reading Mencken's brutal obit, I knew in my heart that he was, in truth, a monster." Mencken's piece was the standard HST held himself to when he prepared to write Nixon's eulogy, and he lived up to it: these few brutal pages are perhaps the most stunning he's ever written. If our 37th President is remembered by only one document, let it be this. If the tone seems strangely personal, it's because this piece, the culmination of HST's career as a political journalist, is as much a farewell from Thompson himself as it is to Nixon. As he writes, "I am poorer now...He brought out the best in me, all the way to the end, and for that I am grateful to him. Read it and weep, for we have lost our Satan."
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on April 13, 2000
I absolutely love the writing of HST. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is, without a doubt, one of the most important books of the 20th century. On the Campaign Trail '72 somehow managed to get me interested in politics. Hell's Angels made me want to buy a motorcycle and rip down the california coast at midnight. But...Better than Sex is a dull, vapid, anorexic account of a dull, vapid, anorexic campaign. Approximately half of the 240 page book is made up of scribbled-out faxes and strange illustrations. Which is not necessarily a bad thing, but I would much rather read 240 pages of non-stop HST ranting. For whatever reason, the Dr. has elected to use the phrases "Ho, ho" and "bubba" at least once on every page, or so it seems. I've read other reviews that state that HST has lost his edge, that a lifetime of rum, cocaine, mescaline and adrenochrome has begun to catch up with him, but I hesitate to write Him off as a aging has-been quite yet. But after reading "The Proud Highway", one must wonder how HST himself would have reacted to a book such as "Better than Sex" if he were still a money-hungry book reviewer.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on May 12, 2001
Dr. Thompson's coverage of the election of the first rock `n roll president is a hoot and a half. From a hapless George Bush reeling from the loss of strategist Lee Atwater (RIP) to smooth Bill Clinton's hustling his way into the voter's hearts and minds, Thompson was a fly on the wall for it all.
Thompson went out of his way to make himself a part of the whole story, whether anyone wanted him to or not. It's clear by many of the memos and faxes reproduced here, many didn't. But that's part of the fun. Thompson can make politicians wiggle on the hook like no one else can.
Better Than Sex is a fantastic time capsule of the 1992 presidential campaign--even predicting that women just might be Clinton's downfall. Included also is an unkind obituary for former President Nixon and the legacy he left behind.
The book is subtitled `Confessions of a Political Junkie' and it is required reading for any political junkie.
8 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on June 2, 2005
I find that, no matter what book I read by the good Dr. Thompson, I can never write an appropriate review or make any sort of intelligent, logical comment on the subject. To date, I've read Hell's Angels, The Rum Diary, and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas twice, along with a few of the articles in Hey Rube. Picking up Better Than Sex, I hoped to finish the book and be able to, finally, write some sort of response to the book, putting to rest this impotence of critique that seems to hang like a strange, twisted shadow over his writing.
Like most people faced with the inability to perform a task, mine is psychological, rooted in a sort of awe factor, that phosphorous phantom known as envy that usually takes the form of imitation or fear and inability. I mean, essentially, you read Thompson and when you put the book down, you say "I want to write like that." Then, you open up Word or, if you're a bit old-fashioned, you pull out a pen and paper, and sit there, staring at the blankness, the perfect emptiness that you know you're only going to muck up because no human being can write like that.
No living human being, anyway.
What Thompson did - not only in writing but in life - was to infuse everything he touched with a sort of rough humanity. Whatever the subject, from the loss of idealism in the sixties hippy culture to why Bill Clinton was a weird one, but the only thing we had going in 1992, he could explain and expound upon it with the word of a poet and the common sense of your best childhood friend. The man knew how to craft a sentence and a story, something that was both informational and interesting, and by the time you reach the end of the story, you realize you're walking away not only entertained but educated. He had the power to do that.
Better Than Sex is a bit different from his earlier work, mostly in that it relies heavily on deviant, manic faxes sent to everyone from Clinton's campaign manager to Jan Wenner at Rolling Stone while Thompson was covering the campaign trail in 1992. While you're shuttled from one strange jaunt to the next, entertained at Hunter's various bizarre suggestions, you're also learning, picking up things you never realized were going on in that oh-so-important election year. He's pointing out mistakes that Bush Sr. made in 92, mistakes that were remembered not only by Hunter, but as becomes apparent as the book comes to a close, by the Bush II campaign. It's like a hard, fast look at the 2004 election trail, seeing the same plays from the same teams, except this time the away team learned from their mistakes twelve years ago, and they're not about to lose this championship again.
Reading it, however, isn't just an entertaining story or a guide to how to win a Presidential election. It's also a window into the mind of a man who was fed up with the Republicans twelve years ago, ready to take drastic action if Bush Sr. was re-elected. Reading it now, in light of Thompson's suicide in February, one can almost begin to comprehend the incomprehensible, as in his weirdest, most outrageous moments, Hunter revealed more of himself than he did when straight-laced and serious. In his coverage of the 92 campaign is the story of a man who could not live under the fascist iron fist of the more moderate Bush Republicans of the past, who reviled everything they stood for, and who threatened to flee the country should they take control for another four years. He shows himself as a man who is reinvigorated by the victory of sensibility over the zealous, Big Brother of a Republican party that was half the strength and only a forth as fanatical as the one that recently enthroned itself for another four years. He is revived by the masses throwing out the trash and choosing to change the ways of the country by making a choice for improvement and change. Twelve years later his rallying cry in Rolling Stone went unanswered, America chose fascism over freedom, and freak power as a force to be reckoned with is dead in the United States-how could he survive in that world?
This is not to say that a single presidential election could determine the life or death of one man; when it comes to politics, mortality rates are usually in the thousands. What Better Than Sex does say, however, is that like it or not, Thompson was a political junkie, that while his reputation was built on drugs, his perfect drug is a good political match, and that as a catalyst, it held major sway with a man whom drugs alone could not touch.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on February 23, 1998
"Better than Sex - Confessions of a Political Junkie" is probably Hunter S. Thompson's best work since "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas". The last time we found him on the Campaign Trail was during the 72 election, but the product of that experience - "Fear and Loathing on the Campaign trail 72" suffered from Thompson's obssesive attention to details of the 72 election race. Taken from a series of articles covering a year, and running over 400 pages of sometimes brilliant, sometimes boring commentary, it lacks the economy of expression that "Better than Sex" offers. This time Thompson takes no prisoners. No one escapes his wrath and slander because let's face it, in politics - no one deserves to. Thompson writes about modern political figures as if they just screwed his wife. "Better than sex" is packed with great illustrations, demented letters, and of course, the type of commentary that has made Thompson an American monster, and subsequently, America's greatest living author. This is "Da Bomb". Jim Stiene
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on January 4, 2003
The election of 1992 seems more relevant today than when it was actually happening. With 8 years of Clinton, and 2 years of Bush II to look back on, HSTs experience and insights of the candidates (Bush I, Clinton, Perot) and the political movers and shakers (Baker III, Carvell, Stephanopolis)continue to provide the reader with a great deal of fear and loathing for politics and the carnys running the show.
I am admittedly not a close follower of Thompson's real life adventures and interests, but the book appears to document the seemingly surreal activities of a political junkie who incredulously is allowed great access and information at all levels with all candidates. There is no HST gunplay or heavy narcotics in this book - the power and intox of politics provide all of the action. Even though Thompson says he's bored with the subject of the election, his boredom tends to be more of a challenge to his creativity, which has resulted in fascinating and entertaining reading.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on June 8, 2001
In reading Better Than Sex, I found a calmer, older & wiser HST. A writer more astute to the 21st Century realities of politics and a writer tired of traveling. It seems as if HST wrote this book just for the fun of it (and he does have fun...probably his funniest work to date); rather than trying to meet a deadline, craming pages into the Mojo Wire as the book is being printed. This book is especially poignant now that we see with the hindsight of the Clinton presidency and of the political realities of the late 1980s and early 1990s. This is a great companion read with Primary Colors by Anonymous; a combination I created by accident.
In short, I was skeptical of this book, but as a card-carrying Hunter-Head, I gave it a chance. As a result, I've found my new favorite (Non-Fiction) HST book. "When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro." Selah.
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on October 31, 1999
I picked this book up because I've gotten really sick of politics these last few years, and I was hoping that instead of the battling candidates I could get some nice fresh acidic commentary. I was not disappointed. This book had its weak spots- too many faxes, not enough writing- but the best part about it was he didn't have any preferences towards one candidate or another. Thompson hated everybody. The world needs more of him and people like him, especially in another Godforsaken election year. He called George Bush Sr. a "raving human sacrifice". I can't wait to see what he says about Junior. Keep it up Hunter- we'll forgive you a few little slipups.