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Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream Paperback – Illustrated, May 12, 1998
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This cult classic of gonzo journalism is the best chronicle of drug-soaked, addle-brained, rollicking good times ever committed to the printed page. It is also the tale of a long weekend road trip that has gone down in the annals of American pop culture as one of the strangest journeys ever undertaken.
Also a major motion picture directed by Terry Gilliam, starring Johnny Depp and Benicio del Toro.
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On assignment from a sports magazine to cover "the fabulous Mint 400"--a free-for-all biker's race in the heart of the Nevada desert--the drug-a-delic duo stumbles through Vegas in hallucinatory hopes of finding the American dream (two truck-stop waitresses tell them it's nearby, but can't remember if it's on the right or the left). They of course never get the story, but they do commit the only sins in Vegas: "burning the locals, abusing the tourists, terrifying the help." For Thompson to remember and pen his experiences with such clarity and wit is nothing short of a miracle; an impressive feat no matter how one feels about the subject matter. A first-rate sensibility twinger, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is a pop-culture classic, an icon of an era past, and a nugget of pure comedic genius. --Rebekah Warren
From the Inside Flap
Now this cult classic of gonzo journalism is a major motion picture from Universal, directed by Terry Gilliam and starring Johnny Depp and Benicio del Toro. Opens everywhere on May 22, 1998.
- ASIN : 0679785892
- Publisher : Vintage; 2nd edition (May 12, 1998)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 204 pages
- ISBN-10 : 9780679785897
- ISBN-13 : 978-0679785897
- Item Weight : 7.4 ounces
- Dimensions : 5.15 x 0.56 x 7.95 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #5,710 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- #1 in Western U.S. Biographies
- #7 in Journalist Biographies
- #10 in Popular Culture in Social Sciences
- Customer Reviews:
About the authors
Reviewed in the United States on April 17, 2023
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What is Gonzo journalism? Thompson was a journalist in the sense that he wrote articles for magazines and newspapers and was sent on assignments to cover various events. However, he did not like to think of himself as a journalist because he disagreed with the whole concept of journalistic objectivity. He believed that it is a myth and, in any case, should not exist even if it were possible. His alternative was Gonzo journalism which, in his own words, means "telling it as it is". Gonzo journalists frequently and openly add their emotions to the stories.
For example, a mainstream journalist covering some politician's speech will say that the politician said this and that. A Gonzo journalist will also narrate what was said in the speech, but he might also add that the speech was stupid and boring and not to be trusted because the politician in question is a lying swine.
Although Gonzo journalists are not supposed to write complete fiction, they often edit and rearrange events for better narrative, exaggerate or downplay things and add a little bit of fiction (but not too much) for good effect.
Gonzo journalism gained some small amount of respect and popularity after Fear and Loathing, but it was only with the establishment of the Internet and the spread of private blogs that it exploded.
The book is, at least officially, not a work of fiction, but an autobiographical novel about Thompson's trip to Las Vegas in 1971 to cover Mint 400 race and a police convention on narcotics.
It is known that he really did attend these two events, but a month apart and not few days apart as in the book. There is a lot of debate what in the book is authentic and what is fiction. I guess we will never know. My review does not go into that. I take the book "as it is".
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is the story of journalist Raoul Duke (Thompson's alter ego) and his Samoan attorney referred to only as Dr. Gonzo. Duke is assigned to cover the Mint 400 race and Dr. Gonzo tags along.
They get themselves a big red Cadillac, pack the trunk full with assorted drugs and off they go. Few days later they go back to cover a police convention on narcotics. In the meantime they also look for the American Dream, without having the slightest idea just what exactly American Dream is.
The two are almost permanently on drugs. Their conversations and behavior are so weird, paranoid and outrageous that you can never be sure if they are under influence of something or not. The situations they get themselves involved in range from hilarious to violent, sad, bewildering and sometimes all of the above rolled into one. Strangely, although farfetched, these happenings are all believable. The two of them are often afraid of the law, but despite behavior that sometimes borders on criminality, no one calls police on them.
I find it perfectly realistic. When confronted with crazy behavior, people tend to react in a number of ways. They might assume that this is a joke and laugh, they might be so shocked that they might not know what to do or they play along just to make the crazy person go away.
People are willing to buy any excuse you can give them. Duke and Gonzo often get away with their shenanigans simply by saying things like: "my friend is drunk," or "my friend has a heart problem and he just took his medicine". People don't want to have more problems than they already have. Unless things turn violent, they prefer not to call the authorities.
But the book is much more than "two junkies gone wild", however. There are a number of themes here. I will speak of the three major ones I've found.
One is drugs. Although drugs have been around for long time, their popularity exploded in 1960s. They were the newest form of entertainment and formed part of the cultural revolution. Taking them was a way of rebelling against authority and the old order. But they quickly lost their luster and became a way of escaping reality. People took drugs for the same reason why some drink themselves into oblivion - to escape life and its problems. It was no longer about entertainment or exploring other states of consciousness. It was about shutting yourself down in order to avoid dealing with the world. This was in a way a betrayal of the ideals of the 1960s, which were about changing the world for the better and not isolating yourself from it.
Another theme is ridiculing and disrespecting authority. The authorities are portrayed as incompetent buffoons at best and corrupt and abusive at worst. Police gets the worst treatment, and no stronger is that denigration than the police conference on narcotics. The cops are completely detached from reality to the point of being laughing stock. Their knowledge of drugs, drug use and drug users is ridiculous and plain wrong. They even fail to notice two junkies literally sitting in their midst and making fun of them. But the saddest thing is that the cops don't even care about learning and deepening their knowledge; they came to Vegas to gamble and have good time. The conference is just an excuse. And I bed the trip and the stay were paid by the taxpayer.
But police are not the only ones who get the short end of the stick. Politicians, when not called liars, are made fun of. Celebrities are disrespected. An astronaut (this was just two years after Moon landing) is exposed as an egocentric idiot. Even religion is ridiculed in the form of a young, devoutly religious girl who jumps at the first chance she gets to do some drugs and engage in casual sex with a stranger. When not on drugs, she spends her time praying and painting portraits of Barbara Streisand.
In the background there is a quest for the American Dream. The two "heroes" have no idea what the American Dream is, much less where to find it, but they think that Las Vegas is the best place to look for it. And why not? Many books have been written about the American Dream. There is no clear definition of just what this American Dream is because it is a subjective concept. However, for most people American Dream is a materialistic concept to be understood in economic terms. For most people American Dream simply means getting rich.
And what better place to get rich than Las Vegas, a city whose purpose is, at least officially, to help you get rich? The city was built around its casinos, and a casino is a place where, at least in theory, you can get fabulously rich in very short time with very little effort.
Of course, and the book makes it clear, it is a lie. In Vegas, like in any other gambling place, the house always wins in the end. Even if you win at the table and walk away, they will get that money from you in some other way.
The whole getting rich thing brings us to the idea of consumer society. What is the point of getting rich if you don't spend your money?
Raoul Duke and Dr. Gonzo spend their time insulting, disrupting and desecrating the consumer culture any way they can, from not paying huge hotel bills to wantonly destroying expensive property to joking about organizing a gang rape on the religious girl just for fun and money. They do so as they roll through Las Vegas, exposing its glamorous side for what it is (a money sucking scheme) and showing us its ugly, hidden side.
They do find the American Dream eventually. There used to be a psychiatric club by that name that burned out and then was overtaken by local junkies. Talk about metaphors.
The book is a fantastic read and still very relevant today. The current situation in America bears striking resemblance to that era. An unpopular war is being fought based on lies, authorities gather more and more power while they hide their corruption and incompetence, politicians claim to represent the common man while they sell themselves to whatever corporation can pay them the most all the while we are told that nothing is happening and to keep spending money as before while a deep economic and social crisis is unfolding.
If things changed at all since 1971, it is for the worse.
I picked it up because I'm interested in the psychology of different cultural eras in American history. Actually, with this focus in mind, the book is fully engaging, despite its self-indulgence. First published in 1971, it conveys with laser-like intensity the American zeitgeist at exactly that point in time. The fiery passions of the 1960's were mostly burned out, but the emotional ruins were still smoldering. The idealism that people had once felt, or imagined themselves to have felt, was degenerating into nihilism and self-destruction. Hunter Thompson takes us to the surrealistic circus town of Las Vegas as the perfect backdrop against which to observe this process. He offers his own body and soul up as a metaphor for the waste.
Thompson applies his fabled "Gonzo Journalism" techniques to develop his narrative, meaning that while there's not much of a plot here, the storyline is based in a stylized bed of fact. He himself is the protagonist, and the other main character, whom he identifies throughout only as "my attorney", is Thompson's real-life attorney and close friend Oscar Acosta. An outrageous and threatening hulk of a man, Acosta serves as a comedic Mutt-and-Jeff counterpoint to the wiry and cerebral Thompson. They nonetheless share an identical provocative outlook on their environment, and their male buddy-bonding is the closest thing the book has to an emotional core.
The story gets underway with a journalistic assignment that LA-based Thompson has received from a "fashionable sporting magazine" (in fact, Sports Illustrated) to cover the Mint 400 off-road race held annually in the desert outside of Las Vegas. Thompson and his attorney don Acapulco shirts, rent a flashy car and head out across the desert towards Las Vegas. It's on this wild ride that we get our first glimpse of what's coming for the next few days, because these guys offer a whole new perspective on the phrase "drug freaks". Before embarking, they had stocked in a massive supply of virtually every consciousness-altering substance on which they could lay hands: cocaine, mescaline, hashish, LSD, amphetamines, even vials of raw ether, plus many bottles of tequila, bourbon, rum and a case of Budweiser beer. On their jaunt across the desert they sample this lethal stuff in abandon, fully aware of Nevada's draconian drug laws.
Our reckless heroes are flying high in the wind by the time they make it to the Mint Hotel, headquarters for the race. Thompson is hallucinating and imagines the hotel lobby to be full of hostile reptilian monsters, and the carpet to be soaked ankle-deep in blood. However, the nature of the co-dependency between Thompson and his attorney is such that, while one of them is almost always on the verge of drug psychosis, the other keeps a cool enough head for them to cope with practical stuff. The race is to start soon, and Thomson's attorney gets them checked in and helps him obtain his required press credentials. They then retire to their room and begin consuming large quantities of whisky as an antidote to the hallucinogens affecting them. Amazingly, this remedy works well enough for the pair to retrieve their car and make their way outside of town to the small oasis that serves as the race's starting point.
Thompson is back in professional mode by this time, but he quickly realizes he has a problem. The Mint 400 is a Mad Max kind of affair for motorcycles, customized dune buggies and other assorted strange vehicles. The racers blast off in tiers and then disappear into the desert, not to return until after dark many hours later. Thompson sees that there is no conventional way for a reporter to cover such an event, and the problem is aggravated by the fact that he's already bored with the project. He hangs around the oasis for a while talking to drivers, mechanics, and spectators, and he absorbs sufficient material that he soon decides he can safely abandon his research and still manufacture credible copy later on. He and his attorney then return to the city, where they resume their debauchery for the next couple of days. Like New York, Las Vegas is a town that never sleeps, and the two lurch around on a seemingly endless bender that takes increasingly bizarre twists. They bang up their car, encounter casino bouncers and angry drunks, and terrorize mild-mannered vacationers, all while ingesting more and more drugs.
At one point Thompson's attorney has had enough and announces abruptly that he has pressing business back in Los Angeles. Thompson drives him to the airport and returns to town with the idea of getting down to work on his article. Suddenly alone, however, he sinks into a state of helplessness and paranoia. He decides he's failed completely at his journalistic assignment. He realizes he has no cash and has lost his credit cards. He's not sure he can even figure out how to get himself back to L.A. He's outside trying to negotiate release of his car when he hears a voice he, in a paranoid panic, assumes to be that of a cop trying to arrest him. It turns out to be the hotel desk clerk with a telegram. What he then reads is an exultant note from his attorney ordering him to stay put because he, the attorney, is returning to Las Vegas with another reporting job for him.
This new assignment is much bigger than the first. It's from Rolling Stone, and it is to cover, of all things, a national district attorney's conference being held in Vegas to discuss America's drug epidemic. In his debilitated condition Thompson is reluctant at first, but his manic vigor starts blinking back to life as he considers the stunning irony of two of the country's archest drug fiends sitting for four days among cops and DAs as they talk about drug control. He accepts the assignment, and the two pals are back in their demonic groove again.
Their encounters with people, however, take a darker turn. Hunter Thompson was a serious gun enthusiast, and weapons - both guns and knives - start cropping up now in various deranged episodes. As a reader, you begin to fear someone is going to get killed before this is over. In one case, the attorney attacks a middle-aged hotel chambermaid who surprises him as he is vomiting into a wastepaper basket. It's Thompson now who plays the cool-headed pragmatist and breaks up the incident before any damage is done. In another potentially dangerous brush, the attorney picks up an under-aged out-of-town girl who forms a sexual attachment to him and won't leave. Fearing a statutory rape charge, the two men become serious long enough to concoct a strategy for harmlessly disengaging the girl.
Since Fear and Loathing was billed as quasi-journalism, Thompson obviously felt under no obligation to satisfy fiction's convention for an intensifying plot line or a satisfying climax. The book just kind of peters out at the end, without really getting to much of a point. There is some claptrap about chasing the American Dream, but it reads like self-parody and is not meant to be taken seriously.
Politically, Hunter Thompson is generally regarded as a man of the left. However, many people of that persuasion have a hard time reconciling their own beliefs with Thompson's love for guns or his flirtation - documented in another of his books - with the fascistic Hell's Angels. If he has to be labeled, he was a true-to-the-bone anarchist in open rebellion against all belief systems. Today, were he to submit to a psychiatrist, he would almost surely be diagnosed as suffering from bipolar disorder, aggravated by chronic drug abuse. From that perspective, Fear and Loathing can be read as an erudite depiction of a manic-depressive episode.
Life did not end well for either of this book's protagonists. Oscar Acosta was Mexican, and in 1974 he vanished in his native country, believed murdered by the gangsters with whom he was known to associate. In 2005, Hunter Thompson himself placed the barrel of one of his beloved 45's against his head and pulled the trigger. He left a suicide note that made light even of his own death. Per his known wishes, his body was cremated and his ashes shot from a cannon amidst a red-white-and-blue fireworks display. You can see it today on YouTube.
Charismatic manic depressives often have the ability to suck otherwise normal people into their manias. Hunter Thompson was an excellent writer who could accomplish this feat via literature. I recommend this book to anyone wanting to feel what it is like. Everyone else should stay away from it.
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I do NOT loathe 'Hunter S', found ''The Rum Diary'' to be good, and am exploring his work - however as one who grew up listening about how great he was, this is a massive comedown
When you get to a certain age and watch the film again (as opposed to watching it in your youth) you realise that is also absolute rubbish
I'm aware of Hunter S Thompson's style was a break through at the time but so was Jack Kerouac who actually delivered something readable.
No flow, no purpose and very little humour apart from 1 chapter towards the end, it's also factually incorrect, living of a citrus diet whilst consuming vast amounts of drugs does not recharge the soul, it pretty rapidly brings about vomiting.
I can easily read a book in 2 or 3 days, while this living hell took me months as I'm not easily defeated, I kept going back and forcing myself to the end.
This gets my award for the most anodyne piece of literature I have ever had the misfortune to encounter
Fear and Loathing is basically a rant against the Establishment. It has its roots in journalism and is the prime example of what Thompson dubbed ‘Gonzo’ or cartoon journalism. Here one finds the truth of one man’s search for the American Dream, but the book is more an attempt to expose the corruption at the heart of American society. The author does this through huge black banner headlines from the daily press, Steadman’s grotesque caricatures of angry, fat, snarling human beasts and a writing style that is deliberately non-literary.
It is a book that will mainly appeal to the adolescent and the disaffected. Thompson and his ‘attorney’ are on the road to Las Vegas, the drug capital of a drug-infested United States, driving a super-charged rented Red Shark, crammed with Class A drugs. Both are stoned from the start and remain that way throughout. Vegas is a pleasure city, where everything goes bang, but especially girls and guns. It’s the mid-Sixties and the enemy are the police, who are everywhere, threatening, intimidating and brutal under a veneer of care - but infinitely bribable. The search for The Dream is never-ending and pointless.
Where Henry Miller explored not only Europe but philosophy and literature, Thompson remains on American soil, a cynical joker, celebrating not sex but crime at the heart of a society, from which he himself, benefits and in which he glories. ‘In a world of thieves’, he tells us, ‘the only final sin is stupidity.’