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Never To Be Replicated
on October 19, 2012
Hunter S. Thompson is an incomparable and dangerous writer. Incomparable, because he writes in a style that is at once energetic and rambling -- he spins a yarn that is so funny and crisp and observant that it is hard not to feel like you yourself now belong in the story, like you were there. He is dangerous because no one will ever be able to write like that again, and anyone who tries will only look pretentious, naive and cold.
I would therefore recommend this book, as with all HST books, to anyone with no literary aspirations whatsoever. But if you want to write, this is a dead end.
Thompson is perhaps the most enabled and indulged alcoholic of the 20th Century -- and there were many -- and F&L'72 is in some respects his greatest triumph. In form, Hell's Angels is his greatest work of nonfiction, and Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas is is greatest work of art. But at the outset of F&L'72 Thompson has already accomplished those two feats, and stands poised to attempt his greatest feat yet: covering the most salacious pageant that democracy has to offer, presidential politics.
He approached the task like Evel Knieval attempting to jump 13 buses at Wembley stadium -- blinded by his earlier success and unaware he was out of his depth. And like Knieval, he did not succeed, but it did not kill him either.
The force of Thompson's genius is in his ability to be aloof -- a times improbably, astoundingly out of touch with the severity of the subjects he was covering. His power is drawn from the fact that ultimately he doesn't care. In F&L'72, he covers, and he writes, and he really, really cares. And the book is about how the election got into his system and broke him.
In form, the portions of the book that were written are good, but not his best. The portions that are transcribed are tedious, impressive only in the level of access that someone like him was able to gain into a major party presidential campaign in the modern era. On the whole, Thompson's error is in flying too low, attempting to prove that he can hang with the regular press and not just the freaks. He perhaps succeeds, but he is not playing to his strengths, and it shows.