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Hell's Angels: A Strange and Terrible Saga (Modern Library (Hardcover)) Hardcover – December 7, 1999
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"Thompson has presented us with a close view of a world most of us would never encounter. His language is brilliant, his eye remarkable."
--The New York Times Book Review
"Superb and terrifying." --Studs Terkel, Chicago Tribune
From the Inside Flap
"California, Labor Day weekend . . . early, with ocean fog still in the streets, outlaw motorcyclists wearing chains, shades and greasy Levis roll out from damp garages, all-night diners and cast-off one-night pads in Frisco, Hollywood, Berdoo and East Oakland, heading for the Monterey peninsula, north of Big Sur. . . The Menace is loose again." Thus begins Hunter S. Thompson's vivid account of his experiences with California's most no-torious motorcycle gang, the Hell's Angels. In the mid-1960s, Thompson spent almost two years living with the controversial An-gels, cycling up and down the coast, reveling in the anarchic spirit of their clan, and, as befits their name, raising hell. His book successfully captures a singular moment in American history, when the biker lifestyle was first defined, and when such countercultural movements were electrifying and horrifying America. Thompson, the creator of Gonzo journalism, writes with his usual bravado, energy, and brutal honesty, and with a nuanced and incisive eye; as The New Yorker pointed out, "For all its uninhibited and sardonic humor, Thompson's book is a thoughtful piece of work." As illuminating now as when originally published in 1967, Hell's Angels is a gripping portrait, and the best account we have of the truth behind an American legend.
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Well, having recently been a fan of the FX TV show Sons of Anarchy, and after finding this book in the garage after a cleaning frenzy, I decided it was time.
On the good side -I found myself cracking up every few pages. This book is not nearly as laugh-out-loud as Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, or Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail, but it's still got its moments. There are also horrifying moments to be sure, but he manages to slip in an observation or a description that is vintage Thompson.
I found the book very interesting, and he not only talks about the Hell's Angels from the time he was with them (1965-66), but he educates us about the history of that group and other biker gangs. They essentially started when WWll vets returned home, and Hunter goes on to explain the origin of the 1% ers - the outlaw motorcyclists that are at odds with the AMA (the American Motorcycle Association.)
I have read some criticism that Hunter mythologizes this group as heroes, and I certainly didn't get that impression from this book. Thompson does humanize many of the bikers with nicknames straight out of Bad Guy central casting, but I never saw this as his being reverential to them. In fact, especially in the later chapters, he goes on to explain why he feels they are the "losers" in society, banded together with an allegiance only to each other and with the knowledge that they live in the here and now because their future is so unknowable and bleak.
Thompson also does a good job of showing how the media is more to blame for the group's barbarian image, than their actual exploits. Mind you, Thompson certain details examples of violence and savagery that would scare anyone and earn them their reputation - but the media's exaggeration of some of the more well-known events only served to make them famous. They became every decent citizen's scary boogeymen, and they achieved a certain cachet or prestige just because of that.
So is the book dated? In some ways, it is. This is certainly not 1965, and MC gangs like the Hell's Angels don't have the press or attention they used to get. Yet, I still found the book so interesting, and Thompson has a way of describing the type of marginalized personality that gravitates to this type of lifestyle in a way that's relevant today.
As I was reading it I was surprised at what I was reading, not because anything there was shocking (I have read just about every book on this subject), but because I was having a hard time understanding the point!
As to Tait being a rat, and that for this reason we should not read this book, normally I would dismiss that as somewhat silly reasoning. But unlike others that have been inside an OMG and written about it, Tait really WAS a rat, in that he was just an egomaniac wannabe that turned on his brothers. At least George Wethern ("A Wayward Angel") was an upright HAMC member before situations created mostly by his MC brothers put him into a corner. Tait has no excuse at all.
Another so-called "rat" (against Mongols) was Billy Queen ("Under and Alone"), but he was in law enforcement. Same with Jay Dobyns ("Angels of Death"). Those guys are playing their game the same way those on the other side play theirs.
As for Tait, I guess I like to curb crime too, but Tait set a few too many people up for my taste. I have a bit of a hard time swallowing Lavigne's hero worship of this character. Bottom line - the book is quite complete, but be prepared for it to leave a bad taste in your mouth.
If you are into this stuff, I do suggest "Under and Alone" (William Queen), "Hells Angels" (Hunter S. Thompson) and "Hells Angel" (Sonny Barger). Those books are educational while still being balanced and fun to read.
Most recent customer reviews
I read a page and was hooked I could not stop reading until I finished it at 5 AM.Read more