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The Proud Highway: Saga of a Desperate Southern Gentleman, 1955-1967 (The Fear and Loathing Letters, Vol. 1) Paperback – April 7, 1998

4.7 out of 5 stars 72 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

This first volume of the correspondence of Hunter S. Thompson begins with a high school essay and runs up through the publication of Thompson's breakout book, Hell's Angels. Thompson apparently never threw a letter away, so the reader has the treat of experiencing the full evolution of his pyrotechnic writing style, rant by rant. The letters--to girlfriends, to bill collectors, to placers of "Help Wanted" ads, to editors and publishers--are usually spiced with political commentary. The style and the political animus always seem to drive each other. For instance, an 11/22/63 letter to novelist and friend William J. Kennedy about the day's cataclysm is apparently the birthplace of the signal phrase "fear and loathing." (Thompson summed up the Kennedy assassination thus: "The savage nuts have shattered the great myth of American decency.") And the willingness to write strangers is stunning: this collection includes Thompson's letter to LBJ seeking appointment to the governorship of American Samoa. You might have thought Garry Trudeau was exaggerating in his Doonesbury characterization of the Thompson-based character Duke. He was not. --This text refers to the Audio CD edition.

From Library Journal

"I'm already the new Fitzgerald," Thompson declares gamely at age 19, in 1957, as his cracking lifelong correspondence gets under way. "I just haven't been recognized yet." The original gonzo journalist, who struck the big time with his book on the Hell's Angels ten years later (when this first volume of correspondence terminates), amply displays his talent for bragging?and barking?in these self-consciously irreverent, wordy, and often tender letters he was fond of banging out impulsively to friends like William J. Kennedy (Ironweed); magazine editors from whom he hoped to scare up work; youths who asked for career advice; Lyndon Johnson, when asking for the job of governor of American Samoa; and writers whose work he read with violent pleasure or loathing (Norman Mailer, William Styron, Nelson Algren). Thompson enjoyed messing up wherever he could but he never lost a grip on his desire to become a damn good writer. This is a shot in the liver for struggling writers and a searing testimony to an important moment in American journalism. Highly recommended.
-?Amy Boaz, "Library Journal"
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Audio CD edition.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 720 pages
  • Publisher: Ballantine Books (April 7, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0345377966
  • ISBN-13: 978-0345377968
  • Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 1.2 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (72 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #60,559 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
I first picked up this volume when it was brand new and I was a freshman at USC, just entertaining the notion of becoming a writer. Now, some seven years later, I finally got around to getting my own copy and finishing it recently, I can say it was worth the wait.

Hunter S. Thompson may have only been thirty when the book comes to a close, but he does so much living in the 12 years detailed that one can't help but feel envious. From his stint in the Air Force to his various travels cross-country and to South America, Thompson remains a fiercely independent creature throughout his letters, heaping scorn and praise upon those he corresponds with as he sees fit. The bulk of the first part concerns Thompson's unfruitful look for a steady writing assignment early on, and one feels the sense of desperation and (dare I say) fear and loathing he builds up for the workaday world. Thompson's muse carries him far and wide, to outposts both remote (the heart of deepest South America) and wellknown (New York, San Francisco). Through it all, Thompson never loses sight of his original passion for the written word.

Some of the letters are to family or friends, with some fiery dispatches to entities Thompson felt had hurt him or America in some way (imagine writing a letter to Dubya like the ones Thompson wrote to LBJ without getting the Secret Service breathing down your neck). The friends that Thompson collects range from obvious (Hells Angels, other struggling literati), to the baffling (I had no idea Charles Kuralt and Thompson knew one another). Throughout, Thompson's savage wit and fiery temper burn through even the most customary notes to landlords or editors.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I read this book a few years ago, but never felt motivated to write a review until this sad day. HST killed himself last night--a tragic end to a savage, but noble, life. Over the years, I have read several of HSTs books and articles. They are all wildly original, fearless, brilliant, and (above all) LOL funny. Proud Highway is a fascinating read because it shows the evolution of HST's genius, from teenager through his maturation as a writer. You can see from the razor sharp, revealing letters the trials, tribulations, sacrifice, and hard work that transformed Thompson into the legendary, "gonzo" journalist he was. Despite his talent and humor, years of fear and loathing must have finally gotten to him. Rest in peace, Raoul Duke. You were a true American original and the world will be a poorer place without you.
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Format: Paperback
William J. Kennedy writes that odd things happen when you intersect with Hunter Thompson. Kennedy's introduction describes him as a masterful prose sylist. Douglas Brinkley, the editor, notes that Hunter Thompson took over Kierkegaard's phrase 'fear and loathing'. Thompson, Brinkely reports, had a ritual of typing letters at night. Brinkley believes that Orwell was a supreme influence of Thompson's style.

The letters written during Thompson's service in the Air Force evidence a young person literary to his finger tips. The editor uses notes to orient the reader by saying, for instance, now he is reading F. Scott FitzGerald, or John Dos Passos. Like many young people suffering from maladjustment, he was also reading with great interest THE OUTSIDER and THE FOUNTAINHEAD. Thompson worked as a copy boy at TIME. Henry Luce set up a free bar for the employees on Sunday evenings. Hunter details in one of the letters how he took some of Henry Luce's things.

After being fired by TIME for insubordination, Thompson went to work at the MIDDLETOWN DAILY RECORD. He lost that job when he abused the candy machine. He thought LIE DOWN IN DARKNESS was great and wrote a letter to William Styron. (Actually, by reading this collection I learned to take a more charitable view of the journalistic posturing and strutting engaged in by Ernest Hemingway as his way of overcoming the terrible resistance of the blank white page to literary production.)

Thompson moved to San Juan to write for a bowling newspaper. Photographs show Thompson the Outlaw of Big Sur and Joan Baez, his neighbor. It was 1961 and he was 33. Thompson had a piece on Big Sur accepted by ROGUE. When his piece was published he was evicted for spreading gossip in a smutty magazine.
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If you've never read any of Thompson's works, I recommend you *not* start with this one. Buy a used copy of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (it's a relatively short book), read it and see what you think. You'll probably draw one of two conclusions: 1.Thompson is some kind of psychotic who should be put under surveillance, or 2. You'll find his stories hilarious and unlike any you've read before.

If you end up in the latter category, then buy this book. It will immediately give you a sense of how this man grew into his profession and how he became the person he is. However, that is not to say it's an easy read. Like any treasure hunt, you'll have to do some digging to find the gems -- some passages are a bit slow / depressing. But every chapter contains stories or commentaries which are truly priceless (unlike Mastercard). I started reading this book on a long flight across country; I laughed out loud so many times my fellow passengers probably wanted to strangle me. Hell, I wanted to strangle me ... but I couldn't help it. Thompson's commentaries on the powers that be, relationships, and a host of other subjects are so brutally funny it's impossible not to laugh aloud at times. Not if you have a pulse.
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