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Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson

Thierry Ehrmann/Flickr

Hunter Thompson, who effectively brought us Hell’s Angels, tries terribly hard in this book to notarize his reputation as a major cultural outlaw. But this is more hype than book. It needs some humanity and a better understanding of what time it is. 

The book is in the zonked, road-writing tradition of Jack Kerouac, but it lacks Kerouac’s bleeding feelings. Despite some hip ironies and several funny episodes, Thompson’s world is loveless. People never become more than the one-faced drawings by Ralph Steadman which animate the book. Failing or unable to get beneath what he sees, Thompson is yet another carrier of journalism’s current typhus: he transmits surface description as analysis. When you can’t perceive, describe. 

He is best at providing a few practical drug-culture insights (his original mission in Vegas was a magazine assignment to cover an auto race and a police drug conference, which he and his Samoan attorney do by managing to maintain a permanent high on mescaline, amyl, acid, cocaine, screamers, laughers, etc.). He notes that the police are wasting money making LSD films, “at a time when acid is widely known—to everybody but cops—to be the Studebaker of the drug market.” He says, “the big market, these days, is in Downers. Reds and smack—seconal and heroin—and a hellbroth of bad domestic grass sprayed with everything from arsenic to horse tranquilizers. What sells, today, is whatever Fucks You Up—whatever short-circuits your brain and grounds it out for the longest possible time.” 

Consciousness expansion, he points out, rolled out with LBJ. Downers arrived with Nixon. But all this shall pass. The Reds are destined to have a hitting slump and be replaced by Golds, Pinks or maybe Muddy Grays.