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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 30 January 2015
“We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold.”

is one of my favourite opening lines in literature. Two paragraphs later are the equally brilliant lines:

“I hit the brakes and aimed the Great Red Shark toward the shoulder of the highway. No point mentioning those bats, I thought. The poor bastard will see them soon enough.”

That whole opening narration sets the tone of chaos and comedy told in a perfect deadpan that defines this book.

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream is a modern classic of American literature and is the cause for untold numbers of irresponsible Vegas road trips.

Published in 1971, it tells the semi-true story of when Hunter S Thompson and Oscar Acosta (renamed here as Raoul Duke and Dr Gonzo) went on a drug-fuelled road trip from LA to Vegas where Thompson was commissioned by Sports Illustrated to do a write-up on the Mint 400 motorcycle race in the desert.

The drugs they consume - marijuana, mescaline, all kinds of pills, cocaine, opiates, LSD, ether, and adrenochrome - lead to whacky adventures and surreal hallucinations as the pair barrel through a plotless non-story where they also cover a drug convention full of cops and go in search of The American Dream - or its corpse. Our anti-heroes learn nothing and have no character arcs - and it’s perfect!

I read Fear and Loathing some fifteen years ago when I was a teenager and remember devouring it in one go, laughing the whole time - it instantly became one of my favourite books. Years later, I’m glad to say it still holds up. I wouldn’t say it’s as intoxicating still, but it remains a terrific book and really funny to boot.

What’s most striking about Fear and Loathing is Thompson’s unique voice narrating with a loquacious urgency and an intelligently arresting, feverish, tone. It’s what makes this book so original. And that has to be stated: Fear and Loathing is ORIGINAL.

It’s said that there are seven basic plots in the world that get repeatedly used; so how do you get around that to create something new? Abandon plot altogether! Because, yes, there’s a kind of setup with the road trip and reporting, but nothing that could be concretely described as plot. Fear and Loathing careens around at high velocity though it’s aimless – and that’s fine because the book’s strength lies in Thompson’s unstoppable descriptive narration. The book also marked a shift from the author as the creator of the story to the author as the story.

And no, Fear and Loathing isn’t the first plotless novel or the first to feature the author as main character. It’s not the first to have a road trip or hallucinations feature prominently - I don’t mean it’s original in that sense. But there had never been a voice like Thompson’s before in literature - he’s the only reason this book is so much fun and so famous - and he would set a style that would be oft imitated for decades to come.

It’s also notable for being the first Gonzo book, meaning a blend of fiction, non-fiction, and fantasy. Cartoonist Ralph Steadman’s iconic line drawings capture the mania of Thompson’s potent writing and helped define Gonzo as a literary style.

But Fear and Loathing also has more traditional literary features, as befits a writer heavily influenced by Fitzgerald and Hemingway. The search for The American Dream, as abstract as it sounds, takes the form of the novel as well as a real place Duke and Gonzo go searching for – and turns out to be a long burned-out bar (heavy-handed symbolism, Thompson!).

The form of the novel could be seen as an indictment of the American Dream, post-idealistic ‘60s. There are snippets of news stories dropped into the text highlighting that ‘Nam was still ongoing, Nixon was in the White House and declared a “war on drugs” that persists today, people on drugs were killing others, and maybe Thompson wanted Duke and Gonzo to embody the America he saw in 1971: self-destructive, paranoid, and almost wilfully stupid.

Duke and Gonzo end up driving around in a white Cadillac Eldorado which Duke describes as “the White Whale” perhaps a nod to what is often described as “the Great American Novel”, Moby Dick. Are Duke and Gonzo the white whale themselves, elusive and hunted – is that what the “Fear and Loathing” of the title references? – or are they demented Ahabs, chasing the white whale of the American Dream?

While it has a lot of positives, I wouldn’t say Fear and Loathing is perfect. Certain skits like when Duke and Gonzo pretend to be undercover agents to the cleaning lady, or in the bar where Gonzo goes too far in soliciting a female bartender, were very unfunny and felt a bit dated. And, like the tail end of a bender, the novel starts to taper off towards the end and feels like its outstayed its welcome.

Make no mistake though: Fear and Loathing is an outstanding novel. Thompson’s irresistible voice is captured forever between the covers to entertain - and it is incredibly entertaining - for generations to come. Is it an important novel? I think there’s a case to be made for it being of minor literary import and I really think those first twenty pages or so could easily stand up to anything by Twain or Hemingway.

But for me, and probably for you, the real question is, is it a fun read? And it is. It’s so damn cool and sure of itself, the book swaggers! Pick this one up whenever you want to go on the greatest road trip ever.

No point mentioning some of the great scenes that await you inside - you’ll see them soon enough.
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on 14 November 2011
So, what to make of Hunter S. Thompson's jolly jaunt forty-plus years on.

I don't see this as an insight into American culture of the sixties and seventies, it is an account of one man's trip to Las Vegas and his behaviour during it.

He, on the one hand, is hardly representative of the American public at large. Whilst he may typify that category of drugged and boozed anarchist so feted by the self-styled and self-nominated underground movement comprising a rebellious student and cop-out adult population mix of the time, ninety-five per cent of America were just getting on with their lives and watching the five per cent on television just like everyone else around the world.

And Las Vegas, for heavens' sake, that's hardly representative of US cities then or now. It is where America allows for all manner of excess to take place thereby alleviating the strain in the pressure cooker that is an otherwise repressed and puritanical society. Those who work and play in Vegas may be everyday Americans but they are in abnormal conditions behaving abnormally, unless you believe we are all animals deep down and given the right conditions we simply revert to our basic instincts. The whole principal of culture is that we have developed beyond that. Hopefully.

Oh, and while I'm here, I have read that Thompson's drug abuse might be seen as a secondary issue as he is only using hallucinatory drugs rather than habit-forming nasties such as heroin or cocaine. Well, that's OK then. Throwing yourself off a building because you think you can fly is a minor problem, unless you're the person flapping their arms. Choking to death on your own vomit is not a problem for the rest of us and it's probably what you should have expected and thereby deserved. Curtailing your life-expectancy and mental strength is a necessary by-product of simply having a good time. And that's without Thompson's relentless concurrent consumption of alcohol just to wash the drugs down.

And is it just one big laugh from start to finish? There is no doubt Thompson can be brutally funny, can portray his extreme experiences with piercing humour. But this trip is not funny, it's frightening and should scare the stuff out of anyone reading it.

In his occasional lucid moments Thompson proves, in a few short sentences, what a masterful journalist and writer he was. One also senses a high degree of empathy with and respect for the working man and woman and a creditable scepticism for all things political and politicians. But under the influence of a catastrophic intake of drugs and alcohol he can do no more than exploit all those around him. His search for the American Dream is not a seeking out of something physical, it is mental. The fact that he is sidetracked into finding a disused building on some deserted Las Vegas back-lot doesn't hide that fact that the whole escapade is conducted under the influence, it cannot be undertaken when clear-headed and sober because that's where he has been for the rest of his life and that did not turn up the Dream.

It is cringingly compulsive reading once you get going and you have to stay with Thompson and share his pace and time. Alongside the text Ralph Steadman's illustrations are so right even that's scary.

Overall, I don't think we can relate to this today. If you were alive then you can make some sense of it, maybe, if you were one of the relative few whose life was (is) lived like when it might be a reminiscence of times past. For the rest of us it is a picture of the edge of society that bears little if any relation to what we experience every day we get out of bed.

It's pretty compelling though. I'm simply amazed he could remember it all, any of it, and write about it.
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on 10 August 2013
I bought this book because of a recommendation. The writing is very good, and it gives you a window into a different time and culture. It's definitely an impressive piece of journalism and historically very important. My own reading preference is for books I can read on my commute to work, that take me into a different world and provide a pleasant experience while teaching me a new perspective. This book definitely takes you into a different world and a different perspective, but I also found it to a rough and depressing read. The reality in the book is a mix between disillusionment, self-destruction, and a hopelessness that made me feel a bit empty on the inside. It's definitely a great book, and I think I would enjoy it in a different context but I personally found it unpleasant to read. I'm not a prude or have an issue with the drugs and violence described. It has its funny moments also but I didn't enjoy it overall.
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on 9 July 2008
Hunter S. Thompson is by far THE most entertaining writer in modern literature, it has to be said. His engrossing affilliation with substances that he swore he hadn't been taking during the writing of the major part of this novel, make this most probably the funniest piece of literature available. His quick wit and complete topsy-turvy sense of humour is only the beginning. As he travels through the desert with his attorney to "find the dark side of the American dream", they well and trully find it when they agree that any trip such as the one their making can only be made armed with a stupendous arsenal of drugs. And this they do. They engage in a completely twisted reality that is there's alone, and their journey, so infallible to their minds, leaps from one thing to the next supporting complete hysteria and laugh-out-louds situations, and I can honestly tell you there isn't a moment in this book that isn't ruthlessly fun.

Thompson manages to bring across madness in a sweet, yet shocking form, and produces simile after simile, metaphor after metaphor of true brilliance. I wouldn't go so far as to call this book a comedy, that would suggest that Thompson is attempting to be funny. But the fact is, he IS funny, whether you want him to be or not. His discriptions of the events that took place are superb, giving you the absolute feeling that you were right in the back seat of their car with the hitchhiker himself, and even more. His emotions and the feelings of his attorney are all described and somehow justified in some twisted way, and you can't help but get pulled into the story.

Apart from being hilarious, and wildly enteraining, the book also shows an overture on the scary American dream that was large during the late sixties. The malignant culture is portrayed wonderfully, and described from the standpoint of someone who got involved himself, and he describes the whole thing from things he saw. Even after the book has finished you'll find yourself hearing Hunter S. Thompson speaking in your head describing your every move in the form of one of his writings, almost like he's part of your sub-concious. His power, delivery and intoxicatingly clever witted nature makes this book what it is: a masterpiece. No wonder it became a modern classic.
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on 20 January 2006
By far the most intelligent and funny book I've ever read. But it's so much more than that, it captures the polarization of cultures in america at the end of the sixties and many of the observations still ring true today. A brilliant satire, the drawings by Ralph Steadman complement the text wonderfully well.
My favourite quote: 'at one point I tried to drive the Great Red Shark into the laundry room of the Landmark Hotel - but the door was too narrow, and the people inside seemed dangerously excited'.
RIP Hunter.
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on 15 November 2010
Looking for the American Dream in Las Vegas, Thompson embarks on the craziest ride of his life with his attorney and frined the Samoan Dr Gonzo...
This has got to be the most twisted book I have ever read in my entire life. Gonzo journalism is something cool, weird and unpredictable. But most of all overflowing with more drugs than I could possible remember or the their combination of! The amount of alcohol and schizophrenic behavior in this book is so overwhelming you just cannot help it but laugh. Hunter S. Thompson for me is a genius. I can almost see why he decided to leave this vain cruel world; because there was no humor left in it to entertain him. I highly recommend it to anybody who claims to have an open mind. I have become a fan of Thompson's and have placed an order for more of his books.
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on 17 May 2016
Thompson, Hunter S. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
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.’
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`Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas' is the hilarious and irreverent novel from Hunter S Thompson that has spawned many imitators over the years, but no equals.

This follows two drug fuelled characters as they get up to various exploits in and around Las Vegas. They drive around in a succession of convertible cars, first The Red Shark and then The White Whale and get into and out of numerous scrapes in the most hilarious ways. They even have the audacity to go to a police conference about narcotics!!!

I found myself laughing out loud at numerous times throughout this novel and whilst it is about drugs and the experiences had when taking them, it is in no way disjointed or confusing to read. You get a sense of the paranoia and hallucinations, without the confusion this could so easily create. This is based on true events and in true Gonzo tradition embellished in Thompson's most delicious way.

This book has a section at the back with a biography, explanation of Gonzo journalism, further reading list and more besides. This put the book into context for me and gave a great insight into the creation of this book and the man behind it.

This is a modern classic for good reason and whilst the characters get up to some unsavoury things during the course of the book, they carry it off with such style and humour that you can't help but be willingly taken along for the ride.

Feel free to check out my blog which can be found on my profile page.
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on 11 September 2011
This book documents Hunter's trip to Las Vegas with his attorney 'the Samoan'. He originally went to Vegas to cover a story for Rolling Stone magazine about a race that was taking place but ended up writing this book instead. It certainly captures the darkside of the effects of hallucigens as well as the excitement that they entail. The first part of the book is fast paced and the second part is harder to read as Hunter is on the come down. I found it to be a fascinating read and what is most interesting are Hunter's hallucinations of reptilian entities and flying dinosaurs in which he said were 'lumbering around the corridors in pools of fresh blood'. This is sheer craziness bound with ingenius and there are many parts where I laughed out loud... I love the line when his attorney says:

"I left you alone for three minutes! You scared the hell out of those people! Waving that god damn marlin spike around and yelling about reptiles. You're lucky I came back in time. They were ready to call the cops."

This is a great read for any body who is interested in the psychedelic experience or anybody that is interested in unconventional journalism which takes us outside of the mainstream. I enjoyed reading this so much that it inspired me to record my experiences when I was travelling in Thailand. GREAT STUFF!
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on 28 March 2011
A journalist and his attorney cover - or aim to cover - two events in Las Vegas: a motorcycle race, the Mint 400 and a narcotics conference for police officers. They consume large quantities of legal and illegal drugs of all kind. And behave in ways that reflect their intake, hallucinating the world and indulging in some very eccentric behaviour. No real damange is done, except to hotel rooms and vehicles.

One of the "1001 Books you must read before you die" concerning drug intake in the US, this is hilarious, where Junky is miserablist and the Electric Kool Aid Acid Test is sociological (in quite an interesting way, in both cases). This world has its own curious logic.

In the Modern Library of America's "The World's Best Books" hardback edition, the main text is accompanied by three extras. An earlier piece about covering the Kentucky Derby - journalism rather than fiction an with Ralph Steadman as the companion of Hunter Thomson - written in the same style as the novel, and just as brilliant. Also a piece about the circumstances of writing the book (which has some interest) and the more "serious" piece of journalism on which Thomson was engaged at the time (worth a quick skim only).
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