Book Reviews, Hunter S. Thompson, Penguin Classics
Comments 8

Prepare for the Weirdness.

I was always a fairly well-behaved kid growing up.

It wasn’t so much the fear of any awe-inspiring laws as the fear of disappointing my parents that kept me in line.

Still, throughout my school years, it was always the ‘bad’ kids that held the attraction for me, I was astonished at the things they could achieve when there was no concern for parental discipline. I tagged along on the out-skirts of these rebellious groups of pre-teens, attracted and intrigued by their laissez-faire attitude to life in general and authority in particular. I never really did anything wrong but I was always there, the smiling kid in the corner watching in fascination as the cooler, older kids fashioned a make-shift bong out of a coke can using nothing but their car keys.

Despite this, I generally believed that I was still a ‘good’ kid: a good kid in bad company.

Or so I thought.

It was only a few years ago that some of my best-friends from high school informed me that their parents had always seen me as a bad influence. Me! I was speechless. But it does start to make sense when you consider the amount of time I spent watching the bad kids, studying them as they flaunted all the rules. As they graduated and moved on I suppose I begun to take their place, bravely (or stupidly) leading where most were reluctant to follow. I was also in boarding school at this time, my parents a leisurely 2 hour drive away. This meant that as long as I kept my behaviour slightly under wraps, I could basically get away with anything.

It also meant that I became the scape-goat for my friends misdemeanours, it was easy to blame our wrongdoings on me as none of their parents knew my parents.

So I suppose I unintentionally begun to live ‘outside the law’, I managed to develop this outlaw persona despite having no idea that I was doing it.

Hunter S. Thompson, on the other hand, knew what he was doing. He first questioned authority when he was nine, and from that moment on, he never looked back.

I always figured I would live on the margins of society, part of a very small Outlaw segment. I have never been approved by any majority. Most people assume it’s difficult to live this way, and they are right – they’re still trying to lock me up all the time.

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His autobiography, Kingdom of Fear, is a thrilling non-stop ride through the beliefs and values of this eccentric yet brilliant man. The book is fabulous: gritty and confrontational and extremely eye-opening.

When I read a book, I fold over the corners of pages that have great quotes or that I think are most prevalent to the understanding of the book. In this way, I might have 10 or so pages dog-eared by the time I finish any given book. It is noteworthy to mention that almost every page of this book is dog-eared, a testament to Thompson’s absorbing literary style. I was often annoyed that I could only bend the paper one way, as there was brilliance both back and front of a page.

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Endless pages of brilliance.

Most people recognise the name Hunter S. Thompson from his ubiquitous book Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, and its equally famous movie version, starring Thompson’s good friend Johnny Depp. But Kingdom of Fear reveals a man who is far greater than the sum of his greatest novel.

A man completely entrenched in, yet passionately opposed to, American politics. The man who invented Gonzo Journalism and was at the forefront of the emergence of Creative Non-Fiction.

Thompson wrote this book at the end of what he believed was ‘The American Century’, culminating in the governments reaction to the attack on the WTC in 2001. He explains:

I have never had any special fear of Foreigners, myself, but I recognise a nationwide nervous breakdown when I see one. It is EMBARRASSING, for openers, AND IT SUCKS.

There is an overall subtle movement throughout this book that follows Thompson’s life from childhood to present, yet it is so interspersed with side notes and interviews and personal thoughts that it can become difficult to follow. In spite of this, though, his writing has a music and a melody that is enchanting, drawing you in and entertaining you while forcing you to question your own beliefs. I found the best way is to just read, don’t stop, don’t try and figure out who the eclectic cast of characters he introduces are, you will work it out in the end.

I can easily imagine Thompson hunched over his typewriter, music blaring, scotch and cigarettes in easy reach, frantically pounding out each word the minute it enters his brain.

These quick electric keys are my Instrument…That is my music, for good or ill, and some nights it will make me feel like a god.

Thompson addresses the flaws of American society in this book, giving us his interpretation of the slow and steady movement away from the peace and free love of the late 20th century to the fear and loathing of the 21st.

We were doing the same things we had always been doing, but we were suddenly committing more crimes…It was the beginning of the Criminalization of a whole generation. Yesterday’s Fun had been officially transmogrified into tomorrow’s insane nightmare. 

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It is into the fray of this ‘insane nightmare’ that Thompson wades, infuriated by the law-makers and the yo-yo president [Bush], and unable to stand quietly aside. He takes us through the turmoil of his attempt to run for sheriff of Pitkin County, Colorado, a campaign hounded by threats and harassment and two hundred and ten sticks of dynamite that were stolen from an Aspen ski Corp cache. According to Thompson the thieves left a note saying:

This [stolen dynamite] will only be used if Hunter Thompson is elected sheriff of Aspen.

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This book is of itself a rollercoaster, changing course and changing fonts at the same dizzying speed. It is peppered with interviews, newspaper clippings, magazine articles and plenty of photographs, fleshing out the life of this mysterious and intimidating figure. The trials and tribulations of Thompson’s life are almost too extreme to be believed, that is, if you knew nothing of the man. Kingdom of Fear is his autobiography and his legacy, an entertainment and a political statement all wrapped up as one.

Hunter S. Thompson lived his life in extremis, in protest of the fear and loathing he saw all around him.

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Guaranteed Fear and Loathing. Abandon all hope. Prepare for the Weirdness. Get familiar with Cannibalism.

Good luck, Doc.

HST – November 19, 2000.

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8 Comments

  1. Ha! I have solved the needing to dog-ear for both sides of the page by doing a top corner for one side and bottom for the other 😀

  2. Wow, I can’t keep pace with your brilliant recommendations. I think you have a single page with just the recommendations so I don’t have to trawl back. This sounds a tremendous read. I never used to bend corners as I felt that was damaging the work but now I see books as friends to be treated with rough familiarity. You should give your recs a “bend ratio” to assess them. Pages bent to total length of book. Better than a star rating.

  3. Hey Hey, friend and fellow dog ear page bender! I double dog ear my pages to indicate both sides of the page have fabulous quotes. ie Fold over initially then fold back on itself a smaller dog ear for the flip side… Great to know I am not eccentric enough to be the only person to do this to books. I think if I was your age, I would be totally obsessed with Hunter Thompson. Whilst I still admire the words for their brilliance, I find the overall tone of the book stressful. However, I can still admire the brilliance. I was also in the same category as you… sitting on the sidelines of the bad bunch, but strangely enough, learn that later I was talked about behind my back as being a pub runner/bad influence??? Fancy that… little ol’me….??? Great post!

  4. Wow, that’s awesome, the double fold! I do agree that the tone of the book can be quite stressful, I enjoyed it immensely but I can see what you mean. It’s funny to find out you were the bad kid, isn’t it. I wish someone told me at the time! Thanks for your comment!

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