A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream
Hunter S. Thompson is the godfather of all the Nick Strausses and Sudhir Venkateshes you can think of. He was the guy who invented that type of investigative journalism which blurs the border between living and reporting.
And “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas,” a book in which he grapples with the failures of the 1960s counterculture movement, is probably the most famous one of this sort.
Who Should Read “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas”? And Why?
The American Dream is not necessarily just a Gatsbian rags-to-riches-story, and experimenting with drugs is certainly not merely a mind-expanding-Timothy-Leary-let-the-sunshine-in experience.
Hunter S. Thompson’s “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” portrays the other sides of these two coins brilliantly.
If you ever wondered what they looked like, this book is your best shot at making some sense.
Hunter S. Thompson Biography
Hunter Stockton Thompson was an American author and journalist, most famous as the founder of the gonzo journalism movement.
He rose to fame in 1967 when he published “Hell’s Angels,” a book for which he spent one year as an undercover member of the notorious motorcycle gang.
Four years later, he followed this success with “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas,” a book which has been adapted twice (once vaguely and once directly), and which, in all of its forms, has become – together with its author – an icon of the counter-culture movement.
He spent most of his life either drinking or taking drugs and, after a series of health problems, he committed suicide on February 20, 2005, at the age of 67.
You’ve got to be kidding us!
As can be evidenced by the very trailer of the cult Terry Gilliam film (starring Thompson’s good friend Johnny Depp and Benicio del Toro) made a quarter of a century after the book was published…
…”Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” is as interested in telling a straightforward story about as much as Donald Trump is interested in global warming!
Which is a very strange thing, indeed, considering the fact that it is a semi-autobiographical novel, meaning most of the things happening inside it actually have happened to the real author.
“Happened,” however, may be a wrong word in the context, because most of the book is hallucinations and the rest the actual effects of it, ranging from wrecked cars and hotel rooms to anthropomorphic animals.
So, to sum up for now –
Just like Hemingway’s “The Sun Also Rise”, “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” is a roman à clef, i.e., the fictional characters in the book are alter-egos of real people.
And these real people are only half real since all of the time are drugged.
Also, when we say real people, we actually mean just the two main guys of our pseudo-story: Hunter S. Thompson (on the left), and his lawyer Oscar Zeta Acosta (on the right), semi-fictionalized as Raoul Duke and Dr. Gonzo in the book:
The story is simple:
Raoul Duke is a journalist with an assignment in 1971 to cover a major motorcycle desert race, the Mint 400. He has taken with him his attorney and friend Dr. Gonzo and a lot of drugs.
In fact, he has spent all the $300 dollars he was given for trip expenses on buying every single hallucinogen imaginable.
And if you think that’s not a lot – be prepared to hear how much $300 are today, adjusted for inflation: $2000 dollars!
So, yes – that’s a lot of drugs!
So much so that a young hitchhiker Duke and Gonzo pick up on their way to Las Vegas jumps out of the car in the middle of the road, absolutely flabbergasted by their drug-induced behavior.
Finally, Duke and Gonzo arrive at a hotel, but Duke is so much under the influence of LSD that he isn’t capable of checking in.
Duke receives a message from his photographer contact Lacerda who wants to meet him to talk business.
But there are more important things Duke has to do before he starts focusing on such trivial matters – like, for example, doing some more drugs with Gonzo.
Also, entering his convertible in the Mint 400 motorcycle race!
He decides against it – not because it’s an unsound decision altogether, but because an attendant is rude to him.
Who needs it?
Duke and Gonzo stay up all night and somehow manage to arrive on time for the start of the race the next day.
They drink a beer with a “Life” magazine correspondent and trick some spectators into harassing a reporter.
Job well done – time to head to another party and get high once again.
In the meantime, Duke and Gonzo become convinced that Lacerda is plotting against them – so they start plotting back.
A quarrel ensues since Duke and Gonzo can’t decide on who they should see perform. Finally, they settle on a Debbie Reynolds show from which they are thrown out for causing a scene.
Now, who would have seen that one coming?!
Next stop: Circus-Circus, a disreputably wild hotel.
While Duke is out, Gonzo has taken so much acid that his character has turned acerbic. Gonzo is acting too violent for Duke’s taste, so he locks him in the bathroom and goes to sleep.
Cue in – some LSD reminiscences.
Next morning, unsurprisingly, Duke and Gonzo get a bill from the hotel they are unable to pay.
You know – because of all the money they don’t have now that they’ve tried every single drug in existence.
Gonzo heads back to LA, and Duke sneaks out of the hotel and checks into another one.
Fortunately, he receives a huge offer from the “Rolling Stone” magazine to cover – wait for it… – a District Attorney’s conference on illegal drugs!
Unfortunately, by this time he’s so high on them that he’s paranoid enough to flee Las Vegas.
Gonzo convinces him to go back and take the assignment.
So, he does – after few more hallucinations and events which may or may not be true.
He checks into the Flamingo Hotel and – surprise! surprise! – Gonzo is already there, having sex with a young girl whose name is Lucy and whose idol is Barbra Streisand.
Now, if you’re wondering how such an innocent girl ended up with a drug-addict, wonder no more: Gonzo explains to Duke that he had Lucy drugged as well, giving her LSD on the plane to Vegas.
Duke is sane for a moment and realizes that this is one of those things which can get both of them in trouble, so the guys abandon Lucy in another hotel.
Then they get even higher than before and go back to the conference, but Duke can’t bear to listen other people telling him stuff about drugs.
So he leaves the conference and goes to a bar with Gonzo.
And things spiral out of control from here on.
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas Epilogue
How much out of control can things get at this point?
Well, so much so that even the style of the book breaks down and, for one whole chapter, Thompson relays his probable experiences in the form of a raw transcript from a sound recording.
And there’s something from everything on it: dangerous stunts in the car, fights with tourists, a road trip to a desolate city and a burned down bar called Old Psychiatrist’s Club.
Finally, the trip ends, and Duke drops Dr. Gonzo off at an airport.
But, not the usual way: he drives his car right up to the plane.
And then he drives back to Las Vegas thinking about the bad state they left their room in, finding solace in the fact that they have managed to convince the maid that they are undercover cops.
Then, he meets his friend Bruce Innes at the Circus-Circus hoping to buy an ape, but the ape’s owner has left the building in the meantime.
That’s what Duke does as well when a security guard recognizes him as Dr. Gonzo’s friend.
Duke returns to the Flamingo where he finds his car wrecked and realizes that it was him who had done that, by driving it into Lake Mead.
He flies to Denver and briefly considers buying a Doberman.
But he comes to the conclusion that there’s one thing better than buying a Doberman, and that’s buying some more drugs, amyls in this case.
The book ends with Duke heckling two Marines leaving the airport restroom.
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“Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas PDF Quotes”
The only thing that really worried me was the ether. There is nothing in the world more helpless and irresponsible and depraved than a man in the depths of an ether binge. And I knew we'd get into that rotten stuff pretty soon. Click To TweetA generation of permanent cripples, failed seekers, who never understood the essential old mystic fallacy of the Acid Culture - the desperate assumption that somebody-or at least some force-is tending the Light at the end of the tunnel. Click To Tweet
Our Critical Review
We know what you’re thinking: what was that about?
Well, it’s about everything – but mostly about how the counterculture movement of the 1960s failed. And how the American Dream can be, more often than not, a nightmare.
And this is best summed up in the last sentence of the novel, where Hunter S. Thompson, aka Raoul Duke, describes himself thus:
I felt like a monster reincarnation of Horatio Alger: A man on the move, and just sick enough to be totally confident.
Horatio Alger Jr., in case you didn’t know, was the man who invented the rags-to-riches narrative. Hunter S. Thompson enjoyed self-destructively subverting it.
Find an enjoyment yourself with our summary – and a nice and tidy selection of the best “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” quotes we’ve personally selected.
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