Book Review: Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

  • Title: Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
  • Author: Hunter S. Thompson
  • Year: 1971
  • ISBN: 0679602984
  • Rating: Well-written cult-classic that kept my attention.

This has been in my "fiction" pile for a while, so in the interest of "read it or pitch it" (the mantra for my book decluttering) I decided to give this a spin. I've never seen the movie (though I have a copy of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: Not the Screenplay that I also have not yet read. So I went into this book with the following expectations: 1) It's a book by a famous "gonzo" journalist. 2) It's considered a cult classic, and 3) It was so influential that Hollywood made a movie about it. I've been down this road before trying to read books like "Naked Lunch" by William S. Burroughs, "Clockwork Orange" by Anthony Burgess, or "The Illuminatus Trilogy" by Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson. Each one of those books reached my "Did not Finish" pile, so I was expecting the same thing: a generational version of Moby Dick that folks regard as a classic but was an unreadable mess for anyone who wasn't at the right age at the right time to appreciate it. What I discovered was way more breezy and readable than any of those tomes. It reminded me of the travelogue style of what I remember of "Travels with Charlie" by John Steinbeck if Steinbeck wrote like a Rolling Stone columnist and had a head full of acid, mescaline, and ether. What I thought would be a crepuscular plodding book was actually kind of funny, kind of surreal, and (dare I say it) readable. Sure, I wasn't around for the majority of 1971 so I couldn't relate to the shift from the 1960s to the 1970s, but I could relate to the feeling of days gone by and the coming of the Nixon conservatism that was my background radiation growing up.

I won't go into too much depth for what is in the book because there are likely two folks reading the review: those who have read the book or seen the movie, and those who have yet to do either. There's a boat-load of drugs in this book, but you probably already knew that. It's not the kind of book that I would recommend for anyone who is squeamish about drugs, alcohol, or (waves hands at 1960s counter-culture) but it is an interesting book with sharp writing that just draws you in. That it didn't hit my "Did Not Finish" pile makes it the rare cult-classic in a sea of other "classics" that made the cut.

Recommended with caveats. It's definitely not for everyone.