Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail ’72
Hunter S. Thompson
Gonzo Journalism With a Political Twist
I like Thompson’s work. He’s insightful, intelligent, and overall just a really entertaining guy to read. Fear and Loathing is really no different in that respect. He follows George McGovern throughout the presidential campaign in 1972, and is writing a series for, who else, Rolling Stone. Starting in the primaries, he traces the campaign through interviews and friendships with those who are involved in it. Thompson makes no bones about his support for McGovern and his intense dislike of Nixon: neutral observer he isn’t, to the surprise of absolutely nobody. It reveals the campaign trail at its most raw, and all the emotions, work, and dedication that goes into a presidential campaign.
As much as I liked this book, it only appeals to a certain audience: the historically minded folks among us who also appreciate good political journalism.
Grain of Salt
Sometimes he likes to accuse various candidates of taking various forms of speed, which is a very subtle joke. It’s easy to miss this and others he places in the text, so I wouldn’t call this a book of record for the election.
Passage of the Day
I just really liked this specific passage in the book, and I’d like to share it with you all. While covering the Republican convention and protests surrounding it, he observes a group of Vietnam vets against war silently marching towards the convention hall:
But as I drove toward Key Biscayne with the top down, squinting into the sun, I saw the Vets… They were moving up Collins Avenue in dead silence; twelve hundred of them dressed in battle fatigues, helmets, combat boots… a few carried full-sizes plastic M-16s, many peace symbols, girlfriends walking beside vets being pushed along the street in slow-moving wheelchairs, others walking jerkily on crutches… But nobody spoke: all the “stop, start,” “fast, slow,” “left, right” commands came from the “platoon leaders” walking slightly off to the side of the main column and using hand signals.
One look at that eerie procession killed my plan to go swimming that afternoon. I left my car at a parking meter in front of the Cadillac Hotel and joined the march… No, “joined” is the wrong word; that was not the kind of procession you just walked up and “joined.” Not without paying some very heavy dues; an arm gone here, a leg there, paralysis, a face full of lumpy scar tissue… all staring straight ahead as the long silent column moved between rows of hotel porches full of tight-lipped Senior Citizens through the heart of Miami Beach.
The silence of the march was contagious, almost threatening. There were hundreds of spectators, but nobody said a word. I walked beside the column for ten blocks, and the only sounds I remember hearing were the soft thump of boot leather on hot asphalt and the occasional rattling of an open canteen top.