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Hunter S. Thompson - Fear And Loathing in the Gonzo Papers

Updated on March 11, 2013

The Gonzo Papers Anthology

This 900-page Bible of Gonzo writings is comprised of Hunter S. Thompson's collected journalistic and literary works published between 1979 and 1990. The anthology itself is a combination of three separate books earlier published by Thompson: The Great Shark Hunt (1979), Generation of Swine (1988), and Songs of the Doomed (1990). Each volume records a different generation in American political and cultural history from the 1960s through to the 1980s.

Dr Hunter S. Thompson

Hunter S. Thompson (1937-2005) is an America author and journalist who is best known for his novel Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream (1971). Beginning his career as a relatively conventional journalist in the 60s, the publication of The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Deranged for Scanlan's Monthly in 1970 marked his first foray into his own variant of New Journalism that he would term 'Gonzo,' a style that blurred the journalist with his own story, and fiction with non-fiction. Today Hunter S. Thompson is regarded as one of America's grandest counter-culture figures.

Reading Hunter S Thompson's Gonzo Papers is a very visceral experience. I highly recommend it to any Thompson fan; aficionados of American politics or journalism; or indeed anyone that is simply looking for a funny and interesting read.

They do not make many like Hunter S. Thompson; we are just lucky that he wrote as much as he did.

The Great Shark Hunt: Strange Tales from a Strange Time

The Great Shark Hunt (1979)includes some of Thompson's most renowned essays as well as his earliest work. This book covers his writing from 1956 through to the 1970s and includes excerpts from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, ...on the Campaign Trail '72, and his intensive and exacerbated coverage of the Watergate scandal.

The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved, published in 1970, is one of the first essays featured in Shark Hunt, significant in that it marked Thompson's first headlong foray into a new kind of journalism that he would come to term Gonzo.

Other interesting articles include The Temptations of Jean-Claude Killy, the French skier who won three gold medals at the 1968 Winter Olympics and winning international fame before packing it all in to publicize Chevrolet cars for all it was worth, with Thompson trying to work out how he could survive his new life of delivering routine plastic speeches and conducting business with "a chattering greenback swarm of agents, money-mongers, and would-be "personal reps" of every shape an description" that represented everything that was shallow and wrong with Thompson's America.

But the main hunk of The Great Shark Hunt is related to the 72' election - Nixon's ensuing landslide victory - and the Watergate Scandal. While a very outspoken opponent of Nixon during his first term in office ('outspoken opponent' is a term which should be taken very lightly in this case) Thompson never really ventured into the field of political journalism until he begun following George McGovern, then running for the Democratic Presidential ticket. Joining early in McGovern's campaign, he was seen as an outsider without much of a chance. From this point on Thompson becomes obsessed with politics. Addicted may be more of an apt word. For while he published article after article Thompson never lets you forget the fact that he hates the whole political system.


The beauty of Thompson's style, and the defining character of Gonzo journalism, is that the Thompson himself is always apparent in his writing. And not merely as a casual observer; but as the protagonist: a doomed observer-turned-participant who is stuck in the mire of a story - trying to piece together an ultimately disfigured puzzle together. That puzzle in most cases formed a picture of the "decadence and depravity" of the American way of life.

The Gonzo author left wide open his journalistic process for us to see: the articles themselves, in many instances, become about the difficulties of writing the very articles we are in the middle of reading. Indeed it is an examination of his Gonzo style (and its intrinsic difficulties) at the same time as a piece of Gonzo writing in itself. This leads to a number of interesting results that are noteworthy:

One - As hunter became the protagonist of his own stories his journalistic writings not only offer historic value, but also serve as his personal memoirs covering his professional life. (Although we must be careful to separate the fiction from non-fiction - which is not too hard a job because a lot of the fiction is fantastical)

Two - We go through the process with the journalist: the all-nighter writing sessions loaded up with alcohol and drugs; the encounters with assholes who mistrust him with the same sort of caution they would show a freak; the endless flights, trains, and buses following the campaign trails around the country looking for an honest scrap to use for his next deadline; and the weariness that lead to paragraphs trailing off into irrelevance and occasionally total nonsense.

Thompson's America

The main theme running through all of Thompson's journalism is the American way of life and how far off the rails it has gone crashing since the days when the ideal of the American Dream still had a trace of reality or hope to its name.

The picture of Thompson's America is one in which the American Dream has not only been forgotten or misunderstood, but a landscape where the dream has been torn up, trampled on and sold in a pawn shop for all its long-lost worth.

It is a sad story, but there are heroes - not your all-American types of old like your John Waynes - but rather the Freaks and Geeks of the subterranean counter-culture - the choirs that sang the new gospel of the American Dream. Though they may have tampered with the chord progression and the lyrics and sung out of key, they are still singing the same songs of old. These are the people who Thompson most admired and type that he most easily related to, though he still regarded them with disdain as a group that could never be galvanized into anything near the resemblance of a concerted effort.


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    • Brandt Hardin profile image

      Brandt Hardin 

      5 years ago from Clarksville, Tennessee

      Thompson has influenced the past few generations with his invention of Gonzo Journalism. The Good Doctor broke the mold on writing and changed the world and the voice of counter-culture. His work and antics will live on to influence even more generations to come. I paid tribute to Hunter S Thompson and his work with my portrait and article on my artist's blog at


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