book-reviews

Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail

by Hunter S. Thompson

Rating: ★★

Hunter S. Thompson's personal account of the 1972 presidential elections should have been insightful and entertaining. It's certainly an attempt at livening up political coverage. But the man appears to have absolutely no idea how to write a book.

First, I should point out that unless you actually lived through the 1972 election, and followed the Democratic primaries and the invisible primaries leading up to them, you will likely struggle with at least some of this book. If, like me, you're not even that familiar with this era of US politics, you're most likely going to be hopelessly lost. This is not so much a book as a series of Rolling Stone articles that Hunter wrote, usually past deadline, while covering the election for the magazine. Theoretically, a series of such articles could be edited into a book that captures the mood of the whole cycle. But it wasn't. Hunter's articles skip and slide across the whole damn election, refer obliquely to events that everyone at the time might have heard of, and are segmented mostly by the rough imposition of a monthly heading.

The result is a real mess. A slew of names and places, even the latter only vaguely familiar due to some prior understanding of the American electoral system. Hunter doesn't help any with his rambling, typically drug-focused asides. These are at least interesting, if sometimes very hard to believe, but their insertion into an already murky picture comes like a drop of mud. I don't find the slew of poisonous consumption Hunter aligns himself with to be a particularly appealing position, either.

There is some insight in the book. Parts of the tale of George McGovern seem to foretell, on one hand, Donald Trump and on the other, Jeremy Corbyn. The author does understand the world he describes, even if he doesn't do it very well. Hunter can even be funny, over a few paragraphs. But on the whole, this isn't worth your time.