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Hunter S. Thompson – Hell's AngelsHell's Angels was the late Hunter S. Thompson's 1st published book, although 'The Rum Diaries' (published a lot later) & 'Prince Jellyfish' (unpublished as of yet… the estate has plans, though) were written earlier. It is a straight journalistic work of research, and not in the 'Gonzo' style he became famous for later; although, with what we know today, some things foreshadow what was to come.

The book is a highly readable, interesting, and absorbing account of the time Hunter spent riding with the Hells Angels in 1965. He was never part of the group, but, after somebody introduced him to the San Francisco chapter, he asked if he could spend time with them, and write a book about; which, after much discussion, they agreed with. Hunter followed them in his car, and later on his motorbike (not a proper chopper…), including a high speed crash which took him, and his bike, off the road for a while.

The book operates largely in two modes – some parts are written in 1st person, re-telling stories which he, presumably, recorded on his tape machine, reporting from the midst of the action, with him present in the stories, which clearly foreshadows his later Gonzo style; although the accounts here are considered factual without the fiction elements he started using in his later books. There is lots of personal involvement, starting with the bike, beer runs when the Angels were not allowed to move by the police, drug taking - on part of the Angels, their environment (some of the Beat greats were very interested in the Hells Angels phenomenon), and on Hunter's part, too. There are no drug-addled bits like in 'Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas', though, that came later in his life, it appears he still was quite in control of himself and his recreational usage of all kinds of substances at this point.

The other mode of the book provides loads of background research into some facets and topics he considered central to the Hells Angels' existence and style of living, explaining how the Angels think and function (loads of anecdotes), but frequently pulling back from the topic and the stories to explore the larger picture, i.e. the society that created the Angels, press machinations etc

One thing he frequently outlines in his anecdotes is how misunderstood the (frequently repelling!) Angels are by the authorities dealing with them as well as society at large; never mind the press who has to sell units and happily helps these misconceptions along – never let truth get in the way of a good story, eh?

A well written book, by an author who, in the meanwhile, is mainly famous for his excesses and eccentric behaviour – maybe it's time to re-dress the balance, and re-discover Thompson the serious journalist and author again? This book makes a very good case for this – recommended for everyone with any interest in the topics of sociology and anthropology, and for all fans of Hunter S. Thompson, needless to say. Good stuff.

Title: Hell's Angels
Author: Hunter S. Thompson
Reviewer: Markus
Reviewer URL:
Publisher:  Penguin
Publication Date: 1967
Review Date: 090115
ISBN: 0140028013
Price: UKP1.25
Pages: 248
Format: Paperback
Topic: Sociology
Topic: Anthropology

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