Review: Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72

I’m a big Hunter Thompson fan from long before I was putting these posts up on the Internet. I somehow never got around to reading Campaign Trail 72 though I’ve certainly seen excerpts in various collections. I caught up on it recently and it reminds me that people – especially powerful ones – don’t change much. You can pick nearly any political trope that pundits are currently wringing their hands about now and see it in Campaign Trail.

I get the impression that many folks think of Thompson as strictly a hedonist and maybe a nihilist. I think he’s both those things, I think he’s also got a core of hope that people will use the influence they have to make a better world. Any of his writing on The Sixties characterizes much of it as a tragically missed opportunity. Even that’s a bit simplistic – and I think his later writings show he knows that – but I do think he never lost that bit of hope. I see the nihilism and misplaced hope both in Campaign Trail.

That may be projection on my part, of course. Thompson makes that kind of thing easy in his gonzo style. There are incidents and facts in here that are easily confirmed. There are incidents in here that are clearly fabricated. But most of what he writes can’t be confirmed, but is or isn’t plausible depending on your own beliefs. It’s a powerful reminder about how subjective all political writing and punditry is.

It is Hunter at the peak of his powers, so the best of the prose crackles with insanity that feels like prophesy. Worth dipping into just for the style of it all.


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