Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Hell's Angels: A Strange and Terrible Saga by Hunter S. Thompson (3.5/5)

First published: 1967
Page count: 265


The back says: "California, Labor Day weekend . . . early, with ocean fog still in the streets, outlaw motorcyclists wearing chains, shades and greasy Levis roll out from damp garages, all-night diners and cast-off one-night pads in Frisco, Hollywood, Berdoo and East Oakland, heading for the Monterey peninsula, north of Big Sur. . . The Menace is loose again."  Thus begins Hunter S. Thompson's vivid account of his experiences with California's most notorious motorcycle gang, the Hell's Angels.   In the mid-1960s, Thompson spent almost two years living with the controversial An-gels, cycling up and down the coast, revealing in the anarchic spirit of their clan, and, as befits their name, raising hell. His book successfully captures a singular moment in American history, when the biker lifestyle was first defined, and when such countercultural movements were electrifying and horrifying America. Thompson, the creator of Gonzo journalism, writes with his usual bravado, energy, and brutal honesty, and with a nuanced and incisive eye; as The New Yorker pointed out, "For all its uninhibited and sardonic humor, Thompson's book is a thoughtful piece of work." As illuminating now as when originally published in 1967, Hell's Angels is a gripping portrait, and the best account we have of the truth behind an American legend.

I say: I don’t really know what to say about this because there is so much information and so many emotions to be found in this rather short and fast read. I have never had any encounter with the Hells Angels, and even though some of the people Thompson met during his year amongst them didn’t fit the stereotype of what a biker is; the truth is that most of them did.

Fighting, drinking, drugs, bikes, women - a lifestyle I know little about, that everything – and even though I was just reading about it, I still got chills down my back when they talked about beating people up for the smallest imagined affront - or for their race, which I suppose is a major affront – and raping women. Actually, the entire chapter that dealt with their views on women made me sick.

It’s vile.

Just vile.

There is no chance that I will ever read this again, and I must point out that I admire Thompson his courage. It is a very interesting read, but also incredibly infuriating and I shook my head in disbelief so many times that I’m surprised it didn’t fall off.

To keep things on the short side: read it for the insight into a culture not many dare (or even want to – or are invited to) visit. I have little interest in bikes and bikers, and the only reason I read this was because it was a part of my 100 Classics Challenge. However, I am glad that I read it and I truly understand why this is considered a classic and a must read.

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