Iowa Alumni Magazine | April 2005 | Reviews

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson

By David Frank
Daily Iowan film critic David Frank takes a break from movies to talk about one of his favorite books, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream by Hunter S. Thompson (Vintage).

What’s this book about?

Trying to accurately describe the plot of Fear and Loathing in a swift and concise fashion is like attempting to circumcise a grizzly bear with a lawn dart from 20 yards away. All I can do is lop off some, and present it with the clichéd forewarning, “But it’s sooo much deeper than that.” The book revolves around a drug-fueled trip to Las Vegas circa 1971 by gonzo journalist Raoul Duke (Thompson’s pseudonym) and his Samoan attorney to cover a motorcycle race. Yet, after Duke arrives in town (wigging out on acid, no less) the race becomes a small fragment of a romp through every crevice of Vegas in search for something—anything—that resembles the American Dream. Fear and Loathing is episodic, yet plot strands emerge and spool one event into the next until the thread is exhausted. In other instances, the narrative breaks down into a blitzkrieg of chaos as the main characters devour every illicit drug known to exist in the western United States. But like I said, it’s so much deeper than that.

Why did it have such an impact on you?

Thompson has called the book “a vile epitaph for the Drug Culture of the Sixties.” My existence slipped into the space-time continuum ten years after that, so the book’s impact has nothing to do with generational nostalgia. Instead, it boils down to Thompson’s unique prose. Ripped-off endlessly, yet never equaled, the man infuses every sentence with a manic verve and acerbic humor that drive his signature macho tone. Thompson’s word choice is simple, yet effective, and I often find myself envious because I hadn’t the good sense to string the same exact words together.

When did you first read it?

I first read Fear and Loathing during high school. Since then, I’ve read it innumerable times because it’s a constant fixture in my bathroom—so, I doubt anyone will ever be interested in borrowing my copy.

What would you tell people to encourage them to read it?

It’s hilarious, emotionally raw, and continually fascinating on both a technical and literary level… plus, it includes illustrations for those who fancy pictures with their words.