Just read - Hunter S. Thompson's 'Hell's Angels'

 "Just read" is a blog where I blog about something I just read. I'm trying to read more this year and I'd like to keep a record of that; blogging will theoretically help that cause.


After enjoying both The Rum Diary and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, I was very excited to dig into another book by Hunter S. Thompson, Hell's Angels. Thompson was embedded with a gang of motorcycle outlaws called the Hells Angels in/around Oakland for over a year, and this book tells his stories with the Angels and sees him commenting on their wild popularity in the mid-'60s.  


Perhaps it's the more straightforward tone or the mostly/totally nonfiction-ness of Hell's Angels, but this book was much harder for me to get through than the previously mentioned ones. It felt poorly paced by comparison, and sometimes dry despite a pretty interesting subject matter. You can tell that Thompson didn't have his full voice about him yet, but unlike The Rum Diary, where that was easily masked by a decent fictional narrative, Hell's Angels doesn't keep your attention as efficiently.  

I wouldn't say the book was bad at all, but it was a bit disappointing compared to my expectations. When Thompson does get going, in quite a few spots, the writing is clear and brilliant and effective. But the moments where he's on fire don't outnumber the moments where he's a bit dull, and the end result for me is a book that feels too long and over-detailed. His commentary on the Angels is interesting, but his tangents stretch too far at times.  

The greater issue might be that the Hells Angels weren't as interesting as they seemed. They had some wild publicity in the '60s after committing or being accused of some pretty hideous crimes, and when there's a good story to tell or some conflict between the Angels and the public to describe, Thompson does that well. But describing the day-to-day life of the outlaws is more difficult and less interesting.  

All that being said, it's easy to see why the book was widely praised upon its release. The Hells Angels were still extremely feared by many people when it was released in 1966, and Thompson provided an inside look into their lifestyle and psychology that no one had ever read before. It's also pretty fascinating to see Thompson fall deeper and deeper into the Angels' culture as the book goes along; by the end of it, he's writing about how much he loves his own motorcycle and the thrill of late-night rides.

Hell's Angels launched Thompson's career as a writer and led directly into Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Though it was published before Fear and Loathing, I'd definitely not recommend reading it as your first introduction to Thompson; I plan on reading more of his work, and I'm interested to see if I enjoy the Gonzo Papers series or Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72 more than I did this.

Hell's Angels is available as an IRL book and an e-book on Amazon. It's also available on Audible; if you click this link, you can get a free trial of Audible that includes two free audiobooks. Even if you cancel your trial, you'll get to keep these two books. Also: clicking on any of the Amazon links in this post, and purchasing something from them, provides a small percentage kickback to the author of the blog you just read.