The Great Shark Hunt: The Gonzo Papers Volume 1: written by Hunter S. Thompson (1956-79; collected 1979): Ridiculously long and curiously arranged, this collection of essays and excerpts by Gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson is essential reading for anyone trying to understand the America of the 1960’s and 1970’s.
Or the America of now. Because the scum also rises, still.
The early pieces demonstrate a Thompson in the process of developing that occasionally fictional non-fiction style known as Gonzo, where the Journalist Is There, though he may rearrange events to more cogently make a point. The normal undergrad thing to do is to latch onto Thompson’s tales of drug use, ether-quaffing road trips, and general bad behaviour.
But he’s a keen observer and commenter upon social and political topics. Much of that near-stream-of-consciousness prose still crackles, as do his observations from the underbelly of America. And by underbelly, I really mean all of America. Presidential campaigns are as scum-soaked and vile as any crime scene or ordeal of police brutality. Watergate is a doomsday that never quite gets to wipe the slate clean. Viet Nam is a horror.
Thompson’s bete noire was Richard Nixon, but the Gonzo bile also spews on career Democratic political hack Hubert Humphrey, the idiots of the Democratic Party establishment, Gerald Ford and his soul-destroying decision to pardon Nixon without a trial, fat cats of all types, and bastards, bastards, bastards.
It might be nice to have Thompson around today to peer agog at American politics and American society, but it wouldn’t necessarily reveal anything new. Sucking scum like Mitt Romney are eternal in their existence, changing only in their names and appearances. Highly recommended.