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3.8 out of 5 stars
Hell's Angels: A Strange and Terrible Saga
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on July 19, 2004
Having read Hell's Angels, A Strange and Terrible saga at least eight times starting in 1968, I never cease to be amazed at the criticisms leveled against it in the ensuing years, the major one being that it's not a Fear and Loathing book. I'm pretty sure it was originally a (very) long article written for The Nation magazine. The Nation ain't Rolling Stone, kids. If you are coming to this book expecting Hunter's usual blend of fact, fiction, and hallucinations, you will be sorely disappointed. "Gonzo journalist" though he is, the operative part there was journalist. He had, after all, developed a rather strong food habit since birth, and had no desire to kick it. He explores the Angels' mystique by letting them provide the history, their then current attitudes, and their lives as outlaws outside the system. He then blends research and his observations gleaned from riding with them for the better part of a year into the mix, producing a riveting book.
Since the recent death of Marlon Brando, his movie The Wild One has gained a new audience; it is in fact based on an incident Hunter chronicles in this book, the Rape of Hollister. Oddly, nothing remotely similar to the movie happened there, and some other legendary "motorcycle riots" such as the one at Laconia, New Hampshire, weren't initially riots at all, and certainly didn't involve the Angels, though the media portrayed these events as the brink of Armageddon and gave middle America yet another "dangerous group running wild in their midst," something else to freak over in addition to Communists hiding under every rock.
The Angels became, over time, what people expected them to be. Hunter recognized this transformational quality in his own profession: if other reporters, from respected national magazines, could make up stories or at least embellish them enough to freak people out, he could do it better! What you will find in Hell's Angels is great reporting, an unflinching look at real wildness and personal risk, and the genesis of what would become Hunter's trademark style.
If for no other reason, fans of Tom Wolfe, Ken Kesey, or the "Beats" (including the real "Dean Moriarty" from On the Road, still alive at the time, still driving, and hanging out with the Pranksters) should read this book for the legendary Acid Test at Kesey's place at La Honda when Hunter and the Angels showed up (by invitation, as Kesey was burning to meet them). In a singularly rare occurrence, we find two journalists just before they became instant icons writing about the same private party, rather than, say an inauguration, or awards ceremony, or some other public spectacle; the "public" was definitely not invited to La Honda. Compare Hunter's account of that weekend with the one that appears in the Electric Kool Aid Acid Test; you might just be surprised by who is the more "legitimate" writer.
I obviously love this book and highly recommend it, but again, it isn't FEAR and LOATHING WITH THE HELL'S ANGELS; it's far too serious a situation for that, as you will discover upon reading it. (And if that idea somehow still escapes you, watch Gimme Shelter, the great Maysles brothers' documentary of the Stones free concert at Altamont; if THAT doesn't do it, go down to your local biker bar and kick over a few choppers; you'll deserve what you get.)
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on May 24, 2009
I have read and re-read this book since the late '60s and have been greatly influenced by it. While the book is ostensibly about the Hells Angels, in reality it is a stinging condemnation of American society of the time. It skewers the complacity, small-mindedness and uniformity that was prevalent then and may be even worse now. It also offers interesting snapshots of developing counter-cultural trends and personalities, movements that now seem like dead-ends.

Hunter S. Thompson uses the Hells Angels to personify a group that had been left behind by the American dream and knew it. By extension, they represent all the losers and misfits that could not find a place in the greater or "Great" society of the time. During the period in which the book was written, the Angels had not yet become the criminal force that they now are. Is it possible that the way they were marginalized contributed to their increasing viciousness and lawlessness?

Elements of the author's self-centredness and over-the-top behaviour are revealed in the book but there is nothing of the egomania and self-destructiveness of his later works. He had not yet adopted, in print at least, the kind of persona that would ultimately lead to his death by suicide.

Read it and weep.
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on April 21, 2004
Roll up your sleeves boys and girls, if you read Hell's Angels the Doctor is going to inject you with a dosage of Outlaw Reality and Hog Rage as it were. The Hell's Angels are the last vestiges of the American Outlaw, 1%'s they're called, outside the outside, committed to a life of Freedom, punctuated by violence, booze, barbituates, indiscriminate sex and of course cruising the Amercian Wastelands on their Great Metallic Steeds, stripped down Harley Davidson's known affectionately as Hogs. Hunter S. is in his own right a one percenter. This book shows the Dr. of Gonzo's journalistic zeal, as he braves the world of the Angels, driving not a Hog as he should but a Dark Shadow. This is only too perfect as Hunter is the dark specter following the dastardly deeds of these bastard bikers. This book displays Hunter's ballsy journalism, as well as allowing him to focus on a central theme that would go on to pervade his other works: the outlaw and his importance to American society, a society that is dredged to the hilt with phonies, gutless wonders, souless greedmongers, hypocrites, cowards, politicians and other scum, capitalisitc, bureacratic, pig-like and otherwise. Hell's Angels is the journalistic calm that precedes the storm of hallucinagenic brilliance that was Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. So one way or the other let the Doctor of Gonzo vaccinate your mind from the mindless surge that makes up the money grubbing, TV watching majority of this Great Country of Ours. (...)
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on May 17, 1999
The book Hell's Angels, by Hunter S. Thompson, is one of the best books I have read all year. The one thing that effected my liking to this book was not the description, it was not the plot, and it was not the excessive sex, drugs and alcohol. It was the fact that Hunter Thompson was living with the actual Hell's Angels for almost two years, for the sake of journalism. Hunter Thompson is by far no saint (as you might know if you read Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas), but some of the things that were done in the time period that Thompson was living with them were down right sinister. Behind all the rape and the pillaging and the absolute destruction of human beings were the Neanderthals, that would strike fear in the heart of any decent, hard working American. The book goes into great detail about the ways that the press can manipulate a story, and the way that can mislead the reader, and the results of this. The worst thing about this is that a lot of the Angels had things happen to them that they were completely innocent of, but just the mere fact that they were Hell's Angels made them the enemy. In no way am I condoning any of the actions that some of the Angels partook in, but there is a large difference between committing the crime, and being friends with the people that committed the crime. I recommend this book to anyone who has ever wondered what lies on the dark side of society, and to any one with a strong stomach. Thompson is an excellent writer and does go into (sometimes obscenely excessive) detail.
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on July 2, 1997
Roll up your sleeves boys and girls, if you read Hell's Angels the Doctor is going to inject you with a dosage of Outlaw Reality and Hog Rage as it were. The Hell's Angels are the last vestiges of the American Outlaw, 1%'s they're called, outside the outside, committed to a life of Freedom, punctuated by violence, booze, barbituates, indiscriminate sex and of course cruising the Amercian Wastelands on their Great Metallic Steeds, stripped down Harley Davidson's known affectionately as Hogs.
Hunter S. is in his own right a one percenter. This book shows the Dr. of Gonzo's journalistic zeal, as he braves the world of the Angels, driving not a Hog as he should but a Dark Shadow. This is only too perfect as Hunter is the dark specter following the dastardly deeds of these bastard bikers. This book displays Hunter's ballsy journalism, as well as allowing him to focus on a central theme that would go on to pervade his other works: the outlaw and his importance to American society, a society that is dredged to the hilt with phonies, gutless wonders, souless greedmongers, hypocrites, cowards, politicians and other scum, capitalisitc, bureacratic, pig-like and otherwise. Hell's Angels is the journalistic calm that precedes the storm of hallucinagenic brilliance that was Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. So one way or the other let the Doctor of Gonzo vaccinate your mind from the mindless surge that makes up the money grubbing, TV watching majority of this Great Country of Ours
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on March 23, 1997
I'm always surprised when fans of the great Doctor tell me they haven't read Hell's Angels. Sure, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is probably his most humorous work, and some say it is the most profound. Fair enough. But Hell's Angels has much more substance, and it has a sort of historical significance about it for Thompson fans. It is the story not only of the famous biker gang, but, on a less obvious level, the events that shaped the character of Hunter S. Thompson and made him a true master of modern literature. It also shows what a gutsy journalist can do (and become) when he throws himself into a story. I've been a journalist going on 12 years now, and I blame Thompson for my sorry fate. Reading Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas when I was a high school senior led me to this "low trade," as the good Doctor would put it, but reading "Hell's Angels" several years ago reminded me why I chose this field and gave me the guts to stick with it, despite having to work for a wimpy newspaper publisher who eventually fired me for stirring up too much trouble with businesses owned or controlled by his millionaire friends. Thanks, Hunter. You bastard
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on May 28, 2000
I just gave this another read after having first read it in the seventies. It lacks Hunter's usual wit but offers a clear picture of those tumultuos times. This book was written before the fiasco at Altamont.
Hunter takes us on a journey through his year long affiliation with the Angel's originally intended to get their side of the story. We see the human side of one of the most infamous and misunderstood groups of the era.
This book held a few surprises for me such as the internal conflagrations between the Angel's chapters from Frisco, Berdoo, Oakland, et al. The book also describes the "love-hate" relationship between the Angel's and law enforcement, the Angel's and the peace-niks, the Angel's and the Beatniks and the Angel's and the Merry Pranksters.
Hunter doesn't sugar-coat his experiences. In fact this work has an anti-Angel's sentiment for the most part. Perhaps because he winds up on the wrong end of an Angel's stomp-fest.
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on August 20, 2001
Hunter S. Thompson writes a truthful, unsentimental and ultimately sad story of the Hell's Angels in the mid 60's. After describing the activities of the outlaws, exploits which we are mostly familiar with and which pale by comparison to today's youth gangs, he concludes that the Hell's Angels are losers; lonely and uneducated.
I was surprised at H. S. Thompson's ability to describe the personalities behind the outlaw biker facade. He makes the sad point that the HA's would be the first group eradicated by the very political factions they reflected, if those factions ever came to power. Of course, the Angels weren't remotely aware of this.
Thompson writes with a simple, hilarious style. I found myself laughing out loud at sentences of brilliant understatement. I had no intention of reading this book, which was loaned to me by a friend, but once I started, I couldn't stop reading.
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on January 22, 2000
Feared by his superiors and sometimes colleagues. Loathed by the literary pundits who couldn't stack up against him. In 1965, Hunter S. Thompson shed light on one of the darkest subjects of the 60's. The Hell's Angels Motorcycle Riders. Thompson shows little remorse for infiltrating the place[s] where no other journalist dare tread, and even chronicling the experiences in a book he had to have permission to research and write, from the very subjects of the book. That permission went beyond legalities. Thompson was governed by another rule. The Hell's Angels' Rules. Readers will be shocked, surprised, and maybe sickened while they delve from the safety of time passed into the world of the most notorious two- wheeled gang in history. However, readers will also get a history lesson. A lesson obtained with real blood, sweat, and fears. Thom Ryan
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on December 24, 1996
The original demonstration of gut-wrenching, brutally-insightful, stream-of-consciousness journalism as displayed by the board-certified and often self-stimulated Doctor of Gonzo himself. The born-in-America phenomenon of outlaw motorcycle gangs is irreverently exposed -- the rumbling, drinking, riding, snorting, fornicating, smoking, racing, is exposed and finally culminates with the outlaw bikers joining forces and beating the crap of the author. It's a fitting finale to a wild & crazy ride with a wild &
crazy group of anti-social, tatooed, psychopath, drug & alcohol enhanced Harley outlaws and
their motorcycle mamas. "Hell's Angels" is a classic and literary predecessor to the next step, "Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas." He's wild, he's crazy, he drives a Vincent Black Shadow, he's
Hunter S. Thompson.
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