1973 Books

Dr. Hunter S. Thompson
Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72
Popular Library

H unter S. Thompson is a junkie. A drug junkie, sure, but in Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72, he reveals an entirely different addiction. Politics, he says, is a high greater than any drug he's ever taken--and more devastating.

Thompson covered the presidential campaign for Rolling Stone from the primaries through the election. The resulting book is not so much political as it is psychological: As political faith breaks down, so does Thompson. "I have been through three presidential elections now, but it has been 12 years since I could look at a ballot and see a name I wanted to vote for," Thompson writes. In the author's reckoning, Hubert Humphrey, who made his second run for the Democratic nomination in '72, is a "treacherous gutless old ward-heeler who should be put in a goddamn bottle and sent out with the Japanese current." Yet George McGovern, '72's ostensible anti-politician and the candidate Thompson supports, can't possibly win--mostly because the press says he can't. "The Washington Post and the New York Times says we're all fucked," Thompson writes. "I feel The Fear coming on and the only cure for that is to chew up a fat black wad of blood-opium about the size of a young meatball... peel back the brain, let the opium take hold, and get locked into some serious pornography."

After the November election, Thompson suffered a series of nervous seizures (or particularly vicious flashbacks?), leaving his editors with the burden of transcribing--and no doubt translating--the author's "spontaneous verbal composition." The book ultimately came out around the same time as Theodore White's fourth (and final) edition of Making of the President. This sober title belonged to a postwar political culture in which presidents had an assumed import, a natural stature; White was the scribe documenting the making of kings. But by the summer of '73, the king's throne was crumbling in congressional hearings on national TV. As the popularity of Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72 was to prove, a mental breakdown was a more palatable political metaphor than the kingmaking of old.

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