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Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas – Detailed Book Review

This book was published in 1972, but it first appeared as a two part series in Rolling Stone magazine in 1971. Many would argue that Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is Hunter S. Thompson’s most popular book. It may not be his best book, in terms of writing talent, but it has captured the attention of millions of readers and is still talked about to this day.

In order to get a clear perspective of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, it’s important that you understand what gonzo journalism is. Gonzo journalism, effectively founded by Hunter S. Thompson through the creation of this book, is a passionate and exaggerated form of journalism where the author is often a main part of the story.

Thompson uses this book to focus on his two visits to Las Vegas, alongside his attorney and just about every drug imaginable (for research purposes of course). Get ready to feel like you are right there beside him. You’ll understand his pain and confusion, and you’ll question him every step along the way. This is about to be the trip of a lifetime, literally and figuratively.

About the Book

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
Audience
Mature readers with a tolerance for extensive drug use and profanities
Author
Hunter S. Thompson
Genre
Fiction (Based off a true story)
Length
204 pages+
Point of View
First Person Narrative
Publisher
Vintage Books
Publishing Date
June 1998 (First Published in 1971)
Setting
Las Vegas, Nevada

Brief Bio of Hunter S. Thompson

Howard Lederer

Hunter S. Thompson was born in Louisville, Kentucky during the late 1930s. His passion for writing and journalism was evident at a very young age. Before he developed his own, unique writing style (Gonzo Journalism), he would copy the works of other famous writers. He copied Scott Fitzgerald’s, The Great Gatsby and Ernest Hemmingway’s, A Farewell to Arms word for word numerous times for inspiration.

After high school, he joined the United States Air Force in order to get some real-world experience to pour into his writing. After his time in the service had ended, he became a sports-editor and started writing for any magazine that would publish his work. He also wrote several books, the most popular of which are listed for you below.

Thompson chose to take his life by a gunshot to the head on February 20th, 2005, after he already had his funeral all planned out. He was only 67 years old, but his health was poor. He wanted to be cremated and have his ashes fired from a cannon and into the atmosphere. Johnny Depp, a faithful friend and old roommate of Thompson, made sure his dying wish came to fruition. Now we can truly say Mr. Thompson went out with a bang!

Other Popular Books Written by Hunter S. Thompson

  • Hell’s Angels: The Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs (1967)
  • The Curse of Lono (1983)
  • The Rum Diary (1998)
  • Screw-Jack (2000)

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (Film)

This book had been around for nearly three decades before they decided to turn it into a motion picture film. In 1998, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, made its way to the big screen. It starred Johnny Depp, Benicio Del Toro and Tobey Maguire. It was rated R for extreme drug use, mild nudity and numerous profanities.

Much like the book, this movie had people who loved it and people who despised it. It made over $4.3 million dollars on opening weekend, but only a little over $10 million altogether. For Johnny Depp’s performance in this film, he won the Golden Aries award for Best Foreign Actor. Anyone interested in this book should also check out the movie!

Chapter Summaries & Thoughts

Part 1

  • Chapter 1

This book starts off by introducing us to Raoul Duke, Hunter S. Thompson’s pseudo name, and his trusted attorney. They are on their way to Las Vegas to write a story about the Mint 400, a riveting off-road motorcycle race that attracts thousands of people. They are also in search of “the American Dream.” Of course, they cannot embark on this journey without an immense amount of illegal narcotics including cocaine, ether, LSD and marijuana to name a few. Their plan is to buy a top of the line motorcycle so that they can participate in the race themselves.

  • Chapter 2

The sports centered magazine that hired Duke to cover the story allocated $300 for his trip expenses, which wasn’t quite enough to buy the motorcycle he desired. Instead, they took that money to rent a luxury car, thoughtfully name, “the Great Red Shark,” and a top of the line tape recorder for interviews. As a side note, this story was derived from Thompson’s real-live tape recordings of the trip.

  • Chapter 3

Duke and his attorney picked up a hitchhiker on the outskirts of Las Vegas. They both snorted a few pills before they proceeded to tell the hitchhiker that they’re heading to Las Vegas to murder someone named Savage Henry. Although this was completely untrue, the hitchhiker immediately jumped out of the car while it was still in motion. When the men arrive at the Mint Hotel, Duke introduced his attorney as Dr. Gonzo, which is where the term Gonzo journalism originated.

  • Chapter 4

Once they checked into the hotel, they ordered lots of food from room service. Feeling as if their earlier drugs were wearing off, they ate some mescaline and turned on the news. The headline story was about the Laos Invasion, a historically accurate reference that we greatly appreciate. Ready for some excitement, Duke, and his attorney try to enter the Great Red Shark into the off-road race. However, they reached a stumbling block when the attendant refused to register them due to their obvious drug addiction.

  • Chapter 5

This is the start of the 4th Annual Mint 400 race; 10 bikes race at a time, every two minutes. This quickly becomes too overwhelming for Duke and his attorney, who decide to stop following the race and get some beers from the bar instead. The only other interesting event that takes place during this chapter is the exchange between Duke and a group of military veterans about their feelings towards the journalist who wrote The Selling of the Pentagon.

  • Chapter 6

Duke drinks so heavily that night that he blacks out and has no recollection of what happened. He finds a series of notes on cocktail napkins that only make him more confused. We never do find out what happened to him that night, but whatever it was we are sure it wasn’t good. To get his mind off of it, Duke and his attorney decide to gamble at the Circus Circus. The attorney took too much ether and started to become paranoid though. So in order to avoid a scene, the two men leave.

  • Chapter 7

When they returned, the attorney ate an entire blotter of acid and can’t stop listening to the song, “White Rabbit” by Jefferson Airplane. Things take a turn for the worse when the attorney becomes violent and pulls a blade on Duke. Duke shows the attorney his mace, who then willingly backs down. The chapter ends with Duke locking the attorney in the bathroom so that he can get some rest.

  • Chapter 8

Duke reminisces about his first LSD trip five or six years back. He then goes on to explain to his readers that the mid-sixties was a monumental time in American culture, characterized by a “sense of inevitable victory over the forces of old and evil.” Everything that once seemed meaningful in the sixties was finally starting to be revealed for what it really was: frivolous.

  • Chapter 9

Duke and his attorney start this chapter off in a panic after they receive a large bill from the hotel and realize that they don’t have nearly enough money to cover it all. Duke lends what little money he has left to his attorney for airfare and sends him off. He leaves the hotel a few hours before checkout, acting nonchalant about the fact that he has yet to pay his bill.

  • Chapter 10

Just as he is walking out, a voice calls out to him. He tries to run away, believing the hotel has realized that he was trying to skip out on his bill. Much to his surprise, the clerk simply wants to deliver a telegram to him. The telegram, from Dr. Gonzo, reveals that Rolling Stone wants him to cover the National Conference of District Attorneys’ Seminar on Narcotics and other Dangerous Drugs. After receiving the news, he quickly rushes out of the hotel and starts to mentally prepare for his new assignment.

  • Chapter 11

Since he doesn’t technically have to check out of the hotel until noon, Duke plans to get as far away from Las Vegas as possible. He stops at Wild Bill’s Café just outside of Las Vegas to fuel up before he gets back into his car and speeds towards Los Angeles at 120 miles per hour.

  • Chapter 12

Just as he is about to approach Baker, California, a cop turns on his lights, demanding that he pulls over. Duke contemplates pulling over right away or speeding up a little first; of course, he chooses the latter. Still high on drugs, Duke eventually pulls over, stepping out of his vehicle with a beer in his hand. He could easily be thrown in prison, no questions asked. However, the young cop agrees to have mercy on him as long as he promises to take a nap at the next rest stop.

Part 2

  • Chapter 1

At the beginning of this chapter, Duke has a sudden urge to kill something. He pulls over, takes out his .357 Magnum (an illegal gun of course), and tries to aim in at an iguana. Realizing how bad this would look to a cop and paranoid about someone finding the narcotics in his car, he decided to pull ahead to a gas station for a break. He buys more tequila, liquor and ether, because he obviously didn’t have enough on hand.

  • Chapter 2

Duke travels back to the Las Vegas airport to pick up his attorney. He returns the now broken down, “Great Red Shark” and exchanges it for a beautiful white Cadillac that Rolling Stone reserved for him. Too tired to wait for his attorney, Duke decides to check into the Flamingo so he can get some rest. Over 200 police officers are staying there for the conference, which makes Duke feel a little uneasy.

  • Chapter 3

Duke makes his way up to his room where he finds his attorney about to get it on with a crazy woman named Lucy. The attorney leaves the room to help Duke with his bags, which is when he reveals that he met her at the airport and gave her acid. An innocent girl from Montana, she had never even had a drink before. They talk back and forth about their options; they could pimp Lucy out for money, kill her, or send her off to another hotel and hope she forgets what happened. They decide to take the gentle approach, as the attorney has real feelings for her.

  • Chapter 4

After Duke and his attorney returned to their room at the Flamingo, they were shocked to discover that Lucy has called and left a message. Worried that Lucy would report them for drugging her and taking advantage of her, the attorney tried to convince her that he and Duke were about to head to the desert to fight to the death over her. The winner of the duel would be calling her within a few hours.

  • Chapter 5

The attorney called Lucy one last time, claiming that he managed to kill Duke and could not wait to see her again. He then goes on to warn her that Duke cashed a bad check and used her as a reference, so she needs to keep a low profile for a while. Before he’s about to end the phone call, he proceeds to fake his own death. Luckily for him, she fell for all his lies and is no longer a problem for them.

  • Chapter 6

The very next morning, the two men arrive at the Dunes for the drug conference. The keynote speaker gives a very long speech on the dangers of drug use, while Duke spends the entire time critiquing his inaccurate information. Duke and his attorney become very paranoid towards the end of this chapter after they realize that they wrote a bad check to cover their registration fee.

  • Chapter 7

As the conference continues, Duke day-dreams about which drugs would make this assembly more bearable. Duke and his attorney eventually can’t stand to be there any longer, so they fake an illness and leave the auditorium. They find themselves at the bar, talking to a Georgia cop about how violent drug users in California are becoming. They make up detailed and graphic stories that blow that cop’s mind.

  • Chapter 8

The men eventually leave and find themselves in a run-down diner in North Las Vegas, the place where people only end up after they’ve been forced to leave the Strip. Thompson uses this chapter to reflect on one of this books’ more subtle themes: the relationship between power and money. At the end of the chapter, the attorney tries to make a pass at their waitress, who is less than thrilled about the offer. The men decide to leave before they get thrown out, taking a homemade lemon meringue pie with them.

  • Chapter 9

This chapter stands out among the rest, as the editor reveals that Thompson’s notes on this were so fragmented that everything had to be taken directly from the tape recordings. Proceeding on with the story, the two men stop to buy some tacos and tell the waitress of their pursuit to find, “the American Dream.” Thinking they are searching for an actual place, she directs them to the Old Psychiatrist’s Club, which she describes as a prime location for drug users. They decide to check it out, only to find that it burnt down three years back.

  • Chapter 10

They return to Las Vegas, barely making it in time for the attorney to catch his flight to California. Duke, alone now, spends this chapter trying to decide whether or not he will get arrested for anything he has done on this trip. He remembers the story his friend told him about how he got charged with vagrancy simply for wearing a certain style of clothing. While it took him nearly a week to get out of prison, nearby drug dealers were able to bribe their way out of jail in no time at all. This shows the messed up law enforcement system of Las Vegas at that time.

  • Chapter 11

The beginning of this chapter again focuses on the 60s counterculture and how religious movements at that time including cults and Eastern religions all stemmed from people’s search for fulfillment. He spends a long time pondering this motion until he finally arrives back to his room at the Flamingo, only to find that it is a complete mess; all the nice furniture had been destroyed and there were ashes and burn marks everywhere. To avoid any penalties, he convinces the maid that he will pay her $1,000 to be a spy for her. She agreed to do that service, and had nothing to say about the room’s condition.

  • Chapter 12

For some unknown reason, Duke is seriously considering buying an ape. He agrees to meet an interested seller at the Circus Circus, but by the time he gets there, they are already taking the ape away for terrorizing people at the bar. In order to get his mind off of this disappointment, Duke meets up with an old friend at the bar. They reminisce about old times and their liberal beliefs.

  • Chapter 13

Just before Duke is about to sit down and enjoy a game of baccarat, two security guards escort him out of the building and explain that both he and his attorney are banned from this casino for their behavior last time they were there. On that note, Duke realizes that he may have overstayed his welcome at Las Vegas. He takes a cab and rushes to the airport.

  • Chapter 14

Duke reflects on his trip to Las Vegas, deciding that it was a big waste of his time. Not only did he not learn anything new about drugs that was worth writing about, but he doubted that anyone else at that conference learned anything either. On his layover in Denver, he goes on a mad search for amyls. As soon as he gets a hold of it, he snorts it, and then the story ends abruptly.

Our Favorite Quotes

“History is hard to know, because of all the hired bullshit, but even without being sure of “history” it seems entirely reasonable to think that every now and then the energy of a whole generation comes to a head in a long fine flash, for reasons that nobody really understands at the time—and which never explain, in retrospect, what actually happened.”

Before we can truly understand the point Hunter S. Thompson is alluding to through this portion of his book, we must take a minute to reflect on which generation he is talking about. While this book was written in the early seventies, he is recalling the previous decade, the sixties, which is known as a time of counterculture in the areas of drugs, music, and sexuality among other things. The effects of the messed up ways of the sixties isn’t only reflected in this quote, but throughout the entire book.

“We had two bags of grass, seventy-five pellets of mescaline, five sheets of high-powered blotter acid, a saltshaker half-full of cocaine, and a whole galaxy of multi-colored uppers, downers, screamers, laughers… and also a quart of tequila, a quart of rum, a case of Budweiser, a pint of raw ether and two dozen amyls. Not that we needed all that for the trip, but once you get locked into a serious drug collection, the tendency is to push it as far as you can.”

While this quote is pretty long, it is one of our favorites because we think it gives readers insight as to just how messed up this book really is. If you aren’t prepared to hear about these drugs in detail, then we cannot recommend this book to you. If you’re interested in seeing how these drugs can impact its users, then this book is a perfect fit.

“In a closed society where everybody’s guilty, the only crime is getting caught. In a world of thieves, the only final sin is stupidity.”

This quote isn’t nearly as straightforward, but it is very powerful. Every reader will have their own interpretation of this quote, but this what we believe it means. The author clearly believes that the people in this world, and the town of Las Vegas specifically, are inherently evil. Since everyone makes mistakes, the real sin isn’t the mistake itself but the reality of getting caught.

“Every now and then when your life gets complicated and the weasels start closing in, the only cure is to load up on heinous chemicals and then drive like a bastard from Hollywood to Las Vegas … with the music at top volume and at least a pint of ether.”

Another drug quote? Yes, we couldn’t help it! We just wanted everyone to be able to put themselves in the narrator’s frame of mind. Remember: this book is based off a true story. Scary to think, isn’t it?

What Others Are Saying

Goodreads gives Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas 4 out of 5 stars and has this to say about it,

“Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is the best chronicle of drug-soaked, addle-brained, rollicking good times ever committed to the printed page. It is also the tale of a long weekend road trip that has gone down in the annals of American pop culture as one of the strangest journeys ever undertaken.”

According to, Robert Ebert,

“Hunter S. Thompson’s “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” is a funny book by a gifted writer, who seems gifted and funny no longer. He coined the term “gonzo journalism” to describe his guerrilla approach to reporting, which consisted of getting stoned out of his mind, hurling himself at a story, and recording it in frenzied hyperbole.”

The New York Times released the following statement in their article dedicated to this novel,

“The book’s highest art is to be the drug it is about, whether chemical or political. To read it is to swim through the highs and lows of the smokes and fluids that shatter the mind, to survive again the terror of the politics of unreason.””

Our Rating and Why We Recommend It

4 Out of 5 Stars

4 Star Rating

Wow, we don’t even know where to start when it comes to rating this book. One thing we can say for sure is that it certainly isn’t for everyone. If you aren’t ready to hear about extensive drug use, inappropriate behaviors, and a long strain of profanities, then this book just isn’t for you. However, if you are willing to overlook all that and focus simply on the rawness and authenticity of Thompson’s writing, then this book may just be on the top of your to-read list.

What this book lacks is simple: character development and a strong storyline.

You could read this book multiple times and still have difficulties connecting to any of the characters. They are static and just plain dull. As far as the storyline goes, there’s no climax or turning point and there’s definitely not a clear ending. I guess we just have to take this book for what it really is: a bunch of tape recordings pasted together to make somewhat logical sense.

A few of the strengths this book has are the sense of wonder it creates and the desire it gives readers to keep wanting more. The book is almost like a drug itself because it’s so interesting. You literally embark on this journey with Raoul Duke and his attorney. You become intrigued by their lifestyle, as the things they do are essentially foreign to most readers. This book is both detailed and graphic; be ready to read and picture things you’ve never imagined. After reading this book, you’ll truly be able to understand what someone who’s addicted to drugs is thinking, and how their mind works. For this reason alone, we recommend reading it. It’s undeniably entertaining, but a little crude, so we’ll give it 4 out of 5 stars.

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