WHEN THE GOING GETS WEIRD by Peter O. Whitmer

WHEN THE GOING GETS WEIRD

The Twisted Life and Times of Hunter S. Thompson
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KIRKUS REVIEW

 The third in a recent spate of unauthorized biographies of outlaw journalist Hunter Thompson, this is hands-down the best-- most balanced in its assessment of both the writer and his era, and better written and more deeply researched than either Paul Perry's Fear and Loathing or Jean E. Carroll's Hunter (both 1992). All three biographies are anecdote-driven and inevitably repeat the stories that have become part of Thompson's legend: his wild teen years in Louisville, full of dangerous pranks and endless boozing; his stint in the Air Force, where he began his imaginative journalism: and his hedonistic years in N.Y.C. and Big Sur, where he attempted to equal his novelist-heroes--Fitzgerald, Hemingway, and J.P. Donleavy. After a decadent period in Latin America, freelancing for the now-defunct National Observer, Thompson made a splash with an article about the Hell's Angels, which he expanded into his first bestselling book. A student of anarchist cults, Thompson created plenty of disorder on his own even as he perfected his participatory style of ``gonzo'' journalism. Despite his own herculean drug abuse, Thompson was critical of the Sixties early on, seeing the dark side of flower power and hippie pacifism. Just as he became a character in the funny papers during the Seventies- -as Gary Trudeau's ``Uncle Duke''--the real Thompson began his decline, with one witness calling him a ``babbling idiot.'' Too much cocaine has hastened his descent into paranoid weirdness, with little good writing to show for it. Whitmer is the first demythologizer among the biographers, which is why he's the first to mention Thompson's distended liver and the messiness of his divorce. Despite some factual errors--Frank Mankiewicz is Herman's son, not Joe's--Whitmer is the most reliable of Thompson biographers. His book reads so fluently it almost compensates for Thompson's lousy recent work. (Eight pages of b&w photographs)

Pub Date: April 8th, 1993
ISBN: 1-56282-856-8
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: Hyperion
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1st, 1993