Hunter S. Thompson – the American writer best known for penning Hell’s Angels and Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas – lived with a voracious love for adventure, drugs, alcohol, women, and of course, the written word. A pioneer of gonzo journalism, Thompson’s work takes readers on wild rides through America’s underbelly with the feverish punch of a writer actively participating in their story.
Collected from years of interviews and correspondence by Far Out Magazine, find a selection of books Hunter S. Thompson recommended to friends and colleagues below. Complement with the reading lists of fellow ’60s journalists Tom Wolfe and Joan Didion.
The World of Sex by Henry Miller
HST in a 1961 letter to Norman Mailer: “This little black book of Miller’s is something you might like. If not, or if you already have it, by all means send it back. I don’t mind giving it away, but I’d hate to see it wasted.”
The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand
HST speaking to childhood friend Joe Bell: “To say what I thought of The Fountainhead would take me more pages than I like to think I’d stoop to boring someone with. I think it’s enough to say that I think it’s everything you said it was and more. Naturally, I intend to read Atlas Shrugged. If it’s half as good as Rand’s first effort, I won’t be disappointed.”
HST speaking to Angus Cameron, Knopf editor: “Fiction is a bridge to the truth that journalism can’t reach. Facts are lies when they’re added up, and the only kind of journalism I can pay much attention to is something like Down And Out In Paris And London. But in order to write that kind of punch-out stuff you have to add up the facts in your own fuzzy way, and to hell with the hired swine who use adding machines.”
Recommend to Angus Cameron, Knopf editor: “If history professors in this country had any sense they would tout the book as a capsule cram course in the American Dream. I think it is the most American novel ever written. I remember coming across it in a bookstore in Rio de Janeiro; the title in Portuguese was O Grande Gatsby, and it was a fantastic thing to read it in that weird language and know that futility of the translation. If Fitzgerald had been a Brazilian he’d have had that country dancing to words instead of music.”
HST in a letter to Tom Wolfe, the book’s author: “I owe the National Observer in Washington a bit of money for stories paid and never written while I was working for them out here, and the way we decided I’d work it off was book reviews, of my own choosing. Yours was one; they sent it to me and I wrote this review, which they won’t print. I called the editor the other day from the middle of a Hell’s Angels rally at Bass lake and he said he was sorry and he agreed with me etc. but that there was a ‘feeling’ around the office about giving you a good review. Anyway, here’s the review, and if it does you any good in the head to know that it caused the final severance of relations between myself and the Observer, then at least it will do somebody some good. As for myself I am joining the Hell’s Angels and figure I should have done it six years ago.”
A Singular Man by J.P. Donleavy
HST to Lionel Olay, a freelance journalist: “Now that you’ve taken personal journalism about as far as it can go, why don’t you read Singular Man and then get back to the real work. I’m not dumping on you, old sport – just giving the needle. I just wish to shit I had somebody within 500 miles capable of giving me one. It took Donleavy’s book to make me see what a fog I’ve been in.”
The Outsider by Colin Wilson
HST in a letter to his mother, Virginia: “As a parting note – I suggest that you get hold of a book called The Outsider by Colin Wilson. I had intended to go into a detailed explanation of what I have found out about myself in the past year or so, but find that I am too tired. However, after reading that book, you may come closer to understanding just what lies ahead for your Hunter-named son. I had just begun to doubt some of my strongest convictions when I stumbled upon that book. But rather than being wrong, I think that I just don’t express my rightness correctly.”
HST speaking to Robert D. Ballou, editor of Viking: “Last week I read two fairly recent first novels – Acrobat Admits (Harold Grossman), and After Long Silence (Robert Gutwillig) – and saw enough mistakes to make me look long and hard at mine [Prince Jellyfish]. Although I’m already sure the Thompson effort will be better than those two, I’m looking forward to the day that I can say it will be better than Lie Down in Darkness. When that day comes, I will put my manuscript in a box and send it to you.”
(via Far Out Magazine)