Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail '72

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Overview

Hilarious, terrifying, insightful, and compulsively readable, these are the articles that Hunter S. Thompson wrote for Rolling Stone magazine while covering the 1972 election campaign of President Richard M. Nixon and his unsuccessful opponent, Senator George S. McGovern. Hunter focuses largely on the Democratic Party's primaries and the breakdown of the national party as it splits between the different candidates.

With drug-addled alacrity and incisive wit, Thompson turned his ...

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Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72

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Overview

Hilarious, terrifying, insightful, and compulsively readable, these are the articles that Hunter S. Thompson wrote for Rolling Stone magazine while covering the 1972 election campaign of President Richard M. Nixon and his unsuccessful opponent, Senator George S. McGovern. Hunter focuses largely on the Democratic Party's primaries and the breakdown of the national party as it splits between the different candidates.

With drug-addled alacrity and incisive wit, Thompson turned his jaundiced eye and gonzo heart to the repellent and seductive race for president, deconstructed the campaigns, and ended up with a political vision that is eerily prophetic

The highly engaging account of the 1972 presidential election that's become a classic commentary on the American political process.

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Editorial Reviews

Tom Seligson
Thompson's book, with its mixed, frenetic construction, irreverent spirit and, above all, unrelenting sensitivity to the writer's own feelings while on the political road, most effectively conveys the adrenaline-soaked quest that is the American campaign. Crisscrossing the country often two times a day, stopping in hotels, shopping marts and factories in obscure Midwestern towns, Thompson might have been running for office himself. By monitoring his own instincts and observations in the process, he shows us what it must be like for the candidates … Fear and Loathing lets us understand why the men we elect to the Presidency may have needle tracks on their integrity.
— The New York Times
The Barnes & Noble Review
In January 1972, just one month into a 12-month assignment to cover the presidential campaign for Rolling Stone magazine, Hunter S. Thompson was exhibiting signs of burnout. "Jesus! This gibberish could run on forever and even now I can see myself falling into the old trap that plagues every writer who gets sucked into this rotten business," he wrote in one of his biweekly submissions, later collected as Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail '72 . "You find yourself getting fascinated by the drifts and strange quirks of the game. Even now, before I've even finished this article, I can already feel the compulsion to start handicapping politics and primaries like it was all just another fat Sunday of pro football.... After several weeks of this you no longer give a flying [bleep] who actually wins; the only thing that matters is the point-spread."

Thompson, then 34, was a sportswriter by trade. He'd made a name for himself with two earlier books, Hell's Angels, about his year riding with the outlaw motorcycle gang, and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, about his unorthodox decision to cover a dune-buggy race and a district attorneys' convention while under the influence of copious amounts of drugs and alcohol. Now he was covering his first presidential campaign -- and he was frustrated and bored, energized and mentally exhausted, often in short order.

In 1972, Democrats felt the incumbent, Richard Nixon, had glaring weaknesses that could be exploited in the general election, because "he'd failed to end the war, he'd botched the economy, he was a terrible campaigner, he would crack under pressure, nobody trusted him, etc. So any Democratic candidate could beat Nixon, and all the candidates knew it." But in January, no one in the Democratic field looked like the man who'd get it done, at least to Thompson. "[Edmund] Muskie is a bonehead who steals his best lines from old Nixon speeches. [George] McGovern is doomed because everybody who knows him has so much respect for the man that they can't bring themselves to degrade the poor bastard by making him run for President...John Lindsay is a dunce, Gene McCarthy is crazy, [Hubert] Humphrey is doomed and useless, [Henry] Jackson should have stayed in bed...and, well, that just about wraps up the trip, right?"

Not quite.

Muskie, a senator from Maine, emerged as the early favorite, but then in April he suffered a crippling loss to McGovern in the Wisconsin primary. After that, Muskie "talked like a farmer with terminal cancer trying to borrow money on next year's crop." McGovern quickly became the presumptive nominee, but old-school Democrats (many of them Big Labor supporters of Humphrey) didn't fall in behind him, even trying to unseat some of his delegates at the convention in Miami, a maneuver Thompson said was "far too serious for the kind of random indulgence that Gonzo Journalism needs."

Taken together with other developments -- most notably, the need to replace Thomas Eagleton as McGovern's running mate, after the Missouri senator's history of mental illness came to light -- and the Democratic effort was ultimately undone. McGovern lost to Nixon in a landslide, winning only Massachusetts and the District of Columbia.

In 1972, Thompson openly loathed the Republican candidate and desperately wanted change (an end to the war, new economic policies), but he bitterly questioned whether a Democratic president would be a better alternative:

How many more of these stinking, double-downer sideshows will we have to go through before we can get ourselves straight enough to put together some kind of national election that will give me and the at least 20 million people I tend to agree with a chance to vote for something, instead of always being faced with that old familiar choice between the lesser of two evils?

Rereading these words in light of the presidential race between John McCain and Barack Obama, it's safe to say Thompson would not have described the 2008 presidential campaign as a "stinking, double-downer sideshow." Considering his consistent support of Democratic candidates and recent statements by Thompson's widow, Anita, the late writer (he committed suicide in February 2005) probably would have supported Obama as fully as he did George McGovern in 1972.

Thompson, unlike most political scribes, never drank the Kool-Aid of objective journalism. Campaign Trail '72 states his contempt for the idea plainly: "With the possible exception of things like box scores, race results, and stock market tabulations, there is no such thing as Objective Journalism. The phrase itself is a pompous contradiction in terms." He elaborated on this sentiment in Better than Sex: Confessions of a Political Junkie, published in 1994: "[H. L.] Mencken understood that politics -- as used in journalism -- was the art of controlling his environment, and he made no apologies for it. In my case, using what politely might be called 'advocacy journalism,' I've used reporting as a weapon to affect political situations that bear down on my environment."

And so over the course of his professional life he openly supported candidates like McGovern, Jimmy Carter, and Bill Clinton, while loathing Nixon, Reagan, and the Bushes. But no sitting president, Democrat or Republican, was safe from his caustic wit. When Clinton's first two nominees for attorney general, Zoe Baird and Kimba Wood, both had to withdraw their names because they'd employed illegal immigrants, Thompson wrote in Better than Sex, "It is hard to feel sorry for the arrogant, glitzy elitists who seem to be so much a part of Bill and Hillary's inner circle, with names like Zoe and Kimba."

If Thompson disliked liberal elitists, he despised conservative stalwarts, particularly Nixon. In his obituary for Nixon, published in Rolling Stone in 1994, Thompson wrote, "He was a swine of a man and a jabbering dupe of a president. Nixon was so crooked that he needed servants to help him screw his pants on every morning.... He was queer in the deepest way. His body should have been burned in a trash bin." It's almost impossible to imagine a mainstream journalist writing something like that about George W. Bush. Not only was Thompson ahead of his time, but he seems to have no successor. For all the venom spewed against Bush, does one political journalist come to mind as his sharpest, most memorable critic? Arguably, Thompson was that for Nixon.

In 2003, British novelist A. L. Kennedy wrote in The Guardian that Thompson's 1972 campaign book is one of the ten most offensive books in history, alongside books like Lolita, Wuthering Heights, Slaughterhouse-Five, and Don Quixote -- books "which trouble, which are awkward, and many of which have offended at some point." In the end, Kennedy found the "offense" necessary:

Insanity, obscenity, profanity, illegality and reptilian paranoia -- but which is more distressing, [Thompson's] lunatic chemical life and Gonzo prose style, or Richard Milhous Nixon and company taking a whole country for a nasty ride? And where, by the way, is the energy of Gonzo now when we need it?

In the introduction to Campaign Trail '72, his "jangled campaign diary," Thompson summarized his unique position as an outsider working on a terminal assignment for Rolling Stone: "Unlike most other correspondents, I could afford to burn all my bridges behind me -- because I was only there for a year, and the last thing I cared about was establishing long-term connections on Capitol Hill. I went there for two reasons: (1) to learn as much as possible about the mechanics and realities of a presidential campaign, and (2) to write about it in the same way I'd write about anything else -- as close to the bone as I could get, and to hell with the consequences."

One of the unforeseen consequences of that '72 campaign was a lifelong addiction to politics, a paradox he described best in Better than Sex: "Not everybody is comfortable with the idea that politics is a guilty addiction. But it is. [Candidates and their advisers] are addicts, and they are guilty and they do lie and cheat and steal -- like all junkies. And when they get in a frenzy, they will sacrifice anything and anybody to feed their cruel and stupid habit, and there is no cure for it. That is addictive thinking. That is politics -- especially in presidential campaigns. That is when the addicts seize the high ground. They care about nothing else. They are salmon, and they must spawn. They are addicts, and so am I." --Cameron Martin

From 1996 to 2007, Cameron Martin was an award-winning feature writer, columnist, and book reviewer with the Greenwich Time and Stamford Advocate newspapers in Connecticut. He now freelances for Comcast SportsNet New England (covering the Red Sox) and for BugsandCranks.com, a web site dedicated to the lighter side of Major League Baseball.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780446313643
  • Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
  • Publication date: 4/28/1985
  • Series: Fear and Loathing Series
  • Format: Mass Market Paperback
  • Edition description: Reissue
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 512
  • Product dimensions: 6.78 (w) x 4.24 (h) x 1.13 (d)

Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 4 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 20 Customer Reviews
  • Posted September 22, 2012

    Still Relevant

    I read this book in light of the current presidential campaign and found it relevant, insightful, funny and outrageous. Thompson was unique, fortunately, and while he could not be objective, he still presented the facts as he uncovered them. Some things have changed (for example, the national party conventions are now unimportant) and others have not (such as the need for skillful use of TV and on-the-ground volunteers).

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 10, 2012

    Shadow Link

    Ok

    0 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 10, 2012

    Labryna

    Ok! I wanna go save a princess!!!*her long blue braid flies as she jumps* But we need to know where they are first.........rotten pumpkin.....

    0 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 12, 2007

    R.I.P. GONZO

    This is my favorite book period. Hunter S Thompson is the greatest writer ever because he tells it like it is bubba. This book (like all of Hunter's books) is both funny and insightful. I think this is Gonzo's best work.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 26, 2005

    Perfect Book for political junkies

    Doesn't matter how long after 1972 you were born (or how long before), this is one of the best books about the Primaries, the campaigns and the political process. It lags toward the end when it becomes obvious that McGovern doesn't have a chance of beating Nixon, but that doesn't detract from it in the slightest.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 8, 2005

    A Whirlwind

    Great insights into the wicked, perverted realm of America's first and last true Blood Sport: Politics! The author charges about his chosen arena with no less gusto than Tarzan zigzagging about the jungle, exploding from vine to vine - seemingly without calculation, yet, no denying it, adroit precision...readable and not in the least bit dated, although it should be since its primary concern the minutia of the 1972 presidential election. Eerily, perhaps, more relevant today. Look for the Florida swimming pool episode.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 27, 2004

    Great book; must read

    I read this book very thoroughly. George McGovern was the biggest idiot to ever grace American Politics. I never could understand for the life of me why Nixon was as crooked as he was. This shows the glory of the 1972 Campaign and the highs and lows of it

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 20, 2001

    The Bunker's Creation

    In Fear and Loathing On The Campaign Trail '72, Hunter S Thompson showed the world (and much to the chagrin of his publishers/editors) that he was the clearest and most concise voice of the Left. Following a presidential campaign from start to finish is more than just a daunting task or an exhausting dive into human foolishness, it is an art form and HST proves that his pallette is full of cynicism, wit, humor, fear and honesty. From primary to presidential election, HST gets down to the bare bones and marrow of each individual candidate with even an iota of hope to win the election that year, even if they were up against one of the most heinous and vile men of our time, Richard Milhous Nixon. Obviously Democratic and purely Left, this book is not for the faint of heart or the detail-challenged. Filled with insight and wisdom, often dotted with fantastic scenarios from Thompson's warped and beautiful imagination, F&L On The Campaign Trail '72 not only solidified HST's place in American Political Journalism, it shows that you don't have to be a genius to be involved in politics...you just need a cut-throat approach and a 'take-no-prisoners' attitude that so few in this world truly have. HST? He's chock full of it...with more to come

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 8, 2001

    Saucy and Scandalous: that¿s HST

    For anyone who is trying to catch a glimpse of the madness that was the early 1970's, read this book, everyone was in the Wasteland of what the 1960's had wrought and this book takes you to that very place where people from both sides were getting over the burn. This long & large book chronicles the events leading up to the re-election of the corrupt Nixon administration that rightly got swallowed up by its own greed & backdoor dealings, there is a stage where HST actually gets an interview w/ Tricky Dicky & they watch the football game together since it is a common interest/passion, & there weren't any others, HST throws himself into another stage as he gets in another drug haze & that chapter gets written by the editor, that¿s almost as surprising as when you get reminded several times the revelation of Muskie's Ibogaine addiction remains priceless. For someone who doesn't read political historical books like HST's writing style makes it more than interesting enough, he could probably write about paint drying & make it a genuine literary masterpiece. I most of the publications of this book included cover art by the one and only Ralph Steadmann & occasional illustrations and pictures inside too good stuff. Beyond that, HST was at the top of his form, weaving a maniacal tapestry of tales of debauchery, inside dope on what drives a campaign, and hard-nosed, clear-eyed evaluations of the losers who stormed the countryside looking for our votes. You can't read this book and ever think about Hubert Horatio Humphrey or Ed 'Ibogaine' Muskie or Tricky Dick the same way. And when your read the pale, evenhanded 'journalism' that recounts recent campaigns, you will long for HST back when he was in his prime.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 25, 2000

    Politics without filters

    Thompson describes the degredation of the national political system and still puts a smile on your face. Its impossible to put this book down, the Gonzo journalism treatment is the best way to cover any story, and Hunter is on top of his game. For politics junkies and other interested parties.

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