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Hell's Angels: A Strange and Terrible Saga

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Overview

"California, Labor Day weekend . . . early, with ocean fog still in the streets, outlaw motorcyclists wearing chains, shades and greasy Levis roll out from damp garages, all-night diners and cast-off one-night pads in Frisco, Hollywood, Berdoo and East Oakland, heading for the Monterey peninsula, north of Big Sur. . . The Menace is loose again."  Thus begins Hunter S. Thompson's vivid account of his experiences with California's most no-torious motorcycle gang, the Hell's Angels.   In the mid-1960s, Thompson spent almost two

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Overview

"California, Labor Day weekend . . . early, with ocean fog still in the streets, outlaw motorcyclists wearing chains, shades and greasy Levis roll out from damp garages, all-night diners and cast-off one-night pads in Frisco, Hollywood, Berdoo and East Oakland, heading for the Monterey peninsula, north of Big Sur. . . The Menace is loose again."  Thus begins Hunter S. Thompson's vivid account of his experiences with California's most no-torious motorcycle gang, the Hell's Angels.   In the mid-1960s, Thompson spent almost two years living with the controversial An-gels, cycling up and down the coast, reveling in the anarchic spirit of their clan, and, as befits their name, raising hell. His book successfully captures a singular moment in American history, when the biker lifestyle was first defined, and when such countercultural movements were electrifying and horrifying America. Thompson, the creator of Gonzo journalism, writes with his usual bravado, energy, and brutal honesty, and with a nuanced and incisive eye; as The New Yorker pointed out, "For all its uninhibited and sardonic humor, Thompson's book is a thoughtful piece of work." As illuminating now as when originally published in 1967, Hell's Angels is a gripping portrait, and the best account we have of the truth behind an American legend.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Thompson has presented us with a close view of a world most of us would never encounter. His language is brilliant, his eye remarkable."
The New York Times Book Review

"Superb and terrifying."    —Studs Terkel, Chicago Tribune

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780345410085
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 9/28/1996
  • Pages: 288
  • Sales rank: 31,475
  • Product dimensions: 5.48 (w) x 8.24 (h) x 0.72 (d)

Meet the Author

Hunter S. Thompson

The Modern Library has played a significant role in American cultural life for the better part of a century. The series was founded in 1917 by the publishers Boni and Liveright and eight years later acquired by Bennett Cerf and Donald Klopfer. It provided the foundation for their next publishing venture, Random House. The Modern Library has been a staple of the American book trade, providing readers with affordable hardbound editions of important works of literature and thought. For the Modern Library's seventy-fifth anniversary, Random House redesigned the series, restoring as its emblem the running torchbearer created by Lucian Bernhard in 1925 and refurbishing jackets, bindings, and type, as well as inaugurating a new program of select-ing titles. The Modern Library continues to provide the world's best books, at the best prices.

Biography

Hunter S. Thompson has always had taste for starting trouble. As an ornery Kentucky kid, he was the undisputed leader of the pack, getting himself and his willing followers into trouble. Not much has changed -- Thompson still has throngs of supporters and fans and is now an icon of outspoken, unapologetic social commentary.

Thompson realized in high school that he didn't fit in with society at large. Seeking direction, he joined the Air Force after graduation, determined to be a pilot. While on the long waiting list for pilot training, Thompson was offered a position as an editor and sportswriter for Elgin Air Force Base's The Command Courier. He jumped at the chance, quickly excelled as a journalist, and even began moonlighting at a local paper. Despite his numerous offenses against military protocol, he was given an honorable discharge in 1957.

Thompson knew that writing was going to be a fixture in his life. He was an avid letter writer, often mixing fact and fantasy. After allegedly stealing a box of carbon paper when he left the Air Force, he began keeping copies every letter he sent. Eventually, his letters would be published in The Proud Highway: Saga of a Desperate Southern Gentleman 1955-1967 (The Fear and Loathing Letters), three books of love letters, correspondence with his family, and scathing complaint letters to companies Thompson deemed bad for society. The collection is considered a must-read for the glimpse it gives of how desperately Thompson wanted to be a writer.

After the Air Force, Thompson bounced through newspaper jobs, barely making ends meet and working on his first novel, the still unpublished Prince Jellyfish. In 1960 Thompson moved to Puerto Rico. It was less than ideal -- paychecks bounced regularly -- but his time in the Caribbean yielded The Rum Diary. Thompson tried to sell the novel to Random House in the 1960s, but they declined (it was eventually published in 1998).

Thompson's first novel, Hell's Angels: A Strange and Terrible Saga, came out in 1966, catapulting him to fame and intriguing readers with his fast-paced writing and mischievous, wicked sense of humor. With the success of Hell's Angels, Random House finally purchased The Rum Diary. However, as legend has it, Hunter felt that it needed more work, so he convinced a Random House secretary to steal his manuscript back for him.

By the time Thompson released Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream in 1971, he had perfected his signature style, Gonzo Journalism: wild and erratic, capturing events as they happen, stripped of motive yet decidedly fictionalized. Thompson isn't a passive observer but is instead another one of his freaked-out characters. In the voice of Thompson's alter ego, Raoul Duke, he and his attorney, Oscar Acosta (Dr. Gonzo), go on a destructive drug binge while traveling to Las Vegas to report on a motorcycle race and crash a district attorneys' convention. Thompson found an artistic counterpart in illustrator Ralph Steadman, who designed this cover and others. It's classic Thompson and in 1998 was made into a movie staring Johnny Depp.

A self-proclaimed political junkie, Thompson gave his readers a glaring testimony of the truth and lies found while following the 1972 presidential race in Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72. In fact, one of Thompson's grand, recurring themes is the myth of the American Dream. The four-volume Gonzo Papers consists of articles, essays, and fiction. They are a massive attempt to expose the failure of the American Dream and show where hope is still possible. The four volumes, in order, are The Great Shark Hunt: Strange Tales from a Strange Time (1979), Generation of Swine:Tales of Decadence and Degradation in the Eighties (1988), Songs of the Doomed: More Notes on the Death of the American Dream (1990) and Better than Sex: Trapped like a Rat in Mr. Bill's Neighborhood (1994).

In 1980, Running magazine sent Thompson to Hawaii to cover the Honolulu Marathon. Friend and illustrator Ralph Steadman joined Thompson for the trip, and the result was The Curse of Lono, a fully illustrated, colorful, and strange mix of fiction and travelogue. Another oddity in Thompson's collection of works is his notorious 1991 release, Screwjack, a limited-print novella containing three short stories, ostensibly written by alter ego Raoul Duke.

In Thompson's 2003 release, Kingdom of Fear, he seems to have broken the rules one more time and written his own biography. The book tracks the life of a rebel -- the formative experiences of a wisecracking southern boy questioning authority and the unorthodox journalist who came to personify genre-bending, mind-bending outlaw stories.

Thompson's final book, Hey Rube (2004) brings him full circle; it's a sample of his columns from his stint as a sportswriter for ESPN.com. Thompson doles out searing indictments and uproarious rants while providing brilliant commentary on politics, sex, and sports -- at times all in the same column. Proving once again that he's on top of his game, his keen eye for corruption is as sharp and unforgiving as ever.

Fans and friends were shocked and saddened to learn of Thompson's death in February, 2005. While his narratives are often weird and ugly, he will always be respected and hailed as a professional risk taker, legendary agitator, and literary genius.

Good To Know

True to form, Hunter S. Thompson missed his high school graduation because he was in jail at the time, serving a six-week sentence for robbery.

Thompson once ran for sheriff of Aspen, Colorado, under his own Freak Party, whose platform included changing the city's name to Fat City in hopes of scaring off corporate investors.

Thompson was the original inspiration for Uncle Duke, a larger-than-life controlled substances buff created by Doonesbury cartoonist Gary Trudeau.

Mötley Crüe named their Generation Swine album after Volume Two of Thompson's Gonzo Papers. The book dealt with the debauchery and decadence of the era, and they found it perfect for their sleazy, irreverent brand of rock 'n' roll.

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    1. Also Known As:
      Hunter Stockton Thompson (full name)
    1. Date of Birth:
      July 18, 1937
    2. Place of Birth:
      Louisville, Kentucky
    1. Date of Death:
      February 20, 2005
    2. Place of Death:
      Woody Creek, Colorado

Read an Excerpt

Roll em, boys

California, Labor Day weekend . . . early, with ocean fog still in the streets, outlaw motorcyclists wearing chains, shades and greasy Levis roll out from damp garages, all-night diners and cast-off one-night pads in Frisco, Hollywood, Berdoo and East Oakland, heading for the Monterey peninsula, north of Big Sur . . . The Menace is loose again, the Hell's Angels, the hundred-carat headline, running fast and loud on the early morning freeway, low in the saddle, nobody smiles, jamming crazy through traffic and ninety miles an hour down the center stripe, missing by inches . . . like Genghis Khan on an iron horse, a monster steed with a fiery anus, flat out through the eye of a beer can and up your daughter's leg with no quarter asked and none given; show the squares some class, give em a whiff of those kicks they'll never know . . . Ah, these righteous dudes, they love to screw it on . . . Little Jesus, the Gimp, Chocolate George, Buzzard, Zorro, Hambone, Clean Cut, Tiny, Terry the Tramp, Frenchy, Mouldy Marvin, Mother Miles, Dirty Ed, Chuck the Duck, Fat Freddy, Filthy Phil, Charger Charley the Child Molester, Crazy Cross, Puff, Magoo, Animal and at least a hundred more . . . tense for the action, long hair in the wind, beards and bandanas flapping, earrings, armpits, chain whips, swastikas and stripped-down Harleys flashing chrome as traffic on 101 moves over, nervous, to let the formation pass like a burst of dirty thunder . . .

They call themselves Hell's Angels. They ride, rape and raid like marauding cavalry—and they boast that no police force can break up their criminal motorcycle fraternity.
—True, The Man's Magazine
(August 1965)

They're not bad guys, individually. I tell you one thing: I'd rather have a bunch of Hell's Angels on my hands than these civil rights demonstrators. When it comes to making trouble for us, the demonstrators are much worse.
—Jailer, San Francisco City Prison

Some of them are pure animals. They'd be animals in any society. These guys are outlaw types who should have been born a hundred years ago—then they would have been gunfighters.
—Birney Jarvis, a charter member of the Hell's Angels who later became a San Francisco Chronicle police reporter

We're the one percenters, man—the one percent that don't fit and don't care. So don't talk to me about your doctor bills and your traffic warrants—I mean you get your woman and your bike and your banjo and I mean you're on your way. We've punched our way out of a hundred rumbles, stayed alive with our boots and our fists. We're royalty among motorcycle outlaws, baby.
—A Hell's Angel speaking for the permanent record

. . . The run was on, "outlaws" from all over the state rolled in packs toward Monterey: north from San Bernardino and Los Angeles on 101; south from Sacramento on 50 . . . south from Oakland, Hayward and Richmond on 17; and from Frisco on the Coast Highway. The hard core, the outlaw elite, were the Hell's Angels . . . wearing the winged death's-head on the back of their sleeveless jackets and packing their "mamas" behind them on big "chopped hogs." They rode with a fine, unwashed arrogance, secure in their reputation as the rottenest motorcycle gang in the whole history of Christendom.

From San Francisco in a separate formation came the Gypsy Jokers, three dozen in all, the number-two outlaw club in California, starved for publicity, and with only one chapter, the Jokers could still look down on such as the Presidents, Road Rats, Nightriders and Question Marks, also from the Bay Area, Gomorrah . . . with Sodom five hundred miles to the south in the vast mad bowl of Los Angeles, home turf of the Satan's Slaves, number three in the outlaw hierarchy, custom-bike specialists with a taste for the flesh of young dogs, flashy headbands and tender young blondes with lobotomy eyes; the Slaves were the class of Los Angeles, and their women clung tight to the leather backs of these dog-eating, crotch-busting fools as they headed north for their annual party with the Hell's Angels, who even then viewed the "L.A. bunch" with friendly condescension . . . which the Slaves didn't mind, for they could dump with impunity on the other southern clubs—the Coffin Cheaters, Iron Horsemen, Galloping Gooses, Comancheros, Stray Satans and a homeless fringe element of human chancres so foul that not even the outlaw clubs—north or south—would claim them except in a fight when an extra chain or beer bottle might make the crucial difference.

Over and over again I have said that there is no way out of the present impasse. If we were wide awake we would be instantly struck by the horrors which surround us . . . We would drop our tools, quit our jobs, deny our obligations, pay no taxes, observe no laws, and so on. Could the man or woman who is thoroughly awakened possibly do the crazy things which are now expected of him or her every moment of the day?

—Henry Miller, in The World of Sex (1,000 copies printed by J.N.H., for "friends of Henry Miller," 1941)

People will just have to learn to stay out of our way. We'll bust up everyone who gets in our way.
—A Hell's Angel talking to police

On the morning of the Monterey Run, Labor Day 1964, Terry the Tramp woke up naked and hurting all over. The night before he'd been stomped and chain-whipped outside an Oakland bar by nine Diablos, a rival East Bay cycle club. "I'd hit one of their members earlier," he explained, "and they didn't appreciate it. I was with two other Angels, but they left a little bit before me, and as soon as they were gone, these bastard Diablos jumped me outside the bar. They messed me up pretty good, so we spent half the night lookin for em."

The search was futile, and just before dawn Terry went back to Scraggs' small house in San Leandro, where he was living with his wife and two children. Scraggs, a thirty-seven-year-old ex-pug who once fought Bobo Olson, was the oldest Angel then riding, with a wife and two children of his own. But when Terry came down from Sacramento that summer to look for a job in the Bay Area, Scraggs offered bed and board. The two wives got along; the kids meshed, and Terry found a job on the assembly line at a nearby General Motors plant—in itself a tribute to whatever human flexibility remains at the shop level in the American labor movement, for Terry at a glance looks hopelessly unemployable, like a cross between Joe Palooka and the Wandering Jew.

He is six feet two inches tall, 210 pounds heavy, with massive arms, a full beard, shoulder-length black hair and a wild, jabbering demeanor not calculated to soothe the soul of any personnel specialist. Beyond that, in his twenty-seven years he has piled up a tall and ugly police record: a multitude of arrests, from petty theft and battery, to rape, narcotics offenses and public cunnilingus—and all this without a single felony conviction, being officially guilty of nothing more than what any spirited citizen might commit in some drunk or violent moment of animal weakness.

"Yeah, but that rap sheet's all bullshit," he insists. "Most of those charges are phony. I've never thought of myself as a criminal. I don't work at it; I'm not greedy enough. Everything I do is natural, because I need to." And then, after a moment: "But I guess I'm pushin my luck, even if I'm not a criminal. Pretty soon they'll nail me for one of these goddamn things, and then it's goodbye, Terry, for a whole lot of years. I think it's about time I cut out, went East, maybe to New York, or Australia. You know, I had a card in Actors' Equity once, I lived in Hollywood. Hell, I can make it anywhere, even if I am a fuck-up."

On another Saturday he might have slept until two or three in the afternoon, then gone out again, with a dozen or so of the brethren, to find the Diablos and whip them down to jelly. But a Labor Day Run is the biggest event on the Hell's Angels calendar; it is the annual gathering of the whole outlaw clan, a massive three-day drunk that nearly always results in some wild, free-swinging action and another rude shock for the squares. No Angel would miss it for any reason except jail or crippling injury. The Labor Day Run is the outlaws' answer to New Year's Eve; it is a time for sharing the wine jug, pummeling old friends, random fornication and general full-dress madness. Depending on the weather and how many long-distance calls are made the week before, anywhere from two hundred to a thousand outlaws will show up, half of them already drunk by the time they get there.

By nine o'clock that morning both Terry and Scraggs were on their feet. Vengeance on the Diablos could wait. Today, the run. Terry lit a cigarette, examined the bumps and welts on his body, then pulled on a pair of crusty Levis, heavy black boots, no underwear and a red sweatshirt smelling of old wine and human grease. Scraggs drank a beer while his wife heated water for instant coffee. The children had been put with relatives the night before. The sun was hot outside. Across the Bay, San Francisco was still covered in a late-lifting fog. The bikes were gassed and polished. All that remained was the gathering of any loose money or marijuana that might be lying around, lashing the sleeping bags to the bikes and donning the infamous "colors."

The all-important colors . . . the uniform, as it were, the crucial identity . . . which the Attorney General of California has described with considerable accuracy in a fuzzy but much-quoted official document titled "The Hell's Angels Motorcycle Clubs."

The emblem of the Hell's Angels, termed "colors," consists of an embroidered patch of a winged skull wearing a motorcycle helmet. Just below the wing of the emblem are the letters "MC." Over this is a band bearing the words "Hell's Angels." Below the emblem is another patch bearing the local chapter name, which is usually an abbreviation for the city or locality. These patches are sewn on the back of a usually sleeveless denim jacket. In addition, members have been observed wearing various types of Luftwaffe insignia and reproductions of German Iron Crosses. Many affect beards and their hair is usually long and unkempt. Some wear a single earring in a pierced ear lobe. Frequently they have been observed to wear belts made of a length of polished motorcycle drive chain which can be unhooked and used as a flexible bludgeon.

The Hell's Angels seem to have a preference for large heavy-duty American-made motorcycles [Harley-Davidsons]. Club members usually use a nickname, designated as their "legal" name, and are carried on club rolls under that name. Some clubs provide that initiates shall be tattooed, the cost of which is included in the initiation fee. Probably the most universal common denominator in identification of Hell's Angels is their generally filthy condition. Investigating officers consistently report these people, both club members and their female associates, seem badly in need of a bath. Fingerprints are a very effective means of identification because a high percentage of Hell's Angels have criminal records . . .
Some members of the Hell's Angels as well as members of other "disreputable" motorcycle clubs belong to what is alleged to be an elite group termed "One Percenters," which meets monthly at various places in California. The local Hell's Angels clubs usually meet weekly . . . Requirements for membership or authority to wear the "1%-er" badge are unknown at this time . . . Another patch worn by some members bears the number "13." It is reported to represent the thirteenth letter of the alphabet, "M," which in turn stands for marijuana and indicates the wearer thereof is a user of the drug.

This compact description of rancid, criminal sleaziness is substantially correct except for the hocus-pocus about the one percenters. All Angels wear this patch, as do most other outlaws, and all it means is that they are proud to be part of the alleged one percent of bike riders whom the American Motorcycle Association refuses to claim. The AMA is the sporting arm of the Motorcycle, Scooter and Allied Trades Association, a fast-growing motorcycle lobby that is seeking desperately to establish a respectable image—an image the Hell's Angels have consistently queered. "We condemn them," says an AMA director. "They'd be condemned if they rode horses, mules, surfboards, bicycles or skateboards. Regretfully, they picked motorcycles."

The AMA claims to speak for all decent motorcyclists, yet its fifty thousand or so members rode less than five percent of the 1,500,000 motorcycles registered in the United States in 1965. As one of the trade magazines noted, that left a lot of outlaws unaccounted for.

Terry and Scraggs left the house about ten, taking it easy on the two-mile run through downtown Oakland, keeping the engine noise down, aware of the stares from passing motorists and people on street corners, observing stop signs and speed limits, then suddenly accelerating a half block from the house of Tommy, vice-president of the local chapter, where the others were waiting. Tommy was living on a quiet, deteriorating residential street in East Oakland . . . an old neighborhood with small, once-white frame houses sitting close to each other on tiny lots and sparse front lawns worn down by generations of newsboys delivering the Oakland Tribune. Now, on this holiday morning, his neighbors were out on front porches or at living-room windows, watching the awful show build up. By eleven about thirty Hell's Angels were there, half blocking the narrow street, shouting, drinking beer, brushing green dye on their beards, gunning their engines, adjusting their costumes and knocking each other around to get the feel of things. The girls stood quietly in a group, wearing tight slacks, kerchiefs and sleeveless blouses or sweaters, with boots and dark glasses, uplift bras, bright lipstick and the wary expressions of half-bright souls turned mean and nervous from too much bitter wisdom in too few years. Like the Angels, the girls were mainly in their twenties—although some were obvious teen-agers and a few were aging whores looking forward to a healthy outdoor weekend.

In any gathering of Hell's Angels, from five to a possible hundred and fifty, there is no doubt who is running the show: Ralph "Sonny" Barger, the Maximum Leader, a six-foot, 170-pound warehouseman from East Oakland, the coolest head in the lot, and a tough, quick-thinking dealer when any action starts. By turns he is a fanatic, a philosopher, a brawler, a shrewd compromiser and a final arbitrator. To the Oakland Angels he is Ralph. Everybody else calls him Sonny . . . although when the party gets wild and loose he answers to names such as Prez, Papa and Daddy. Barger's word goes unquestioned, although many of the others could take him in two minutes if it ever came to a fight. But it never does. He rarely raises his voice—except in a rumble with outsiders. Any dissenters in the ranks are handled quietly at the regular Friday-night meetings, or they simply fade out of the picture and change their life pattern so as never again to cross paths with any group of Angels.

If the gathering at Tommy's was a little disorganized, it was because Sonny was serving time in the Santa Rita Rehabilitation Center, for possession of marijuana. With Sonny in jail, the others were keeping the action to a minimum—even though Tommy, in his quiet, disaffiliated sort of way, was running the show pretty well. At twenty-six he was a year younger than Barger: blond, clean-shaven, with a wife and two children, making $180 a week as a construction worker. He knew he was only filling in for the Prez, but he also knew that the Oakland Angels had to make a tough, full-strength appearance at the Labor Day Run. Anything less would forfeit the spiritual leadership back to southern California, to the San Bernardino (or Berdoo) chapter—the founding fathers, as it were—who started the whole thing in 1950 and issued all new charters for nearly fifteen years. But mounting police pressure in the south was causing many Angels to seek refuge in the Bay Area. By 1965, Oakland was on its way to becoming the capital of the Hell's Angels' world.

Prior to their ear-splitting departure, there was a lot of talk about the Diablos and what manner of lunacy or strange drug had caused them to commit such a sure-fatal error as an attack on a lone Angel. Yet this was a routine beef, postponedç and forgotten as they moved onto the freeway for an easy two-hour run to Monterey. By noon it was so hot that many of the riders had taken off their shirts and opened their black vests, so the colors flapped out behind them like capes and the on-coming traffic could view their naked chests, for good or ill. The southbound lanes were crowded with taxpayers heading out for a Labor Day weekend that suddenly seemed tinged with horror as the Angel band swept past . . . this animal crowd on big wheels, going somewhere public, all noise and hair and bust-out raping instincts . . . the temptation for many a motorist was to swing hard left, with no warning, and crush these arrogant scorpions.

At San Jose, an hour south of Oakland, the formation was stopped by two state Highway Patrolmen, causing a traffic jam for forty-five minutes at the junction of 17 and 101. Some people stopped their cars entirely, just to watch. Others slowed to ten or fifteen miles an hour. As traffic piled up, there were vapor locks, boil-overs and minor collisions.

"They wrote tickets for everybody they could," said Terry. "Things like seats too low, bars too high, no mirror, no hand hold for the passenger—and like always they checked us for old warrants, citations we never paid and every other goddamn thing they could think of. But the traffic was really piling up, with people staring at us and all, and finally, by God, a Highway Patrol captain showed up and chewed those bastards good for 'creating a hazard' or whatever he called it. We had a big laugh, then we took off again."

We get treated good here [in Monterey]. Most other places we get thrown out of town.
—Frenchy from Berdoo talking to a reporter not many hours before the Angels were thrown out of town

Between San Jose and the turnoff to Monterey, 101 rolls gracefully through the rich farming foothills of the Santa Cruz Mountains. The Hell's Angels, riding two abreast in each lane, seemed out of place in little towns like Coyote and Gilroy. People ran out of taverns and dry-goods stores to stare at these fabled big-city Huns. Local cops waited nervously at intersections, hoping the Angels would pass quietly and not cause trouble. It was almost as if some far-ranging band of Viet Cong guerrillas had appeared, trotting fast in a tight formation down the middle of Main Street, bound for some bloody rendezvous that nobody in town even cared to know about as long as the dirty buggers kept moving.
The Angels try to avoid trouble on the road. Even a minor arrest in a country town at the start of a holiday weekend can mean three days in jail, missing the party, and a maximum fine when they finally come to court. They know, too, that in addition to the original charge—usually a traffic violation or disorderly conduct—they will probably be accused of resisting arrest, which can mean thirty days, a jail haircut and another fine of $150 or so. Now, after many a painful lesson, they approach small towns the same way a traveling salesman from Chicago approaches a known speed trap in Alabama. The idea, after all, is to reach the destination—not to lock horns with hayseed cops along the way.

The destination this time was a big tavern called Nick's, a noisy place on a main drag called Del Monte, near Cannery Row in downtown Monterey. "We went right through the middle of town," recalls Terry, "through the traffic and everything. Most of the guys knew Nick's, but not me because I was in jail the other time. We didn't make it till about three because we had to wait in a gas station on 101 for some of the guys running late. By the time we got there I guess we had about forty or fifty bikes. Berdoo was already in with about seventy-five, and people kept coming all night. By the next morning there were about three hundred from all over."

The stated purpose of the gathering was the collection of funds to send the body of a former Angel back to his mother in North Carolina. Kenneth "Country" Beamer, vice-president of the San Bernardino chapter, had been snuffed by a truck a few days earlier in a desert Hamlet called Jacumba, near San Diego. Country had died in the best outlaw tradition: homeless, stone broke, and owning nothing in this world but the clothes on his back and a big bright Harley. As the others saw it, the least they could do was send his remains back to the Carolinas, to whatever family or memory of a home might be there. "It was the thing to do," Terry said.

The recent demise of a buddy lent the '64 affair a tone of solemnity that not even the police could scoff at. It was the sort of gesture that cops find irresistible: final honors for a fallen comrade, with a collection for the mother and a bit of the uniformed pageantry to make the show real. In deference to all this, the Monterey police had let it be known that they would receive the Angels in a spirit of armed truce.

It was the first time in years that the outlaws had been faced with even a semblance of civic hospitality—and it turned out to be the last, for when the sun came up on that bright Pacific Saturday the infamous Monterey rape was less than twenty-four hours away from making nationwide headlines. The Hell's Angels would soon be known and feared throughout the land. Their blood, booze and semen-flecked image would be familiar to readers of The New York Times, Newsweek, The Nation, Time, True, Esquire and the Saturday Evening Post. Within six months small towns from coast to coast would be arming themselves at the slightest rumor of a Hell's Angels "invasion." All three major television networks would be seeking them out with cameras and they would be denounced in the U.S. Senate by George Murphy, the former tap dancer. Weird as it seems, as this gang of costumed hoodlums converged on Monterey that morning they were on the verge of "making it big," as the showbiz people say, and they would owe most of their success to a curious rape mania that rides on the shoulder of American journalism like some jeering, masturbating raven. Nothing grabs an editor's eye like a good rape. "We really blew their minds this time," as one of the Angels explained it. According to the newspapers, at least twenty of these dirty hopheads snatched two teen-age girls, aged fourteen and fifteen, away from their terrified dates, and carried them off to the sand dunes to be "repeatedly assaulted."

repeatedly . . . assaulted aged 14 and 15 . . .
stinking, hairy thugs

A deputy sheriff summoned by one of the erstwhile dates said he "arrived at the beach and saw a huge bonfire surrounded by cyclists of both sexes. Then the two sobbing, near-hysterical girls staggered out of the darkness, begging for help. One was completely nude and the other had on only a torn sweater."

Here, sweet Jesus, was an image flat guaranteed to boil the public blood and foam the brain of every man with female flesh for kin. Two innocent young girls, American citizens, carried off to the dunes and ravaged like Arab whores. One of the dates told police they tried to rescue the girls but couldn't reach them in the mobscene that erupted once the victims were stripped of their clothing. Out there in the sand, in the blue moonlight, in a circle of leering hoodlums . . . they were penetrated, again and again.

The next morning Terry the Tramp was one of four Angels arrested for forcible rape, which carries a penalty of one to fifty years in the penitentiary. He denied all knowledge of the crime, as did Mother Miles, Mouldy Marvin and Crazy Cross—but several hours later, with bond set at a lowly $1,100 each, they were lodged in the Monterey County Jail in Salinas . . . out there in Steinbeck country, the hot lettuce valley, owned in the main by smart second-generation hillbillies who got out of Appalachia while the getting was good, and who now pay other, less-smart hillbillies to supervise the work of Mexican braceros, whose natural fitness for stoop labor has been explained by the ubiquitous Senator Murphy: "They're built low to the ground," he said, "so it's easier for them to stoop."

Indeed. And since Senator Murphy has also called the Hell's Angels "the lowest form of animals," it presumably follows that they are better constructed for the mindless rape of any prostrate woman they might come across as they scurry about, from one place to another, with their dorks carried low like water wands. Which is not far from the truth, but for different reasons than California's ex-lightfoot senator might have us believe.

Nobody knew, of course, as they gathered that Saturday at Nick's, that the Angels were about to make a publicity breakthrough, by means of rape, on the scale of the Beatles or Bob Dylan. At dusk, with an orange sun falling fast into the ocean just a mile or so away, the main event of the evening was so wholly unplanned that the principal characters—or victims—attracted little attention in the noisy crowd that jammed Nick's barroom and spilled out to the darkening street.

Terry says he noticed the girls and their "dates" only as part of the overall scene. "The main reason I remember them is I wondered what that white pregnant girl was doing with a bunch of suede dudes. But I figured it was her business, and I wasn't hurtin for pussy anyway. I had my old lady with me—we're separated now, but then we were doin okay and she wouldn't have none of me hustlin anything else while she was around. Besides, hell, when you're seein old friends you haven't seen in a year or two, you don't have time to pay much attention to strangers."

The only thing Terry and all the other Angels agree on—in relation to the "victims' " first appearance—is that "they sure as hell didn't look no fourteen and fifteen, man; those girls looked every bit of twenty." (Police later confirmed the girls' ages, but all other information about them—including their names—was withheld in accordance with California's policy of denying press access to rape victims.)

"I can't even say if those girls were pretty or not," Terry went on. "I just don't remember. All I can say for sure is that we didn't have no trouble at Nick's. The cops were there, but only to keep people away. It was the same old story as every place else we go: traffic piling up on the street outside, local bad-asses prowling around, young girls looking for kicks, and a bunch of Nick's regular customers just digging the party. The cops did right by staying around. Everywhere we go there's some local hoods who want to find out how tough we are. If the cops weren't there we'd end up having to hurt somebody. Hell, nobody wants trouble on a run. All we want to do is to have some fun and relax."

It is said, however, that the Hell's Angels have some offbeat ideas about fun and relaxation. If they are, after all, "the lowest form of animals," not even Senator Murphy could expect them to gather together in a drunken mass for any such elevated pastimes as ping pong, shuffleboard and whist. Their picnics have long been noted for certain beastly forms of entertainment, and any young girl who shows up at a Hell's Angels bonfire camp at two o'clock in the morning is presumed, by the outlaws, to be in a condition of heat. So it was only natural that the two girls attracted more attention when they arrived at the beach than they had earlier in the convivial bedlam at Nick's.

One aspect of the case overlooked in most newspaper accounts had to do with elementary logistics. How did these two young girls happen to be on a deserted midnight beach with several hundred drunken motorcycle thugs? Were they kidnapped from Nick's? And if so, what were they doing there in the first place, aged fourteen and fifteen, circulating all evening in a bar jammed wall to wall with the state's most notorious gang of outlaws? Or were they seized off the street somewhere—perhaps at a stoplight—to be slung over the gas tank of a bored-out Harley and carried off into the night, screaming hysterically, while bystanders gaped in horror?

Police strategists, thinking to isolate the Angels, had reserved them a campsite far out of town, on an empty stretch of dunes between Monterey Bay and Fort Ord, an Army basic-training center. The reasoning was sound; the beasts were put off in a place where they could whip themselves into any kind of orgiastic frenzy without becoming dangerous to the citizenry—and if things got out of hand, the recruits across the road could be bugled out of bed and issued bayonets. The police posted a guard on the highway, in case the Angels got restless and tried to get back to town, but there was no way to seal the camp off entirely, nor any provision for handling local innocents who might be drawn to the scene out of curiosity or other, darker reasons not mentioned in police training manuals.

The victims told police they had gone to the beach because they "wanted to look at the cyclists." They were curious—even after several hours at Nick's, which was so crowded that evening that most of the outlaws took to pissing in the parking lot rather than struggle inside to the bathroom.

"Hell, those broads didn't come out there for any sing-song," said Terry. "They were loaded and they wanted to get off some leg, but it just got to be too many guys. To start with, it was groovy for em. Then more and more guys came piling over the dunes . . . 'yea, pussy,' you know, that kinda thing . . . and the broads didn't want it. The suede dudes just split; we never saw em again. I don't know for sure how it ended. All I knew then was that they had some mamas out there in the dunes, but me and my old lady went and crashed pretty early. I was so wasted I couldn't even make it with her."

No family newspaper saw fit to quote the Angel version, but six months later, playing pool in a San Francisco bar, Frenchy remembered it this way: "One girl was white and pregnant, the other was colored, and they were with five colored studs. They hung around Nick's about three hours on Saturday night, drinking and talking with our riders, then they came out to the beach with us—them and their five boy friends. Everybody was standing around the fire, drinking wine, and some of the guys were talking to them—hustling em, naturally—and pretty soon somebody asked the two chicks if they wanted to be turned on—you know, did they want to smoke some pot? They said yeah, and then they walked off with some of the guys to the dunes. The spade went with a few guys, and then she wanted to quit, but the pregnant one was really hot to trot; the first four or five guys she was really draggin into her arms, but after that she cooled off too. By this time, though, one of their boy friends had got scared and gone for the cops—and that's all it was."

"The next morning," said Terry, "I rode in with somebody—I forget who—to some drive-in on the highway, where we got some breakfast. When we got back to the beach they had a roadblock set up with those two broads sittin there in the cop car, lookin at everybody. I didn't know what was goin on, but then a cop said, 'You're one,' and they slapped the cuffs on me. Those goddamn girls were gigglin, righteously laughin . . . you know, 'Ha ha, that's one of em.' So off I went to the bucket, for rape.

"When we got to the jail I said, 'Hey, I want to be checked. Let's see a doctor. I ain't had no intercourse in two days.' But they wouldn't go for it. Marvin and Miles and Crazy Cross were already there and we figured we were deep in the shit until they told us bail was only eleven hundred dollars. Then we knew they didn't have much of a case."

Meanwhile, out on Marina Beach, the rest of the Angels were being rounded up and driven north along Highway 156 toward the county line. Laggards were thumped on the shoulders with billy clubs and told to get moving. Side roads were blocked by state troopers while dozens of helmeted deputies—many from neighboring counties—ran the outlaws through the gauntlet. Traffic was disrupted for miles as the ragged horde moved slowly along the road, gunning their engines and raining curses on everything in sight. The noise was deafening and it is hard to imagine what effect the spectacle must have had on the dozens of out-of-state late-summer tourists who pulled over to let the procession come through. Because of the proximity of an Army base, they undoubtedly thought they were making way for a caravan of tanks, or at least something impressive and military—and then to see an army of hoodlums being driven along the road like a herd of diseased sheep—ah, what a nightmare for the California Chamber of Commerce.

At the county line on U.S. 101 a reporter from the San Francisco Chronicle talked with Tommy, and with another Angel, named Tiny, a six-foot-six, 240-pound outlaw with a shoulder-length pigtail who later gained nationwide fame for his attack on a Get Out of Vietnam demonstration in Berkeley.

"We're ordinary guys," said Tommy. "Most of us work. About half are married, I guess, and a few own their homes. Just because we like to ride motorcycles, the cops give us trouble everywhere we go. That rape charge is phony and it won't stick. The whole thing was voluntary."

"Shit, our bondsman will have those guys out in two hours," said Tiny. "Why can't people let us alone, anyway? All we want to do is get together now and then and have some fun—just like the Masons, or any other group."

But the presses were already rolling and the eight-column headline said: hell's angels gang rape. The Masons haven't had that kind of publicity since the eighteenth century, when Casanova was climbing through windows and giving the brotherhood a bad name. Perhaps the Angels will one day follow the Freemasons into bourgeois senility, but by then some other group will be making outrage headlines: a Hovercraft gang, or maybe some once-bland fraternal group tooling up even now for whatever the future might force on them.
What is the trend in Kiwanis? There are rumors in Oakland of a new militancy in that outfit, a radical ferment that could drastically alter the club's image. In the drift and flux of these times it is easy enough to foresee a Sunday morning, ten or twenty years hence, when a group of middle-aged men wearing dark blazers with Hell's Angels crests on the pockets will be pacing their mortgaged living rooms and muttering sadly at a headline saying: kiwanis gang rape: four held, others flee, ringleaders sought.

And in some shocked American city a police chief will be saying—as the Monterey chief said in 1964 of the Hell's Angels—"They will not be welcomed back, because of the atmosphere created."

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 55 Customer Reviews
  • Posted March 27, 2010

    Hunter's first book is a blast

    I'm an avid Hunter Thompson fan so naturally I would love this book. I read a few of his others before picking up "Hell's Angels". For his first published book, it was a complete bombshell. He actually lived and partied with the real Hell's Angels in California and gave all the grisly and gruesome details that go along with the legend that has surrounded the motorcycle club. His research is very in depth and it speaks volumes of socio-political atmosphere at the time. It was enlightening, insightful, educational, and above all, entertaining. His staccato writing style mimics exactly how he speaks but yet he can be eloquent and intellectual. You have to be smart to read a Thompson book, it's not all drugs and violence. His books have a heart and a brain. Anyone that enjoys good social commentary should read this book.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 22, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    Great insight to the life and legend of the Hell's Angels

    Hunter S. Thompson's Hell's Angels is a incredibly well written story about his life riding and living with the Hell's Angels. He explains of past encounters between the law and the gang as well as before the Hell's Angels where around. It seems as though during his time with the Angels he lost connection with his friends from before as well as any relation ship with non-members. The book ends with a loss of a well known and loved member of the gang, then he continues with his final and worst encounter with the gang that had so willingly took in a reporter. (You have to read the book i can give that away). While reading the book you get so involved it is hard to put it down, his vivid detail of the ventures of the Angels paints a magnificent scene in your mind and he makes it seem as if you where there. My only complaint is that the book is a lot of repetition, but that is not Thompson's fault, the saga of the Angels contains a lot of repetition. Drinking, partying, drugs, sex, butting heads with the law and motorcycles is their life. If you are life me and love reading about true stories about criminals, gangs, or anything of that nature this is the book for you.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 3, 2007

    A Classic

    HST's writing skills are among the best of modern American writers. In 'Hell's Angels' he is more the journalist than in his other works. He gets inside his subject to give us a view of a world we otherwise would never believe existed. He brings these larger than life anti-heroes down to a level of humanity we can understand if not condone. Reading this book is like being there.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 9, 2006

    Gonzo

    The novel, Hell's Angels is an enduring classic by the deceased journalist Hunter S. Thompson. It is a very interactive, very detailed description of one's affiliation with the greatly feared motorcycle outlaws known as the Hell's Angels. The writing style is very unique, for if it were not based on Thompson¿s actual accounts they would seem to be unreal the way these men are portrayed larger than life. The group, Hell's Angels, is described as a group of unhygienic outlaws who have no particular goals in life other than get loaded, `freak out the squares¿ and partake in the most enjoyable thing in their lives, ride their chopped Harley Davidson motorcycles. They are characterized, with the exception of a rare few, as uneducated bums with no purpose in the long run and who choose to live for the moment by going to bars, drinking heavily, engaging in sexual acts, and torturing those who 'get in their way' psychologically, physically and sexually. The best part of it all is that Thompson takes us along for the whole ride. This book shows that the 60¿s was not just a bunch of hippies running around talking about flower power, there was another phenomenon, the unstoppable village destroying force known as the Hell¿s Angels. But Thompson also shows the other side of the Hell¿s Angels, the side that the public rarely sees, the motorcycle gang that once paid to have a destroyed bar completely refurbished because they got too loud. This book gives a glimpse into the life of something that none of us will ever see, the life of the last true Wild West outlaws. Thompson describes it best, ¿the first wave of a future that nothing in our history has prepared us to cope with¿ After reading this book the though of selling all my positions and buying a Harley and moving south west had crossed my mind many times, I dare you to read this book and not agree.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 3, 2013

    Oh!!!

    This book came out over 30 years ago. It was good then it's good now. Try Fear and Loathing in Las vegas.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 11, 2013

    I Also Recommend:

    Angels Rock!

    Angels Rock!

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 27, 2013

    Clark

    Hey

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 11, 2013

    Travon

    Clark the2 res

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 12, 2013

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 10, 2013

    This is lame

    Lame

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 22, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Worth Reading

    A close look at a cultural icon.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 8, 2010

    An outstanding novel

    Hell's Angels is another great book by Hunter S. Thompson. He found a way to give life to the famed outlaw Hell's Angels. His description and word choice was flawless and smooth. The story was exciting and always kept me from putting the book down. If you've never read another book by Thompson, be warned, it's not for the squeamish. There are parts of it that are graphic but if you can get past that it's a very good read. I enjoyed it nearly as much as I enjoyed Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.
    I highly recommend it and look forward to reading Thompson's other works.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 4, 2009

    What an eye opener!

    MR. Thompson sure can write! What a well told story, why anyone would subject themselves to the situation I'll never know but I sure enjoyed reading this.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 26, 2007

    A reviewer

    Not as over the top or as wildly entertaining as Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, but still very well written and highly entertaining. You don't get bland prose from the Doctor, and does it get any better than phrases like 'young blondes with lobotomy eyes'? This book is about 40 years old, and the reader certainly gets a feel for the 1960s, but I wouldn't at all call it, or Fear and Loathing, dated. The book is anecdotally driven, there are a lot of highly amusing stories with the bikers, and the bikers don't come across to me as completely unlikeable. If you like Fear and Loathing, you'll probably like this book too, although it's not as wacky and wild.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 18, 2007

    If you are fascinated with these guys like I am check it out.

    Thompson did a great job with this book. Perhaps the best thing is Thompson never portrays himself as a bad ass. Actually, he is quite humble about how he related, or did not relate, to the Hell's Angels. Probably the most important theme in this book concerns the power of the media.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 21, 2007

    A reviewer

    Imagine going inside the world of the 1960¿s motorcycle gang ¿Hells Angels¿. This is what journalist Hunter S. Thompson did when he received a writing assignment to explore the lives of the 1960¿s largest gang. He rode with them for a year, gaining stories and acquaintances. Unfortunately, the book Hells Angels includes mostly facts and quotes from newspaper articles instead of stories of the first hand accounts Hunter Thompson encountered. When I first picked up the book, I assumed I would be getting an inside look at one of the most notorious gangs of the sixties. Instead I found myself skimming many pages of redundant conclusions that came of no interest to me. Don¿t get me wrong, there were a few flavorful, interesting stories, but I don¿t believe they could spice up the book enough to make it all worth reading. Thompson¿s message gets lost in a bunch of repetitive analysis of how the media wrongly portrayed the infamous motorcycle gang. It sparked my interest to hear the ¿dirty, criminals¿ we hear about, might just be made out to be worse than they are but as I read on, the factual evidence didn¿t do much for my interest. Thompson wants you to believe there is a kinder, gentler side to the rough, dangerous riders, but he doesn¿t use enough interesting examples to hold your interest throughout the entire book. Hells Angels deserved two or three stars. It is not poorly written, but if you¿re looking to learn more of The Angels reputation and life through first hand stories, I would not recommend this book. However, if you can manage to finish the entire book without getting too bored, Thompson does provide some interesting views on the Hells Angels, that you may have never known.

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 25, 2006

    A rough, stomach-turning, yet facinating view of pop sociology

    Hell¿s Angels, by Hunter S. Thompson, is an interactive, detailed description of one man¿s journey with a notorious 1960¿s motorcycle gang. The book goes into grave detail on the inner workings of the group, the psychology and philosophy of the group and the terror they left everywhere they went. The group, known for being a group of unhygienic outlaws who have no particular goals in life, has always had many different descriptions, basically only from those who witnessed the atrocious acts, or those who used to be in directly affiliated, giving a mentality that these people were larger-than-life and not to be messed with. If it weren¿t for Thompson¿s own personal accounts with the group, they might be revered as invincible. The story tells how Thompson entered the group for several months, recording everything they do, and how they accomplished so much. Many themes and messages are portrayed in the book, from the nature of violence to the romanticism of outlaws with the many exaggerations that turn thugs into heroes. This book should be read because it takes one on a journey into the mind and mentality of a criminal, a place that few will ever witness. In fact, the book is used today as guidelines on how to deal with many inner-city gangs of L.A., Chicago and New York. If you enjoy learning about the criminalistic mind, you might enjoy A Clockwork Orange by A. Burgess. If you want to read more of Hunter S. Thompson¿s works, then you might try the Rum Diary, or a personal reflection of HST¿s life in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 28, 2006

    gonzo not dead

    amazing book on the american motorcycle gang only known as the infamous Hells Angels. Dr Thompson spent a year with these monsters and brought a new perspective to them.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 26, 2005

    Good Stuff

    There's plenty to chew on in Hunter S. Thompson's inaugeral book, including the nature of violence, the romanticism of outlaws and the exaggerations that turn thugs into heroes. In true Thompson fashion he hangs out with the Angels and gets pummeled for his effort, but that's a side note to the amazingly evenhanded way he portrays one of the most dangerous groups in American history.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 14, 2005

    Hell's Angels is an enjoyable novel

    Hell's Angels was about the famous 1960 bicycle gang. They were very violent and were interesting. The journalist Hunter S. Thompson had many experiences with interviewing them. He wrote a book all about what they did and what types of people they were. It was a good book if you are into the subject

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