The Proud Highway: Saga of a Desparate Southern Gentleman, 1955-1967


Here, for the first time, is the private and most intimate correspondence of one of America's most influential and incisive journalists—Hunter S. Thompson. In letters to a Who's Who of luminaries from Norman Mailer to Charles Kuralt, Tom Wolfe to Lyndon Johnson, William Styron to Joan Baez—not to mention his mother, the NRA, and a chain of newspaper editors—Thompson vividly catches the tenor of the times in 1960s America and channels it all through his own razor-sharp perspective. Passionate in their admiration, ...

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Proud Highway: Saga of a Desperate Southern Gentleman, 1955-1967

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Here, for the first time, is the private and most intimate correspondence of one of America's most influential and incisive journalists—Hunter S. Thompson. In letters to a Who's Who of luminaries from Norman Mailer to Charles Kuralt, Tom Wolfe to Lyndon Johnson, William Styron to Joan Baez—not to mention his mother, the NRA, and a chain of newspaper editors—Thompson vividly catches the tenor of the times in 1960s America and channels it all through his own razor-sharp perspective. Passionate in their admiration, merciless in their scorn, and never anything less than fascinating, the dispatches of The Proud Highway offer an unprecedented and penetrating gaze into the evolution of the most outrageous raconteur/provocateur ever to assault a typewriter.

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Editorial Reviews

Charles Taylor

In his introduction to the The Proud Highway -- the first in what apparently will be several volumes of Hunter Thompson's letters -- editor Douglas Brinkley informs us that, from the time he was a boy, Thompson made carbon copies of his letters, "hoping they would be published someday as a testament to his life and times." And if that doesn't suggest someone in need of an editor, I don't know what does. This first volume of The Fear and Loathing Letters covers the years from 1955 to 1967 -- that's roughly from the time Thompson joined the Air Force until just after the publication of his book Hell's Angels and before the beginning of his Rolling Stone tenure.

These letters show that the mind-set that burst fully formed upon the world in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas was present in Thompson from a very early age. The talent for violent invective and hipster put-on, the snarlingly self-righteous threats, the taste for all manner of chemical debauchery, is owned up to again and again in letters to friends and lovers, editors and Air Force superiors, creditors, landlords and any poor bastard who had the bad luck to run afoul of him. What hasn't been seen before is the young writer's ambition, the worship he lauded upon certain authors or books (F. Scott Fitzgerald, Nelson Algren, the William Styron of Lie Down in Darkness -- "This man is a Writer," proclaims Thompson -- but not of Set This House on Fire). He desperately desired to join their company, and he had confidence that he would.

Thompson is a writer who needs rage. He's best when he finds a target worthy of the venom he can incubate. That's why he was always the most murderous and accurate of all Nixon haters. And why the only work in the last few years that matched his glory days was his Rolling Stone obit for Nixon. In the midst of the sentimental lies that accompanied Tricky's demise (and by the way, did anyone actually see the body?), Thompson's poison felt like a drink of clear water. That rage is best seen here in the letters written after JFK's assassination, with Thompson's mourning translating itself into disgust and fear of what lay ahead. It's less impressive when it's being snottily leveled at a woman friend who had the temerity to suggest Thompson read Jack Kerouac.

It's hard to reject the young romantic who -- writing about women, his own ambitions, his beloved Doberman -- makes himself unexpectedly felt here. It's also hard to deny the tediousness of this collection. There are plenty of reminders, though, of why this drug-addled coyote has been taken to readers', and not a few writers', hearts. "Too many people in this gutless world," he writes to one editor, "have come under the impression that writers are a race of finks, queers and candy asses to be bilked, cheated and mocked as a form of commercial sport. It should be noted, therefore ... that some writers possess .44 Magnums and can puncture beer cans with ... that weapon at a distance of 150 yards." Sometimes, as Blanche DuBois said, there's God so suddenly. -- Salon

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Thompson (Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas), according to editor Brinkley, has written more than 20,000 letters. For bile and outrageousness, this first volume in a collection of those letters to friends, editors, agents and others is peerless. When literary agent Sterling Lord declined to represent him, Thompson threatened to "cave in your face and scatter your teeth all over Fifth Avenue." Struggling to earn a living by freelancing, the author wrote President Johnson (addressed as "Dear Lyndon"), requesting he appoint Thompson governor of American Samoa to afford him a "pacific place" in which to write a novel "of overwhelming importance." Railing against corruption and stupidity, temperamentally unable to suffer the authority of fools, Thompson cannot keep regular jobs and roams the world, forever struggling for money and desperate for recognition of his considerable talent. But he doesn't hesitate to address the few writers and editors he admires with requests for help, comments on their work or generous praise. By turns exasperating and entertaining, this is also a devastating portrait of the writer as an incorrigible outsider. (June)
Library Journal
"I'm already the new Fitzgerald," Thompson declares gamely at age 19, in 1957, as his cracking lifelong correspondence gets under way. "I just haven't been recognized yet." The original gonzo journalist, who struck the big time with his book on the Hell's Angels ten years later (when this first volume of correspondence terminates), amply displays his talent for bragging--and barking--in these self-consciously irreverent, wordy, and often tender letters he was fond of banging out impulsively to friends like William J. Kennedy (Ironweed); magazine editors from whom he hoped to scare up work; youths who asked for career advice; Lyndon Johnson, when asking for the job of governor of American Samoa; and writers whose work he read with violent pleasure or loathing (Norman Mailer, William Styron, Nelson Algren). Thompson enjoyed messing up wherever he could but he never lost a grip on his desire to become a damn good writer. This is a shot in the liver for struggling writers and a searing testimony to an important moment in American journalism. Highly recommended. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 2/1/97.]Amy Boaz, "Library Journal"
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780345377968
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 4/28/1998
  • Series: Fear and Loathing Letters Series, #1
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 720
  • Sales rank: 275,094
  • Product dimensions: 5.47 (w) x 8.25 (h) x 1.14 (d)

Meet the Author

Hunter S. Thompson
Hunter S. Thompson
To summarize Hunter S. Thompson’s career is nearly impossible. His writing covered sports, politics, personal letters, social commentary, and Gonzo Journalism -- his own brand of hyper-subjective observation of nearly everything that crosses his path. A welcomed troublemaker, the name Hunter S. Thompson conjures the image of a man bearing firearms and whiskey, daring his readers to question their realities.


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 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

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Sort by: Showing all of 8 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 9, 2009

    Great Great Book!!!!

    This book is an amazing insight into the life and mind of the great hunter s. thompson. I recommend it to any Hunter S. Thompson fan. You will not be disappointed.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 11, 2006


    If you consider yourself a writer, don't read this book without a highlighter, because you'll want to reference Thompson's genius from time to time in the future. In my estimation, HST is the Zeus of the literary universe. One of his greatest lines goes something like, 'I already am the next Fitzgerald, I just haven't been discovered yet.' For me, Thompson is up there with Fitzgerald, Hemingway, and Steinbeck. Thompson is zen.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 21, 2006

    he is still alive

    This collection of letters reveals more than any written biography ever could.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 15, 2003


    The VOICE of Hunter S. Thomspon - the invention of his voice!!! It's interesting to read on and on as this man grows up a bit here and there, but it's more fascinating when one realizes things that aren't told by the book. I specifically realized how important simply reading is for the developement of the human mind. While many of the letters in this fabulous book reek of a certain arrogance and amateur self-love/loathing, they are nonetheless lively and quite poignant. I still laugh at most of the stuff in there. It will continue to provide me with comfort.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 2, 2002



    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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    Posted March 29, 2009

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    Posted July 10, 2009

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    Posted September 4, 2009

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