I just finished reading Hell’s Angels: The Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs by Hunter S. Thompson. Thompson wrote Hell’s Angels during 1965 and 1966, and is probably best known as the author or Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, which was published in 1972. He popularized a style of journalism known as “gonzo journalism” where the author participates in the story, writes in first-person narrative, and frames himself as the protagonist. Gonzo also tends to be rather satirical in tone.
I ran into this book on a friend’s reading list and thought it sounded interesting, so I decided to dive in for myself. It’s a well written book with a sort of meandering style that doesn’t always progress linearly. Thompson essentially befriended the angels and hung out with them for around a year as he wrote this book. He didn’t actually become a Hell’s Angel, and the gang knew he was a journalist, but he seems to have acquired enough rapport to have written accurately. It reads like a pop culture, anthropological sketch.
I knew going into this book that the angels were infamous, but I’ll admit that some of the details were more raw than I expected. To be perfectly clear, I didn’t expect rape to play such a large role in the story. Drugs, law-breaking, motorcycles, sex––I knew they would all likely play a part––but Thompson’s account of rape is uncomfortable to read.
Nevertheless, this is an enthralling book that captures a splice of 1960’s American counter-culture in page-turning fashion. From Memorial Day rides with hundreds of angels, to theories about the gang’s origins, to the wider culture’s varied reaction to the angels, Thompson captures that 1960’s American culture that I’m fond of reading about. The narrative about the angel’s interactions with Allen Ginsberg is especially interesting. The only part of the story that’s missing would have been an account of the Altamont festival, but that didn’t occur until 1970. Bummer.
4 out 5 black cups of coffee.
1st book of 2016.
Read with Caution.