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Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72

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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

496 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1973

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About the author

Hunter S. Thompson

134 books9,465 followers
Hunter Stockton Thompson (1937-2005) was an American journalist and author, famous for his book Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. He is credited as the creator of Gonzo journalism, a style of reporting where reporters involve themselves in the action to such a degree that they become the central figures of their stories. He is also known for his promotion and use of psychedelics and other mind-altering substances (and to a lesser extent, alcohol and firearms), his libertarian views, and his iconoclastic contempt for authority. He committed suicide in 2005.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 997 reviews
Profile Image for Melki.
6,031 reviews2,386 followers
December 7, 2012
Jesus! Where will it end? How low do you have to stoop in this country to be President?

As Thompson's reputation precedes him, I had no clue what to expect from this book. The drug-addled ramblings of a drunken madman, perhaps? Imagine my surprise to find his writing to be sharp, clear, keenly observant, and funny as hell.

Oh, the madman pops up now and then with lines like - ...I was bored from bad noise on the radio and half-drunk from doing off a quart of Wild Turkey between the Chicago and Altoona exit..., or I finished my double-tequila and went upstairs to my room to get hopelessly stoned by myself and pass out. And how many respected journalists can make this claim? - Random House still owes me a lot of money from that time when the night watchman beat my snake to death... And we won't even go into the part where Thompson's cigarette almost blows up Nixon's plane...

Thompson admits to being a misanthrope, but claims that what made him that way was politics - Everything that is wrong-headed, cynical & vicious in me today traces straight back to that evil hour in September of '69 when I decided to get heavily involved in the political process...

He pronounces Objective Journalism a myth, and proceeds to say exactly what he thinks of EVERYONE.

Whatever else might be said about Nixon---there is still serious doubt in my mind that he could pass for Human...

Of Humphrey, he says - They don't make 'em like Hubert anymore - but just to be on the safe side, he should be castrated anyway.

It's hard to tell at times, since he hates everybody, but it appears Thompson was secretly rooting for McGovern.

The tragedy of all this is that George McGovern, for all his mistakes and his imprecise talk about "new politics" and "honesty in government," is one of the few men who've run for President of the United States in this century who really understands what a fantastic monument to all the best instincts of the human race this country might have been if we could have kept it out of the hands of greedy little hustlers like Richard Nixon.

All this came out of a man who basically just wanted a house overlooking the beach, or perhaps a measly little appointment as Governor of American Samoa. Is that too much to ask?

Next year, I plan to run off to Vegas with him! - Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
Profile Image for Mike.
306 reviews149 followers
February 4, 2020

Ed: Any kind of campaign that taps that energy would...

HST: Would generate a tremendous high for everybody involved in it.

Ed: And would ultimately for you be another paramount experience- out there on the Edge?

HST: Oh, absolutely. But you know you'd be killed, of course, and that would add to it considerably- never knowing when the bullet was coming.

It's a wet and windy late January morning, with what looks like a squall outside, and it just occurred to me that Thompson would really have been looking forward to February 2020. The Super Bowl (for those readers who didn't grow up in the U.S., the Super Bowl is an annual football game of the utmost significance- practically a national holiday, a religious experience) is scheduled for Sunday, February 2nd, after all, in Miami, and the Democratic Iowa caucus will be held on the 3rd, followed in the next few weeks by the New Hampshire primary, the Nevada caucus and the South Carolina primary...and then of course there's Fury-Wilder II in Vegas on the 22nd, when those two extremely large individuals will attempt to disembowel each other. Lots of gambling opportunities, in other words. They've taken a bit of the fun out of sports gambling, of course, at least here in New Jersey, by legalizing it- this evidently happened sometime while I was in Russia, which I was able to infer when I came back through Newark Penn Station and saw big ads for Draftkings.com everywhere, always including that minuscule (and presumably obligatory) white text at the bottom: "Gambling addiction? Call 1-800..."- but it's also more accessible and probably safer for the average person, who will lay down money this coming weekend on either the Kansas City Chiefs (who, disconcertingly, play in Kansas City, Missouri, not Kansas City, Kansas) or the San Francisco 49ers, the heartland vs. the West coast, and tune in to watch the game, which will be frequently interrupted by commercials such as ex-New York mayor, billionaire and current presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg's $10 million Super Bowl ad, the nature of which has been kept under the strictest secrecy. MIKE WILL GET IT DONE, is his campaign's slogan (and also what I happen to plaintively whisper to myself, often unconvincingly, when I stand in front of the mirror in the morning), and his ads are now so ubiquitous across the country that he's risen as high as ~9% nationally in recent polls, despite not being in any of the debates.

Anyway, I've gotten in the habit of re-reading this book every election year, and I've just finished it for the third time. I tried on this reading to resist the temptation to draw parallels between the book's "characters" and modern-day politicians, but there are a few that are just hard to avoid. Trump works more or less as Wallace + Nixon, Hillary Clinton is clearly Hubert Humphrey, and then there's this assessment of the Democratic front-runner, "Big" Ed Muskie (a.k.a. "The Man from Maine"), offered by Frank Mankiewicz, George McGovern's campaign director: "Nobody's really for Muskie. They're only for the Front-Runner, the man who says he's the only one who can beat Nixon- but not even Muskie himself believes that anymore..."

Right. Tell me that's not Joe Biden. Thompson hears a similar sentiment from the president of the Washington Redskins (I guess I believe that's who he was talking to anyway, you never quite know for sure with Hunter):
We spent the rest of the flight arguing politics. He is backing Muskie, and as he talked I got the feeling that he thought he was already at a point where, sooner or later, we would all be. "Ed's a good man", he said. "He's honest. I respect the guy." Then he stabbed the padded seat arm between us two or three times with his forefinger. "But the main reason I'm working for him", he said, "is that he's the only guy we have who can beat Nixon"...He picked up his drink, then saw it was empty and put it down again. "That's the real issue this time", he said. "Beating Nixon. It's hard to even guess how much damage those bastards will do if they get in for another four years."

I nodded. The argument was familiar. I had even made it myself, here and there, but I was beginning to sense something very depressing about it. How many more of these goddamn elections are we going to have to write off as lame but 'regrettably necessary' holding actions?
But after a few underwhelming primary performances dissipated Muskie's aura of "electability", he sank like a stone. I posted the quote above as a reading update a few weeks ago, and someone commented: "just one more?" By which I assume the commenter meant that it's very important to beat Trump this year, just as it was very important to beat Nixon in '72, and that the Democrats should therefore nominate Joe Biden. I assume that's who the commenter meant, because that's who everyone means this year when they talk about the supposedly pragmatic choice. But...well...hold that thought.

The outcome of the '72 election would seem to back up the commenter's case. I have to admit, after all, that at least one reason I was resolved not to draw too many explicit parallels with the present day is that this book can seem pretty disheartening if taken as prophecy. And it has been taken that way- or McGovern's epic defeat (Nixon won 49 out of 50 states; McGovern got Massachusetts and DC) has been, anyway. In '72, a young and presumably idealistic Bill Clinton managed McGovern's campaign in Texas; over a decade later, in the late 80s, Clinton was a leader of the DLC, or Democratic Leadership Council, whose efforts either injected the Party with some much-needed pragmatism and common sense or sacrificed the working- and middle-classes in the quest for power, depending on how you see it. McGovern's loss (and I suppose Mondale's in '84, although that seems to be a more forgotten election- or maybe it's just that I don't know of any good books about it) still casts a shadow over any presidential candidate who is perceived as (or can be construed to be) "too far Left." So as someone who's openly behind Bernie Sanders (and if Bernie does get the nomination this year, I predict that anyone who watches cable news is going to hear McGovern's name constantly, invoked as a synonym for failure), do I perceive anything ominous in the story of an insurgent campaign that was counting on bringing an entirely new constituency of the young and disaffected into national politics, and instead suffered one of the worst beatings in political history? Never mind that 2020, like 1972, is the Year of the Rat?

Well...when you put it like that, it's certainly not encouraging. But Thompson suggests some other factors to consider, especially in the last few chapters (one of which includes an interview with McGovern). There's the fact that Nixon was saving some of his very best shots (China, the economy, Kissinger's promise that peace was "at hand" in Vietnam) for the stretch run, and then there was McGovern's selection of Missouri senator Tom Eagleton (who was known, even to McGovern, "...as a man who didn't mind taking thirteen or fourteen tall drinks now and then", and who was later revealed to have been hospitalized for "severe manic-depressive psychosis with suicidal tendencies") for VP. McGovern couldn't have done worse, Thompson writes, "with Charles Manson as a running-mate."

HST: Did you ever find out what those little blue pills were that he was eating?

McGovern: No.

HST: I think I did. It was Stelazine, not Thorazine like I heard originally. I did everything I could to get hold of the actual records, but nobody would even talk to me.

But Thompson's criticism of the Eagleton decision is only part of his broader criticism of McGovern's decision to (in political parlance) pivot, after the convention, towards the center. Notably, McGovern doesn't seem to agree that there really was any pivot at all. But why, Thompson asks him, after all that talk about "new politics", and after the Eagleton disaster, would McGovern offer the vice-presidency to Hubert Humphrey? "It seemed to be something that had to be done to get a majority coalition", McGovern answers, "but maybe not." To which Thompson replies,
My own theory, which sounds like madness, is that [McGovern] would have been better off running against Nixon with the same kind of neo-radical campaign he ran in the primaries. Not radical in the left/right sense, but radical in a sense that he was...a person who would actually grab the system by the ears and shake it.
It takes some effort to remember just how badly most of us (let's exempt Michael Moore) underestimated that appeal four years ago. Which is not to say that public opinion exists in a vacuum, without any rhyme or reason- but it seems like this is another "grab the system..." moment, and frankly for good reason. Is Joe Biden really the "safe", pragmatic candidate to run at such a moment? And by the way, what does it mean to be "too far Left", anyway? If Medicare-for-All routinely polls above 50% (and it has for many months, dipping below that number only recently under a barrage of fear-mongering from candidates like Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar), for example, doesn't that mean that it's not too far Left but mainstream? The fact that there's only one Democratic candidate who supports it unequivocally doesn't mean that the idea is too far Left- it means that we're not being represented by the candidates. So if Thompson's right about why McGovern lost (or at least why the loss was of such devastating proportions), a better lesson to draw might be "don't try to be everything to everybody", or maybe "something is better than nothing." For example, why has Elizabeth Warren fallen in the polls in the last few months? Why is she so far behind nationally that she's resorted to trying to smear Bernie Sanders as a sexist, when this is the same man who encouraged her- Elizabeth Warren, that is- to run for president four years ago, and later campaigned like hell for Hillary Clinton? Maybe it has to do with the fact that no one knows where she stands on a variety of issues, including M4A. Is she for it, against it, or something in between? Even people who disagree with Sanders on M4A understand that he's sincere. The only thing I know for an absolute certainty about Warren's stance on the issue is that it's not a priority for her, which means her administration would never get it done. Which also happens to be an issue that affects women (as well as men) a hell of a lot more than whatever she claims was said in a private meeting.

But Thompson's point clarifies, at any rate, that if Sanders were to get the nomination, and that's a big if, his campaign would have a choice: stick firmly to his principles or try to make a few concessions to the Clinton wing of the party, in order to insure their support. Presented with that choice, I personally think it might be wise for them to follow Thompson's advice to McGovern quoted above. The Clinton wing of the party obviously loathes Sanders, and I'm not sure they would support him against Trump anyway. Take it from Hillary Clinton herself, who isn't quite ready to say whether or not she would endorse Sanders...against Trump, remember. Good. Her refusal to endorse him might be the most galvanizing spark for his campaign yet.

HST: ...here's a question that sort of haunts me now...is whether this kind of campaign could have worked? Were the mistakes mechanical and technical? Or was it either flawed or doomed from the start...?

McGovern: I don't think there ever was a majority for the approach I was using. I think we had a fighting chance.

HST: No better than that? Even with all those new voters?

McGovern: I think we exaggerated the amount of the enthusiasm for change among young people...there really are a great number of people in this country that are a helluva lot more interested in whether the Dolphins beat the Redskins than they are in whether Nixon or McGovern ends up in the White House.

But back to that comment- "just one more time?" I know that my legion of readers have been waiting breathlessly for my best assessment of the Democrats' chances in November, so here's the way I see it at the moment. First of all, let's acknowledge that there's no guarantee that any Democrat can beat Trump in November. He's also extremely unlikely to be removed from office by the Senate- his voters don't care that he tried to extort Ukraine, which means Republican senators don't care. So that being said, which Democrat is the pragmatic choice? Well, Buttigieg is despised by young people, as well as by black and Latino voters, so he's got no shot. Bloomy isn't even on the ballot in the early states, and seems to be doing this as part of his bucket list- although he could still impact the race by taking votes away from other candidates, particularly the more moderate ones. Warren is a proven liar who's been fading for months...and frankly, I just don't think a Native American can win (this is a joke, people). That leaves Biden and Sanders.

(Review continued in comment #1, below.)
Profile Image for Joe Soltzberg.
55 reviews24 followers
February 4, 2016
Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72 is a high-speed drive through the world of politics with none other than Hunter S. Thompson in the driver's seat (with a glass of Wild Turkey in his lap and a whole galaxy of multi-colored uppers, downers, screamers, and laughers in the trunk). For readers familiar with his earlier works, F&L on the Campaign Trail reads like Hell's Angels: A Strange and Terrible Saga mixed with Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. The blended style is great and makes for a book about politics that isn’t dull in the least bit.

F&L on The Campaign Trail is a savage journey to the heart of American politics and the lessons that come from it are far more relevant than just the ’72 election. Given that we (as of now) are just one year away from the 2016 election, I think everyone could learn a thing or two from reading this while the primaries are just about to get under way. During the terms of Bush and Obama the media has claimed that the American people are undergoing some kind of grand disillusionment with politics. While this is certainly true, we need not look back further than 40 years to see the last time the American people rode this wave of uncertainty. Recall that in ’68 Richard Nixon was elected President of the United States amid growing opposition to the Vietnam War. In the 4 years leading up to the ’72 election it looked like the defining issues were busing (as a means of promoting racial desegregation), abandoning the Vietnam War, and amnesty (for draft-dodging the Vietnam War). This meant racial and anti-war tensions were high, much like today between the recent bouts of racially-motivated shootings and U.S. involvement in the middle-east over ISIS. The American public was sick of politics and the sentiments that are present today were just as present back then. Thompson explains:

And 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 I tend to agree with a chance to vote FOR something, instead of being faced with that old familiar choice between the lesser of two evils?

The political apathy was palpable at the time, as it is today, and much of the American people were hoping that the Democratic Party could produce a candidate powerful enough to stand up to the incumbent Richard Nixon. Thompson begins at the very start of the Democratic Primaries and follows its various stars, Hubert Humphrey, Ed Muskie, George Wallace, and George McGovern all the way through election day on November 7th, 1972. Thompson takes a natural affinity towards McGovern and touts him as his ‘personal pick’ throughout the book. Thompson describes McGovern as a candidate that is different from Richard Nixon and the other career-politician type Democratic candidates. McGovern is viewed as a long shot, but as the right man for the job. Thompson wrote:

The main problem in any democracy is that crowd-pleasers are generally brainless swine who can go out on a stage & whup their supporters into an orgiastic frenzy-then go back to the office & sell every one of the poor bastards down the tube for a nickel apiece. Probably the rarest form of life in American politics is the man who can turn on a crowd & still keep his head straight-assuming it was straight in the first place. Which harks back to McGovern’s problem. He is probably the most honest big-time politician in America.

It is easy for a reader to get behind Thompson’s writings on the up and downs of the election and how our potential political champion, McGovern, ultimately fairs. I don’t want to give out any spoilers for those for us that are not as historically inclined as others, so I’ll mainly stick to outlining some of the lessons that can be learned from this book, rather than the details of the plot.

First, Thompson expertly captures how the media has overtaken politics and how any semblance of honesty in politics has withered away. He writes:

The assholes who run politics in this country have become so mesmerized by the Madison Avenue school of campaigning that they actually believe, now, that all it takes to become a Congressman or a Senator-or even a President-is a nice set of teeth, a big wad of money, and a half-dozen Media Specialists.

And to think this was before smartphones and the internet! If only Thompson would have lived to see what politics has devolved into nowadays. It is enlightening to see where the commodification of politics began and the book sheds some light into how the campaigns of nowadays got their beginnings.

Second, Thompson gets down and dirty in analyzing the more ruthless parts of political campaigns from negative campaigning to bribing delegates. He describes the situation particularly well:

‘Christ, we can’t get away calling him a pig-fucker,’ the campaign manager protested. ‘Nobody’s going to believe a thing like that.’ ‘I know,’ Johson replied. ‘But let’s make that sonofabitch deny it.’

Thompson goes even deeper in his analysis and provides a long postmortem of the general election, as well as an intriguing theory to how Nixon may have tried to sellout the Republicans in the ’76 election in order to improve his chances in the ’72 election. His analysis is excellent and thought-provoking.

Lastly, don’t forget that this is still a work of Gonzo Journalism. Don’t be phased by any drug-induced tangents Thompson stumbles into or dream-like sequences. It is all a necessary part of the story. In this journey Thompson gets to finally ride his Vincent Black Shadow and has another go at the Polo Lounge at the Beverly Hills hotel. Any reader of F&L in Las Vegas will also appreciate the multiple references to Raoul Duke from the Sports Desk.

All in all, this book is a great read. It is a must-read for any fan of Hunter S. Thompson. It is also an excellent read for anyone trying to get some historical insight on politics and the upcoming 2016 election.

UPDATE (previously 4 stars): Even though I read this a while ago, it keeps popping back into my mind and reminds me of how much I enjoyed it and find myself wishing I was still reading it. If a book does this, that then it's definitely 5 stars.
Profile Image for Tom Quinn.
552 reviews166 followers
April 22, 2016
I re-read this in early 2016 out of a dim memory and a curious urge to compare the present-day Presidential campaign circus to the 1972 Presidential campaign zoo.

The more things change, the more they stay the same, eh?

The first time I read this I was young, in my mid-twenties. I didn't recognize the names. I laughed some and moved on. I didn't appreciate its savagery, or its brutal honesty. I just dismissed it as a longer version of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas in a different city. My eyes were closed to politics--Washington was too remote, too dull. We had just elected Obama and as a college-educated liberal youngster I figured the very ideas of Hope and Change would be enough to lead us into permanent prosperity. 8 years later and I'm that much wiser (that much older, anyhow) and now I'm closely following the 2016 presidential campaigns with a mixture of disgust, disbelief, discomfort, and dismay. So, I figured it was the most appropriate time to return to this old chestnut and see how it's held up.

It's held up fine, thank you very much.

Hunter S Thompson was a national treasure, a wild animal incapable of domestication. He writes with passion, goddammit, a hydrogen bomb blast with an adrenaline chaser. His words are thunderous. His ideas are radical. His actions are outrageous. He carries you along through his narrative with fevered energy and twisted humor, making a tedious topic engrossing by peeling back the bullshit and revealing the humans behind the curtain as their ugly, brutish, true selves. Warts and all? More like all warts. And still he CARES, he cares with every fiber of his being about some Very Important Stuff like Liberty and Truth. In the end, though, even an iconoclast like Thompson had to admit that ideas are great, but nothing gets done by ideas alone. Godammit.

But the book itself is a chore to read cover to cover. Somewhere around page 180 I started to glaze over, lost track of who's who, and had to refer to Internet timelines and summaries to keep it in perspective and make sense of it all. Perhaps a chapter at a time, over the course of many months, to mimic its original serialized magazine publication would be the best way to approach this now.

3 stars out of 5.
Profile Image for Sean Wilson.
192 reviews
March 15, 2016
Hunter S. Thompson's political epic Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72 is a spiritual sequel to Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Thompson continues his scathing and satirical, as well as retrospective, critique of the sixties and early seventies. No other writer has written so well on those years.

Campaign Trail... is a scathing account of American politics and presidential campaigns. Thompson's journey centers on the McGovern-Nixon '72 election. Like a massive drug trip, the book gradually becomes more bitter and burnt out as Thompson physically and emotionally exhausts himself; the content becomes increasingly disjointed and allows Thompson to humorously digress and exaggerate the events, and he somehow manages to make it feel more truthful than the objective journalism he rips into along the way.

Don't be expecting a full-on piece of stoner psychedelic literature. Although there are moments of this (Thompson talking with disillusioned hippies was brilliant), this is a whole different animal. This is a political book, and Thompson knows his shit. It's funny, manic, angry, satirical and always entertaining.
Profile Image for William.
676 reviews336 followers
March 29, 2018
Nixon was the beginning of the end of the Golden Age of America, the subversion of the working class, the abuse of minorities, the testament to pure greed for money and power, that has led the Republican Party from the sensible charity and honesty of Eisenhower, to the depths of the terrifying clown, Trump, and his obscenely evil opportunists in the wreckage of the GOP.

Hunter was here, at this moment of Nixon's criminal grab for power, close to the center of the obscenity, but only allowed to talk Football.

A sad masterpiece of who we were, and how we were deceived and enslaved.

Profile Image for Richard L.
24 reviews3 followers
May 7, 2012
Ever since first seeing Fear & Loathing In Las Vegas and hearing more about Hunter S Thompson and his journalistic work I made it a mission in life to read as much of his material as possible and this is possibly his crowning jewel in my opinion, followed closely by his account of living with the Hell's Angels in the aptly titled Hell's Angels.

There's no way of truly pinning down what makes this such a great read, although if you are familiar with Thompson you know you will enjoy his seething, scathing review of American politics and even if this is your first foray into his work you will come away with one heck of an experience. It's a gruelling read, with parallels between '72 and present day which are eerie and quite scary at times.

He may be known to so many ill-educated people as that comedic recreational drug user played by Bill Murray and Johnny Depp in Where The Buffalo Roam and Fear & Loathing, respectively, but to those who saw there was so much more to him than a couple of funny films, he's an icon of journalistic freedom, brutal honesty and overall nut-casery that he, and he alone, could somehow embody and still make such an endearing effort of it!
Profile Image for Ivonne Rovira.
1,942 reviews199 followers
January 25, 2014
Forget Primary Colors: A Novel of Politics. Even forget All the President's Men and The Selling of the President. Especially forget the overrated Game Change: Obama and the Clintons, McCain and Palin, and the Race of a Lifetime. The greatest book on a political campaign of all time is Hunter Thompson's Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail.

Any author can look back at a campaign, but Thompson, despite being drunk or high or hung over for the duration of the election, predicted the future. He foresaw the Reagan Revolution of 1980. His only error was that he thought it would happen in 1976. He couldn't know that Watergate and its aftermath would set the calendar back one election cycle and four years. That man was a political genius.

I just wish Thompson were alive to write the definitive book on the 2008 election. Who knows? Maybe Alex Pareene or Matt Taibbi will be the new Hunter Thompson.
Profile Image for Yair Ben-Zvi.
320 reviews87 followers
May 22, 2019
There's something to reading the words of an addict who both hates and can't live without his vices. And no, this has little to do with drugs. Hunter S. Thompson's truly tragic obsession was with the American Dream, and achieving it, in this work, through politics. And it's an utter balls up. For HST, for America, and for history as well.

It has been a very very long time since I've read Thompson. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas was my only other exposure to him and that was way back in that magically punitive year I spent in Israel (2011/2012 ish?). I loved it and loved the movie. HST's voice is inimitable; it's a distinctly American mode of expression that simultaneously carries and transcends the numerous weights of intangible baggage that come with being a Yankee with even a modicum of intelligence and self-awareness. It was funny, bizarre, and ultimately a tragic Dear John letter to the ideals the 60's promised but failed to deliver.

Here, Thompson goes for broke and follows then underdog Democratic presidential candidate George McGovern on his campaign trail. What Hunter illumines is a twisting and undulating journey through the psychosis of the modern American political process. And, like the earlier Las Vegas, it's a grim road of human grotesquerie and shattered dreams. It's hilarious as well. And sobering as, throughout the whole work, I kept intoning to myself that "It only gets worse". And it has.

But, small potatoes though they be, we at least, from the trainwreck of our political machine, have a fundamentally important work about our leaders and how they come to lead and how much, and how little, we matter to the entire system. Republicans, Democrats, Conservatives, Liberals, these are just shifting labels for power groups that care only for the people as a number and a percentage, to think anything else is hopelessly naive and not to the betterment of anyone in the long run.

HST was an idealist and, in his own way, a realist, depicting what he saw as the failure of an ostensibly great nation to live up to its numerous promises. And he did it all with elan. Read this if you want an insider's look at the most lachrymose and yet hopeful depiction of the American political dream. Maybe we can do better. I do know I will be voting in the next election, for what it's worth. Though, like HST, I'll probably elide sobriety before, during, and after.

Profile Image for Alexander.
83 reviews7 followers
August 27, 2014
Hunter Thompson brings the same weird wit, fragmented headspace, and undeniable charm to this account of the 1972 presidential race. He's a man with political views after my own heart.
Profile Image for B.
765 reviews26 followers
January 29, 2014
So first off: this book is important. Thompson captures a volatile time in history, both politically and socially. He covers McGovern v. Nixon well but, more importantly, he speaks to the layman's outlook on politics: the corruption, the greed, the confusion, the madness. In his drug and alcohol stupors, Thompson manages to be more honest about the American political process than anyone else. It begs the question: if it takes being that strung out to accurately describe our system, isn't it time we changed a thing or two?
That being said, Thompson's descriptions often unravel into rants, and he jumps around a lot as new ideas strike him. It is obvious he was on drugs and reading it sober was daunting at times.
For anyone into history, specifically political history, this book is a must-read. I consider this book part of the American canon not for the grace of the writing (it's more like driving on Route 66 these days: daunting and full of pot holes), but as a snapshot in what it was like to live and matter in 1972.
Profile Image for Edward.
419 reviews406 followers
April 10, 2017
That public men publish falsehoods
Is nothing new. That America must accept
Like the historical republics corruption and empire
Has been known for years.
Be angry at the sun for setting
If these things anger you.
-Robinson Jeffers

Reading Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72 during the 2016 primary season really drives home the point that the cynical view of politics is in fact the most accurate. The inner workings and machinations of a well-run campaign have so little to do with what the average person would consider "politics". Put aside any notion of policy or integrity or vision - those who campaign for high office have one goal and one goal only, which is to win that office. Deals are made for pragmatic reasons, with integrity lightly discarded; any policy or position is simply calculated to win favour with certain groups; and perception is vastly more important than vision. These are the indisputable facts, and very little has changed in the 44 years since 1972.

Moreover, this book proves conclusively that people are, in aggregate, extremely stupid. Nation-sized groups react in instinctive and irrational ways, driven by fear and ignorance. That the American people would re-elect Nixon - for the love of god, RICHARD NIXON! - for a second term in office is mind-boggling, and by a landslide no less. And they did it again in 2004 with Bush, arguably the silver medalist of terrible presidents. Here we are in 2016, with America once again poised to elect either - and I'm honestly not sure which one is the lesser of two evils - either an unqualified ignorant buffoon, or an unprincipled and unconcerned political opportunist. Anything can happen, and if history is any guide, it's likely that the American people will choose the more despicable person for their highest office.
Profile Image for Bart Schaneman.
Author 6 books35 followers
March 16, 2018
Of all the possible books one can read, I picked up Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ‘72 this year for two reasons. I wanted to know:

1. Are there parallels in Thompson’s coverage to what we’re experiencing in the era of Donald Trump? Was the Nixon campaign, and was Nixon as a candidate, as depraved and absurd as what we’re seeing today?

2. Should I regret not going on the campaign trail? Is following a campaign a desirable pursuit for a journalist? Or do you just become part of the sausage you think you’re describing being made?

But let’s back up first and talk about Thompson’s influence on our culture. Like Ernest Hemingway, Henry Miller, Charles Bukowski and Jack Kerouac before him, Thompson can be dangerous, if not outright toxic, if read and emulated at a young age. It’s easy to practice the travel and drinking (in Hemingway’s case), the travel and women (in Miller’s), the drinking and women (in Bukowski’s) and the drinking and travel and women (in Kerouac’s) without practicing the writing they all worked at despite the time they spent on their other individual pursuits. Mix in heavy drug use and you have the legion of Thompson fans who want the party but don’t want to put in the work to make the art. If you try to be all these men, usually one by one as you discover their work for the first time, soon your 20s are gone, given to experiences in place of actually learning how to write.

Every year when you go to out the bars on Halloween you see someone dressed up like Johnny Depp’s version of Thompson in the movie “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.” Green plastic card playing visor. Cigarette holder. Aviator sunglasses. Instantly recognizable. What does it say about our society that one of the most famous writers of the modern age is a self-described drug-addled lunatic?

I tired of the myth of Thompson long ago. Or, more accurately, I tired of trying to live up to that myth. Thompson casts a long shadow in modern letters. Still, what writer wouldn’t want to have Bill Murray or Depp play them in a movie? To have the movie version of yourself cast next to a young, gorgeous Amber Heard?

Like Matt Taibbi writes in the introduction to ...Campaign Trial, “nobody was ever more fun to read.” It’s true. Thompson accomplished that most difficult of feats for a writer — he developed a style and vocabulary so singular you could pick up one of his books blind and know within a page or two he had written it.

If you read the comments on the posthumous stories about Thompson, which seem to come out about every month even though he committed suicide more than ten years ago, unfailingly someone will say “we need you more than ever, Hunter,” or “I wonder what Hunter would have to say about the president we have today.”

To answer question 1 above, I quote from page 389: “This may be the year when we finally come face to face with ourselves; finally just lay back and say it — that we are really just a nation of 220 million used car salesmen with all the money we need to buy guns, and no qualms at all about killing anybody else in the world who tries to make us uncomfortable...Jesus! Where will it end? How low do you have to stoop in this country to be President?”

To answer question 2, from page 469: “There’s an excitement and a pace to the presidential campaign that definitely keeps you wired. It’s a grueling trip, but that insane kind of zipping from place to place … on the Monday before the election we did Kansas and both coasts … I crossed over my own house in Colorado three times. It’s frantic, kind of chasing after the Golden Fleece, and probably a lot more fun if you don’t win or if you have no real stake in it … Yeah, it’s one of the best assignments I can think of.”

What I learned in reading and imitating Thompson as a young man might be the real wisdom he wanted to impart to all of us who came after. I learned the only way to do this was to do it my own way. The world doesn’t need another Hunter Stockton Thompson. But it does need more true originals. People unafraid to like what gives them kicks. People unafraid to be weird. People who can find the edge, and go past it.
Profile Image for Brian.
275 reviews66 followers
May 18, 2012
The year was 1972 but it could be 2012--heck, it could be nearly ANY year! Hunter S. Thompson covers the "truth" behind the 1972 campaign to either reelect the very divisive and seemingly unpopular President Richard Nixon, or elect one of a slew of potential Democratic candidates. In 1972 Nixon was seen as weak, with the VERY unpopular Vietnam War winding down, but far from over and only dim hope that the troops would be home soon. An economy that was increasingly under the grips of what could be described as dark, and getting gloomier. A wide assortment of characters from the fringe to the hacks all tossing about the country hitting all the major primary battleground states with the confidence that "ANYONE can beat this President." So of course when everyone person feels they have a shot, then the field gets crowded and to stand out among he herd it is necessary to spout off the craziest and sometimes the most loony of positions. Any and every politician worth their weight in lobbyist money thinks they have the charisma and wits to out last their rivals in what transpires to be the equivalent of a marathon of clowns.

Sound familiar? Sound like almost any election of the last couple cycles? Like the current campaign. You have career politicians who can never give a straight answer about any position or policy for fear of alienating not only the core primary voters, but also independents in the November election. Bring in the more "fringe" candidates who are passionate about a couple of key issues, but otherwise are unelectable for any number of reasons. May even want to add in a few simply "crazies" that don't stand any chance in hell too, just to give the race some needed flavor.

Blended together and you have a strange concoction that when Hunter S. Thompson wades through it, you get to the sheer crux of it, in all its vulgar and fearsome loathing that his perspective of truth. Which usually IS the truth! Only Dr. Thompson himself could probably deliver THE definitive truthful account of that election (facts are necessary to hyperbolize and embellish simply to GET to the truth, you know!) and on top of that, also deliver a sheer gonzo masterpiece of journalistic writing that stands up to posterity simply because the TRUTH that Hunter delivers is applicable to ANY time period and nearly ANY presidential campaign since then.

Now...fans of nearly anything else of Hunter S. Thompson's work will first note that THIS work is more "daunting" than most of his stuff. "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" and "Rum Diaries" are far shorter works. This one is much denser and longer. It also drags...and I think some of this was done deliberately to convey how knock-down, depressingly drag these campaigns actually are. The public gets bored because we all understand they are too long and the candidates are raked over the coals in the most humiliating public fashion. Who seriously would really ever WANT to do that?

But Thompson is simply brilliant in his play-by-play and his entertaining odyssey across the country. Like any of his stuff, he inserts himself into the fray and makes it so he is as much a part of the story as the subject matter. He was truly one of the 20th century's great wordsmiths.

Five Stars for me for sheer vulgar and brilliant writing and truth-telling. Nothing is every going to be like Dr. Hunter S. Thompson. Truly a unique writer that this country will never see again.

For those that have never read Hunter, I would not start with THIS book though. Simply it has parts in it that for the unfamiliar reader, may bore them as well. Which, I believe, has more to do with the subject matter itself and the drag-out nature of Presidential campaigns. Hunter was getting bored and probably losing his mind in this fray. Also, because the subject is 40 years old and the candidates are unfamiliar to a couple of the younger generations, you also might find those dull and have the tendency to breeze through those unfamiliar names.

But once you do get a few of his books and works under your belt, dive in. Especially if you have a keen interest in politics or history at all.
Profile Image for Ryan.
1,067 reviews35 followers
July 16, 2020
The received wisdom is HST is one of those authors you go mad for in your teens, and go off as an adult.

That’s only partly true.

I’ve never felt Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas captured the man best, merely his myth - and it was the myth that did for him as much as the drugs. But this book is the man.

An English reader doesn’t need to know much about American politics to understand it. The facts are simple enough. The incumbent President, Richard Nixon, is scum incarnate; the long-shot challenger, George McGovern, is the hopeful with the youth vote on his side, intent on ending the Vietnam war. Nixon’s defeat will surely follow. Instead he wins by a landslide, and the smell of the American dream souring fills the air like a mass cremation. It isn’t for nothing that Matt Taibbi credits this book as an inspiration for his own bestselling account of the Trump campaign, Insane Clown President.

HST captures the sheer messiness of a campaign - like driving a car that stalls, crawls, and bullets down the motorway before stalling again. It’s exhausting to read, perhaps intentionally. Many books transport your imagination to a vanished era. Few do the same for your nervous system.
Profile Image for gaby.
116 reviews18 followers
April 16, 2008
I have a longstanding affection for reading books in the locations at which the books take place. I developed this interest during an apoplectic fit of maudlin sophomoricism when, at 18, I spent the summer in Paris reading everything possible connected to 20th century literature in that city (the collected volumes of Anais Nin's diaries, Henry Miller's Parisian fantasies, even that Hemingway book that only starts in Paris (The Sun Also Rises?), all those surrealist manifestos, Andre Breton's inept fumblings at attempted narrative (Nadja, ugh), etc etc etc).

Which is all to say that it was a happy circumstance to read Fear & Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72 in the city where it begins and ends. San Francisco has always been on The Edge, and is a city for which no one has had a finer-tuned appreciation than the doctor of freak power and gonzo journalism himself.

And perhaps that was the happiest circumstance about my having read this book. I guess the bottom line on this book is that it might as well have been called Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '08, cause shit still sucks. Politics is still a bummer; election years are long-term bummers punctuated by little pustules of hope, that shatter like shot all over your face eventually, and usually unexpectedly. Elections are like the kind of low-grade and sustained bummer you get from smoking your midwestern mom's weed that you found in the freezer in a Viagra promo bag. You just want to close your eyes, and feel lucky and grateful if it doesn't give you a stroke.

Another bottom line might be that, while shit still sucks, no one is having as much fun with it as Hunter did. Except maybe my mom. My parents recently installed a flat-screen TV on the wall next to their bed. My mom is completely obsessed with election coverage - "TOTAL COVERAGE", she calls it, in reference of course to Hunter S. She can give you each of 5 or 6 network outlets point spread projections for the upcoming Pennsylvania primary in real time. She knows odd and varied nuances of Michelle Obama's life story. She, like Hunter, has allowed the true infection of election coverage to take over like any other full-blown addiction. But hey, it's better than Ibogane, right Ed Muskie?

The highlight of any Hunter S. Thompson book is the mad rush he pushes onto you from the page itself, like he's just this frantic mess of nerves and drugs and true grit, and the pages vibrate with his singular intensity. And, if nothing else, FALOTCT '72 certainly shows his raw power and ability to stay on task, not in a marginal way (like his coverage of the motorcycle race in Vegas) but in true newsman fashion, you know, Getting The Story. It's like he said himself - when the going gets weird, the weird turn pro. But ain't no shame in a pro eating mescaline on the press plane from Sioux City to DC....
Profile Image for Dan.
1,135 reviews52 followers
August 15, 2021
I prefer the earlier writing of Hunter Thompson - his writing that came before the ego induced Gonzo journalism.

Thompson has so many moments of brilliant observations but way too much ranting and an unhealthy obsession with crime statistics and rape specifically. And when an author literally writes statements like "Now where was I?" the lack of such literary mores drown out the really insightful stuff for me.
Profile Image for Terry.
316 reviews72 followers
November 11, 2021
I worked on this campaign in press advance and met Hunter Thompson while doing so, so this book was a look back at that time. Hunter may have been somewhat crazy but he was a good writer and had fascinating insights, as I recall from the distance of many years.
Profile Image for John.
155 reviews7 followers
December 23, 2022
I decided to spend this year, the 50 year anniversary of the 1972 presidential election, reading Hunter S. Thompson's Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72. I bought this book back in the summer of 2021 and the owner of the store told me I'd find a lot of parallels to the recently held 2020 election. This book is laid out in different sections covering each month of 1972 and the progress of the campaign. This made for an easy pace to read throughout the year.

HST was Rolling Stone's political correspondent during this time. These different month excepts were originally serialized in Rolling Stone and were later collected here in this publication. HST gains press access to all of the events of the primary and general election, speaking directly with Nixon, McGovern and many of the campaign organizers. Beyond the political and historical aspects, HST offers readers his typical style of writing, giving his perspective on everything that is happening, often focusing on his hotel or party antics instead of the actual election.

Prior to reading Campaign Trail 72' I had only ever read Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas from HST. While I love Las Vegas I really did enjoy this book even more. We get a more focused Thompson who offers insight and evaluation of bigger issues in America and for a more sustained period of time. While HST already had success writing before Las Vegas I think this book really shows that his writing style wasn't just a one off and that he can have different dimensions to how he writes. You don't get the "Gonzo" "off the wall" writing of Las Vegas on every page but rather spaced out between and interlaced with the dry nature of political affairs.

I think the book really benefits from this. While I'm someone interested in history, I have never been too big into political history or political analysis. HST was able to win me over with an election that, to the unaware, may seem rather uneventful. The 1972 election is surrounded by much bigger events: the 1968 election, democratic convention, the overall counterculture movement and on the other end the Watergate Scandal, the rise of Reaganism at the end of the decade.

You'd think that this wouldn't be that big an event in American history but then you look at an electoral map and see the outcome. Elections results like this don't happen anymore but elections like this sure do. The 1972 presidential election was the beginning of the kind of elections we have today. HST really offers a lot of insight in this book that makes it feel like he can see into the future or is speaking from our current perspective. If he could see this in 1972, you can only wonder what he'd think now. The political backstabbing, under the table deals, and cult of personality are all covered here. While a lot of the events of this book may seem trivial by today's standards, I think it's a great look into what has become an American tradition.

With every election since, things have only gotten worse to the point where America is as divided and riled up as ever. Football is a consistent theme throughout the book and the point in which the narrative ends; Super Bowl Sunday 1973. While evaluating the outcome of the election, HST draws the conclusion that the only way to win the presidential election going forward is to have a rock star, cult of personality, that gets people as riled up as they are watching the Super Bowl. We've seen this happen and continue to happen at an alarming rate since 2016. Luckily, many of those candidates looking to capture the magic of Trump have nowhere near the kind of charisma as him, which has led to many failed campaigns. That being said, someone will break through as the next protégé. If I've learned anything from this book its that the next cult of personality will be darker and more sinister than the last and soon enough we'll be watching them walk up to the podium as Hail to the Chief plays.
Profile Image for Evan.
1,071 reviews753 followers
January 18, 2019
The P.E. teacher, S.S. Gruppenführer Mr. Martin, in my view, was a sick bastard.

If I'd known the word fascist at the time, I'd have called him that, too, but I was only 10 years old and not well informed. It was inimical to the power structure of Sanders Elementary School to undermine their own authority by telling us, and certainly, therefore, not their inclination to yank from his neck the lanyard that held the whistle that was always perched between his lips for constant blowing, which he did all the goddamned time. Getting our pipsqueak little asses into line with military efficiency was just one of his favorite things. The other was satisfying his sadistic streak. He LOVED dodgeball and the possibilities it presented a physically fit, fully grown proto-Nazi to turkey shoot through bunches of cowering kids by sending a red rubber cannonball screaming from his hands into his victims with a sickening vein-bursting whack that echoed in the gymnasium rafters. Those so targeted and walloped could mercifully leave the game, usually with only minor injuries. And, that was usually my strategy -- to run into the oncoming ball, but in such a way as to only get grazed, and then sent out to watch the others take their lumps. The pressure of staying in, of wondering how many kids would have to go down before I was left alone out there on the waxy wooden floor, the last man standing and naked to the menace that was now entirely directed at you, was just too much to bear.

But, there was that one time when something stirred inside of me; that rebellious tendency that surfaced from time to time -- that willingness to challenge authority in way that could only end badly, and you damned well knew it but you had to do it anyway otherwise you couldn't live with yourself. Maybe it stemmed from some residual resentment related to something else that had happened in that very same gym recently: when, for some reason that makes little sense, Mr. Martin had the kids "vote" for either presidential incumbent Richard Milhouse Nixon or his Democratic challenger, George McGovern, for the 1972 presidential race. The kids who wanted Nixon were directed to stand at one wall, while the kids opting for McGovern were to take their places on the opposite wall. My parents, I knew, were Democrats and hated Nixon, but I was just a little kid, so what the fuck did I know about politics? Why would I care? How the hell was I supposed to know who to pick? As I watched waves of kids siphon off to the Nixon wall -- probably because that's who the Nazi Mr. Martin preferred -- while only a scraggly contingent of about a half dozen McGovern supporters sheepishly veered off and went their own way, I succumbed to the herd, and went for Nixon. There I was looking across the cavernous room at a motley six kids who stood their own ground, defying peer pressure and the herd mentality, shuffled off and exposed for the radicals they were to be publicly humiliated -- and it made me feel ashamed, somehow. I admired those kids. I felt like a sellout.

And now here I was, with that bastard Martin knocking kids down like bowling pins with the glee of Lucifer on his fucking smug Aryan face. I wanted to take this fucker down. I dodged the flaming red ball until I was the last man standing. For minutes on end, the contest went on. There was a hush in the room as the kids marveled. Nobody, and they knew it, had ever lasted this long in the game. I evaded Martin's meteors like a son of a bitch. At the same time, Martin was sidestepping my return volleys. With the pressure mounting, and knowing with my weakening arm that I could never connect, I finally gave in and deliberately took a soft shot. It was a moment of mixed feelings: I'd stood up and hung in there, but I'd also caved. In some ways, I think the other kids wanted me to win, but I was simply outmanned. I had to call it a draw in my own mind.

So, that's where I was in 1972, when the events in this book by Hunter S. Thompson were taking place. I remember the times, at least the public ones, alluded to in the book, especially the shooting of Democratic primary candidate George Wallace. I'd lived through the shootings of both Kennedys, Dr. King, Gov. Wallace, and in short order the attempts on Presidents Ford and Reagan. In Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72, Thompson vividly captures the crazy tenor of the times and draws a clear bead on the political beast in a way that only a guy who gives no fucks could. The book is about the nutty shit going on behind the scenes, not just of the campaigns but in his own surreal chemically assisted life. One really gets a sense of the grueling demands on a reporter constantly in motion, pulled in three places at once and always under the deadline gun. Not surprisingly, as one reads the book one simply blots out the names of politicians who are now long forgotten, people like Humphrey and Muskie and Scoop Jackson, and replaces them with Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump with pretty much the same results. It's deja vu all over again.

It's digressive as hell -- the Gonzoyist of Gonzo -- and fucking hilarious. Thompson nails the micro machinations -- as reportage of an event in the making ought to -- but isn't always as sharp on the macro big picture -- though even here he offers plenty that's valid and worth pondering (the politics of fear, as well as the chicanery and dirty dealings of the Democratic Party, for instance, seem not to have changed one bit in the intervening 45+ years). It's a bit of a sprawling mess really, with something of value for students of political science as well as those who just want to follow Thompson's antics. Most astute readers will pick up on when Thompson is completely fabricating stuff and otherwise. Thompson's 500-page magnum opus is impressively ambitious yet still not a perfectly hewn work -- which Thomson freely admits herein-- and because of its fits and starts feel (the delegate procedural minutiae can get yawn inducing) I can't quite rate it as highly as I would HST's freer flights of fancy. I wanted to give it four stars most of the way, but had to be honest with myself: there are a lot of diamonds in this rough, but also a lot of rough. My favorite part of the book has Thompson dropping the comedy to rail passionately about the fate of Vietnam veterans such as disabled Ron Kovic, gathered in Miami to confront the monstrous politicians who sent them to that useless war.

The casual racism will throw some younger readers for a loop, mainly because they too often demonstrate an inability to glean subtleties of context and to understand that the left-leaning Thompson is channeling racist attitudes as part of his satire rather than condoning racism.

More problematic for me were the long sections near the end of the book devoted to an editor's clarification interview with Thompson over events already covered in the book, and a postmortem interview between McGovern and HST -- all of which was kind of like beating a dead horse and I pretty much skimmed through them.

I've had this copy of the book sitting around for 10 years, and am finally glad to slam dunk it. If Thompson is your bag, which he is to me, you'll dig it.

eg/kr '19 (fellow Louisvillian to Thompson, but not quite as weird -- not quite.)

P.S. - If I've previously used the Mr. Martin story for other reviews, which vague memory seems to suggest, then I apologize. Similarly, pardon the erstaz Thompson style (it was fun to do, anyway). It gets told differently each time to suit the present need, in any case.
Profile Image for Rebecca.
4 reviews
November 19, 2012
The vision was to read this book during the 2012 Presidential Campaign to remind myself of the craziness that is politics. My timing was a bit off, but I was reading it during the general election. Hunter S. Thompson wrote this 40 years ago, and the tragedy is that its themes indeed are timeless: greed, power, conviction, failure, etc. etc. etc. He follows the campaign from the very early primary elections, all the way through the end of the general election. I think what keeps it so compelling – and ultimately what gives it its tragic tone – is that from the beginning Thompson was routing for McGovern, who eventually became the Democratic candidate - despite all odds - to run against Nixon in his second bid for President of the United States.

McGovern, from Thompson’s perspective, is the anti-politician, who speaks genuine words and wants genuine change in Washington. He stands for racial integration, even if it means enforcing the tragically painful busing policies that so many politicians were against (as was popular by public opinion, especially for those who sympathized with the re-establishment of Jim Crow); he stands for the end of the Vietnam War; he stands for the amnesty and pardon of any draft dodger; he stands for the anti-establishment perspective; and, for better or for worse, he is perceived as representing the hippies and radicals of the 1960’s, that many were weary of by 1972. Thompson backs him from the beginning in New Hampshire, up through the exciting craze of Democratic National Convention, which gets so incredulous in its tactics to seal the nomination and rip it from under the feet of the Democratic Party Establishment that Thompson resorts to printing the script verbatim describing the political maneuvering required for McGovern to conquer the ABM (anybody but McGovern) team. The book reads as a personal account of a race in which he was deeply committed.

It is interesting to think about how the tone of the book would be different had McGovern ran out of money and dropped out of the race early on in the campaign. Would Thompson have had such a gripping account of the inside tactics? He was openly routing for McGovern during the campaign – opinions made possible by the Gonzo journalism approach to his writing, the objectivity-be-damned, proudly biased writing that he created and perfected – and because of that political support, the insiders of the campaign embraced him at best, and at worse tolerated his presence. Thompson was essentially banned from the Muskie campaign after the fiasco on the Florida train. If Muskie has done better (ironically Thompson might have been part of his doom because of the FL train fiasco), Thompson may not have been able to speculate so much on campaign tactics or have such insightful commentary.

One thing that jumped out to me this time that didn’t last time was the volatility of Thompson’s mental state throughout the campaign. Oh okay, he can’t hold it together because of his crazy lifestyle, his love of drugs, and his need for The Edge. I felt it took away from the quality of the writing, since by the end of the book you are reading a transcribed conversation between his editor and himself, with little opportunity to read his colorful descriptions and understanding of the campaign and the results.

Then, I read this article (http://www.slate.com/articles/news_an...), which is an excerpt from the introduction of the 40th Anniversary Edition , written by Matt Taibbi, the Rolling Stone political journalist. He states that perhaps the deteriorating physical condition of Thompson throughout the campaign is due to his inexperience in the covering political campaigns. Arguably as (or more) captivating as the campaign coverage was his critique of the political correspondents and the way they cover the campaign. The bullshit of the campaign was engrained in the traditional correspondent as simple fact, facts that Hunter Thompson did not accept as fact but instead as the political bullshit that it actually was. The tale would not be as compelling if the experience was not the virgin campaign coverage that it was for Thompson.

So how did this fit into watching the 2012 campaign between Obama and Romney? It really helps you try to think in the manner that they think. You can hear one thing but know they are saying something different – that the strategists are not one, but many many steps ahead of the average follower of politics. Thompson had some great moments of obsessing about a campaign message, trying to decipher exactly what the tactic and target audience was and why they were targeting that particular audience.

A few regrets while reading this: 1) not starting it early enough to really parallel the election. I started reading 1 week before the general election instead of much earlier in the year. It would have been more exciting to read portions of his book during the primaries. 2) Not taking note of some amazing passages, most notably the passage comparing the Presidential candidates to the bull elk in rutting season.

Thank the powers that be for giving us Hunter S. Thompson to draw these colorful comparisons that are so obvious we can’t articulate them ourselves.
Profile Image for Amanda Webb.
55 reviews2 followers
July 27, 2011
I miss Hunter S Thompson. He may have been a mad drug crazed writer, but his turn of phrase and his descriptions of decadence have always appealed to me. Any time I see Wild Turkey in a bar I order a shot as a secret tribute to him, even though whiskey isn't usually my thing.

Reading Fear and Loathing on The Campaign Trail seems like more of an insight into what it must have been like to prize work out of Hunter S Thompson than anything else. I didn't really learn anything about American Politics reading it. The whole candidate selection process is still a mystery to me but this is only to be expected. Thompson was writing for Rolling Stone, an audience you would assume already understands the intricacies of the electoral system. There's a whole chapter on the Democratic Convention and voting that sounds amazing but goes straight over my head.

At the end Thompson describes riding the campaign like being on drugs and the book is a trip too. It starts neutrally, a bit of anger and frustration, but as the campaigns take hold, as he finds his hero in McGovern, (the candidate who eventually won the Democratic nomination and went on to be beaten almost to death in the Presidential election), Thompson begins to enjoy the ride. But no high can last for ever and the come down is palatable. Thompson's disappointment in McGovern is familiar to anyone who believed, as I once did, that a Labour government would make things better . As his disillusionment grows so his journalism dies. His first missed deadline is early on in the book, a great start degenerates into what he calls 'pure Gonzo journalism' when notes are transcribed straight from his notebook, the article finished with dry reports from his Rolling Stone Colleague.

Any true attempt at straight journalism dies after McGovern is forced to loose his running mate, Eagleton due to an undisclosed mental condition. Thompson seems to loose interest, he tries a stint on Nixon's trail but finds it boring after the ride with McGovern. Election day comes and the depression is clear in his writing. The final few chapters of the book are transcribed interviews. The first with his editor, the second with McGovern, picking over the bones of the campaign, discussing what had gone wrong, Thompson believes that McGovern lost because the perception of him as an anti-politician was lost, everyone else puts it down to the Eagleton affair. The final interview with his editor again has Thompson craving the drug of another campaign, agreeing to cover the next presidential election whilst toying with the idea of standing for election as State Governor himself. You begin to wonder why the Rolling Stone would hire him again, he essentially failed his assignment but then you realise, as you read the transcribed interviews that he is not only amazingly talented writer who makes you laugh, cringe and crave hard drugs, he is also extremely intelligent, what seems like his madness gives him the tools to delve deeply into a story and turn up something different and often amusing.

There are hints in this book of the energy from Fear & Loathing in Los Vegas, there are tales of crazyness, moments when his only reportage is of being beaten by hidden monsters, or long descriptions of the shots he is getting from his personal physician. There is a whole chapter when Thompson puts down the behavior of one of the Democratic candidates to a drug that it is clear that he is experimenting with himself, but on the whole this is a straight book. It's a shame he didn't write a follow up on the '76 election, although there are snippits from this campaign in his other works I would have like to have seen how he fell in love with Jimmy Carter and how Carter managed to hold his attention for a full campaign.
Profile Image for Brian.
6 reviews5 followers
July 28, 2008
The most striking aspect of Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail ’72 to a reader in the summer of 2008 (me) is the parallel between 1972 and 2008. As an unpopular war rages, the anointed establishment candidate, replete with a massive lead in endorsements from the major players, loses the inevitable Democratic nomination to an insurgent change candidate, in part because the former has to explain away earlier support for the war the latter opposed from the start. And the Democratic nominee pulls off the feat by combining a well-oiled get-out-the-vote organization and enthusiastic fundraising with a bizarre coalition of liberal elites, disaffected working-class minorities, and the elusive “youth vote,” withstanding a last-second rules fight over the seating of disputed delegates. Of course we know how ’72 ends: McGovern blunders and gets thumped, “four more years” and all that.

It goes without saying that there are important differences between the two election years. Obama, McCain (with a little Bush thrown in), and Clinton aren’t exact duplicates of McGovern, Nixon, and the ineffective one-two punch of Muskie and Humphrey. But that doesn’t make it any less fun to read Thompson’s book as a cautionary tale, both for Obama, who might yet fall from his current lead unless he plays his cards right, and for McCain—today’s reader can easily spot Thompson’s unintentional foreshadowing that Nixon, in his landslide victory, sowed the seeds of his own downfall two years later.

But if, you know, learning practical lessons from history isn’t your cup of tea, you can still get a thrill from the Good Doctor’s gonzo style, which is admittedly tempered by its wonky subject. Certain passages are more memorable than others, such as the jigsaw puzzle of an interview that pieces together who knew what and when they knew it about the shoot-the-moon maneuver against the Anybody But McGovern movement at the credentials fight or the account of Thompson’s sudden, confident realization of Nixon’s undercurrent concession to the Democratic establishment by sticking with the ultraconservative Agnew. Fate interrupted both of these schemes before they achieved their aims, but that goes naturally with the other notable feature of Campaign Trail ’72. The volume is a stitched-together compendium of Thompson’s biweekly dispatches for Rolling Stone, penned in near real time. Because the author lacked the advantage of knowing what would happen next, the audience gets to pick out trends in optimism and pessimism, bets that paid off and those that didn’t, with a sense that the otherwise unreliable, gonzo narrator, robbed of hindsight, was being brutally honest.
Profile Image for Al.
417 reviews3 followers
January 25, 2015
As a political (and HST) junkie, I knew I had to eventually tackle this famous work. One thing that stands out is that HST is a pretty pragmatic guy. He is pretty liberal, but he’s not nutty liberal, and he has a pretty well-reasoned stance. On top of that, he had keen political insight. Obviously, he was an outsider, but there’s no doubt he knew his stuff. Four decades removed, we may think of HST as a self-parody, or more exactly, we’ve been fed shadows of HST parody and influence (HST’s book on the 92 election, while great in its own right pales to the monumental undertaking of this book). F&LCT72 is an astute study. It is as quoted as being the ‘least factual, most accurate’ book written on the 72 election.

Which sums it up. It is still pure Hunter, and there are times where it is hard to figure what is real and imagined. Negatives include the size of the book, which isn’t HST’s fault. It’s that Presidential campaigns are these huge slogs that take years from the first primary moves to the November election. It also probably suffers in that many of the figures from the early 70s are no longer as well known.

The book is amazing in its truths. Nixon, certainly, and the power of incumbency, but the book (and the election of that year’s)focuses on McGovern’s ill-fated campaign and whether it could have worked. It did seem that Clinton and Obama learned and were able to succeed (getting the minority vote and youth vote to the polls) with a ‘liberal’ agenda. Also, the truth that a 3rd Party like George Wallace (pre-Arthur Bremer) or indeed HST himself could stage a formidable 3rd Party run and in theory win, though the two parties would make sure that it wouldn’t happen even if it meant sacrificing themselves (a truth we have seen with John Anderson, Ross Perot, and would likely see if Rand Paul or others took up the torch).

The book starts out with a burst of energy that doesn’t slow down, and ends with a couple of essays that will blow you away (covering the election and possible 3rd Party runs; and a piece on sports journalism which is especially illuminating and predicts ESPN, I suppose) The only part I found boring was the part about conventioneering, which didn’t make sense to me, but maybe would have back in the 70s. Overall, it was sort of what I expected, but it just goes to concrete everything that made HST great, and it’s a really great campaign book too (not just a “I took a bunch of drugs and followed McGovern around” story. If I had to rate, I would say four stars for the average reader, but five for politics or HST fans
Profile Image for Erik Graff.
5,030 reviews1,165 followers
April 5, 2012
How does one classify a book which is ostensibly a journalistic account of the 1972 presidential campaign but is actually more about its author, both essayist about (Thompson is loose, very loose, with the facts) and participant in the events he describes? With misgivings, I classify this as autobiography--albeit, again, loose, very loose, with the facts.

This is not Thompson's best book. Hell's Angels and Fear and Loathing in LasVegas are both better. Indeed, it is pretty clear that this was a hack job. Playing off the success of Vega, Thompson was in it for the money and so was Rolling Stone Magazine, for whom he wrote it.

Still, if you enjoy the kind of amphetaminic excess exhibited by Thompson's "mature" style, you will probably enjoy this one. If you have interest in him as a person you might find Campaign exceptional in that in it, despite himself, his actual character is fleetingly revealed: he actually seemed to care for McGovern and what he stood for.
Profile Image for Chris.
58 reviews12 followers
May 7, 2020
Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72 is a rollicking journey through the 1972 presidential campaign, from the Democratic primaries to Richard Nixon's landslide victory over George McGovern. The book is pure Gonzo journalism, employing Thompson's first-person writing style in which fiction is blended with non-fiction. Thompson is notably more attached to reality here than in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, but you still get the feeling you are humouring someone who is truly mad whilst reading it. From the Author's Note:

"One afternoon about three days ago they showed up at my door, with no warning, and loaded about forty pounds of supplies into the room: two cases of Mexican beer, four quarts of gin, a dozen grapefruits, and enough speed to alter the outcome of six Super Bowls. There was also a big Selectric typewriter, two reams of paper, a face-cord of oak firewood and three tape recorders—in case the situation got so desperate that I might finally have to resort to verbal composition.
We came to this point sometime around the thirty-third hour, when I developed an insoluble Writer’s Block and began dictating big chunks of the book straight into the microphone—pacing around the room at the end of an eighteen-foot cord and saying anything that came into my head."

The result of this modus operandi adopted by Thompson is a hyperbolic, biased and absorbing rant for 500 odd pages. In parts, the writing is electric and would be entertaining if it stood alone from the book. However, the central focus is politics. And if politics does not remotely interest you, then I find it hard to imagine enjoying this whole book. I knew virtually nothing about the 1972 election beforehand, though I was intrigued by the campaigning process generally. Arguably, the semi-fictional writing makes it equally as readable now as then because politicians from fifty years ago may as well be fictional characters. The exaggerated descriptions make them appear more like tropes and stereotypes than actual people. Other reviewers love to make direct comparisons of the politicians in the book to ones today, which I feel broadly supports this point.

Accepting the fact that Thompson's accounts are unreliable, it is natural to wonder whether the book is only popular for its eccentric writing. Upon reading the book, this is clearly not the case. Thompson is able to strike resonance with his criticism of the political system and American values on a number of occasions. The facts of the election are not so important, as his ability to look at American society and give an honest view of it. Here is perhaps the best instance of this:

"This may be the year when we finally come face to face with ourselves; finally just lay back and say it—that we are really just a nation of 220 million used car salesmen with all the money we need to buy guns, and no qualms at all about killing anybody else in the world who tries to make us uncomfortable."

In the end, Nixon whoops McGovern, the Democratic candidate that Thompson was backing. Thompson offers some thoughts after the election which give insight into the climate of political apathy in the early 70s:

"The 'mood of the nation,' in 1972, was so overwhelmingly vengeful, greedy, bigoted, and blindly reactionary that no presidential candidate who even faintly reminded 'typical voters' of the fear & anxiety they’d felt during the constant 'social upheavals' of the 1960s had any chance at all of beating Nixon last year—not even Ted Kennedy—because the pendulum 'effect' that began with Nixon’s slim victory in ’68 was totally irreversible by 1972. After a decade of left-bent chaos, the Silent Majority was so deep in a behavioral sink that their only feeling for politics was a powerful sense of revulsion. All they wanted in the White House was a man who would leave them alone and do anything necessary to bring calmness back into their lives"

Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72 is an interesting choice to pick these days. The book was long, and some of the characters and events I could not have cared less about. As a result, much of the content was not memorable. Ultimately, I wanted to get a feel for Thompson's style though, which was provided in spades. It is not a book I would widely recommend, but if you've read this far, you may find it enjoyable. 3 stars.
Profile Image for Doc.
12 reviews1 follower
April 11, 2018
while this book doesn't carry the same cultural cache as Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, it is a fascinating look into the cesspool that is the political machine. Thompson's disdain of Richard Nixon is both funny and quaint by today's standards given the current United States president. if you are into the counterculture, and HST fan, a political junkie, or just want to learn more about the era and zeitgeist of the early 1970s, then check this out. it is written in the typical Gonzo Style. just don't expect fear and loathing in Las Vegas. realize that this is more of an attempt at actual journalism.
Profile Image for Greg D'Avis.
163 reviews7 followers
February 14, 2020
Re-read. HST is an acquired taste, I get that, and he was never this good again. It’s my all-time favorite book on U.S. politics, and nice and timely right now. Underneath all the gonzo stuff, this is an unflinching and unsentimental book about America.
Profile Image for Dave Geyer.
19 reviews
July 12, 2019
I don’t know that I’ve ever read a book so simultaneously enjoyable and frightening.
Profile Image for Marvin.
1,414 reviews5,331 followers
December 6, 2009
My second favorite novel of Thompson's after Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Campaign Trail '72 is the epitome of the gonzo journalism experience. The author has just the right amount of straight journalism and personal experience which of course includes some of his own outrageous reactions and opinions. The amazing thing is how much he got right. His predictions were pretty much correct. We now know that the Democrat Party really did sabotage the McGovern campaign and were fine with four years of Nixon rather then allow a visionary that might rock their boat into the White House. Quite a few things in the books has Thompson's own prankish mark on them such as the strange accusation that Muskie was using drugs. (In a TV interview, Thompson stated something like "I was only reporting the rumors that were out there. I know because I'm the one who started them".) And I was never quite sure if Thompson really did interview McGovern while he was using the urinal. Yet this type of drama is what made Gonzo journalism what it was and, at least in Thompson's hand, existed to illuminate the truths that were hiding just behind the events.
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