Hell's Angels Paperback
Part of the Penguin Modern Classics series
'A phalanx of motorcycles cam roaring over the hill from the west ...the noise was like a landslide, or a wing of bombers passing over.
Even knowing the Angels I couldn't quite handle what I was seeing.' Huge bikes, filthy denim and an aura of barely contained violence; the Hell's Angels could paralyse whole towns with fear, so terrible was their reputation.
But how much of that reputation was myth and how much was brutal reality?
Only one man could discover the truth about these latter-day barbarians; Hunter Stockton Thompson, Dr Gonzo himself, the man who saw the fear and loathing in the heart of the American dream.
This counter-culture classic is the hair-raising result.
- Format: Paperback
- Pages: 288 pages
- Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd
- Publication Date: 01/05/2003
- Category: Regional studies
- ISBN: 9780141187457
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Review by edwinbcn
The Penguin Modern Classics series publishes Hunter S. Thompson's first novel simply as Hell's Angels, a much shorter version of the novel, aka Hell's Angels: The Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs. It is a non-fiction novel about the legendary band of motor riders, known as the Hell's Angels.In 1966, the year Hell's Angels was published, the genre of the non-fiction novel was brand new. The genre came into existence during the preceding decade, while Truman Capote's novel In Cold Blood, published in 1965, is its most well-known example. With Hell's Angels Hunter S. Thompson is identified as having initiated the genre of Gonzo journalism, i.e. the style of news reporting that allows for fictional elements, without the attempt of objectivity.1965/66 was not the time the Hells Angels emerged, but it was a moment the club achieved notoriety. In fact, at that time, the Hells Angels were not the only organized band, that was characterized by a sub-culture and cult of violence. However, the Hells Angels, through their high degree of organization, and the luck of having been led by a number of smart people, and their ability to tie in with contemporary Beat-culture, outlasted most of the other gangs and clubs.In Hell's Angels Thompson sketches a very accurate portrait of the Hells Angels, their lifestyle and their cult. It is probably the most readable sociological introduction to the phenomenon. To obtain first-hand experience and knowledge of the Hell's Angels, Hunter S. Thompson joined their ranks. Thus, he was able to experience their culture very close-up. In Hell's Angels he describes many of the Club's typical elements, but also provides detailed explanations about their membership, and less savory details, such as the Angels habit to wear the same outfit without ever changing it, as it stiffens into a harness from dirt, piss and vomit, not even necessarily all their own.A weakness of the book is seemingly that despite the fact that Thompson joined the angels, the book is heavily reliant on newspaper reports, and, since the book describes a very short period, it is thereby also very repetitive. The author is barely able to hold the reader's attention, as the full-length book becomes a bit tiresome, and a shorter version would possible be much more powerful.Nonetheless, Hell's Angels makes for excellent reading, and forms a remarkable piece of sociological writing on the side-lines of Beat culture in the mid-1960s.