The Great Shark Hunt: Strange Tales from a Strange Time (Gonzo Papers, Volume 1)
The first volume in Hunter S. Thompson’s bestselling Gonzo Papers offers brilliant commentary and outrageous humor, in his signature style.
Originally published in 1979, the first volume of the bestselling “Gonzo Papers” is now back in print. The Great Shark Hunt is Dr. Hunter S. Thompson’s largest and, arguably, most important work, covering Nixon to napalm, Las Vegas to Watergate, Carter to cocaine. These essays offer brilliant commentary and outrageous humor, in signature Thompson style.
Ranging in date from the National Observer days to the era of Rolling Stone, The Great Shark Hunt offers myriad, highly charged entries, including the first Hunter S. Thompson piece to be dubbed “gonzo”—“The Kentucky Derby Is Decadent and Depraved,” which appeared in Scanlan’s Monthly in 1970. From this essay a new journalistic movement sprang which would change the shape of American letters. Thompson’s razor-sharp insight and crystal clarity capture the crazy, hypocritical, degenerate, and redeeming aspects of the explosive and colorful ‘60s and ‘70s.In addition to being a testament to the undeniably beatifying properties of American excess–literary, political, chemical, you name it–Hunter Thompson is the high priest of the ad hominem attack. Anyone unlucky enough to get in the way of his satirical sledgehammer will end up with soup for brains. Still, even Thompson needs a good villain to get properly lathered up; that’s why he peaked simultaneously with America’s 37th president, Richard Milhous Nixon. Tricky Dick was Thompson’s dark-jowled, pale-calved Muse, and with his departure Thompson seemed to lose his place a bit. Swatting flies with a baseball bat.
You need look no further for this writer’s best: this collection of pieces, first published in 1979, spans all of Thompson’s primo era, including short pieces and selections from longer works. The Great Shark Hunt sports a few articles filed by a pre-Gonzo Hunter S. Thompson, which show flickers of passion but no real fire; the first experiments with the author’s drug-fueled brand of journalism at the Kentucky Derby; and finally the gigs that made him an American institution, in Las Vegas and on the 1972 campaign trail.
Thompson’s style is so unique that a reader is tempted to think that he leapt, fully formed, into Gonzohood. However, along with the crazy, careening prose itself, one of the auxiliary pleasures of The Great Shark Hunt is the map that it gives of Thompson’s ascent (or descent, if you prefer) from the workaday hyperbole of sports writing to the hell-blast vigor of his later work. The drugs are, by and large, a distraction–lifestyle points that get in the way of the genuinely perceptive journalism that Thompson created. (But they are there, always, and in quantity.) If you’re looking for insight into the underbelly of America, Hunter S. Thompson is your best and only guide, and The Great Shark Hunt is an excellent place to begin the grim safari. –Michael Gerber
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