It doesn't seem right to 'review' this in the regular sense, as its position as a cultural icon of literature has been firmly-seated for a number of years, but I will make some observations and comments.
First of all: I would have loved to have known Hunter Thompson when he was still with us, particularly in this era (although he seemed like a jarring person to be around for a number of reasons). After reading Fear and Loathing, I watched the fairly recent documentary Gonzo and my fascinated appreciation for Thompson only grew. This cautious affection seems to be held for Hunter by a lot of readers who never knew him. There's no question that he was a person who demanded—and often received—attention, whether in the form of (no pun) loathing or admiration.
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is such a wild, terrifying ride; the sort of thing that is equally horrifying and unsettling, yet you can't take your eyes off it. I've always thought there is something fascinating about watching others behave more badly than we are 'allowed to.' This concept is rampant in media today, thus the popularity of such shows as Breaking Bad, Mad Men, Dexter, House of Cards, and countless others. We love these characters, but they're all doing different versions of wretched, horrible, immoral things that most of us would not dare to do for sake of safety or not going to jail. I'm not sure how much Thompson fictionalized himself in the character of Raul Duke (that has probably been addressed elsewhere), but I have a feeling more of it is truth than invention.
So, why is it so damn exciting to read about two men going on a crazy drug and alcohol binge in our modern day Sodom and Gomorrah? Because it would be scary as hell to be high in those situations? Because these characters are so eccentric and seem to only spiral further downward in their series of bad decisions? Because these are drugs most of us are unfamiliar with and their effects are so intriguing and alarming? Because, if we're honest, doing the same thing just sounds like a lot of fun? I'm not sure. Probably a bit of all those reasons.
In the midst of the firecracker narrative, Thompson also has more than a few moments of clarity and stark, cynical observation. 'Fear and loathing' seems to be the term he used frequently across his works to sum up his feelings about the U.S., and perhaps even his feelings towards being alive. He seemed fearful and disgusted of where the country was headed (or already had arrived), and loathed much of what he saw from day to day. It is in these quieter moments that one recognizes just how talented a writer Hunter really was. He had the ability to be wild and hilarious and over-the-top, but also to zero in and be frank about very real issues.
The more I read and watch about Thompson, what I come to appreciate is that he was a guy who saw shit for what it was and wasn't afraid to point it out. He was sharp, observant, and unafraid. His lifestyle was dangerous, pushed-to-the-limit, and perhaps less than admirable a lot of the time, but you have to give him credit for being true to his nature.
I loved this book, and blasted through it in only a few sittings. I underlined a number of profound or hilarious passages. I will absolutely be reading more Hunter Thompson (this was my first encounter with his work). This was one of the funnest books I've read all year. Also: looking forward to revisiting Terry Gilliam's film. Haven't seen it since high school, and at the time I knew nothing about Thompson, and I remember not understanding the movie at all.
While I do believe Hunter S. Thompson changed journalism in his time and defined a whole new way of reporting for a number of years, it seems that at present we have slipped back into a very flat, fake, maximum-reaction method of reporting. I daresay we could use another brutally honest voice like Thompson's today to blast through the facade.