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Hell's Angels: The Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs (1966)

by Hunter S. Thompson

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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4,612412,492 (3.89)66
Hell's Angels" was Hunter Thompson's first book, an account of the year that the reporter spent riding with the biker gang, then the very symbol of dangerous counterculture. After writing a piece on the Heirs Angels and other cycle gangs for The Nation, Thompson signed a contract with Ballantine and spent time with "as many vicious thugs as possible." His involvement ended on Labor Day 1966 when a group of Angels "stomped" Thompson, nearly kicking him to death. "Far from being freaks, the Hell's Angels are a logical product of the culture that now claims to be shocked by their existence. The generation represented by the editors of Time has lived so long in a world full of celluloid outlaws hustling toothpaste and hair oil that it is no longer capable of confronting the real thing. For twenty years they have sat with their children and watched yesterday's outlaws raise hell with yesterday's world...and now they are bringing up children who think Jesse James is a television character." "California, Labor Day weekend . . . early, with ocean fog still in the streets, outlaw motorcyclists wearing chains, shades and greasy Levis roll out from damp garages, all-night diners and cast-off one-night pads in Frisco, Hollywood, Berdoo and East Oakland, heading for the Monterey peninsula, north of Big Sur. . . The Menace is loose again." Thus begins Hunter S. Thompson's vivid account of his experiences with California's most no-torious motorcycle gang, the Hell's Angels. In the mid-1960s, Thompson spent almost two years living with the controversial An-gels, cycling up and down the coast, reveling in the anarchic spirit of their clan, and, as befits their name, raising hell. His book successfully captures a singular moment in American history, when the biker lifestyle was first defined, and when such countercultural movements were electrifying and horrifying America. Thompson, the creator of Gonzo journalism, writes with his usual bravado, energy, and brutal honesty, and with a nuanced and incisive eye; as The New Yorker pointed out, "For all its uninhibited and sardonic humor, Thompson's book is a thoughtful piece of work." As illuminating now as when originally published in 1967, Hell's Angels is a gripping portrait, and the best account we have of the truth behind an American legend.… (more)
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» See also 66 mentions

English (37)  Dutch (1)  All languages (38)
Showing 1-5 of 37 (next | show all)
interesting enough, and i like what the author ended up doing for writing. funny to see this contrasted now with our clear view of the angels as a drug smuggling group. some of the stuff (particularly on sexual assault) has definitely not aged as well
  rottweilersmile | Jan 12, 2024 |
April monthly reading theme for (counter culture/drugs) read #1

Great book, unsurprisingly, from the great Hunter S. Thompson. HTS's Gonzo style of journalism is superb, and beautifully mixes journalistic exposition with evocative and thrilling narrative. It really allows you to get absorbed into the scene that HTS is writing about.

The Hell's Angels have an extremely complex culture and morals. HTS's portrayal of them is extremely interesting, and feels very honest. Very curious to read other sides of it, to see how accurate Thompson was. ( )
  Andjhostet | Jul 4, 2023 |
It was good, but his writing jarring.

The subject matter is what made it writing, and after hearing so much from this legendary gonzo journalist, I was a bit disappointed.

His story of what he was involved in was very interesting, but seemed downplayed from other sources I have read about this guy. The hell's angels were portrayed as very neutral and misunderstood, a far cry from what we understand about this band of outlaws today.

Things may have changed, so my views may be skewed, but luckily it was a short read. His other stuff is better. ( )
  zenseiii | Dec 13, 2022 |
This was, through and through, a great piece of writing and an amazing chronicle of non-fiction by Hunter S. Thompson. The writing was vivid, descriptive, electrifying, and insightful and provided entertainment and knowledge on multiple levels- providing an optimal reading experience that resounded with force and keen insight on the topic that Thompson wrote so expertly about. This is a great book, for American literary enthusiasts and non-fiction admirers alike, and I recommend that all interested read it. You will not waste your time- not one bit.

4.75 stars! ( )
  DanielSTJ | Apr 2, 2020 |
Hell's Angels: A Strange and Terrible Saga by Hunter S. Thompson is the author's account of several months with the world's most recognized motorcycle club. Thompson was an American journalist and author, and the founder of the gonzo journalism movement.

The Hells Angels* are caught in their infancy in Hunter's book. What made the Hells Angels different than the other motorcycle clubs of the times and region is also examined. There were plenty of organizations at the time. Perhaps first was the media's love of fear-mongering. Scary things keep people up at night, communists, bikers, serial killers, and that sort of thing. Events like the fictional portrayal of Hollister in 1947, Brando and Marvin in The Wild One, and the 1965 Lynch Report helped created a menace to society. The Hells Angels were singled out by the Lynch Report as a threat. This took a local club and pushed it to national attention. Suddenly the Hells Angels were "the motorcycle club" everyone wanted to know about, avoid, have law enforcement stamp out, join, or simply watch from a safe distance.

Thompson tells the story from his personal experience with the club and finding his way to friendship as a reporter was no easy task. The Hells Angels realized everyone was getting rich off of them, except for them. Reporters, they said, twisted stories to sell more papers. The bigger the story, the better. Bigger misleading stories led to more police interest in the club. Thompson tells of the many times members were accused of crimes rape, assault, and murder, but convicted of very few crimes. One has to remember too that at this time, the Hells Angels had no treasury or army of lawyers. They struggled to make bail for disorderly conduct charges. So it was not expert legal teams clearing their names. Many victims recanted their stories; was it because the events did not happen as described or fear? Thompson leans toward the "that was not the way it happened." The parties got wild, and sometimes people do things they later regretted and look for a way out.

Granted, the Hells Angels were not innocent and definitely not part of the "You meet the nicest people on a Honda" crowd. They were different, did not want to fit in, and made their own decisions. They hated war protesters but also had a strong dislike for law enforcement and embraced drug use. They were outside of every group. Thompson, throughout his life, proved not to be the world's most reliable narrator, but he seems to have taken notes when writing this book to include documenting what drugs he used. All in all, an exciting tale younger years of the world's most recognized motorcycle club.

*Unlike the book title, the club does not use an apostrophe in its name. ( )
  evil_cyclist | Mar 16, 2020 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Hunter S. Thompsonprimary authorall editionscalculated
Sowers, ScottNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
In my own country I am in a far-off land
I am strong but have no force or power
I win all yet remain a loser
At break of day I say goodnight
When I lie down I have a great fear
Of falling.
FRANCOIS VILLON
Dedication
To the friends who lent me money and
kept me mercifully unemployed. No
writer can function without them. Again,
thanks.
H.S.T.
First words
California, Labour Day weekend...early, with ocean fog still in the streets, outlaw motorcyclists wearing chains, shades and greasy Levis roll out from damp garages, all-night diners and cast-off one-night pads in Frisco, Hollywood, Berdoo and East Oakland, heading for the Monterey peninsula, north of Big Sur.
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Hell's Angels" was Hunter Thompson's first book, an account of the year that the reporter spent riding with the biker gang, then the very symbol of dangerous counterculture. After writing a piece on the Heirs Angels and other cycle gangs for The Nation, Thompson signed a contract with Ballantine and spent time with "as many vicious thugs as possible." His involvement ended on Labor Day 1966 when a group of Angels "stomped" Thompson, nearly kicking him to death. "Far from being freaks, the Hell's Angels are a logical product of the culture that now claims to be shocked by their existence. The generation represented by the editors of Time has lived so long in a world full of celluloid outlaws hustling toothpaste and hair oil that it is no longer capable of confronting the real thing. For twenty years they have sat with their children and watched yesterday's outlaws raise hell with yesterday's world...and now they are bringing up children who think Jesse James is a television character." "California, Labor Day weekend . . . early, with ocean fog still in the streets, outlaw motorcyclists wearing chains, shades and greasy Levis roll out from damp garages, all-night diners and cast-off one-night pads in Frisco, Hollywood, Berdoo and East Oakland, heading for the Monterey peninsula, north of Big Sur. . . The Menace is loose again." Thus begins Hunter S. Thompson's vivid account of his experiences with California's most no-torious motorcycle gang, the Hell's Angels. In the mid-1960s, Thompson spent almost two years living with the controversial An-gels, cycling up and down the coast, reveling in the anarchic spirit of their clan, and, as befits their name, raising hell. His book successfully captures a singular moment in American history, when the biker lifestyle was first defined, and when such countercultural movements were electrifying and horrifying America. Thompson, the creator of Gonzo journalism, writes with his usual bravado, energy, and brutal honesty, and with a nuanced and incisive eye; as The New Yorker pointed out, "For all its uninhibited and sardonic humor, Thompson's book is a thoughtful piece of work." As illuminating now as when originally published in 1967, Hell's Angels is a gripping portrait, and the best account we have of the truth behind an American legend.

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