Mimsy Were the Borogoves

Book Reviews: From political histories to bad comics, to bad comics of political histories. And the occasional rant about fiction and writing.

Mimsy Review: The Great Shark Hunt

Reviewed by Jerry Stratton, June 17, 2001

With a few loud exceptions, it is only the younger hippies who see themselves as a new breed. The ex-beatniks among them, many of whom are now making money off the new scene, incline to the view that hippies are, in fact, second-generation beatniks and that everything genuine in the Haight-Ashbury is about to be swallowed in a wave of publicity and commercialism. (May 14, 1967)

From football to Haight-Ashbury, the Ali-Spinks match and the Freak Power uprising in Aspen, Thompson is one of the few people who truly understood what the hell was going on in the sixties and seventies while they were happening.

RecommendationPossible Purchase
AuthorHunter S. Thompson
Length624 pages
Book Rating6

These are the first volume of “Gonzo Papers”, after Thompson got his feet wet with “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” (sort of a Gonzo Papers, First Blood). The first impression is simply that this is a huge book. You could kill with it in hardcover.

It covers January 1, 1974 (and Comet Kohoutek, remember that?) up to the Ali-Spinks match in 1978 and along the way goes back through the sixties, Richard Nixon, and the famed Freak Power uprising in Aspen. From McGovern to Nixon to Carter it is the politics that reels you in:

“I smiled and lit a cigarette. The scene was so unreal that I felt like laughing out loud—to find myself zipping along a New England freeway in a big yellow car, being chauffeured around by a detective while I relaxed in the back seat and talked about football with my old buddy Dick Nixon, the man who came within 100,000 votes of causing me to flee the country in 1960.”

The subtitle is “Strange Tales from a Strange Time”. This is not a novel, like “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” or “Hell’s Angels”, nor even like “Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail”, although it is closer to the latter and in fact includes many of the same works. This is a collection of articles Thompson wrote on a wide variety of topics. It is sardonically labeled “Gonzo Papers, Volume 1,” and it would be a full ten years before anyone had the balls to take that seriously and release Volume 2.

The story starts with sports. The Kentucky Derby, Louisville, 1963, 1970. And then Superbowl VIII—which, if you’re a true fan, you already know was the Minnesota Vikings vs. the Miami Dolphins. Thompson did a full-on study of that year’s National Football League (only a tiny amount of which is reproduced here) by following the Oakland Raiders until he was kicked out:

Even now—almost 2000 miles and two months removed from the Raider headquarters in Oakland—I still want to reach for an icepick every time I see a football… and my only consolation is that I might have decided to “cover” the Dallas Cowboys. Just before talking to Burgin, in fact, I had read a savage novel called North Dallas Forty, by ex-Cowboy flanker Pete Gent, and it had cranked up my interest in both Dallas and the Cowboys enough so that I was right on the brink of dumping Oakland and heading for Texas…

And it is disconcerting, or perhaps merely relaxing, to read the same modern complaint about the lack of journalism among the press corps, but in 1973 and about sports:

Anybody with access to a mimeograph machine and a little imagination could have generated at least a thousand articles on “an orgy of indescribable proportions” at John Connally’s house, with Allen Ginsberg as the guest of honor and 13 thoroughbred horses slaughtered by drug-crazed guests with magnesium butcher knives. Most of the press people would have simply picked the story off the big table in the “workroom,” rewritten it just enough to make it sound genuine, and sent it off on the wire without a second thought.

The best compliment to Thompson is in these football pages, from Tom Keating, then defensive tackle for the Raiders:

“I got nothing personal against Thompson,” he told another NFL player who happened to be skiing in Aspen at the time: “But let’s face it, we’ve got nothing to gain by talking to him. I’ve read all his stuff and I know how he is; he’s a goddamn lunatic—and you’ve got to be careful with a bastard like that, because no matter how hard he tries, he just can’t help but tell the truth.”

When I heard that I just sort of slumped down on my barstool and stared at myself in the mirror… wishing, on one level, that Keating’s harsh judgment was right… but knowing, on another, that the treacherous realities of the worlds I especially work in forced me to abandon that purist stance a long time ago. If I’d written all the truth I knew for the past ten years, about 600 people—including me—would be rotting in prison cells from Rio to Seattle today. Absolute truth is a very rare and dangerous commodity in the context of professional journalism.

And then on to skiing, with Jean-Claude Killy and O.J. Simpson. There’s also a fascinating story behind the infamous trip to Vegas, as well as some intense articles about the Chicano “underworld” of Oscar Acosta: the death of Ruben Salazar, the trial of Corky Gonzalez. And then the freak power uprising in Aspen. And then finally into the 1972 presidential race. (Much of which is also available in “Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail 1972”.)

Interspersed with all of this are stories about the hippy movement, Haight-Ashbury, and even an article or two from “Hell’s Angels”. The stories are not presented chronologically but rather in some strange order that makes sense, perhaps, only if you were there, or if you wrote the damn things yourself. The book ends with excerpts from “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas”: We were just on the edge of the desert, when the drugs began to take hold…

Despite the large number of articles here that are available in other books, I think any fan of Thompson’s writings, or any student of that period of history, should have this book. I could be biased; this was the first Hunter S. Thompson book I ever read, given to me by a crazy aunt on my high school graduation. This was a strange, strange thing to force on an 18-year-old in population 700 Hesperia, Michigan, just about to leave home for the first time to go to some liberal east coast college over five hundred miles from home! I don’t think I recommend it as your first Thompson book; start with “Hell’s Angels”, or “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas”. But come around eventually: “The Great Shark Hunt” fills a number of gaps in Thompson’s other writings.

The Great Shark Hunt

Hunter S. Thompson

Recommendation: Possible Purchase