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Kingdom of Fear: Loathsome Secrets of a Star-Crossed Child in the Final Days of the American Century
Hunter S. Thompson
London: Allen Lane, The Penguin Press, 2003.
£16.99, 351 pages, ISBN 0713997141.

David McBride
University of Nottingham

Doc is back, and with him he brings us his bizarre memoir entitled Kingdom of Fear. The innovator of Gonzo journalism, Thompson’s no-holds-barred approach combines stories from his past with the conclusion of the American Century, presenting a very apocalyptic view of America’s current political state. As expected from recent Hunter S. Thompson works, this book bounces from story to story, recapturing his own experiences while also clearly portraying his current disgust of American politics, and the seemingly inevitable demise of the lives of regular Americans. In the process, he is typically unabashed by his frequent experiences with illegal substances, but also shows that his image has been largely blown out of proportion.

For avid Thompson fans, many of the personal stories have already been told. For those new to the writings of Hunter S. Thompson, they make for an entertaining read. The man who claims to live as an outlaw on the outskirts of society, tucked away in the mountains of his Aspen home with drugs, drink, a typewriter, a fax machine and a gun, relives some of his experiences, beginning as a 9 year old who is able to talk his way out of an offense that he undoubtedly committed. From there we are taken on a 350 page roller coaster ride, which at times seems to go from one story to another without any smooth transition, with an occasional rant thrown in to both bring a laugh, a thought, and sometimes, simply confusion. Kingdom of Fear is a far cry from his classic works, Hell’s Angels and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, and besides the afore-mentioned rambling that takes place from time to time, the book is most enjoyable.

Thompson’s memoirs recall his attempt to become elected sheriff of Aspen County, a tale that most fans will undoubtedly have read in his other works, as well as his experience in Grenada, where the U.S. invaded in 1983 to overthrow a proposed corrupt government. In Grenada, Thompson finds himself in the midst of the action, recalling the events just as he viewed them, giving a refreshingly truthful account of the invasion.

The invasion of Grenada was one of those low-risk, high-gain, cost plus operations that every West Point graduate dreams of. Unleash the whole weight of the U.S. military arsenal on a small island in the Caribbean and call it a great victory.

Towards the end of the work, we are told of his surprise birthday present to friend Jack Nicholson, which consisted of a bleeding elks heart, violent pig screams, some explosions, and an investigation into a threat on Nicholson’s life.

What truly makes Thompson’s book a worthwhile read is that he is still an astute observer of politics, and his writing in these sections is Hunter at his best. Only Thompson can paint a picture of American politics (and American life) in such a dismal, doomed manner, yet still have the reader laughing uncontrollably at his offensive satirical approach. Hunter S. Thompson, whose distaste for former President Nixon was never a secret, pays Nixon a compliment of sort when giving us his own personal feelings towards current President Bush:

Let’s face it—the yo-yo president of the U.S.A. knows nothing. He is a dunce. He does what he is told to do—says what he is told to say [...] To say this goofy child president is looking more and more like Richard Nixon in the summer of 1974 would be a flagrant insult to Nixon. Whoops! Did I say that? Is it even vaguely possible that some New Age Republican could actually make Nixon look like a Liberal? (65).

Writing while events in the Middle East were rising to newly heightened pitches, Thompson graces us with his personal insights about American politics and politics in general.

Politics is the art of controlling your environment… Never forget it, or you will become a Victim of your own environment. Rich nerds and lawyers will stomp all over you worse than any A-rab, and you will be like the eight ball on some country-club billiards table near Atlanta—whack, over and out [...]

And so much for that, eh? Jews don’t play pool anyway, and neither do A-rabs. They are tribal people, which means they are primitive thinkers. They feel a genetic imperative to kill each other, and it tends to get in their way… Or maybe that brutal compulsion comes from the Holy Bible, which is definitely true. The Bible is unforgiving. There is not a scintilla of mercy or humor in the Holy Bible. None. (17-18).

With the American Century having come to its close, and the new century beginning with a brand new Bush, Hunter S. Thompson is pained by the current state of American political affairs. One of his greatest virtues has always been his ability to view world affairs from a world perspective. This would appear to be nothing extraordinary, but since much of American reporting comes from an American perspective, Thompson’s uncompromising quest to report the world as it is makes him both a target for his critics, a critic of American values, as well as a refreshing change from the often slanted approach of American journalism. He is greatly concerned with his belief that America has become an imperialist, capitalistic monster, and he brings to light the fact that much of the world also shares this opinion:

We have become a Nazi monster in the eyes of the whole world—a nation of bullies and bastards who would rather kill than live peacefully. We are not just Whores for power and oil, but killer whores with hate and fear in our hearts… and that is how history will judge us [...]

Who does vote for these dishonest shitheads? Who among us can be happy and proud of having all this innocent blood on our hands? [...]

They are the same ones who wanted to have Muhammad Ali locked up for refusing to kill gooks. They speak for all that is cruel and stupid and vicious in the American character. They are the racists and hate mongers among us… I piss down the throats of these Nazis. (66-67)

It is these political rumblings that make Thompson a cultural icon to his millions of fans, as well as brings out the anger of his critics.

This latest work is a political memoir and is his closest attempt at an autobiographical piece. His writing gives evidence to the rock-n-roll lifestyle he has enjoyed, but also displays glimpses of his true journalistic greatness. It is absolutely clear that Hunter S. Thompson has lived his life with the same outlaw feel that is evidenced in his writing. While decades change, Presidents change, and politics change, Hunter S. Thompson has remained the same (which he claims is because he has “the soul of a teenage girl in the body of an elderly dope fiend”) (351). Thompson fans will be a bit disappointed by re-occurring stories, but his overall political satire will make up for these. Of course, his work is filled with subtle Hunter S. Thompson anecdotes, such as “At the top of the mountain, we are all Snow Leopards. Anybody who can do one thing better than anyone else in the world is a natural friend of mine.” (272). For those who are new to the doctor’s writing, I would strongly recommend Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas or Hell’s Angels before entering The Kingdom of Fear. And for those who have been turned off by Thompson’s political rants and drugs and drunken episodes, slowly put the book back on the shelf and proceed to Mel Steely’s The Gentleman From Georgia: The Biography of Newt Gingrich, located somewhere near the bottom of the discount bin.

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