The Washington Post‘s Ruth Marcus wrote a recent column about the upcoming 2012 campaign where she used the magic words “fear and loathing” to describe what she believes will be a grueling, hard-fought battle. I’m sure she used those words advisedly, because for any political junkie “fear and loathing” immediately conjures up memories of the greatest book on American politics ever written: Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail ’72 by Dr. Hunter S. Thompson.
Before we trot off to our respective corners to gird ourselves for the bruising 2012 election, can we all take a moment — regardless of our political views — and acknowledge the greatness of this book? It describes, in hilarious, crackling prose, Thompson’s gin-soaked, drug-addled misadventures as he manned the National Affairs Desk for Rolling Stone magazine. He wrote about the behind-the-scenes efforts that produced George McGovern’s improbable defeat of doomed front-runner Edmund Muskie and perennial candidate Hubert Humphrey in the race for the 1972 Democratic nomination, and then McGovern’s landslide loss to President Nixon. It includes Thompson’s report on his bizarre encounter with Nixon to discuss pro football, among countless other unforgettable vignettes.
If you’ve never read Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail ’72 I encourage you to get it and read it immediately. It is one of the funniest books I’ve ever read, and its story of a political campaign is timeless. After you’ve read this book, I can assure you that you’ll never look at a politician, or a reporter, with the same awe and reverence again.