Books | November 10, 2019 12:19 pm

What We Can Learn From Hunter S. Thompson’s Letters

The surprising relevance of decades-old political missives

Hunter S. Thompson
Rs79/Creative Commons

It’s been almost 15 years since Hunter S. Thompson died, and yet his influence can still be seen in the world of literature and politics. (Here’s your obligatory reminder that, with a Presidential election next year, his Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ‘72 remains an excellent read.) But there’s another side to Thompson’s work as well: at The Atlantic, James Parker makes the case for why Thompson’s letters should be more widely read

Parker points out in his essay that the Thompson who shows up in these collections is frequently mercurial and confrontational, which may be due to the copious amounts of drugs he was consuming at the time.

“The Thompson of the letters is not especially likable. He is hard, compulsive, vengeful, nastily funny, and distended with the grandiosity of true desperation,” Parker writes. “An extraordinary proportion of the correspondence is concerned with money: claiming expenses, running from creditors, dunning and being dunned.”

But there, Parker argues, is where one of the key elements of these books emerge: from financial insecurity to fears of authoritarian violence, there are more than a few parallels to be found with the present day. 

Parker isn’t the only one to make a connection between Thompson’s work and the current political moment. A 2017 essay from Terry McDonell at Literary Hub explored Thompson’s approach to political coverage as it might apply to Donald Trump’s 2016 and subsequent presidency. “You can grab random passages from those pieces and just switch out the name Nixon for Trump,” McDonell wrote regarding Thompson’s writings during the Nixon era. 

It’s an uncanny moment of realization — but then, history does tend to repeat itself.

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