Hunter S. Thompson
Jay Cowan
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Buy *Hunter S. Thompson: An Insider's View of Deranged, Depraved, Drugged Out Brilliance* by Jay Cowan online

Hunter S. Thompson: An Insider's View of Deranged, Depraved, Drugged Out Brilliance
Jay Cowan
The Lyons Press
256 pages
March 2009
rated 4 of 5 possible stars

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This is by far the most thought-provoking and honest look at the late outlaw journalist. The author was a caretaker on Hunter's famous Owl Farm property and had a rare birds-eye view. It does pull the curtains back on this legendary writer, but it doesn't pull them far enough to allow the reader a real inside look at who Thompson really was. The title gives the sense that we may read about some of the journalist's dirty laundry, but even that is going to be washed and bleached before it ever reaches our eyes.

A chapter titled "Friends and Lovers" talks about those people in Hunter's life who had relationships with him. Here is where Cowan really could have fleshed out the good Doctor's profile by talking about how he borrowed money and never repaid it; beat his women; mercilessly belittled and criticized his friends; and in general, treated his acquaintances like sheep. But he doesn't do that.

In the second paragraph from this chapter he writes,

"I put up with what I did from Hunter (and I think this was true for many) because first of all he put up with a lot from me. He was also one of the most brilliant and funny people I ever met, and he could be a very good friend."
From the outset, the writer is already perched on a pedestal where all his wrongdoings fall like harmless confetti because "he was one of the most brilliant and funny people" there ever was. So what? Did this give him the right to verbally and mentally abuse everyone who came around him? This is a perfect example of the book's most visible flaw - for all the bravado and good intentions the author obviously has, he is still a sycophant at heart and afraid (or unwilling) to reveal what Hunter truly was.

Still, it comes closer than the myriad other titles out there. It talks at length about the consumption of mass quantities of drugs and alcohol and how it destroyed the brain of this most talented writer. It also describes how Hunter frittered away what were pretty significant sums of money earned from books and speaking engagements - and, in the end, how he was simply a parody of himself, unable to even get out of his own way, going so far as to use the same words (atavistic was one of his favorites) in multiple stories.

Presumably the author didn't want to smear his friend's name all over these pages. That's understandable. But to walk right up to the edge of Hunter's life, look over the cliff and see the dark truths lying at the bottom, then just turn around and pretend there was nothing there, is bad journalism. Worse than that, it's lying to yourself.

An Insider's View is the most cohesive and comprehensive text yet to be written and is well worth the hours. Until someone is truly up to the task of stripping Thompson naked to see what lies beneath, no outsider will ever really know who he was.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at Steven Rosen, 2009

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