Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas:Origins

The book is largely a fictionalized account of Thompson and attorney Oscar Zeta Acosta's actual trip to Las Vegas around the same time period. In real life, Thompson was to cover the Mint 400 motocross race for Sports Illustrated magazine in 1971, for which he was contracted to write photo captions. Coincidentally, he was also commissioned to cover a Las Vegas law enforcement convention for Rolling Stone magazine.

Before being asked to cover the race, Thompson was in Los Angeles, reporting on the murder of Reuben Salazar and the race riots that resulted from his death. Acosta was a prominent figure in the Chicano community and therefore a natural source for Thompson's story. Finding it difficult for a Hispanic to talk openly to a white reporter in L.A.'s tense atmosphere, Thompson and Acosta decided that Las Vegas would be a more comfortable place to work on the story. Thompson later wrote the majority of Fear and Loathing in a hotel room in Arcadia, California during his spare time while he finished writing the Salazar story for Rolling Stone (later published as Strange Rumblings in Aztlan) .

What was intended as a 250-word photo-captioning job/road trip snowballed into a novel-length feature for Rolling Stone magazine in November 1971. The text was eventually published as Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. The novel was heralded as the "best book on the dope decade" by the New York Times and a "scorchingepochal sensation" by author Tom Wolfe.

In the book The Great Shark Hunt, Thompson refers to Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas as "a failed experiment in gonzo journalism," a guerrilla style of reporting that Thompson championed and publicized throughout his career. Allegedly based on William Faulkner's idea that "the best fiction is far more true than any kind of journalism — and the best journalists know this," it blends storytelling, fiction, and traditional journalism.

As is true with most of Thompson’s writing, much of the book is based on actual events, however Thompson altered the details to such a degree that the work could easily be considered fiction. For example, the novel describes Duke attending both the motorcycle race and the narcotics convention within a few days time. In real life, both events did indeed take place in Las Vegas 1971, although they took place almost a month apart. For Thompson to have attended both, he would have likely had to leave Las Vegas for a number of weeks and then come back, severely compromising the frenzied premise of the novel.


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