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Sunday, June 30, 2013

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thomspon

"There is no formula for finding yourself in Vegas with a white Cadillac full of drugs and nothing to mix with properly." (page 156)

About the Book: Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is the best chronicle of drug-soaked, addle-brained, rollicking good times ever committed to the printed page. It is also the tale of a long weekend road trip that has gone down in the annals of American pop culture as one of the strangest journeys ever undertaken.

"Old elephants limp off to the hills to die; old Americans go out to the highway and drive themselves to death with huge cars." (page 18)

My Thoughts: Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the heart of the American Dream by Hunter S. Thompson (Flamingo, 1971) is a representation of Thompson's "Gonzo Journalism," a blurring of lines between fiction and non-fiction, based on two trips to Las Vegas with attorney and Chicano activist Oscar Zeta Acosta. This is not a book for anyone who is easily offended by language or lewd behavior. The is told through the perspective of Raoul Duke, "Doctor of Journalism" and Thompson's alter-ego.
     The first trip to Vegas is centered around Duke's assignment from a motor sports magazine to cover the Fourth Annual Mint 400 in 1971. Thus begins the drug-induced journey with his "attorney," Dr. Gonzo, who makes the arrangements and accompanies him on the journey that is designed as an opportunity to experiment with a variety of recreational drugs. Following their survival of that trip, Dr. Gonzo quickly arranges another assignment to bring the duo back to Vegas. This time it is for Rolling Stone magazine to cover the National District Attorneys' Association's Third National Institute on Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs. While law enforcement officials are attending the conference to learn how to handle the drug epidemic and drug-related crimes, Duke and Dr. Gonzo continue their quest to discover the "American Dream," a concept that had radically shifted over the past decade.
     The book is illustrated by Ralph Steadman and the graphic art adds another element to the chaotic feel of the story. Throughout the book, Thompson is exploring the effects of the 60's counterculture and U.S. society in the early 70's, society's thirst for consumerism, and a changing political climate.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on this one if you have read it!
Happy Reading,

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson

"The fair had a powerful and lasting impact on the nation's psyche, in ways both large and small." (Page 373)

About the Book (from Publishers Weekly): Not long after Jack the Ripper haunted the ill-lit streets of 1888 London, H.H. Holmes (born Herman Webster Mudgett) dispatched somewhere between 27 and 200 people, mostly single young women, in the churning new metropolis of Chicago; many of the murders occurred during (and exploited) the city's finest moment, the World's Fair of 1893. Larson's breathtaking new history is a novelistic yet wholly factual account of the fair and the mass murderer who lurked within it.

"Despite its incomplete exhibits, rutted paths, and stretches of unplanted ground, the exposition revealed to its early visitors a vision of what a city could be and ought to be." (Page 247)

My Thoughts: The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic and Madness at the Fair that Changed America by Erik Larson (Vintage Books, 2003) is a historical crime novel that outlines the creation of the Chicago World's Fair of 1893. The reader is offered two separate storylines that never fully converge: The monumental obstacles faced in constructing the buildings and landscape for the Fair and the violent acts of a serial killer who preyed upon those seeking adventure and fortune in this growing city.
     The writing is extremely detailed, at times reading like a history book with the effort to bring to life the obstacles that were faced in order to create the Fair. Architecture is the leading character of this novel with nature a close second. From the city's efforts to secure the commission to host the event, to soil composition, winds, climate, and fire, the architects were continually challenged to design their visions. In the end, they succeeded. With all of the buildings painted white, the White City enamored visitors and established that Chicago had created a fair capable of competing with Europe. In an effort to build something more grand than Paris had with the Eiffel Tower, the Ferris Wheel was created, becoming an instant success and still beloved today.
     While the city was preoccupied with the building of the fair, a serial killer is setting up a hotel to house visitors and lure victims into his realm. Later referenced as the "Castle of Horrors," the building contained an elaborate gas chamber that was used in several of the killings. Likened to Jack the Ripper, Herman Mudgett or his alias Dr. H.H. Holmes, charmed his victims into believing that he was a successful doctor and businessman whom they could easily trust. Holmes would sell the skeletons of his victims to universities and hospitals for scientific research. The exact number of murders committed by Holmes remained unknown but at least nine were confirmed and many more suspected. After the World's Fair, Holmes was finally arrested in Boston, initially over a case of insurance fraud. Following the gruesome discoveries uncovered during the investigations, he was found guilty and sentenced to death by hanging.
     The story flows back and forth between the construction of the White City, centering around Chief Architect and Overseer Daniel Hudson Burnham, and the darkness of Holmes' acts of violence against women, men, and children. The novel addresses many themes that were arising as the country advanced into the twentieth century: increasing violence in cities; the widening gap between the wealthy and the poor; an unstable economy; and labor tensions. The novel defines a stark distinction between the city that Chicago's visionaries hoped to create and the city that existed for many.

Happy Reading!


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