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Hunter S. Thompson does not suffer fools gladly. For that matter, he seems to suffer no one at all, gladly or not. A survivor of the 1960's, he has deemed his contemporaries "a whole subculture of frightened illiterates" and those younger than they "a generation of swine." (And these are the people he professes to like; never mind those he despises, such as George Bush and Charles Keating.) Still, he has carved out a niche for himself as the most beatifically foolish journalist working in America today, a practitioner of inspired lunacy in the name of truth-seeking inquiry. No believer in so-called reportorial objectivity, he has become far better known than most of his subjects. How many people remember Thomas Eagleton (a sideshow character in Thompson's savage book of 1972, Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail) these days?

The Acid Era has left its scars on the man. For one thing, he is now incapable of speaking a coherent, un-whiskey-slurred sentence, an odd condition for a man who makes much of his living on the college lecture circuit. (The kiddies want only to see this legendary man, we must suppose, not to hear what he has to say.) For another, he has never recovered from the paranoia of the Nixon years, and his reclusiveness is legendary. For that reason, Paul Perry warns us early on, his life of Thompson "is a violently unauthorized biography."

Perry himself is...

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