Mark Bowden reviews The Gang That Wouldn’t Write Straight: Wolfe, Thompson, Didion and the New Journalism Revolution, by Marc Weingarten
I was a high-school and then a college student when the startling literary boom dubbed “The New Journalism” happened in the late 60s and early 70s. To me, it might as well have been happening on a distant, colorful planet. I was a teenager stalking the paltry magazine racks of the small drugstores of my Maryland suburb—this was long before the advent of big bookstore chains—waiting to pounce on each new issue of Esquire, Harper’s and Rolling Stone. No one I knew shared my addiction.More here
It would be hard today to explain the anticipation and excitement I felt over each new issue. New York magazine was not sold where I lived, so I had to wait until its best writers started producing books to discover them. The magazines were artfully designed temples of the written word, filled with language, people, places, events and ideas that were intoxicating and new. They helped shape my experience of those tumultuous years every bit as much as pop music and marijuana. My first taste of The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test was so thrilling that for weeks I wanted to read it out loud to everyone I met. I restrained myself, but Tom Wolfe’s book gave me an inestimable gift: I knew after the first 10 pages what I wanted to do with my life.
There have been many attempts to describe the kind of journalism popularized during this period—work that tells a true story using novelistic techniques; journalism where the writer is present in the narrative, whether as a character or as a voice; reporting that rejects “objectivity” and is infused with point of view—and all of them contain a piece of an overall definition. To me, what distinguishes the writing of Mr. Wolfe, John Hersey, Truman Capote, Norman Mailer, Joan Didion, Gay Talese, Hunter S. Thompson and the others is their ambition to create not just journalism, but art.