Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is a unique novel in that the text includes an account of its own writing. Like his protagonist Raoul Duke, Thompson was working as a freelance journalist when Sports Illustrated hired him to help cover the Mint 400 off-road motorcycle race in Las Vegas. Thompson’s assignment was straightforward—he was to write captions for a photo essay about the race. Thompson invited Oscar Zeta Acosta, a Mexican-American attorney and activist, to attend the race with him. Acosta was serving as a source for another of Thompson’s stories, and Thompson hoped to conduct those interviews with Acosta while they were in Las Vegas together.
At the end of the trip, Thompson spent a day or so locked up in his hotel room drafting the Sports Illustrated feature. It ended up being more than ten times the length the magazine had requested, so the Sports Illustrated editors turned it down. However, Thompson submitted his piece to Rolling Stone instead and the editors tentatively accepted it, pending a complete draft. Rolling Stone also contracted Thompson to return to Las Vegas the following month to cover the narcotics conference he describes in the text. Thompson combined his experiences during these two trips to craft the narrative of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. The text was published in two parts in Rolling Stone’s October and November 1971 issues. Upon its release in book form, Fear and Loathing received rave reviews from other counterculture figures and mainstream media outlets.
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas increased Thompson’s stature as a public figure. He reused the phrase ‘fear and loathing’ in the titles of several other works, including Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ‘72 and Fear and Loathing in America. In 1998, the novel was adapted into a critically acclaimed feature film directed by Terry Gilliam and starring Johnny Depp and Benicio del Toro, which introduced Thompson's story to a new generation. Today, it is commonly included on the syllabi of literature courses and explorations of contemporary American culture.