Hell’s Angel is yet another book I grabbed in the discount section of Half Price Books while looking for nonfiction books my AP Lang students might enjoy. Aside from the famous stabbing at Atlamont and the fact that I was pretty sure the MC Sons of Anarchy were modeled after were the Hell’s Angels, I knew next to nothing about the club before reading this book. Growing up in California, I’d heard of the Hell’s Angels. I’d even seen some riding in the highways from time to time. But since I was born almost 40 years after Sonny Barger, I’d never even heard his name until I saw it on the cover.
What I found inside the book was a rather interesting account of the most notorious motorcycle gang, er, I mean club, in American history. The book is a sort of modern outlaw story, no doubt comparable to anything the Wild West had to offer. Barger is quite candid about a host of illegal activities both he and members of the MC were involved in.
This book chronicles Barger’s early life, make no it very clear that he was a man searching for a second family after his mom abandoned him and his dad took up heavy drinking. From the earliest moments in his life he had issues with authority and living life on anyone’s terms but his own. He recalls pre-club encounters with the law, the hardships of his childhood and his military service, which is really what lead him to start the Oakland chapter of the Hell’s Angels. Like many vets, he came back from war a little lost, a little lonely and a little damaged. So he took to the open road almost as quickly as he did to bucking the rules.
The book examines the founding of the MC itself, gives brief biographical information on many founding members of the club and lays out a lot of their criminal activities. Barger spends quite a bit of time talking about the love/hate relationships the Hell’s Angels has with other clubs, cops, the press and the public. He details the events that lead to the infamous stabbing at Altamont. He lays out various charges and arrests he faced. He goes into lots of detail about the RICO case against the Hell’s Angels in the 80’s.
He also has chapters dedicated to “old ladies”-wives and girlfriends, rats-police informants, and lots of talk about the best motorcycles. There is also a chapter on his fight with cancer.
I started reading this book not long after I decided to watch Sons of Anarchy again. I was amazed by how many things Barger wrote about in the book which coincided with events on the show. Heck, the actor who plays Happy is actually a Hell’s Angel and Barger even appears in a couple of episodes as Lenny the Pimp, something I did not realize until I read about his cancer battle and saw a picture of him from the very late 90’s. As soon as I saw that picture, I jumped on IMDB to double check.
Overall, this was a really interesting read. There is a lot of talk of drug use/sales, violence and quite a bit of cursing, so it’s not a book for the faint of heart. Then again, how could any book about the Hell’s Angels not have these?
So far one of my students, who is also obsessed with Sons of Anarchy has read it and really enjoyed it as well.