The Bonfire of the Vanities

by Tom Wolfe

Paperback, 1988

Call number




Bantam Books (1988), Edition: Mass Paperback Edition


Fiction. Historical Fiction. HTML: This bitingly hilarious American satire will forever define late twentieth-century New York style. Tom Wolfe's bestselling modern classic tells the story of Sherman McCoy, an elite Wall Street bond trader who has it all: wealth, power, prestige, a Park Avenue apartment, a beautiful wife, and an even more beautiful mistress, until one wrong turn sends Sherman spiraling downward in a humiliating fall from grace. A car accident in the Bronx involving Sherman, his girlfriend, and two young lower-class black men sets a match to the incendiary racial and social tensions of 1980s New York City. Suddenly, Sherman finds himself embroiled in the most brutal, high-profile case of the year, as prosecutors, politicians, the press, the police, the clergy, and assorted hustlers rush in to further their own political and social agendas. With so many egos at stake, the last priority on anyone's mind is truth or justice..… (more)

Media reviews

The Observer
So regularly is Tom Wolfe's brash 1987 tome described as "the quintessential novel of the 80s" that you almost feel the phrase could be slapped on as a subtitle. But the ability to "capture the decade" isn't the only measure of a writer's ability, and like a hot-pink puffball dress, this story
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displays a blithe disregard for nuance. Sherman McCoy, known to himself as a "Master of the Universe", is a millionaire bond trader at Wall Street's Pierce and Pierce, where the roar of the trading floor "resonate[s] with his very gizzard". His mastery is punctured, however, when, with his mistress at the wheel, his Mercedes hits and fatally injures a young black man in the Bronx. The story of McCoy's subsequent downfall is told alongside those of three other men, all characterised by their raging ambition and vanity: an alcoholic tabloid journalist desperate for a scoop; a power-hungry pastor; and a district attorney keen to impress one of his former jury members, the brown-lipsticked Miss Shelly Thomas. Wolfe revels in the rambunctious, seething world of 80s New York and brings to life in primary-colours prose a city fraught with racial tensions and steeped in ego. The contrasting worlds of McCoy and his victim, Henry Lamb, are vividly dramatised, if not with great subtlety: rich, white Park Avenue versus poor, black Bronx. At one particularly extravagant party, McCoy strays into a room described as "stuffed… with sofas, cushions, fat chairs and hassocks, all of them braided, tasselled, banded, bordered and... stuffed". Sometimes this big beast of a novel feels the same: dense with research and bulging with bombast. Yet, it has to be admitted, it's also great fun.
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5 more
The best account of the 90s me-first greed and fuck you attitude I have ever read.
The Nazi and fascist movements in Europe subscribed to similar sentiments. But, because Wolfe does not use anti-Semitic or racist epithets, the truly reactionary character of his societal vision is often unrecognized. The movie actually performs one important public service. By turning the book
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into a ghastly movie, the reactionary character of the book becomes far more apparent for all to see.
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Kirkus Review
Sheer entertainment against a fabulous background, proving that late-blooming first-novelist Wolfe, a superobserver of the social scene (The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby, Radical Chic and Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers), has the right stuff for fiction. Undertaken as a serial for
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Rolling Stone, his magnum opus hits the ball far, far, far out of the park. Son of Park Avenue wealth, Sherman McCoy at 35 is perhaps the greatest bond salesman on Wall Street, and eats only the upper crust. But millionaire Sherman's constant inner cry is that he is "hemorrhaging money." He's also a jerk, ripe for humiliation; and when his humiliation arrives, it is fearsome. Since this is also the story of The Law as it applies to rich and poor, especially to blacks and Hispanics of the Bronx, Wolfe has a field day familiarizing the reader with the politics and legal machinations that take place in the Bronx County Courthouse, a fortress wherein Sherman McCoy becomes known as the Great White Defendant. One evening, married Sherman picks up his $100-million mistress Maria at Kennedy Airport, gets lost bringing her back in his $48,000 Mercedes- Benz, is attacked by two blacks on a ramp in the Bronx. When Maria jumps behind the wheel, one black is hit by the car. Later, he lapses into a terminal coma, but not before giving his mother part of Sherman's license plate. This event is hyped absurdly by an alcoholic British reporter for the The City Light (read: Rupert Murdoch's New York Post), the mugger becomes an "honor student," and Sherman becomes the object of vile racist attacks mounted by a charlatan black minister. Chunk by chunk, Sherman loses every footing in his life but gains his manhood. Meanwhile, Wolfe triumphantly mounts scene after magnificent scene depicting the vanity of human endeavor, with every character measured by his shoes and suits or dresses, his income and expenses, and with his vain desires rising in smoke against settings that would make a Hollywood director's tongue hang out. Often hilarious, and much, much more.
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London Review of Books
There has probably never been a less prescient journo-novel than The Bonfire of the Vanities, which subliminally heralded a New York that was given over to wild and feral African politics at one end (reading from north to south of Manhattan Island) and dubious market strategies at the other. The
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market strategies continue. Indeed, Wall Street has almost deposed the opinion polls as the index of national wellbeing. The ethnic spoils system, meanwhile, is manipulated by the same class as ever. If either of these elements ever undergoes a dramatic metamorphosis, it won’t be Tom Wolfe who sounds the alarm.
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User reviews

LibraryThing member mrtall
Where do you begin when trying to sum up the brilliance of this novel?

On one level, it's an engrossing, fast-paced thriller. Its plot is simple: a Wall Street WASP and another man's trophy wife are having an affair; driving back into NYC from the airport, they get lost in the Bronx, and
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accidentally run down a young black man they think is trying to rob them. The rest is loosely a police procedural-cum-courtroom potboiler, as 'justice' comes looking for our big-chinned protagonist.

Along the way, Wolfe hilariously satirizes just about every one of NYC's human inhabitants, and he's tough on dachshunds, too. Some of the book's chapters are in fact tightly-constructed and nearly-stand-alone farces; for example, witness Wolfe's dissection of a society dinner party in the chapter titled 'The Masque of the Red Death'.

But the real genius of this book is its digging down into the dirty depths of America's soul. Wolfe has expressed quite bluntly his desire to write big, sprawling 'sociological' novels, and this, his first attempt, is an uncanny smash hit.

How many traits and tropes of postmodernist consumerist late-20th-century American culture does Wolfe manage to nail? Allow me to enumerate just a few.

First, almost no one has written more tellingly about the intersection between race relations and the law than Wolfe does here. The behavior of his District Attorney character, who's consumed by his hunt for the 'Great White Defendant' (it's no coincidence he's named Abe) is a remarkable blueprint for what the USA witnessed in the 2006 Duke Lacrosse case, to cite just one very recent example.

Next, Wolfe is spot-on in his recognition of the way in which Celebrity has run roughshod over both Fame and Aristocracy in the western world.

Third, Wolfe is simply the best when it comes to understanding and depicting the ways in which the drive for social status is sublimated and then eventually expressed in American life. The muscles, the money, and the politically-correct self-righteous posing are all mercilessly lampooned.

The most amazing thing about this book is its age. It still reads as fresh and apposite as it did 20 years ago. Wolfe was -- and is -- astonishingly prescient. Let's just hope that he's not right about everything he foresees here.
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LibraryThing member strandbooks
I'm surprised to read the other reviews about how this book is stuck in the 80s when it was written. Substitute the dark rosewood, green marble floors and shiny brass with travertine tile, granite countertops and silver in the McCoy apartment, and keep the entire plot and characters (without the
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shoulder pads and big hair) and it would be compleltly believable in 2010. Wolfe gave a glimpse into the life of Park Avenue that we now see on reality shows. They may seem like charactitures from an outsider's perspective, but as McCoy shows it all seems like reality when one is in the hive and constantly isolating oneself from the majority of society. Some things have changed, of course. For one, I've walked down the Grand Concourse in the Bronx so it has been cleaned up from the Gibraltar and wagon train scenes Wolf depicts. There are some great observances of the people/government of New York. I loved the way he showed how the "chow" (criminals in the bronx) fed the system and how these crack dealing kids in the projects kept thousands of government workers with a job. His description of the press/media and how they encite people to mob/demonstrate/riot is spot on (look at the recent town hall meetings this year to see that this is still a relevant topic). Overall, a good book that I'd recommend.
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LibraryThing member Eyejaybee
I first read this novel just weeks after its initial publication in 1988 and thought it was spellbinding then. Thirty years later I think it has lost none of its power to enthral. In a lengthy introduction to this recent edition, Tom Wolfe cites William Thackeray’s Vanity Fair as one of his
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inspirations. Like Vanity Fair, this is quite definitely a novel without a hero, though it is knee-deep in victims.

As with so many great novels, the basic premise is very simple. High flying Wall Street bond dealer Sherman McCoy, scion of one of New York's leading 'WASP' families and self-styled Master of the Universe, is conducting a clandestine affair with Maria, the young, sexy wife of an ageing multi-millionaire. Having told his wife that he has to work late, Sherman collects Maria from the airport but, in a moment of inattention, he finds himself stuck in the wrong lane on the freeway and ends up taking a wrong turning. Instead of heading home to Manhattan, he and Maria find themselves lost in the depths of the Bronx. As they drive around ever more frightening streets, an incident occurs, as a consequence of which a young African American boy is accidentally knocked down by their car. In their panic, they drive away, unaware of the injuries that the boy has suffered, and return to their insulated life within New York's beau monde.

It transpires, however, that the young man, Henry Lamb, has been badly injured. Having called at hospital for treatment of a badly hurt wrist he returns home but subsequently complains of head pains, and subsides into a coma. Through the intervention of a radical activist in the African American community, aided by veteran radicals desperate to find a new cause, a crusade for justice for the stricken boy gathers pace. Gradually the foundation stones of McCoy's existence, that had previously seemed so secure, are pulled away and his enviable lifestyle starts to disintegrate.

In the meantime, Peter Fallow, a particularly odious British journalist who had been struggling to make his way in New York, finds himself being given exclusive after exclusive as the campaigners harness the tabloid press to press their cause. Fallow is a desperate parasite with a rapidly-escalating drink problem (some of the descriptions Wolfe offers of the journalist's morning hangovers are quite astounding), but he gradually finds his fortunes waxing as McCoy's wane.

Wolfe captures the racial tensions and jealousies with a pellucid sharpness that he also directs against the vagaries of the American criminal justice system in which, during a year when the local District Attorney has to seek re-election against an increasingly volatile political landscape, Sherman McCoy becomes the ‘Great White Defendant’, the token box-ticking target for whom every prosecutor has yearned.

As I said at the beginning of this review, there are no heroes in this book. Everyone, except poor Henry Lamb, is seen to be tainted and self-serving to some degree. Sherman McCoy, indeed, emerges as one of the better characters. He recognises that he has, inadvertently, done something dreadful and he acknowledges the hollowness of many aspects of his life as a Master of the Universe, although ultimately he remains unable to summon the strength of spirit to opt for a different lifestyle.

There is a Dickensian acuity of observation throughout, perhaps best exemplified in Wolfe's pillorying of the higher end of the legal profession. Top 'WASP' law firms are given names such as 'Dunning, Sponget and Leach' or 'Curry, Goad and Pesterall', reminiscent of 'Private Eye's parody firm, 'Sue, Grabbit and Runne'.

Simply amazing!
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LibraryThing member maryreinert
Didn't read this in the 1980's when it came out, but it could have been written today as well. Such an expose on wealth, privilege, poverty, police, racism, class and legal entanglement. Sherman McCoy lives on Park Avenue, is a Wall Street hero, a wife and lovely child; however, he is also having
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an affair with Maria, the wife of an aged millionaire. While taking a wrong turn at night on the freeway, Sherman and Maria somehow end up in a seedy part of the Bronx where they encounter two young black teens. At one point, one of the boys is hit by the car and the car drives off.

The rest of the story is the entanglements of that crime and many other characters appear: the Black community leader, the political Bronx District Attorney, the attorney in the district attorney's office who is assigned the case, the Bronx police, the husband of Maria, the British tabloid writer who brings the crime to the public, the victim's mother, the second black youth at the scene, Park Avenue socialites, and many other who are affected in one way or another by this single event.

Sherman, however, remains the center of the story. At first thinking of himself as the "Master of the Universe", he comes to the reality that a "liberal is a conservative who has been arrested." Told with humor, cynicism, style, and great writing, almost all the characters seem very believable. (There are a few scenes which stretch the imagination, but all the characters come across as true). I do have to take some issue with Wolfe's use of so many dashes and ellipsis.

The ending is absolutely perfect: a newspaper article that appears a year later. Sherman has become the "professional defendent" as the indictment and trial get more and more bogged down. Some come out on top, others are losers, and the sleazy tabloid writer wins a Pulitzer. Great story.
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LibraryThing member jmchshannon
What made The Bonfire of the Vanities a satire in the late 1980s makes this novel a rather sad, almost embarrassing story today. In actuality, it should not be this way. After all, the Wall Street greed, the economic divides, the racial and ethnic profiling, the muckracking, etc. all exist today.
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Yet, the New York City of the 1980s is not the NYC of today. Its inhabitants are different, forever scarred by September 11th. The sheer vulgarity of that era no longer exists. The acceptance of such overt racism and cultural epithets is no more. Today, The Bonfire of the Vanities is more historical fiction than satire and one that readers cannot take seriously given its extremes.

One of the main problems with the novel is that the characters, all of them, are so excessively one-dimensional and extreme in their viewpoints. There is not one likable character among them. What is worse is that there is not one sympathetic character among them. They are all too arrogant, too caught up in being right, too holier-than-thou to generate any sympathy. You find yourself rooting against them, which means that you change your loyalties every time another character takes over the narrative. This revolving door of emotional responses is exhausting and distracting.

The story itself loses importance in light of the violent responses readers will have to the characters, particularly the main ones. It is difficult to care about Sherman’s downfall when one doesn’t care about Sherman, Peter’s rise when he is so despicable, and so forth. In fact, the only character about whom the readers will care is the poor young man lying in a coma – if only because he is the only one to never say a line of dialogue throughout the entire story.

What makes it worse is the fact that there is not one good humanitarian out of the entire cast. They all have hidden, and not-so-hidden agendas, that dictate their every word and action. While this is not unusual in human nature, it is the extremes which make this behavior so distasteful. The fact that there is not one person in the entire cast who has no agenda is disturbing in its bleak picture Mr. Wolfe is presenting about humanity. Again, realizing that he did this on purpose to further emphasize his point about New York City in the 1980s, too much has happened in the world since then for modern readers to be okay with this.

At the end of the day, it is apparent that the bonfire has died out in The Bonfire of the Vanities. It no longer serves the same purpose it once did as far as the story it has to tell and the commentary it makes. Events like September 11th and other terrorist acts, the #blacklivesmatter movement, the recession and the government bailouts of companies “too big to fail”, and every other event that has rocked the nation since the 1990s make this story of greed and power lose its importance. It is no longer humorous; its messages no longer resonate with readers. We live in a different world, and The Bonfire of the Vanities no longer has its place as social satire within it.
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LibraryThing member herebedragons
#7, 2006

Recommended to me decades (hah!) ago by a friend, and I finally got around to reading it (after much badgering from said friend). He told me this was one of his favourite books ever, which set up some rather high expectations for me. So, did it live up to them?

Well, I won't say it's an
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all-time favourite, but it was definitely an enjoyable read - there were times I had trouble putting it down. Funny, because on the one hand, it's a masterpiece of something that often puts me off books - we get inside of the heads of several of the characters, and they're pretty much all wholly unlikeable, for a variety of reasons. In fact, there really aren't any truly likeable characters in the book - they're pretty much all despicable. The book is mostly about class and race, but there's a fair bit of sexism thrown in there, too. Wolfe is harsh - I'd even go so far as to say satirical - about life on Wall Street and in the Bronx in the 1980s (when the book takes place), and some of the things these guys think about are simply abominable (most - maybe all? - of the thoughts to which we are privy belong to the men in the story).

The story itself is a bit like an episode of "Law and Order," and I found myself trying to second-guess what would happen along the same lines I do when I watch that show. I did come to an interesting conclusion half-way through, though - that I didn't really care whether or not the protagonist ended up going to prison for the crime of which he was accused. In truth, he really hadn't done anything that warranted a prison sentence, IMO, but he was such a jerk that I really didn't mind what happened to him one way or another. And I guess we were supposed to have seen the changes he went through because of his ordeal, but I still didn't have a whole lot of sympathy. (M - I'm curious what about the ending you didn't like - the ambiguity? Or the specifics of what did happen? I don't think I liked or disliked the ending - by the time I got that far, I'd already pretty much decided that it really didn't matter to me). Funny thing about this book, though, that I enjoyed it in spite of not having sympathy for the main character. As I said above, that often makes me very grumpy about books; it didn't this time, though, I think because Wolfe did an entertaining job of lampooning the heck out of pretty much everyone - rich, poor, black, white, the boys and the girls - they were all equally ridiculous in pursuit of what they felt they needed and deserved. Mostly money and sex, but power was important to most of them, too. And some of them were just all about having their egos stroked. Very pathetic.

Good book, M. I'm glad to have read it. :)

Oh, and here's a little WTF moment for you . . . apparently Wolfe is George Bush's favourite author. O_o I find that . . . strange. Because I find it hard to believe that someone who grew up with as much privilege and carries as much self-righteousness as GWB could possibly read a book like this and not feel bad about himself, or at least take it personally. Well, maybe he hasn't read this one. I've no idea what the rest of Wolfe's books are like. Maybe Bush read the ones that say nice things about nasty, power-hungry, corrupt old white men. But that was definitely NOT this book.

ETA: Kevin just pointed something out to me which may have relevance. Perhaps Wolfe is George "Sr.'s" favourite author (not George "Jr's") - that would make somewhat more sense to me. Kevin's certain he's right about this, due to the lack of colouring-pages in any of Wolfe's books.

LJ Discussion
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LibraryThing member CK25_00
The opening prologue to BotV features the mayor of New York City in an uphill battle to explain crime statistics to a large group of Harlem dwellers who want to know why drugs, violence, and a lack of jobs appear to be the only notches in the ever expanding population belt of their neighborhood.
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Flanked by shouts of ‘Hymie’ and ‘Goldberg’, the now apprehensive mayor seems to think that this conference may have been a ruse setup by Reverend Bacon, an outspoken figure in Black politics. The year is 1987.

Those first pages hooked me. Though released in a serialized format for Rolling Stone magazine over twenty years ago BotV remains relevant by today’s standards. Harlem is far from the idealized bastion that the rest of Manhattan has turned into and Rev. Bacon (as a stand in for Rev. Sharpton) is still crusading against racial injustice (Troy Davis, anyone?).

BotV brings together several elements of New Yorker life. Wall st. bondsmen who proclaim themselves ‘Masters of the Universe’, broke Bronx district attorneys and hard-nosed judges, English news reporters who can’t quite reconcile American life with their own upbringing…and the women that upset the balance in their lives.
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LibraryThing member BBcummings
I'm from NYC, and I really related to this book.

First, some complaints, but things that actually did not hinder me from enjoying this book.
The descriptions are often too cumbersome, particularly of the interior decorating, (throwing out all these esoteric terms that only a designer is sure to know)
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and of fashionable name brand clothes. The narration is generally frenetic, and it could take a delay of one long paragraph before a simple response, action, or a conversational reply is presented. Although the book is written as a series of perspectives from each of the characters, each character's thoughts are always of a selfish, lookout for number one, fuck everybody else attitude, with hardly any positive aspects, and that's where cynicism and sarcasm compromise a more balanced view of the people involved, resulting in caricatures. Yet at the same time, these characterizations bring out the most pertinent traits which drive the actions that follow, and so this could be seen as a literary device rather than a flaw. After all, it is ultimately a work of satire, or rather, sarcasm.

This sarcasm however, does indeed reflect the salient aspects of 1980's city life in America, complete with politically self-serving DAs, sleazy amoral journalists, and civil rights demagogues, and the novel can rightly claim to be an expose' of the hustlers and opportunists that use the system for their own self-interest. The descriptions and procedures of the judicial system ring horribly true and show it to be the incredibly flawed entity that it is, far removed from it's supposed mandate of justice.

Despite some of the gripes I mentioned above, I gave it five stars because in my eyes it stands as a definitive statement about the dysfunction of American society.
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LibraryThing member libraryhermit
I know it is foolish for someone like me who knows nothing about how to write a novel to complain about a very skillful and successful author like Tom Wolfe, but I have to say that this was not one of my favourite novels.
It is hard to say what I found disappointing about it, but what comes most
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strongly to mind is that I do not like the main character. I could not identify with him, because I am definitely not a hit-and-run kind of driver. But I guess I am just flattering myself, and that the point of the book is to show that potentially any of us could turn into a hit-and-run driver. All it would take is shame, rationalization of bad acts, and being in a dangerous or unfamiliar neighbourhood. A novel can be a teaching tool to try to reduce the overall incidence of hit-and-run driving in any society. Of course that is not even saying anything yet about driving your car carelessly around the city while you are on an assignation with your girlfriend and cheating on your wife. (I would not do that either.)
Tom Wolfe is a good author, there is no doubt about it. I read it and tried to have forebearance for a subject I found distasteful and painful. I wonder if there are other readers who feel the same way as I do.
Same thing goes for Tom Hanks; the same way I am not fond of Tom Hanks as an actor is how I am not fond of Tom Wolfe as a writer. Alright, everyone loves Forrest Gump, but I hate the DaVinci Code movie. I saw a link somewhere to a title called The DaVinci Barcode. I would like to pursue that further. Tom Hanks can act about 1000 times better than I can, but I still do not like him very much. But it does not matter either.
I have been hovering around the idea in the above paragraphs of the old do not shoot the messenger schtick. Of course the degree to which I can get riled up about how bad the main character is, is exactly how good the author has done to highlight an extremely important topic. If he had done a mediocre job, then nobody would get worked up about the topic his talking point. Anybody can yell fire if there is a fire. It only takes one word. But when a city is filled with racial disharmony, maybe it takes a whole book. More than one word. And none of the words in that book are going to make everyone feel comfortable.
So as I said at the beginning, the discomfort felt from reading this book in no way indicates a lack of talent in the writer. Quite the opposite.
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LibraryThing member TheTwoDs
The more things change, the more they stay the same. Wealthy bond trader Sherman McCoy is having an affair and while picking up his mistress from the airport, gets into an accident, hitting a black teenager and leaves the scene. In this spectactular takedown of the obscenely coddled 80s new wealth
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scions, Wolfe skewers just about everything the Me Decade had to offer. As the authorities close in on McCoy, his personal life falls to pieces, he becomes distracted from his job and, God forbid, the other spoiled ultrarich parents refuse to speak to him at the bus stop where they wait to send their equally spoiled children to ridiculously overpriced private kindergartens.

Meanwhile, clergyman Reverend Bacon, senses an opportunity to exploit the tragedy for his own financial gain. Assistant DAs attempt to further their own careers, mostly to impress jurors of the opposite sex. And no one really seems to give a damn about the young man hit by the car, saint though he be not.

It's all here, the sleaze, the money, the racial real politik, the greed for more power. This novel is rightly called a portrait of the 1980s, no other work coming close to presenting the foibles so clearly. That it could become such a horrendous film is almost a perfect example of what it speaks to: the soulless corporate pursuit of money and power above all else, damn the consequences. Told in Wolfe's journalistic voice, it reads like a Matt Taibi diatribe from Rolling Stone magazine. Sometimes, when the budget-strapped prosecution is confronted with a defendant of immense wealth, your best strategy is to run out the clock until the defendant's bank accounts are empty. Once the man has no money, no one, not even his own lawyers, want to talk to him anymore. Money talks. Period.
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LibraryThing member Eyejaybee
I first read this novel just weeks after its initial publication in 1988 and thought it was spellbinging then, and twenty-four years on it has lost none of its power to enthrall. Like Thackeray's "Vanity Fair" this is quite definitely a novel without a hero, though there are several victims.
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basic story is immensely simple. Wall Street bond dealer Sherman McCoy, scion of one of the leading WASP families, is conducting a clandestine affair with Maria, the young, sexy wife of an ageing multi-millionaire. Having picked her up from the airport McCoy takes a wrong turning on the journey back to Manhattan and finds himself lost in the depths of the Bronx. As they drive around ever more frightening street an incident occurs as a consequence of which a young black boy is knocked down by their car.
Through the intervention of a radical activist in the African American community, aided by veteran radicals desperate to find a new cause, a crusade for justice for the stricken boy gathers pace. Gradually the foundation stones of McCoy's existence, that had previously seemed so secure, are pulled away and his enviable lifestyle starts to disintegrate.
In the meantime Peter Fallow, a particularly odious British journalist who had been struggling to make his way in New York, finds himself being given exclusive after exclusive as the campaigners use the tabloid press to press their cause. Fallow is a desperate parasite with a growing drink problem (some of the descriptions of his hangovers are quite breathtaking), but somehow manages to find his fortunes waxing as McCoy's wane.
Wolfe captures the racial tensions and jealousies with a pellucid sharpness that he also directs against the vagaries of the American criminal justice system in which, in a year in which the local District Attorney has to fight his re-election campaign, McCoy becomes the "Great White Defendant", the target that every prosecutor has dreamt of.
Simply amazing!
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LibraryThing member gypsysmom
I wasn't sure I would care for this book but it was available as an audio download from my library's digital media site and it would allow me to tick off one more book from the 1001 Books To Read Before You Die list so I went for it. I wasn't prepared for the humour of it or the message about how
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the (American) justice system works. I ended up quite enjoying it and I may have to check out Wolfe's other entry on the list, The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test.

Sherman McCoy is the number 1 bond trader in a Wall Street firm. As such, he makes one million dollars a year (and that was in the 1980s). He lives with his wife, Judy, and his young daughter in a three million dollar co-op apartment on Park Avenue. Despite his earnings he struggles to cover all his expenses. He is having an affair with a married woman, Maria Ruskin. One night while driving Maria back from the airport he takes a wrong turn into The Bronx. A typical Manhattanite he does not know how to get out and while driving around aimlessly he becomes the victim of a holdup. He gets out of the car to remove a tire from the ramp and two young black men approach him. While he deals with one Maria gets behind the wheel and calls to Sherman to get into the car. As she drives off she hits the other youth and knocks him down. Sherman and Maria argue about whether to report it but they decide not to do so. The young man suffered a concussion and goes into a coma the next day after telling his mother that he was hit by a Mercedes with a license number starting with B. Thus a legal nightmare starts for Sherman lead by Larry Kramer, an agressive Assistant District Attorney in The Bronx, and aided by English journalist Peter Fallow who works for a NYC tabloid. All three of these men are despicable but Sherman suffers from conscience and inner doubts, unlike the other two, and he comes off the best. The downward spiral of his life that starts with that fateful evening seems more punishment than merited.

Joe Barrett, who narrates the book, does a good job of differentiating the various voices although his Southern accent for Maria didn't seem quite right. The audiobook was an entertainment and I don't know if I would have said that about reading a book of this size.
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LibraryThing member benuathanasia
I read this because - as a book lover - you're kinda supposed to. It's one of those books that you're expected to read if you hold literature in any high esteem. As such, I went into this prepared to abhor it. Damn you Wolfe. Damn you. I enjoyed it. The characters were - as they were supposed to be
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- flawed, horrible, multi-faceted creatures that you can't help but pity.
As much as I enjoyed this though, I cannot forgive Wolfe for one egregious problem with the book - it has no ending. No real ending, at least. It isn't even a cliffhanger or a setup for a sequel that was never written. It just *is*. We never find out how the whole trial turned out.
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LibraryThing member BarbaraHouston
Written in the bold strokes of a caricature, the book still has the details and insights which capyure the age olf materialism. Filled with many fascinating -- but unsympathetic -- characters, Bonfire oif the Vanities has only one character who comes off positively; I think that's only true because
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he is in a coma for most of the novel.
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LibraryThing member literarilyspeaking1
I absolutely loved this book. I can't count the number of times I laughed out loud.

This was my first Wolfe, but I'd heard he is a gifted prose writer. That is absolutely true. I was trying, over the course of reading this book, to think of how I would describe Wolfe's prose, and the only word I
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could come up with was "crackling." The words just leap off the page and come at you at a rapid-fire pace. Here's an example:

The fever began to rise again. Suppose something did get in the papers ... even a hint ... How could he ever put the Giscard deal together under a cloud like that? ... He'd be finished! ... finished! ... And even as he quaked with fear of such a catastrophe, he knew he was letting himself wallow in it for a superstitious reason. If you consciously envisioned something that dreadful, then it couldn't possibly take place, could it ... God or Fate would refuse to be anticipated by a mere mortal, wouldn't He ...
Wolfe is also great at writing characters. Every single one of the characters in here, with the exception of some of the people we only see in passing, have their little back stories and quirks. That's one of the reasons this novel is so darn long; it takes a lot of time to draw up as many characters as Wolfe does. The one thing I found with this book, though, is that it was a lot like War and Peace for me, in that I didn't really like any of the characters, and I wasn't really sure who I was supposed to like.

I didn't like Sherman at first, mostly because he seemed like a spoiled rich guy who was cheating on his wife. But, as the story progressed, I grew to feel sort of sorry for him, but all that pity ended near the close of the book.

I started out liking Larry Kramer, but quickly sunk in my eyes for a number of reasons, including cheating on his wife and trying to pad his case to make himself look good. I can't stand when characters are unfaithful to their partners. It bugs me in fiction because it's something that bugs me in real life, so I think that's one of the main reasons I couldn't actually like either Sherman or Larry.

One of the things I found really interesting about this book was that every character of a minority persuasion seemed to be a stereotype. I know Wolfe was going for capturing the milieu of New York in the 1980s, and that atmosphere included a lot of prejudice and racial tension between whites and blacks (Not to mention the racial tension is key to his plot), but I think some readers could easily be turned off by the stereotypical nature of a lot of the characters. Personally, the stereotypical characters just made me really, really frustrated because they were just so... annoying ... that I couldn't stand it when they came into the picture.

The character in particular I'm thinking of is Reverend Bacon. He is a preacher who takes the racial cause into his own hands, often blowing situations and facts out of proportion to get noticed. He leads such a vehement campaign against the Bronx District Attorney because he says that the office (Populated by white men) is ignoring the case (In reality, there's basically no evidence to go on for a really long time) that the DA's office, once they finally get Sherman into custody, holds him up as a whipping boy. Sherman's attorney makes certain deals with one of the assistant DAs -- Deals such as quick processing when Sherman's arrested, which are fairly common from what I know of the law -- but those deals are thrown out the window simply because the DA is up for reelection in a highly minority area and he knows that he must pander to the people. I guess, looking back on it, I could say that it's a combination of Bacon's accusations and the DA's political desires that made me mad. I guess that's what Wolfe was going for the whole time. Hmm...

I have to say, though, that the character that I wanted to throttle the most was Peter Fallow, the British tabloid writer. As a former journalist, I tend to get pretty riled up when I see fictionalized journalists portrayed as muckrakers and people who will do anything to get a scoop. That's not how most honest journalists work. But not Peter. He digs and digs and digs, even showing up at Maria's husband's funeral and pressing her for information on the spot. I just wanted to scream at him, "You're what makes people think journalists are bad!"

I'd recommend this book to anyone who likes a scathing look at the justice system, politics, Wall Street or pretty much anything about New York in the 1980s.
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LibraryThing member atomheart
The story is fantastic, but what makes the book so superb is Wolfe's ability to capture the time and setting in which the stories take place in so successfully and articulately; this one being the dynamic times of NYC during the 80's.

So while you're enjoying an entertaining story, you're also
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learning about culture and society during a dynamic time in history, all through the quirky and creative words of Tom Wolfe.
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LibraryThing member Bridget770
Keeping the perspective that my age was single digits during the "Greed is Good" 1980s, I liked this book, but it wasn't a favorite.

The story is amusing, and the satire is thick (and deep and wide). The characters (or should I say caricatures) embody steteotypes: loyal-to-a-fault Irish cop,
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arrogant-yet insecure Wall St tycoon whose wealth is shallow, Southern Belle money digger, underpaid civil servant who craves the spotlight and reassurance from an affair, condescending British journalist who succeeds despite his drunken behavior.

It's a light read. I'm sure I would have enjoyed it more had I spent the 1980s with big shoulder pads and even bigger hair instead of Strawberry Shortcake and My Little Pony.
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LibraryThing member Katie_H
A Fantastic, but very frustrating story, this novel epitomizes New York City in the 80s in a saga of racial and socioeconomic conflict. The story follows the lives of several individuals who are connected to a highly publicized and politicized hit-and-run case. A car belonging to Sherman McCoy, a
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successful, womanizing Wall Street broker and Park Avenue resident, hits a black man in the Bronx. While the man is in a coma, a Harlem preacher seizes the opportunity to advance his political agenda, enticing District Attorney, Abe Weiss, and Peter Fallow, a tabloid journalist, to become involved. The prosecuter jumps at the opportunity to publicly take down the socialite, Sherman, in the name of social justice and equality. All in all, it is an allegorical view of society that is still relevant today, illustrating the dire effects that occur when selfishness overtakes one's life and goals for oneself. The only drawback to this book is its length, it is more than 600 pages, but the action never ceases.
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LibraryThing member latinteacher took me forever to finally finish this book, but I am so glad I finally did. Wolfe hit the mark with his candor and wit, tackling issues of race from perspectives that are unexpected and intelligent.
LibraryThing member wfzimmerman
I don't know if this has met the test of time. [A MAN IN FULL] certainly hasn't.
LibraryThing member boeflak
First-rate mind candy. Life since reading it has presented a multitude of opportunities for revisiting Wolfe's metaphor of the "big swinging dicks." They appear in all walks of life, evidently - not just on Wall Street.
LibraryThing member miketroll
An entertaining satire on racial politics in the 80s. The book's popularity suffered unduly from the backwash of criticism from a poor movie version.
LibraryThing member NativeRoses
Very amusing tale of the rise and fall of an investment banker told against a backdrop of many other new york stories -- cops, DAs, criminals, etc. Highly recommended.
LibraryThing member krizia_lazaro
I had a hard time connecting the book at first because of the plot, which involves financial and law stuff I can't understand and the need to constantly read some parts aloud, e.g. sound effects (is it called onomatopoeia?) and the different accents. Towards the middle, after the accident, I
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started to get interested and towards the end I can't put the book down. You would sympathize with some characters and you would definitely hate some. The book is really interesting just started a bit slow for me. If you're going to read it make sure to know or research Wall Street and lawyer terms/words to make reading easy for you.
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LibraryThing member readingrat
Wonderfully dry satire


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