A Man in Full

by Tom Wolfe

Hardcover, 1998

Call number





Farrar, Straus and Giroux (1998), Edition: 1st, 742 pages


The setting is Atlanta, Georgia - a racially mixed, late-century boomtown full of fresh wealth and wily politicians. The protagonist is Charles Croker, once a college football star, now a late-middle-aged Atlanta conglomerate king whose outsize ego has at last hit up against reality. Charlie has a 29,000-acre quail-shooting plantation, a young and demanding second wife - and a half-empty office complex with a staggering load of debt. Meanwhile, Conrad Hensley, idealistic young father of two, is laid off from his job at the Croker Global Foods warehouse near Oakland and finds himself spiraling into the lower depths of the American legal system. And back in Atlanta, when star Georgia Tech running back Fareek "the Cannon" Fanon, a homegrown product of the city's slums, is accused of date-raping the daughter of a pillar of the white establishment, upscale black lawyer Roger White II is asked to represent Fanon and help keep the city's delicate racial balance from blowing sky-high.… (more)

Media reviews

"A Man Half Full": The longer one reads A Man in Full, the more one comes to decide that no matter its large virtues, it was chosen by the author to be a best seller rather than a major novel... The book has gas and runs out of gas, fills up again, goes dry. It is a 742-page work that reads as if it is fifteen hundred pages long. This is, to a degree, a compliment, since it is very rich in material. But, given its high intentions, it is also tiresome, for it takes us down the road of too many overlong and predictable scenes. Electric at best, banal at worst—banal like a long afternoon spent watching soap operas—one picks it up each day to read another hundred pages with the sense that the book not only offers pleasure but the strain of encountering prose that disappoints as often as it titillates.

User reviews

LibraryThing member NativeRoses
A Man in Full is somewhat forced and puerile. As always, nobody knows better than Wolfe the brand names and price tags of all our gee whiz toys. In Wolfe's world, we are what we own, eat, wear, drive, and shoot, after a heavy day of trading on the commodity-identity exchange.

Wolfe tells us in his pumped up prose style that the pram is British Silver Cross, the furniture is Hepplewhite, the yacht is Hatteras, and the private plane, taken to a condo in Vail, is a Gulfstream 5 with Sky-Watch radar that costs $40 million.

What Wolfe is best at is tapping into our fear of losing the farm (there's a literal farm at risk in A Man in Full). He plumbs the depth of our night-sweat terrors that all our charm and credit will run out, that the banks and other savage tribes are out there waiting to pounce if we under-develop, or over-extend, or park our Lexus in the wrong neighborhood.

Wolfe's still got a Dickensian talent for funny names (a law firm named Tripp, Snayer & Billings; a character named Raymond Peepgass), but he's become superficial and unconvincing as he thumbs his nose at modern art and modern architecture, at black hustlers and white kneejerkers, at multiculturalists, radical feminists, rock and roll music ("Pus Casserole and the Child Abusers"), gay pride ("lesbians wearing paratrooper boots"), and AIDS Benefits:

"Lets Rap for Clap"
"Let's Riff for Syph"
"Let's Go Hug a Dyin' Bugger"
"Let's Pay Our Dues to Pustular Ooze"
"Glory Me -- I Got da HIV"

That's about as profound as he gets on sexuality. On politics, he's even more succinct -- It's all about "seeing them jump."

He's lost the funny, wide-angled lens he employed in The Bonfire of the Vanities. In A Man in Full he's superficial -- an elitist Andy Warhol.
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LibraryThing member davidabrams
One thing’s for sure, Tom Wolfe is no shy, wilting magnolia when it comes to writing fiction that grabs the reader by the eyeballs. In both A Man in Full and his first novel Bonfire of the Vanities, Wolfe’s prose is full-bodied, muscular and in-your-face. On every page, he announces with a trumpet-blare: the Skinny Years of Minimalism are over. It’s time for a return to a fiction brimming with events, characters and ideas.

Contemporary authors like David Foster Wallace and Don DeLillo follow suit by stuffing books full of more victuals than your average Thanksgiving Day turkey. It’s best to keep a napkin handy while reading these tomes.

Those who enjoyed the bites Wolfe took out of the Big Apple in Bonfire, will not be disappointed with the equally lusty mouthfuls he takes from the Big Peach, Atlanta. I must caution you, however, that anyone looking for a travelogue of the New South will be disappointed. I lived in Atlanta for three years and hardly recognized any of the geographic descriptions flowing from Wolfe’s pen. Then again, maybe I just didn’t travel in the right Atlanta society circles.

And society is what A Man in Full is all about. From an art gallery benefit in Midtown to a quail-hunting plantation out in the country to a state prison out in California, Wolfe creates a world of molasses-voiced men and big-haired women that is at once satiric and believable.

This is a sprawling, drawling (and, at times, brawling) novel that revolves around the downfall of one man, Charlie Croker, a has-been football player for Georgia Tech whose 1950s-era glory has long since faded, replaced by layers of corporate blubber. Now, he’s at the peak of his career as a real estate developer. And when I say "peak," I mean that literally—he has nowhere else to go but down. A Man in Full charts Croker’s slide down the slippery slope of bankruptcy, egomania and all-around Southern hubris.

Croker is a big man, in both physical and literary stature. He’s a thick-necked cartoon who condescends to his African-American staff, has the bravery (and stupidity) to pick up a rattlesnake with his bare hands and prizes above everything else his private jet and an original oil painting by N.C. Wyeth. I didn’t feel an ounce of sympathy for this good ol’ boy and, in fact, I was almost delighted to witness his downfall. Croker is a Georgia Job who watches his personal empire stripped away from him.

There are subplots aplenty, as there are in any piece of sprawling literature. There’s the black attorney at an all-white firm who wrestles with whether the color of his skin is too white or too black; there’s the worker fired from one of Croker’s food warehouses who has a truly bad day and winds up in the state prison; there’s the black athlete from Georgia Tech who allegedly assaults a white debutante whose accusation fuels most of the book’s pivotal events; even the mayor gets involved in the soap opera because it looks like good politics. No level in Southern society is spared the poison from Wolfe’s pen. Wolfe takes the antebellum South and turns it on its genteel head. Call it "Gone With the Wind, the Viagra Years."

As he proved in Bonfire of the Vanities, Wolfe has the scope and the humor of a latter-day Charles Dickens. Even the names sprinkled throughout the book echo the great Victorian novelist: Raymond Peepgass, Opey McCorkle, Coach Buck McNutter and (in my mind, the funniest) the law firms Fogg Nackers Rendering & Lean and Wringer Fleasom & Tick. There’s also a horse breeding scene that rivals anything Dickens wrote for its wild humor—your jaw will drop as you watch Croker make a complete fool of himself in the breeding barn. For a taste of Wolfe’s rich prose, read how he sets the stage:

Inside the barn, it took a moment to adjust your eyes to the contrasts of light and dark, since there were no windows in the walls, only a row of clerestory windows under the eaves. All at once, as if on cue, a great shaft of sunlight, vibrating with dust particles, streamed down from one of the little windows and lit up the dirt floor like a stage. There, spotlit by the sunbeam, was a narrow wooden enclosure with low walls, a type of stall known as a stock; and in the stock stood a large pale-bay mare. The warm, heavy, gumbo smell of horseflesh filled the place, suffused every rhinal cavity, permeated your very gizzard.

There’s plenty more lip-smacking prose where that came from in the remainder of this Southern-fried epic.

And yet, and yet…

It took me more than three weeks to work my way through this book. You’d think I’d absolutely love it after devoting that much time to its pages. But I don’t. Oh sure, I greatly admire Wolfe’s ambition and energy, but I was left feeling….well, a little odd and put-out by Croker’s antics. About a hundred pages was all I could take of his self-pity and material excess. There was nothing to love about Croker. Mr. Wolfe should remember that even buffoons need to be loved.

Then there’s the ending. While I was satisfied with how things worked out for the characters, the way Wolfe chooses to tell it—a contrived conversation between the black attorney and the mayor—is clumsy and ill-conceived. After devoting so much care to the rest of the book, Wolfe should have spent a few more hours rewriting the final pages. It was a disappointing epilogue to an otherwise well-crafted work. It left this man, at least, feeling empty.
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LibraryThing member rayski
Rich builder over extends himself, forcing him to betray his closest friends and speak what he not believes.
LibraryThing member mrtall
Although A Man in Full is more deeply flawed than its brilliant predecessor (The Bonfire of the Vanities) it is still an exceptionally entertaining and perceptive work. Wolfe has no contemporary equals in his chronicling of men and maleness; he is the Tolstoy of Testosterone.

A Man in Full traces the converging paths of a bombastic Atlanta property developer, a penniless-but-honorable manual laborer, and a prominent black lawyer as all struggle with the simple question: what does it mean to be a man?

Tremendous stuff.
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LibraryThing member sunnyd13
One of those books that's all over the place without regard of a tight cohesive plot. Wolfe's urban characters are caricatures of reality.
LibraryThing member jaygheiser
Excellent read. Good book, very droll & entertaining. Deals with racial issues like Bonfire does, but it's not as dark.
LibraryThing member Miro
I think of Tom Wolfe's novels as 60% literature and 40%journalism. The tragic humour of the complexity of modern life is v.good - millionaire Charlie's alarms stop him eating in his own kitchen and Conrad losing his way in the administrative time and money traps of the poor.
LibraryThing member Schmerguls
I fond this as compelling reading as I did his Bonfire of the Vanities (read 3 July 2004). The accounts of Conrad Hensley's effot to get his car were frustrating and I had to remind myself it was fiction, so fiercely did Wolfe make me empathize with Conrad. The jail scenes were also difficult reading. But the other parts of the book were full of fascination, and the denouement while a surprise I found satisfying. Hard to accept that Charlie
Croker could be taken with Epictetus, but who can say? He is Wolfe's creation.
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LibraryThing member hilaritas
The discussions of the Stoics are interesting and Wolfe has occasional flashes of insight on the racial politics of Atlanta. However, this book signals his growing distance from the ebb and flow of modern culture and basically makes him look like an old fuddy-duddy. In his efforts to distance himself from certain subcultures that appear in the book (notably black American street culture), Wolfe's attempts at haughty clinical descriptions instead read like an old man who doesn't really understand what he's talking about. This book is clearly intended to be a satire like his older works, but you can't satirize something you don't understand. Unfortunately, Wolfe is too out of touch to realize that he doesn't understand, which is perhaps the Greatest Sin.… (more)
LibraryThing member hilaritas
The discussions of the Stoics are interesting and Wolfe has occasional flashes of insight on the racial politics of Atlanta. However, this book signals his growing distance from the ebb and flow of modern culture and basically makes him look like an old fuddy-duddy. In his efforts to distance himself from certain subcultures that appear in the book (notably black American street culture), Wolfe's attempts at haughty clinical descriptions instead read like an old man who doesn't really understand what he's talking about. This book is clearly intended to be a satire like his older works, but you can't satirize something you don't understand. Unfortunately, Wolfe is too out of touch to realize that he doesn't understand, which is perhaps the Greatest Sin.… (more)
LibraryThing member tgsalter
What a writer! A huge book, a great story with law firms called Fogg, Nackers, Rendering & Lean and Wringer, Fleason & Tick. Satire? You betcha.
LibraryThing member IronMike
I guess we're all entitled to a clunker. But look on the good side, Mr. Wolfe, there's nowhere to go but up from here.
LibraryThing member jwhenderson
I particularly enjoyed the theme of stoicism used effectively by Wolfe. Once again Wolfe creates believable characters straight out of today's headlines. As a Dickens aficianado I see the resemblance and that, I believe, is part of what Wolfe was aiming for. He succeeds in blending his strong characterization with themes that are both topical and timeless in a narrative that is both rich and readable.… (more)
LibraryThing member vguy
A gallery of unfunny grotesques. Dickens without the humour or the social penetration. The culminating story of the guy converting to Stoicism on chance reading of a book and then converting the business man is simply ridiculous. And the importance of a (perjurous) character reference for the raping football star is beyond ridiculous. And what about this strange physiology of Croker flexing his back muscles to flaunt his masculinity? Wolfe should have stuck to journalism at which he was a creative original.… (more)
LibraryThing member tintinintibet
Didn't ring true -- strange to see how an older generation viewed a younger. And an unenlightening view, at that.
LibraryThing member AnnB2013
Funny, insightful, too long. I'll always remember the line when he called the trophy wife's baby "the insurance policy." I also like the description of security guards.
LibraryThing member julierh
i have to try to remember not to forget how much i like tom wolfe. ha ha. i haven't read anything of his in a while but i want to. he is very good.
LibraryThing member AliceAnna
A fabulous book that fizzled at the end. I suppose I expected another earthquake for Charlie, but Zeus has his ways.
LibraryThing member Lukerik
I really enjoyed this. Such a pleasure to find an author with the confidence to unfurl. Thematically there are similarities with Bonfire and the satire is firmly fixed on vanity and pride and social status. I wanted bad things to happen to Croker and good things to happen to Conrad. Excellent ending, which I think raised the level above satire. Very funny throughout… (more)
LibraryThing member dbsovereign
Wolfe's description of the events leading up to a character's imprisonment is priceless! I think we have all had days that just seem to go from bad to worse, but this one takes the cake. Parts of this book reminded me of Koszinki's _Being There_.
LibraryThing member santhony
I first read this book about 25 years ago, and remembered it as being outstanding. So much so, that I purchased it again after having loaned it out and thus losing it forever.

While I remembered the basic premise (a wealthy, peckerwood Atlanta real estate developer goes bankrupt and gets drawn into a racial firestorm), it is the details that make this novel so entertaining.

I’ve read some of the criticisms, and while I concede that some have merit, the simple fact is, this novel is, at times, uproaringly funny, and at other times simply engrossing. The characters are almost Dickens-like in their appeal, from the mid-level loan officer, Ray Peepgas (is that not a Dickens name) to the Black attorney Roger White II, nicknamed Roger Too White to the chief protagonist, Charley Croker (the Sixty Minute Man), Wolfe constantly crafts dialogue that is just too good to be believed.

I must admit I was not wild about the ending, which kind of ran out of steam, but for 600 plus pages, this story was a pleasure to consume for a second time.
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LibraryThing member danisaacrivera
Not the best from Wolfe, but certainly an entertaining read.




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