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The Bonfire of the Vanities

3.81  ·  Rating Details ·  54,004 Ratings  ·  2,040 Reviews
Tom Wolfe's modern American satire tells the story of Sherman McCoy, a Wall Street "Master of the Universe" who has it all - a Park Avenue apartment, a job that brings wealth, power and prestige, a beautiful wife, an even more beautiful mistress.

Suddenly, one wrong turn makes it all go wrong, and Sherman spirals downward in a sudden fall from grace that sucks him into the
Paperback, 690 pages
Published October 30th 2001 by Dial Press Trade Paperback (first published 1987)
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Austin Somlo Oh yes, read the book and see the movie afterwards. You will see why. What a great novel and what an abominable piece of shit the movie was.

Community Reviews

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May 27, 2013 Sparrow rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: JAM, Caris
Recommended to Sparrow by: McKenzie
I hope Tom Wolfe has gotten so laid because of this book. I hope women have put down this book, thrown on some lingerie, and walked over to his apartment – unless Wolfe is gay, in which case, I hope men have done the lingerie thing. I hope women (or men) invented a time machine to travel back in time and lay young Tom Wolfe because of this book. I hope Tom Wolfe has gotten anybody he’s ever wanted – x-ray, lemon tart, girls with any shade of lipstick imaginable, men with impressive sternocleidom ...more
Rajat Ubhaykar
Jul 12, 2015 Rajat Ubhaykar rated it really liked it
This book was a refreshing change from the introspective, thoughtful books I'd been reading. It had been a while since a book had me glued to the bed all day, lying on my right side or lying on my left side, with the A/C turned on or with the A/C turned off, wearing my shirt or not wearing my shirt, with the book in hand or without the book in hand, marveling at a particular turn of phrase or dreaming about juicy jugs and loamy loins (a Wolfism). This lengthy novel at 700 pages was a page turner ...more
Aug 19, 2016 Lyn rated it it was amazing
What an amazing book.

Wolfe not only tells a great story but is a master of the English language and his prose is rich with multi-layered metaphors, symbolism, allusions, and I was fascinated by the various references to Edgar Allan Poe.

I was sorry to finish it. I must now watch the movie again if nothing else to highlight how pale a medium is film when compared to literature.

A modern classic.

Mar 02, 2012 Shovelmonkey1 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: yuppies and lemon tarts
Recommended to Shovelmonkey1 by: 1001 books list
Bonfire of the Vanities is not so much one massive pyre but several large and closely situated camp-fire like conflagrations.

Conflagration 1: Master of the Universe, bond baron and archetypal WASP Sherman McCoy, has reached the top of his particular tree and is enjoying the view from on high while ensuring that his chin is always seen at the right angle. It is nice being at the top of things because well, lets face it, no one wants to be at the bottom. The problem with being at the top of the t
Jonathan Ashleigh
Jan 17, 2016 Jonathan Ashleigh rated it liked it
This book was good but, as are all Tom Wolfe books, it was long winded and there were too many pages and it could have been cut down drastically. And even though it was too long, the ending seemed as though all those pages don't even tell the whole story.
Paul Bryant
Sep 27, 2016 Paul Bryant rated it really liked it
Shelves: novels

Well well, I find I never reviewed this one. It wooshed back into my mind yesterday when I came across the hangover scene in Lucky Jim – Tom Wolfe was clearly trying to go one better with the various hangover scenes suffered by his slimy English journalist character. This is something that happens in art. You like a thing, could be a movie or a novel, and then you find a chunk of it was an artful homage or riff on or nod toward or blatant ripoff of something you hadn’t come across yet. I would g
K.D. Absolutely
Jun 28, 2010 K.D. Absolutely rated it did not like it
Recommended to K.D. by: 100 Must Read Books for Men; 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die (2006 to 2010)
Shelves: 1001-core, guy-lit
This book is noisy. Too noisy that it makes it painful to read. The characters are always talking as if they are all suffering from dialog diarrhea. Not only that. Wolfe likes to capture every single sound from either human or non-human entities in the novel. Take this as an example:

Haw haw haw haw haw haw haw, sang the Towheaded Tenor...Hack hack hack hack hack hack hack, sang Inez Bavardage....Hock hock hock hock hock hock hock hock hock hock hock, bawled his own wife.

or this:

The elevator star
Jul 02, 2007 Chelsea rated it it was amazing
Wow. I started off feeling very lukewarm about this one, mostly because I couldn't get over my distaste for some of the characters. But about 100 pages in I started to feel confused about whom I actually felt sympathetic toward (the only truly good character never gets to speak). 200 pages in, I couldn't stop reading anymore. This book is hilarious in a bitter and infuriating way. It's a study of how people will use each other and not even notice how they are routinely used by other people until ...more
A terrific book! I remember reading a review where someone called him "a day-glo Dickens". I am not personally a big Dickens fan, but presumably the person who wrote this was, and I agree with his sentiment. Wolfe takes apart late 80's US society in the same way Dickens did with British society a hundred years earlier... all the characters are larger-than-life parodies, but that's the charm of it. Both the narrative and the dialogue are hysterically funny. Or at least I thought so - I can see fr ...more
Jan 16, 2012 Noce rated it it was amazing
Ove la recensionista si rianima e decide che potrebbe ancora diventare qualcuno.

Ok sono pronta:

prima guardate questa foto.

Ora questa.

Ora quest’altra.

Chi è l’intruso?

Troppo difficile? Ok, cercherò di rendervi il gioco più facile.

Un attimo che mescolo le carte. Non guardate eh?

Ok, potete girarvi. Prima foto:

Adesso guardate questa:

"I don't care who you are, sometime in your life you're gonna be on the wrong side a the law, and some people got the heart for it and some don't."

Dickens without Dickens, this book with its overkill title (view spoiler) chronicles 1980s New York as Dickens did Victorian London, using the plot as a vehicle to bring the worlds of rich and poor together
Jan 18, 2009 Chris rated it did not like it
Dear Mr. Wolfe,

While I agree that your insistence upon wearing your white suits incessantly allows you to cut a rather eccentric figure, and while I too would have relished the opportunity to cavort with the Merry Pranksters while remaining resolutely sober--in short, sir, as much as I respect and admire your air of debonair Protestant abstemiousness--I must protest. Your prose is by turns flavorless and overbearing, and your endless and unnecessary recourse to ellipsises and the exclamation poi
Apr 16, 2013 Chris rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A hilarious and damning indictment of Wall Street, the media, the criminal justice system, and, well, America. Every element of Tom Wolfe’s novel is virtually flawless--an engrossing plot, memorable scenes, a conversational style of writing replete with sardonic wit, themes both overt and subtle... and the characters, ah, the characters.

Wolfe’s talent lies, I think, in his ability to paint such tragic, deeply flawed characters in a comical yet sympathetic light. The characters are written so viv
Sep 20, 2007 Solitairerose rated it it was amazing
When I am asked what my favorite book ever is, this is one that immediately springs to mind. Wolfe's writing is some of the best of the 20th Century, and this story of investment bankers, homeless people and the collusion between rich and poor is the best explanation of the 80's, and manages to be a story that explains more about an era than any history of the time ever could. Wolfe has moved from recreating how non-fiction was written to a brilliant novelist.
Nov 12, 2015 Justine rated it really liked it
Shelves: library
When a former co-worker recommended I read the Bonfire of the Vanities, he said that it is an economist's book because it is a book about systems rather than individuals. I was intrigued, but held back because 1) let's face it, not the top of my list and 2) David Foster Wallace (love of my literary life) wrote a rather scathing essay about Wolfe and his generation of American writers who are sexist, macho, and generally yucky and unenlightened. After having finished the book, both the economist ...more

It's hard to think of a good quality American novel that better captured a Zeitgeist. In this case it was NYC in the 80s. When I read Wolfe's descriptions of the upper class women in their Park Avenue apartments, I see Carolyne Roehm with her tiny upturned nose and giant shoulderpads. Wolfe is writing about several classes of people, but his brilliance comes out with the uppers rather than the lowers or middles. In a snooty restaurant: "Fallow could see cluster after cluster of men with bald hea
Mikey B.
Feb 09, 2013 Mikey B. rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction
This novel still reads well and remains topical after more than twenty-five years. Mr. Wolfe handles confrontations with great verve and wit – these are confrontations between very distinct groups of people – bankers, district attorneys, ghetto thugs, preachers, journalists, detectives... Mr. Wolfe also perpetuates tremendous momentum through-out this six hundred page book.

His observations of society through these different class groups are astute. For instance the detectives are bewildered by t
Jul 09, 2011 Mark rated it it was amazing
This book is a whole other beast. Throughout Wolfe uses phonetics to great effect in casting his characters in all their brutal-and-suave-tongued rage. The Haves rave against the Have-nots; the Have-nots rage against the rich. And in the end, every single character, the Haves and Have-nots alike, is no better than the other. The only way you win is to embrace your animal nature, the nature to survive at all costs.

I found the character of Peter Fallow dull throughout most of the novel, but as th
Holly Goguen
Jul 06, 2008 Holly Goguen rated it really liked it
Recommended to Holly by:
After reading a few books recently by first-time authors, I felt like I stumbled into the definition of mastery with this book.
It's thick and deeply descriptive, so visceral.... and the language is amazing. Wolfe captures accents so deliciously well that you find yourself speaking the words along with the blend yourself into the sound environment with them.

I've never been so grateful for tightly woven backgrounds and stages so artfully set. I hate being plopped into the lives
May 02, 2009 Jennifer rated it it was amazing
I have to say I don't think I have ever read a novel with such an accurate view of the world. With the exception of little details that dated the novel, I felt like I was seeing (reading?) a snapshot of New York today. Not that it doesn't apply to the rest of the country. If you look at Wolfe's portrayal of the media, the authorities, and race relations and then take a look at your community, you'll see the similarities.
As I was taking a quick break from Trollope, it was refreshing to see a nove
Jul 13, 2014 David rated it really liked it
Shelves: big-white-square
Mental and good fun. Just like New York imagines itself to be. But New York is just annoying.

"Vulgar, but not as vulgar as Louis Vuitton, thought Sherman."

"He gave the boy a wide-eyed smile of such warmth and love, it caused Kramer to swallow"

"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 ... He always insisted on giving His disasters the purity of surprise, didn't
Oct 31, 2008 Madeline rated it it was amazing
Shelves: the-list
This book made a much deeper impression on me than I expected it to. At the very least, I will never look at jury duty in the same way again.
So, the plot in a nutshell: Sherman McCoy, a wealthy investment banker (white, obviously), is driving his mistress home from the airport one night when they take a wrong turn and end up in the Bronx. This ends with them hitting a nineteen-year-old black boy and then driving away. The story follows McCoy trying to cover up the accident while the Bronx detec
Oct 27, 2008 Jason rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction
I finished this last night, and I've been mulling it over all day. On the one hand, Wolfe is a talented writer, capable of creating vivid, visceral scenes. On the other hand, he relies on a lot of crutches, most notably the ellipsis-riddled paragraph to represent the frenzied thoughts of a person in panic.

Wolfe does a remarkable job of creating a bunch of horrible characters who we nonetheless end up having some positive feelings for at the end of the story. However, the reason we end up sympath
Sarah Anne
I think the thing that I took away from this the most was that everyone was so caught up in the perception of justice that they failed to try for actual justice. All of the egos, the greed, the vanity, the arrogance, the self-love, the narcissism was getting in the way.

The book is told from multiple POVs and all of them were quite nauseating. After a bit of time though, I started to see that all of these appalling POVs were actually illustrating all of these lovely qualities that pervaded the 80
Stefania T.
Dec 29, 2014 Stefania T. rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fernanda-pivano

È inutile.
Devo arrendermi all'idea che le frasi da retrocopertina abbiano cominciato ad azzeccarci con una frequenza insolente. "Una grande commedia umana" trionfa saccentemente nella didascalia de Il falò delle vanità senza che io riesca a trovare cavilli per smentirne la veridicità.
Una commedia umana, una sfilata tragicomica (molto tragica e molto comica se si hanno ancora energie per ridere) di tipi-umani, tanto chirurgica da essere agghiacciante e magnifica al tempo stesso.
E se diciamo com
Jan 12, 2017 Barbara rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-long-ago
Classic view of life in New York circa 1985. A million times better than the movie.
Feb 29, 2016 Philip rated it really liked it
I have to admit, I was skeptical of this book before we started reading it. The jordabekcer-book-club choices are always great, but we've been heading down this path of picking only 500+ page books that we wouldn't otherwise read. Maybe they haven't all been that long, but it appears that they will be in the near future.

I guess the thinking is, "If I have to wait 1200 pages of The Stand, 700 pages of Bonfire of the Vanities and 600?+ pages of The First Tycoon, then my pick had better be worth it
Mar 07, 2012 Kwame rated it really liked it
"'Holy fucking shit!" shouted the Yale men and the Harvard men and the Stanford men. "Ho-lee fucking shit.' How these sons of the great universities, these legatees of Jefferson, Emerson, Thoreau, William James, Frederick Jackson Turner, William Lyons Phelps, Samuel Flagg Bemis, and the other three name giants of of American Scholarship-how these inheritors of the lux and the veritas now flocked to Wall Street and to the bond-trading room of Pierce and Pierce! How the stories circulated on every ...more
Aug 16, 2013 Zanna rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: racism, usa
At the time I read this book I was very ignorant about the politics of race in the USA, and reading it introduced me to my whiteness; it thoroughly decentred me and I never thought of myself as the universal again. Subsequently I tried to read some of Wolfe's work on politics and architecture and I couldn't, it was horrendous, and that reminded me that I don't clearly remember the point of The Bonfire, I only remember the dynamics of race and class privilege being played out in a New York I had ...more
Joy H.
Added 1/2/11.
While reviewing my GR shelves, I realized that I had read this book quite a while ago, but failed to include in my GR list of books read. I remember enjoying the book. I also remember that, as usual, the movie didn't come up to the book, for me.

January 29, 2012:
As to the meaning of the book title "Bonfire of the Vanities",
GR member, Margaret [ ] sent me a message which said the following about the title:
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 next »
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Wolfe was educated at Washington and Lee Universities and also at Yale, where he received a PhD in American studies.

Tom Wolfe spent his early days as a Washington Post beat reporter, where his free-association, onomatopoetic style would later become the trademark of New Journalism. In books such as The Electric Koolaid Acid Test, The Right Stuff, and The Bonfire of the Vanities, Wolfe delves into
More about Tom Wolfe...

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“Bullshit reigns.” 62 likes
“Sherman made the terrible discovery that men make about their fathers sooner or later... that the man before him was not an aging father but a boy, a boy much like himself, a boy who grew up and had a child of his own and, as best he could, out of a sense of duty and, perhaps love, adopted a role called Being a Father so that his child would have something mythical and infinitely important: a Protector, who would keep a lid on all the chaotic and catastrophic possibilities of life. ~Tom Wolfe” 26 likes
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