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The Bonfire of the Vanities

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Alternate cover edition of ISBN 9780553381344.

The Bonfire of the Vanities is a 1987 satirical novel by Tom Wolfe. The story is a drama about ambition, racism, social class, politics, and greed in 1980s New York City, and centers on three main characters: WASP bond trader Sherman McCoy, Jewish assistant district attorney Larry Kramer, and British expatriate journalist Peter Fallow.

The novel was originally conceived as a serial in the style of Charles Dickens' writings: It ran in 27 installments in Rolling Stone starting in 1984. Wolfe heavily revised it before it was published in book form. The novel was a bestseller and a phenomenal success, even in comparison with Wolfe's other books. It has often been called the quintessential novel of the 1980s.

690 pages, Paperback

First published November 1, 1987

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About the author

Tom Wolfe

189 books2,565 followers
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 the inner workings of the mind, writing about the unconscious decisions people make in their lives. His attention to eccentricities of human behavior and language and to questions of social status are considered unparalleled in the American literary canon.

He is one of the founders of the New Journalism movement of the 1960s and 1970s.

Tom Wolfe is also famous for coining and defining the term fiction-absolute .


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Profile Image for Meredith Holley.
Author 2 books2,236 followers
May 27, 2013
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 sternocleidomastoid muscles. Anybody! Not that I’m recommending everyone start stalking him. Consent first, of course. But, I wish on Tom Wolfe a lifetime supply of sex and ice cream because of this book. I’m pretty sure he’s gotten it, but just in case, my wish is out there. The idea of writing such a beautiful book kills me. How does it happen? How does someone put something this perfect together? And I don’t even want to know. I just want to read it over and over again, mystery intact.

This book made me scream and gasp and stop, sit, and stare. This is one of the audios I listened to while I walked to work, so the neighborhoods of Eugene had the dubious privilege of waking to my shrieks and hysterical cackling for many mornings in April because of Tom Wolfe. Towards the end, I had to listen in private, so that my sobbing wouldn’t embarrass the neighbors or lead to a meltdown at work. Mixed results.

Wikipedia told me that Wolfe modeled his writing after Thackeray and Dickens. It seems so obvious after you say it, but rather than realizing that, I just kept thinking, I've never read anything like this before. It was something entirely new to me. And it is because it is a book that feels so current and urban, while it clearly has classical structure and the involved plotting of Dickens and Thackeray. When I started, I thought it would probably be too dick-lit for me because it was clearly shaping up to be so hardboiled and because I think of Wolfe being in a whole gaggle of male authors who want to talk about how tough it is to have a penis and be so emotionally unavailable. Boo hoo. I have very little attention for that type of thing. But, this, this. This was wonderful. And it was dick-lit, but it was not in the least self-indulgent. It was even cruel, it looked so hard, and so carefully, at masculinity and cowardice. But, the structure of the plot was like a machine, just in the way that the plots of Thackeray and Dickens are. I could feel the sweat and grease of the writing process on the page, or, rather, hear it in the audio track. This book lives in the foundries of humanity; it is crafted from the fires and steel of the human heart.

For the most part, this book looks at three horrible men and how their egos and senses of puffed-up worthlessness control and destroy their lives. There are a few brilliant recurring themes in the book that I could not love more – the white whale, the Masters of the Universe. This book actually uses He-Man as a recurring metaphor to this beautiful moment where a character, steeped in his own awesomeness yells out in his head, “I have the power!!” So, so, so, so, so, so, so wonderful.

And the courtroom scenes!! Oh, the courtroom scenes. Devastating swoon over those. They made all the hairs on my body stand on end. How can a person describe what happens in a courtroom? Like THIS! This book is what happens in courtrooms. This book is what happens in criminal justice. It got everything just right. The belts and shoelaces, the defendants demanding rights, the defense attorneys running in late because they were in another courtroom, the hot jurors, the underpaid DA. And oh my god, Kramer’s sternocleidomastoid muscles! Remember that?? It made me die laughing every time that came up. I swear to god there is a DA like that in Lane County.

And the part where Martin and Goldberg have to give Sherman his rights. Oh my god. So wonderful.

And Judy.

So, I have nothing insightful to say about this book because . . . just read it. Practically the minute I started reading it, it made me think of a dear friend of mine because of its urban steel and fire, so I will say something about that association because I can clearly only swoon and sigh and flail about when it comes to the book itself. Like the men in this book, there is something strikingly normal about my friend when you first meet him. He is white office shirts, a neat haircut, and clean hands. He is success: a house in the suburbs, two blond children, and a wife who, with a stern hand, makes the family take annual pictures in matching clothes. And then you talk to my friend and find out that he is an evil genius, who has an opinion about everything and a hilarious story about everyone he’s ever met. But, you also know that the suburban thing, the normalcy, is true, too. The layers of his personality include fire and steel, and also funfetti cake, white office shirts, and Kraft singles. I think this book captures something of that kind of layered humanity in Sherman’s office decorum, American aristocratic habits, and bloody knuckles. It shows Kramer’s powerful sternocleidomastoid muscles with his shopping bag and running shoes, Peter’s head in an egg and landing of the white whale, Reverend Bacon’s noble speeches and greedy maneuverings.

I think what I’m trying to say is that it struck me recently, probably at least partly because of this book, that the characteristics we show the world are us, and are not us all the same. None of us are inherently suburban or aristocratic, but our choices to appear those ways reveal something about who we actually are, who we are in the caves and recesses of our souls. Sherman is equally the shallow, self-involved Master of the Universe and the jungle fighter, but he is neither of those. My friend is urban fire and steel, and he is suburban success, and he is neither of those. Wolfe writes the show of humanity in a way that hilariously stages the show, and then digs and hammers into the caves and fiery core of who people are beyond it. Are we the dog trained to fight or the social x-ray in a party hive? The little girl sculpting a rabbit or the little boy commanding an office? Yes and no to all of that. Who we are is something different entirely, but always there, underneath the show - the force behind it. And the way Wolfe builds it all and then tears it all apart - I would never ask so much of a writer, but I am so glad this exists.
Profile Image for Matt.
918 reviews28.3k followers
November 14, 2021
“[H]e could see the island of Manhattan off to the left. The towers were jammed together so tightly, he could feel the mass and stupendous weight. Just think of the millions, from all over the globe, who yearned to be on that island, in those towers, in those narrow streets! There it was, the Rome, the Paris, the London of the twentieth century, the city of ambition, the dense magnetic rock, the irresistible destination of all those who insist on being where things are happening – and he was among the victors! He lived on Park Avenue, the street of dreams! He worked on Wall Street, fifty floors up…! He was at the wheel of a $48,000 roadster with one of the most beautiful women in New York…beside him!”
- Tom Wolfe, The Bonfire of the Vanities

This is one hell of a book. Excuse me, I forgot the exclamation point. This is one hell of a book!

When the Eastern Nebraska Men’s Bibliophile & Social Club (a.k.a. my book club) picked The Bonfire of the Vanities by Tom Wolfe, I thought I had a pretty good idea of what it was about and, ultimately, how it’d make me feel. New York! The 80s! Wall Street and Wall Street; big hair and bigger cell phones; Masters of the Universe and “Greed is Good”. That’s what I expected. Frankly, it did not intrigue me all that much.

Well, The Bonfire of the Vanities is all those things. But it is also much, much more.

This is a big social satire on wealth, class, and race. It is a legal drama. It is – at times – a character study. It is a snapshot of a pre-Giuliani New York City, a New York City not that far removed from The Warriors. Parts of this novel are blackly funny, but a real strain of sadness - bordering on melancholy - runs through it as well. This is 659 hardcover pages written at an exhilarating, exhausting pace, in Wolfe’s trademark style that relies on repetitious phrasing, homophonic speech, internal monologues, plenty of ellipses, and more exclamation points than one cares to count.

The story at the center of this swirling storm is rather simple, and rather relevant. Sherman McCoy is a wealthy white bond trader making close to a million per. He has an attractive, interior designer wife, a young child that he loves, and a mistress that he tells himself he deserves. One fateful night, while driving his mistress back from the airport in his Mercedes, he takes a wrong turn and ends up in the Bronx. There is an incident – one that leaves a young black man in a coma, a community baying for blood, a DA looking for votes, and an ambitious prosecutor looking to impress a girl.

That ambitious prosecutor is Larry Kramer, a Columbia Law School grad who lives in a tiny apartment, takes the subway to work, and wonders where it all went wrong, how his classmates all ended up in white shoe law firms while he shuffles to a Bronx courthouse.

There is a Dickensian sweep to The Bonfire of the Vanities. Wolfe overstuffs his plot with colorfully-named and memorable supporting characters, from Reverend Bacon, a Harlem activist (and seeming Al Sharpton stand-in), to Thomas Killian, a tough Irish lawyer who has forgotten more criminal law than all the fancy firms know combined. Despite the lengthy list of characters (all of whom make impressions), Wolfe focuses on three: McCoy, Kramer, and Peter Fallows, a drunk Brit journalist looking for a sensational story to save his career (and always, in a running gag, looking for someone to buy him dinner and wine). We only get inside these three men, meaning that despite Wolfe’s attempt to give us a broad swath of society, we only see out the eyes of upper and middle class white males. In a book that felt quite modern, the restriction of viewpoints felt like a throwback.

The Bonfire of the Vanities is probably most remembered for its sly dissection of New York City’s upper crust. That tends to undersell Wolfe’s achievement. His reportorial effort is this novel’s real success. There is, for instance, a bleakly hilarious dinner party that feels wildly surreal, but is so acutely observed that you’re left believing Wolfe probably experienced something just like it. And he isn’t just focused on Park Ave. There is a wonderful scene set at the courthouse where the prosecutor Kramer is musing on “the Chow,” the bus loads full of black and Hispanic criminals that are daily fed into the criminal justice system. Wolfe’s forensic probing of American criminal law is magnificent, and reads like something penned by famed street chronicler David Simon. He takes you on an acutely detailed journey through the booking process that is savage, funny, and tense.

One of the wonders of The Bonfire of the Vanities is its tonal shifts. It elicits chuckles one moment, chills the next. At some points it is intimate and subtle; at other points, it is broad to the point of a lampoon. Take, for example, two separate scenes centered on Sherman McCoy. In the first, he has an internal dialogue about not being able to survive on a million a year:

The appalling figures came popping into his brain. Last year his income had been $980,000. But he had to pay out $21,000 a month for the $1.8 million loan he had taken out to buy the apartment. What was $21,000 a month to someone making a million a year? That was the way he had thought of it at the time – and in fact, it was merely a crushing, grinding burden - that was all! It came to $252,000 a year, none of it deductible, because it was a personal loan, not a mortgage…So, considering the taxes, it required $420,000 in income to pay the $252,000. Of the $560,000 remaining of his income last year, $44,000 was required for the apartment’s monthly maintenance fees; $116,000 for the house on Old Drover’s Mooring Lane in Southampton ($84,000 for mortgage payment and interest, $18,000 for heat, utilities, insurance, and repairs, $6,000 for lawn and hedge cutting, $8,000 for taxes). Entertaining at home and in restaurants had come to $37,000…The Taliaferro School, including the bus service, cost $9,400 for the year. The tab for furniture and clothes had come to about $65,000; and there was little hope of reducing that, since Judy was, after all, a decorator and had to keep things up to par. The servants…came to $62,000 a year. That left only $226,000, or $18,850 a month, for additional taxes and this and that, including insurance payments (nearly a thousand a month, if averaged out), garage rent for two cars ($840 a month), household food ($1,500 a month), club dues (about $250 a month) – the abysmal truth was that he spent more than $980,000 last year.

This passage is supposed to make us sneer at Sherman McCoy and his absurd 1%-er problems. And we do. There are several scenes pointing out the ridiculousness of Sherman’s life; how his career as a bond trader adds nothing to the world.

But Wolfe is not content with hammering this single dimension of Sherman’s character. Later, in a much different scene, we come along with Sherman as he visits his aging father to tell him that he is in trouble. His father, a once-successful lawyer Sherman refers to as “the Lion”, wants to help. But time has passed his father, and Sherman recognizes that all his dad’s old boy connections, his once-vaunted reputation, none of it matters.

[I]n that moment Sherman made the terrible discovery that men make about their fathers sooner or later. For the first time he realized 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. And now that boy, that good actor, had grown old and fragile and tired, wearier than ever at the thought of trying to hoist the Protector’s armor back onto his shoulders again, now, so far down the line.

The Bonfire of the Vanities is studded with poignancies along with the social criticism. It makes for a much richer literary experience, and one that grounds the more ridiculous elements (such as a man dying at a fancy restaurant, and the maître d’ forcing the police to take the body out a bathroom window) in an elemental truth.

This is by no means a perfect book. As I mentioned above, it is short on developing black and female characters. The end is also far too farcical for my taste. There are a lot of storylines that end rather abruptly, or are never resolved at all.

The imperfections pale in comparison to the accomplishment. A panorama of an American city at a very specific time that nevertheless feels utterly timeless.
Profile Image for Perry.
632 reviews516 followers
July 30, 2022
"Bullshit reigns."
The Bonfire of the Vanities, Tom Wolfe

A brilliant and shrewdly constructed satire of mid-1980s America, particularly NYC. The Bonfire of the Vanities is big, biting and humorous. Wolfe belted NYC/USA with jab upon jab--each simultaneously ruthless and fun--burning: the Wall St. excesses; tabloid journalism; the social set; high profile racial violence as in Howard Beach, Queens, 1986; the justice system, men's egos; insatiable sexual appetites and infidelities; politics, politicians; vigilante justice a la Bernie Goetz (who in 1982 shot a group of black men attempting to mug him on the subway) and exploitative narcissists who parade as "reverends," seeking self-promotion with fingers in the spigots flowing to and from community redevelopment.

I love E. L. Doctorow's definition of satire, that its "nature is to be one-sided, contemptuous of ambiguity, and so unfairly selective as to find in the purity of ridicule an inarguable moral truth.” Wolfe audaciously accomplished this in Bonfire, mounting a mirror in front of NYC.

The novel follows three primary characters:

Sherman McCoy, the chief character, is an arrogant WASP bond trader who lives in a expensive co-op on Park Avenue. Sherman runs into trouble when he gets lost at night in the Bronx with Maria Ruskin, his 20-something voluptuous Southern mistress.

Peter Fallow, a has-been, acarine British expat journalist, is an alcoholic trying to tread water at a NYC tabloid until fed a story about a comatose black kid, a victim of a hit-and-run in the Bronx by a white couple in a rich man's car. The Right Reverend Reginald Bacon--a mix between the Reverends Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton--is trying to manipulate the tabloid into exploiting the racial aspect only. Fallow is along as more of an outside observer of the Manhattan and American culture, to wit:
"Like more than one Englishman in New York, he looked upon Americans as hopeless children whom Providence had perversely provided with this great swollen fat fowl of a continent. Any way one chose to relieve them of their riches, short of violence, was sporting, if not morally justifiable, since they would only squander it in some tasteless and useless fashion, in any event."
Last, Larry Kramer, a Jewish assistant DA assigned to the Bronx, is being pushed by the media-hogging DA to make an arrest that will make a splash for his upcoming re-election campaign.. Larry constantly questions his career path in public service and seeks recognition for something other than the obscure, low-publicity cases he prosecutes every day in the Bronx.

Nabokov observed that “satire is a lesson [and] parody is a game.” Yet, in Bonfire of the Vanities, Wolfe has created a splendid satire that felt like a game, in being both fun and funny, as well as an enlightening lesson on the excesses of American culture, particularly in the 1980s.
Profile Image for Lyn.
1,868 reviews16.5k followers
October 14, 2017
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.

Profile Image for Paul Christensen.
Author 6 books122 followers
May 13, 2019
This vicious satire on multiculturalism would never be published by a mainstream publisher today.

The only reasons it was in 1987 were that:

(a) Wolfe was already famous;
(b) Wolfe has a BASED Jewish judge (lol) laying down the law in the penultimate chapter (though the judge's real motive seems to be misanthropic hatred of the mob);
(c) It is written so cleverly that many readers will read into it whatever they want…some leftists even interpret it as a satire on ‘white corporate greed’.

Wolfe’s sprawling novel has many themes, some of the more important ones are:

1. White ethnic disloyalty…more accurately, WASP ethnic disloyalty, as Catholic whites like Irish and Italians are shown as having ethnic networks, while the WASP central character loses all his friends as soon as his name is dragged through the mud (this is the true meaning of the Savonarola reference in the book's title).

2. The lying media. One of the chief villains is a British journalist called Fallow (supposedly modelled on Christopher Hitchens), and nearly all journalists in the book are treated as the baying, slavering pack animals they are.

3. The Black-Jewish rift. Jews spearheaded the Black Civil Rights movement of the 60s, and were pissed when certain blacks like Farrakhan turned against them.

4. The degeneracy of big cities like New York.

5. The 80s stock and bond trading bubble, which burst right after this book was published (Oliver Stone’s ‘Wall Street’ came out the same year).

A truly fantastic novel. Highly recommended.
Profile Image for Brian.
688 reviews334 followers
January 7, 2021
“Who but an arrogant fool would want to be a Master of the Universe?”

Reading “The Bonfire of the Vanities” was my first experience with Tom Wolfe. He had an extraordinary ease and facility with words. He is erudite without being pretentious. I also enjoyed his skill at writing chapter titles. Some examples: “Saturday’s Saturnine Lunchtime”, “The Last of the Great Smokers”, “Donkey Loyalty”. They are fun and apt to what the chapter details.
This novel primarily focuses on three men; Sherman McCoy (a creature of Wall Street, breeding & wealth), Peter Fallow (a British journalist who was brought to NYC on a cloud of high expectations and has not met them), and Larry Kramer (a self-serving assistant district attorney for the Bronx). Mr. Wolfe brings the lives of these three disgruntled and selfish residents of NYC in the 1980s together in a seamless and enjoyable method in this text.
Tom Wolfe writes the ambiguities of self-perception with a keen eye. I have yet to read an author who so expertly writes about the arrogances we ALL have about ourselves, but would never divulge to others, with such a perceptive perspective on it. This is excellently illustrated in the text when we also get the contrast of what the characters think about themselves and their qualities compared to how others see them. For instance, one character sees himself as witty and delightful company; others see him as a loud drunk. Mr. Wolfe makes it clear to the reader that the more accurate reality of these characters is the version of them that is seen through the eyes of other people.
As alluded to already, Wolfe’s characterizations are biting and frustrating in a good way. Especially harsh is his scathing satire of racial hucksters in the vein of Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson through the character of Rev. Bacon. This crook who uses racial politics to steal, self-aggrandize and generally make the world a worse place for those he pretends to help made me angry to read, but its inclusion in the novel is key to the larger themes of how politics, media and class envy can pervert justice.
Having said that, although the protagonist (Sherman McCoy) is unfairly treated in this text’s conclusion (you will have to read it for yourself to see how) he almost deserves it on the grounds of his behavior. Except disgusting behavior is not illegal. It really puts the logical reader in a hard place. In chapter 14 we watch as unmitigated hubris makes a man, who knows better, make all of the wrong moves in a moment that will alter his life forever. Every wrong decision McCoy makes is prompted by his arrogance alone. He even has the unmitigated gall to think, “And whatever happened, he was morally correct (nothing to fear from God).” As if he has God’s hands tied! That one line says so much about people’s modern mentality.
My major complaint with the text is the Epilogue, written as a newspaper article published 1 year after the events of the final chapter. It is cheap and irritating. In a word, I hated it. Mr. McCoy is the only character who really pays any price for his bad choices, and since almost every male character in the text makes an abundance of bad choices, I did not like the unfairness of it. That was the point, I get it, but I did not need it. The text would have been better if it had ended at the conclusion of the final chapter.
Regardless I read this almost 700-page book in under 2 weeks and enjoyed it every time I picked it up. It is just as relevant today as it was in its publishing year, 1987. That in itself is enough to justify your attention.
Profile Image for Rajat Ubhaykar.
Author 2 books1,644 followers
July 12, 2015
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 to say the least and this wasn’t because the plot was wildly inventive or the characters were oh-so-adorable. I turned the pages for Wolfe. Oh, bloody Wolfe!

Reading Tom Wolfe’s prose is akin to subjecting your nostrils to heavy grey diesel fumes from the rear end of an ancient goods carrier truck; acidic, overwhelming but also strangely, perversely pleasant if you are inclined towards such guilty pleasures.

He is a lyrical impressionist. He uses unconventional adjectives and innovative phrases which make sense only at the end of a sentence. And then too, not completely. You only have the impression of what he means. A very fertile impression I sowed and watered to reap a colorful picture of 1980s America.

He possesses the elusive qualities of an excellent satirist, that of unsparing, sharp observation. In other words, he is the reigning king of the suave smartasses. He brandishes a sword from his slovenly sheath every time he introduces a character and cuts him into delicious little literary pieces until all that is left behind is the most shameful of desires and the most hideous of hypocrisies. As a result, most of his characters seem like arrogant, selfish little twits at the outset. It is one of Tom Wolfe’s great achievements as an author that by the end of the book, he had me sympathizing with most of them. It’s not their fault they are that way. We are all hypocritical, we are all terrifyingly materialistic. We’re all the tightest of assholes. Our inner worlds are equally fucked up. These are the just the ones he chose to write about, the news-worthy assholes. But it is in no outright cynical vein that he writes about these buggers. He finds them endearing, these cogs and kings scrambling for their own wants, using each other shamelessly. Quid pro quo. The New York spirit of bonhomie.

The Bororo Indians, a primitive trible who live along the Vermelho River in the Amazon jungles of Brazil, believe that there is no such thing as a private self. The Bororos regard the mind as an open cavity, like a cave or a tunnel or an aracade, if you will, in which the entire village dwells and the jungle grows. In 1969 Jose M.R. Delgado, the eminent Spanish brain physiologist, pronounced the Bororos correct. For nearly three millennia, Western philosophers had viewed the self as something unique, something encased inside each person’s skull, so to speak. “Each person is a transitory composite of materials borrowed from the environment.” said Delgado. The important word was transitory, and he was talking not about years but about hours. He cited experiments in which healthy college students lying on well-lit but soundproofed chambers, wearing gloves to reduce the sense of touch and translucent goggles to block out specific sights, began to hallucinate within hours.

This excerpt merely hints at it and the title pretty much screams it out, but The Bonfire Of The Vanities is a lesson in humility, it’s underlying theme being the lack of control we exercise over our lives irrespective of our wealth, intelligence, power or success, its distilled message being “The Man can get to you before you can get your pants on.” It’s an examination of the axes of conflict that run through a society; class, caste, language, religion and gender. Through its characters, it irreverently assesses the different realities we partake of, how our prejudices and our beliefs which no matter how we justify it, are nothing but a product of our station in society. Man is inseparable from his environment, says Wolfe in loud, clear, refreshingly original words.

We have the protagonist: bond trader Sherman McCoy, self-titled Master Of The Universe, star asshole of Pierce and Pierce, an exclusively white Wall Street firm. He is wedged between a Social X Ray wife whom he despises not-so-secretly (he can drop a ball from the top of her head and hit the floor without encountering anything in between) and a Southern Lemon Tart endowed with luscious lips, undulating hips and exuberant breasts. After a clandestine meeting with his Lemon Tart at the airport, he mistakenly drives into the Bronx. Mean kids Pimp Roll down its grimy streets at night and men beat their wives with glorious abandon, certainly not a place for an eminent upstanding citizen like himself to be loitering around after sundown. A stray tire is thrown in the way of his shiny Mercedes and he screeches and skids the car to a halt. A fierce scuffle ensues after two African-American boys slouch suggestively towards their car. As they make their sweet escape from this attempted carjacking (so they think), his mistress runs down one of the boys. None of them bother to inform the police hoping the thing will magically disappear. Of course it doesn’t.

The aftermath is a circus courtroom trial that takes us through the lives and minds of an ensemble cast of characters firmly hitched to the wagon on their individual roads to greater success; a seedy alcoholic journalist Peter Fallow looking for the big scoop to revive his sagging career; a Bronx assistant district attorney with rippling muscles and an inferiority complex Larry Kramer; canny black political leader Reverend Reginald Bacon; all of whom gleefully use this incident to further their own selfish interests. Through these characters, Wolfe writes about a selfish, behind-the-back—badmouthing America obsessed with image. He cuts through the gloss and grime and reveals the petty minds of rich folk, poor folk, White folk, Black folk, Irish folk, Jewish folk, people who say doesn’t, people who say don’t, people who say tawkin’, people who call Sherman Shuhmun, bros who Pimp Roll, people who laugh hack hack hack hack, people who go heh heh heh heh, people who go ho ho ho ho, people who go haw haw haw haw. Ah, but then it's all so funny ain't it? Wolfe certainly makes it seem so.
Profile Image for Blaine.
749 reviews609 followers
October 16, 2020
Let us not speak about the dreadful movie that was made from this novel, starring the normally reliable Tom Hanks. Put that out of your mind. Let’s just focus today on the book, which I first read in the late 1980s. I loved it, loved it enough that I read all of Tom Wolfe’s subsequent novels, even though none of them lived up to this one, Mr. Wolfe’s (R.I.P.) fictional masterpiece.

The plot of the story surrounds an automobile accident in which a young black man is struck and left in a coma. Sherman McCoy, a self-described “Master of the Universe” who earns a million dollars a year as a bond trader yet still lives beyond his means, is arrested for the accident. And make no mistake, it’s a good story, with some great courtroom scenes.

But what makes the book is the quality of the writing and the detailed descriptions within. Wolfe brings his reporter’s background to bear as he describes so many different pieces of 1980s New York City, from the DAs and cops tackling street crime to Upper West Side dinner parties. His characters, major and minor, are richly drawn and constantly entertaining, in particular Reverend Bacon, an Al Sharpton-like figure ready to turn the accident into a crusade, and Peter Fallow, the British muckraking tabloid writer, who falls into this story and makes the most of it. And the writing itself is gold, with great dialogue and inner monologues, and often powerful exposition:
And in that moment, Sherman made the terrible discovery that men make about their fathers sooner or later. For the first time he realized 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 as 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. And now that boy, that good actor, had grown old and fragile and tired, wearier than ever at the thought of trying to hoist the Protector's armor back onto his shoulders again, now, so far down the line.

There has been more than one Great American Novel, a novel that perfectly captures its time and place in America. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. The Great Gatsby. To Kill A Mockingbird. I would submit that The Bonfire of the Vanities and its perfect, satirical portrayal of 1980s New York City, is a worthy addition to the list of such novels. A must read.
Profile Image for Manny.
Author 29 books13.6k followers
June 4, 2009
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 from the other reviews that there are different opinions about the book.

Let me give you some examples of passages I enjoyed. Appalling egomaniac Sherman McCoy (horribly miscast as Tom Hanks in the movie) spends his life trading bonds, an occupation that has suddenly become very hot. His son likes the He Man series, and Sherman goes around thinking of himself as a "Master of the Universe". He drives to the airport to pick up his equally dreadful mistress, who's in a foul mood.

What happened? he wonders. She tells him about the snotty English scriptwriter who sat next to her on the flight. He's on his way to Hollywood to work on a movie treatment of Christopher Marlowe's Doctor Faustus. Will Mr. Marlowe be helping you? wonders the mistress. "I shouldn't think so," says the snotty scriptwriter, "He's been dead for 400 years." The mistress is indignant - she was hurt by the "I shouldn't think so". Are you supposed to know who Christopher Marlowe was? Sherman thinks about it, but the only thing he can remember about Christopher Marlowe is that you're supposed to know who he was.

The mistress is married to a much older, extremely wealthy man. Her motives for marrying him are transparently obvious. Another character is speculating about how she picked him. "You know, I bet she studied the actuarial tables," he says disgustedly. "I bet she actually went and studied the fucking actuarial tables."

Well... it's that kind of humor. Don't read it if you expect the author to be nice to anyone, or show them an inch of mercy. He won't.

Profile Image for Jonathan Ashleigh.
Author 1 book118 followers
January 18, 2016
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.
Profile Image for Jan-Maat.
1,548 reviews1,821 followers
July 21, 2020
"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 chronicles 1980s New York as Dickens did Victorian London, using the plot as a vehicle to bring the worlds of rich and poor together. In a city we all breath the same air and yet can live in entirely different universes until some grimy minded novelist makes explicit how those worlds intersect. The Bonfire of the Vanities is one of those shock novels of the modern city that periodically need to be rewritten as writers realise that modernity has moved on while the city still remains the site of cultural collisions, social crashes and the battlefield of possibilities that need to be toned down to render them fit for fiction.

Rent controlled living alongside Park Avenue wealthy people who find it too déclassé to use a mortgage to buy their apartments, while the criminal justice system consumes the person caught in its jaws, slowly and thoroughly until they are no more than a professional defendant . Here is the fear of the mugger on the subway, the Masters of the Universe battle it out on Wall Street, while cultures shift like tides through the institutions of the City and the established power structures of the city's government give way to the terrible clamour of the media and those who can manipulate it. However, all the same, if you are in the police then you still get to become a honorary Irishman, reflecting the social construction of the city a hundred years earlier.

On the other hand in its morality this is a thoroughly unDickensian novel . There is no moral high ground, no feeling of the peculiar horror of poverty and if the foreigners are untrustworthy - so are all the natives. And so the question remains, is it a bonfire of the vanities or appreciative indulgence in their richness and variety?
Profile Image for Fernando.
680 reviews1,094 followers
September 27, 2022
"Con una mentira es posible que engañes a alguien; pero cualquier mentira te dice a ti mismo una gran verdad indiscutible: eres débil."

Sherman McCoy lo tiene todo en el mundo. Es un "Lobo de Wall Street", un exitosísimo agente financiero que le hace ganar millones de dólares en la Bolsa de Nueva York a la empresa Pierce & Pierce en la que trabaja. Es el "Amo del Universo", como suelen decir en la jerga del mundillo de las finanzas.
Tiene una esposa fiel, Judy, una adorable hija de seis años llamada Campbell, viste trajes de 2.000 dólares, vive en una mansión de 3.200.000 dólares en uno de los barrios más top de Nueva York y es absolutamente feliz.
Y también tiene una amante llamada Maria Ruskin, esposa de un acaudalado empresario.
Todo parece estar bajo control, pero claro… no todo es perfecto en la vida.
Un día sucede algo que él nunca se habría imaginado: volviendo en su lujoso Mercedes Benz deportivo color negro desde el aeropuerto y mientras lleva a su amante de regreso a su “nidito de amor”, sucede lo impensado.
Equivoca el camino de vuelta y se mete en una boca de lobo, una traicionera calle sin salida del Bronx, barrio mayoritariamente pobre y poblado de negros, portorriqueños y mexicanos.
Queriendo escapar del lugar se topa con dos muchachos negros, quienes al parecer no dejan claro si lo quieren ayudar o robar.
Sherman se asusta, Maria también. Escapan y golpean con el auto a uno de ellos, un supuesto muchacho emblema del barrio y futura estrella llamado Henry Lamb y se dan a la fuga.
Es a partir de este punto que comienza un auténtico descensus ad inferos para McCoy y todo se transformará en un auténtico desastre para él.
Para muchos, esta novela de Tom Wolfe, el último dandy de la literatura luego de Oscar Wilde es la mejor de la década de los ’80.
Narrada de manera dinámica y con todos los ingredientes necesarios para aportarle sustento al argumento, nos sumergimos en todas las peripecias que el destino tiene preparadas para Sherman.
Es a partir de que un alcohólico y simple periodista llamado Peter Fallow descubre el caso que se destapa una auténtica caja de Pandora para nuestro héroe.
Una cosa va llevando a la otra; la investigación va tomando forma.
Fallow comienza a publicar sendas notas en el “City Light”, diario para el que trabaja. Todo va saliendo a la luz, cuando el caso se hace público, el vice fiscal de distrito llamado Larry Kramer, apoyado por el Reverendo Bacon, clérigo impulsor de los derechos de los negros y de Annie Lamb, madre de Henry Lamb, comienza a llevar el caso hacia el juez Abe Weiss, quien busca utilizarlo como plataforma para su reelección en la Corte.
El gran acierto de Wolfe es la de contarnos esta historia en la que se pone sobre el tapete la naturaleza del hecho cometido por McCoy: el de un hombre blanco y millonario que de forma supuestamente impune, choca y mata a un hombre de color.
El circo mediático en torno a su detención y juicio es seguido por toda la sociedad y sin golpes bajos, aunque se ponen de manifiesto temas tan actuales y siempre controversiales como el racismo y la discriminación.
Todos los sucesos de la detención de Sherman McCoy y del juicio al que es llevado hacen que Tom Wolfe destaque de manera rutilando su forma de contarnos la historia, a punto tal de que no tiene ni fisuras ni divagues.
Eso sí: la novela es de una extensión considerable. Mi edición posee 738 páginas y a veces contiene ciertos pasajes lentos que de todos modos no complican la lectura del libro.
Es muy interesante la destreza con la Tom Wolfe describe los tres ambientes en los que se desarrolla la historia: por un lado el frenético mundo bursátil y de las finanzas; en segundo término el del ámbito judicial y por último el sórdido mundillo del periodismo amarillista.
“La hoguera de las vanidades” es una novela intensa y atrapante.
La enseñaza que nos deja es la de advertirnos que la vida siempre puede darnos giros imprevistos como a Sherman McCoy para plantearnos situaciones sumamente comprometidas y que nunca (esto debemos tenerlo siempre presente) la atravesaremos sin dificultades.
February 24, 2020
Γύρω απο την πυρά της ματαιοδοξίας χορεύει η ανθρωπότητα, η φωτιά αναζωπυρώνεται συνεχώς
απο αμαρτίες και ανομολόγητα ή χιλιοειπωμένα πάθη και λάθη, απο χάρτινες καρδιές,
πλαστικές συνειδήσεις σαν πιστωτικές κάρτες απαλλαγής τύψεων και εξόφλησης με πίστωση.
Οι αποδείξεις ανάληψης ευθυνών εκδίδονται σε φθηνό χαρτί για να αποφεύγεται η δραματική αυταπάτη όταν θρυμματίζεται.

Το συγκεκριμένο βιβλίο θα μπορούσε εύστοχα
να χαρακτηριστεί σαν το μυθιστόρημα της αποτυχίας του ανθρώπινου πνεύματος που χρωματίζει μια σκληρά ειλικρινή εικόνα της ηθικής που αργοπεθαίνει απο έλλειψη αυτογνωσίας.
Κάπου στα τέλη του 20ου αιώνα και ευρύτερα ίσως, κάπου ανάμεσα στο πάντα και το επαναλαμβανόμενο ψέμα, στην κοινωνία της ηδονής των εξουσιών και του οργασμού των εξουσιαστών κάθε θεσμού και φορέα με επίκτητες ανεπάρκειες τιμής και εκτεταμένες προσδοκίες αισχρής και βιωματικής κερδοσκοπίας.

Δεν υπάρχουν ήρωες σε αυτή την ιστορία, υπάρχουν κομμάτια απο χαρακτήρες που μεταβάλλονται στα σκοτάδια των ελαττωματικών προφητειών,
των ανίερων ευχών για μια αποκάλυψη στη γη
της απύθμενης άγνοιας, στην χώρα της ανυπόστατης φύσης, στην άστοργη επικράτεια της ατομικής μάχης
με το φρικτό και ακατάσχετο Εγώ.
Όταν αρχίζει να πλησιάζει στην πυρά, μεθυσμένο
απο την απόλαυση του «φαίνεσθαι» και δυστυχώς αδύναμο να αντισταθεί στην υστερία των καιρών
και την ιστορία των κατασκευασμένων ζωών,
καίγεται απο τις φλόγες των ψεμάτων, της εξαπάτησης και της διαφθοράς.

Ο συγγραφέας καταφέρνει με ήπια καταστροφικές σκέψεις να αναδείξει τις φανταστικές, κατασκευασμένες ανθρώπινες σχέσεις προσεκτικά και ανελέητα σε ένα δίκτυο απο κυκλώματα που τολμάμε να ονομάζουμε «κοινωνία».

Εκεί, εκτελούνται με επιτυχία συνήθως υπόγειες εκθέσεις παιχνιδιών τρόμου και λαγνείας
που αποσκοπούν στην κυριαρχία
και την επιτηδευμένη καταδίωξη πολιτικής ορθότητας
σε ένα σύμπαν ρατσισμού, ανώτερης χοντροκοπιάς, κληρονομικής αγένειας ευγενών, σε εκφυλισμένες αριστοκρατίες κάθε ράτσας απωθημένων και κάθε είδους μεταλλαγμένων ανθρώπινων ιδιοτήτων.
«Η Πυρά Της Ματαιοδοξίας» έσβησε εδώ
και έσκυψε με οριακή προσέγγιση να μπερδευτεί με την ταυτοποίηση της ανθρώπινης φύσης.

Καλή ανάγνωση.
Πολλούς ασπασμούς.
Profile Image for Paul Bryant.
2,194 reviews9,471 followers
September 28, 2016

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 give you ten examples of this but it's late.

This novel has a few problems, let’s mention two obvious ones – the movie, which is a hideous wreck, that is going to put you off, and the author, who can be a pain in the arse with his white suit posing and annoyingness. Also, Tom Wolfe's writing style will not be everyone's decaffeinated macchiato, this perpetual speedy hipster high level ranting, it will be a problem if you don’t like it. Well, you might like it in small doses (his great early essays) but this is a whopping dose. Also, he does kind of get a big idea about American society (hey, it’s really racist and class-ridden) and beat that idea dead, page after page. Also, all said and done, this book is a cartoon, Tom Wolfe writes in cartoons. It's not grown-up. It's a comedy. Also, it’s very passe, you know, we’ve had Rodney King and OJ Simpson and Trayvon Martin, we’ve seen all Spike Lee’s movies, even the bad ones, it's all old hat. This hat is old.

But I thought this was a great top-of-division-two novel, for all that. If you have room in your reading for guilty pleasures, you could do much worse. If Tom Wolfe gets you on his wavelength you will be lolling for a whole week.
Profile Image for Steven  Godin.
2,377 reviews2,253 followers
June 18, 2022
One of the great American novels from the second half of the 20th century, and probably in my top three novels set in New York. One of the others being American Psycho; with the fictional Wall Street investment firm of Pierce & Pierce cropping up in both. Anyway, I absolutely loved it! 720 pages of raw energy that simply raced by before my eyes! Wolfe really does write in such a way that there is only one way to read him - and that's quickly!
Filled with dozens of brilliant scenes/set pieces; in which Wolfe works his ass off to get every last bit of juice from every situation, a really engrossing strong story line, and in Sherman McCoy one of the most unforgettable central characters I've come across. Mind you, a lot of the supporting cast were memorable too - including Killian the Lawyer, Fallow the journalist, and assistant district attorney Kramer.
The final explosive courtroom scene really packs a wallop too!
Wow! - just wow! The whole darn book - just WOW!
Profile Image for Baba.
3,560 reviews857 followers
April 30, 2023
A literary best seller then was remade as a movie. The UK Sunday Times -->
"The air of New York crackles with an energy that causes the Adrenalin to pump, until one has the illusion that this is where the whole of life is taking place. The feeling is perfectly reproduced in Wolfe's novel, which opens such cans of worms as racial hostility, dress codes, political labelling and the cynical opportunism that governs every action. It's, well, electric"
... perfectly sums up how I feel about this great book! 8 out of 12, Four Stars.

2014 read
Profile Image for K.D. Absolutely.
1,820 reviews
June 28, 2010
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 starts down. It's overpowering hot inside. All jammed together. Aaah, aaaahh, aaaaaaah, aaaaaaaahhhh. Sherman realizes it's himself, gulping for air, himself and Quigley, too and Brucie and the other court office, the fat one. Aaaaah, aaaaahhhh, aaaaaaahhhhhh, aaaaaaahhhhhhhh, aaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhh.

There are many, many of those in the novel and they all make me dizzy and I want to vomit. I have been busy and a bit pressured last week and this 690-page painful-to-read novel did not help in anyway. Wolfe's writing reminds me of the many kids plays I used to share with my now in the overseas elder frugal brother:

Kuya: (while holding an old paint brush) Meron akong airplane! Wooooooo.... tsoooooong.....weeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee (and the paint brush flies)

Me (while holding a broken flashlight) Ako naman ay barko! Tsug tsug tsug tsug wuuuuuuuuuuuu pot pot! (and the flashlight sails)

Kuya:: (the paint brush goes near my flashlight) Bobombahin daw ng airplane ko ang barko mo para lumubog! Swisssssssh.... Ratatatatat..... KABOOOM! (and he kicks my flashlight).

Me: (i run to the kitchen and shout) Nanay, o si Kuya ......!

If I were a teenager or a lot younger, this novel The Bonfire of the Vanities (first published in 1987) could have been an enjoyable read. It tells us about New York in the 80's at the time when the racial discrimination cases were still rampant. Go to Wikipedia and read the historical background of this novel:

In 1982, there was black guy Willie Turks, who was murdered in the Gravesend section of Brooklyn and in 1986, another black guy Michael Griffith in Howard Beach, Queens. Both guys were killed by whites. In another episode was a reversal of role and it that became a subject of much media attention, white guy Bernhard Goetz became something of a folk-hero in the city for shooting a group of black men who tried to rob him in the subway.

I could make a long litany of how the characters in this novel participate in the circus trial. How the 39-y/o WASP, Yale educated, Park Avenue resident, Wall Street financier Sherman McCoy losses everything when his Mercedes car sideswipes an 18-y/o black honor student, dreaming to enter college but poor Henry Lamb. How Sherman's mistress Maria Teresa Ruskin tries to evade her responsibility (she is the driver at the time of the incident) by going to Italy. How the black preacher Reverend Bacon is planning to make money out of black communities' anti-racial sentiment. How a lowly report Peter Fallow wins the Pulitzer award by being always in the right place and time releasing scoops about the case no matter how devious are the ways he gets his information. How the second-rate District Attorney Lawrence Kramer rises to fame and fortune by manipulating the black community and turning it into a mob heckling the court proceedings. I could write a nice anti-apartheid review and use big words to express my sentiments and flatter my Goodreads friends who care to read my review.

However, I will not do that because I hate this novel. Reasons:

1. This came into a time when I was not in the mood for this kind of noisy novel. My head is dizzy from working at extended hours and reading 690-page noisy novel when I come home is a torture.

2. I could not relate to this novel's setting. I have not been to New York so I have no idea of the locale. How could Sherman missed a turn, from picking up Maria at the airport, and found themselves in the Bronx. Then they tried hard to find the Manhattan Bridge that would be their only way to go back to downtown New York. Neither do I have any idea of how Park Avenue and those high-class apartments look like.

3. I could not relate to this novel's characters. I have not been into a court and I am no lawyer. I have not had any real interactions with black people. I have not been into a trading floor. I only have Petron stocks that I bought through SSS loan many years ago and I don't know what to do with those. I have not been incarcerated but only saw those gruesome filthy pens in the movies or read in the books, recently for example in Brendan Behan's Borstal Boy.

However, because of Wolfe's writing style, I think this is one of the cases when I think a movie adaptation (1990 starring Tom Hanks, Melanie Griffith and Bruce Willis - see how young they were in the book cover) will be a lot better than its book. Sounds will be real and each shriek, each bang will only last for few seconds. Unlike in the book that it lasts until you are done with the particularly scene.

I only regret the 6 days that I spent reading this long novel. However, I don't regret spending PHP30.00 (US$0.55) when I bought this in Booksale Megamall in March 2009. In fact this is one of the first 1001 books that I bought. This novel and Laura Hillenbrand's Seabiscuit are two of the books that I almost always see when I visit any Booksale outlets. Now if you see this book and you care about New York in the 80's go and grab a copy and if you are in the mood for bang-bang non-war related noise that will linger in your ears for days, be my guest - read this book.

Profile Image for Shovelmonkey1.
353 reviews875 followers
March 2, 2012
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 tree is that there is always someone eager to knock you down. In Sherman's case his particular tree is on Wall Street which means that there is a pack of suited and suspendered wolves baying at the bottom of the tree and even if they can't knock Sherman down themselves, well at least they'll be in line for a tasty treat when he eventually falls. And fall Sherman does. Although admittedly he does aid and abet his own downward trajectory by stepping out on the thinnest possible limb and has an ill-concealed affair with a high class floozy who bangs about more than a barn door in a high wind. Add into the mix a hit-and-run after a wrong turning in the Bronx and it is surely game over Sherman.

Conflagration 2: Hot on his heels, in pursuit of justice for the underdog and a quick lay, is Jewish Assistant D.A Larry Kramer, a man whose ego is a lot bigger and brain is sadly a lot smaller than his sternocleidomastoid muscles. But that is not going to deter him from making a big name for himself in the Bronx. And why should he want to make a name for himself? A pay rise so he can continue to provide for his wife and child? Nope he's all about bagging himself a date with the girl with the brown lipstick (it is little details like this that remind you this book was set in the 1980s). Sadly its a case of non cogito ego sum for Mr Kramer.

Conflagration 3: Pitching in at ringside for the Bronx is Reverend Reginald Bacon, black activist, money spinner and all round voice for the people. He wants many things, among them £350,000 in tax free money from the Episcopalian church which he is in no hurry to return and justice for poor young Henry Lamb, the victim of the hit and run (or more accurately, some careless reversing). Bacon is probably the most canny of all the players and while he doesn't get what he wants, he comes of lightly toasted and not totally roasted.

Completing the racially and economically diverse, self-serving quartet of protagonists is

Conflagration 4: Peter Fallow, the seedy Brit hack who is shallower than a paddling pool. Fallow has lost his literary mojo and allows himself to be manipulated through the coverage of the McCoy case as a way of reinvigorating his career. His all time personal highlight is when Arty Ruskin, aged socialite and man about town dies at the dinner table of a high-end eatery while he's in the process of interviewing him. Shallow Fallow refuses to pay the bill, scoops the death story as an exclusive and outs the staff as heartless bastards who stepped over the dead man to carry on serving exclusive yuppie mini food. Fallows end game is a new blazer and a Pulitzer and he gets both so he's probably the real winner.

The principle characters in this book are all men. The women are either Lemon Tarts (slutty blondes), mistresses (normally a Lemon Tart), gold diggers, Social X-rays (ageing, thinning over-toned skeletons in designer garb who were once Lemon Tarts) or the stay at home, expanded-ass, drab house frau. Ladies, in this respect you may not find a lot to love. On the other hand you can watch the gentlemen make fools of themselves which is fairly good value for money.

On the whole I zipped through this book faster than a yuppie in a Porsche 911 and much like being in a Porsche it was quite a nice ride. Slick, shiny and satisfying. The end was a bit of a cop out though and I am not sure that I approve. If I had to summarise this book, I'd say that this is what American Psycho wants to be when it grows up.
Profile Image for Chelsea.
314 reviews
July 2, 2007
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 they're of no use to anyone.

The book explores racial and class tensions in New York City in the 80's, but from a distinctly white male point of view (there are plenty of female and black characters; Wolfe just doesn't get into their heads). That's the premise, though... we see New York from the perspective of all these white men, in different places in the NYC food chain, who all see themselves as Masters of the Universe for various petty reasons. The question is whether the biggest Master of them all will end up questioning his role in the social order after he gets caught up in the political and criminal machine of the Bronx.
Profile Image for Emiliya Bozhilova.
1,260 reviews185 followers
July 31, 2022
От времето на цар Соломон и неговата въздъхната “суета на суетите” се е променил само мащабът. Той вече е глобален.

Тръгва от предизборната кампания на един главен прокурор и двама кандидати за кметския пост (единият от които - настоящият кмет) в Ню Йорк, в навременна комбинация с блъснат чернокож младеж от бял шофьор на лъскав мерцедес. Никоя лъжа не е неудобна и никоя истина не е от значение и не е невъзможна за замитане. Залозите удрят тавана на съдебните зали в Бронкс, триметровите прозорци на пищните обитавани архитектурни колоси на Пето Авеню, залите с компютри и лудо надцакване с непреводими на прост човешки език финансови инструменти на Уолстрийт, жужащите нюзрумове на големите медии, дори изисканите ресторанти - гнезда на държавни глави и финансови величия. И всички те рикошират в гетото.

Страданията на гетото и жестоките последствия на расизма са осребрявани изключително ловко между образованите мафиоти, произлезли и царуващи над същото това гето, и представителите на всички възможни обществени сили - власт, медии, църква и достопочтеното “общество”. Познато, нали?

Географската карта на фалша е опъната пред смаяната публика с размах, точен мащаб, кристална яснота, сарказъм и мъничко тъга. Ню Йорк на белите протестанти, на евреите, на латиноамериканците, на чернокожите, на бледоликите пришълци от Европа е показан в замразен кадър. Привидно отделни вселени, пресечните им точки и тайни свързващи проходи се оказват удивително много.

Дисекцията плавно разрязва пластове съдебна система, продажба на гласовете на бедните и престъпните, фабрикуването на неустоимите цунамита от фалшиви новини, ежедневието на адвокати, съдии, прокурори, брокери, богати наследници, журналисти, сервитьори, изтормозени полицаи или на редовните посетители на съдебната зала и следствения арест. Нито една констатация на Улф не е успокояващо политически коректна по тогавашните и по днешните “стандарти”.

Улф е изстрелял всеки един клавиш на пишещата си машина след натискането му в куп посоки, без нито един пропуск. Като истински разследващ журналист ни потапя и в най-малката подробност от сюжета, до последна запетая. Като шедьоврите на интериорния дизайн, съпътстващи бляскавите приеми на висшето общество - до последната гънка златиста драперия или мраморна облицовка. Или миризмите в следствения арест. Душевните състояния на героите са проследени до извивката в интонацията на гласа. Герои, които сме презирали в началото, неочаквано ни стават симпатични, насила освободени от суетата си, а тези, които са ни били симпатични, се сливат с маниашкия карнавал на различните суети и шарени привидности.

Светът на 2020 г. е изумително ясно отразен в света на 1987 г., когато е издадена книгата. Нито една горчива констатация за умишлено замъглените, скърцащи и разместени обществени механизми или струни на човешката душа не е остаряла и излязла от употреба.

А Том Улф, подобно на неговия великолепен съдия Ковицки, е последният ни приятел, който няма да се огъне пред чудовищния натиск. Но и той като него е един от малкото и е натикан в ъгъла.

Разкошен превод на Зорница Христова! Предвид всички езикови гимнастики и заигравки на Том Улф българското издание е просто наслада!


🔥”Движеха се превъзбудено, от зори се потяха и викаха...: лай на свръхобразовани млади бели мъже, джафкащи след парите по финансовите пазари.”

🔥”Само дето горките отрепки даже не заслужаваха прозвището “престъпници”, ако под “престъпник” се разбираше човек, който си има цел и я преследва с отчаяни и незаконни средства. Повечето от тях бяха простодушни каръци и гадостите, които вършеха, бяха крайно кретенски.”

🔥”Срещал ли си луд, който разсъждава логично? Много по-лоши са от обикновените луди.”

🔥”На лявата му китка имаше часовник с достатъчно злато по него, та на блясъка му човек можеше да си разчете показанията на водомера.”

🔥”Като повечето англичанин в Ню Йорк, той смяташе американците за недоразвити дечица, които провидението от глупост бе одарило с тлъст и охранен като пуйка континент.”

🔥”Това в Бронкс е Америка...! В нея има и черни, и е все едно ти какво мислиш!... Манхатън е офшорен бутик! Това тук е Америка! Лабораторията на човешките взаимоотношения!”

🔥”Либералът е консерватор, полежал зад решетките.”

🔥”Важното било да бъдеш решителен. Хората с това качество не били по-умни от другите, но вземали толкова много решения, че по закона за вероятностите някои неизбежно се оказвали велики.”

🔥”Бяха като две фирми за асфалтиране, принудени да си сътрудничат от някакъв нещастен развой на събитията...”

🔥”Там две мнения няма. Ако само намекнеш, че би могло и да има, ти не си безпристрастен, ти си предубеден.”

🔥”Това бяха не хора, а абстракции, и затова оставаха извън обсега на завистта. Бяха просто Богатите.”

🔥”Какво по-унизително от чистата истина?”

🔥”У добре възпитаните момчета и момичета вината и инстинктът да следваш правилата се превръщат в рефлекси, в неотстраними фабрични дефекти.”

🔥”Съдът не е слуга нито на малцинството, нито на мнозинството."
Profile Image for Bradley.
Author 6 books3,969 followers
June 30, 2019

This is clearly a top-notch book for its rabblerousing racial-hate mob-inducing polemics that plays to both conservatives and liberals at the same time while convincing me that everyone in New York City during the '80s is some of the most hateful, despicable politics-led morons on the planet. I hated the socialites and I hated the mob of the people led by the nose.

As a whole, this entire book can only be described as the enthusiastic stirring of a huge steaming pot of poo.

Satire? Oh, hell, I guess it is, just so long as us readers look at it like the over-the-top circus of buffoons that it is. Some great writing, of course. This is Tom Wolfe. But I'll ALWAYS love his nonfiction best.

So what's my problem? It's neither the all-out skewering of a wall-street idiot or outright caricatures of the media, judges, lawyers on both sides, or preachers. In fact, since this novel, I've read and watched enough lawyer shows, good ones, mind you, that this book seems rather paltry and lame.

But here's the kicker. This came out before OJ. It's almost like a silly premonition trying to put a rich entitled WASP on a pedestal even if he never gets out from under the heel of "justice". I'd have to make a pretty long case on this, but the outline is pretty clear. They were both farcical and absurd for the same reasons if not for the underlying causes. And yet, the causes are just a flip-side.

Public perception, racial politics, wagon-training justice, and people being people. Out for blood and damn reality. And you know what? I DIDN'T CARE FOR THE MAIN CHARACTERS AT ALL. None of them. Not sympathetic in the slightest. I wanted to see everyone burn. But they didn't.

Instead, we had a three-ring circus of a satire that doesn't go far enough and the subversively-angled conservative arguments playing out in this text are laughable. The liberal caricatures are even worse.

Reading both sides of this just makes me want to puke.

So? It's a modern novel holding a big stick and stirring a big pot of poo.

For some, maybe it's as entertaining as a car wreck. But not me. There are MANY better examples of satire that work so much better.
Profile Image for Trish.
1,352 reviews2,412 followers
November 27, 2022
This novel doesn’t read now the way it did to me as a younger reader. Deeply explicatory of the ways people arrange their brains to suit the facts that show them in the best light, it is a cynical book but not a cruel one. This is the way people act, moral or not, so we’d best take that feature into account when facing criminal charges.

First published on a fortnightly basis as a 27-part serialization in Rolling Stone magazine in 1984, this first novel of Tom Wolfe was later published, with revisions, by Farrar Straus & Giroux in 1987. With the book publication, Mr. Wolfe became a cause célèbre. He’d been disappointed with the reaction of the public to the magazine serialization and that earlier effort seems to have been almost lost to history:

From The Independent :
It felt all the more ironic given the book’s title. The first vanities bonfire happened in Florence, Italy in 1497 when supporters of friar Girolamo Savonarola publicly burned what they considered vain objects – books, art, music, anything deemed immoral. It’s easy to see Wolfe playing the part of Savonarola, eradicating all evidence of his early attempts at fiction.

A beautiful obituary in Rolling Stone magazine reminds us of Wolfe’s other work, highlighting the 2007 novel entitled, I Am Charlotte Simmons .

Considering Bonfire was Wolfe’s first novel, it was a marvel of description, capturing the technicolor of the Wall Street bond market, the holding pen in the Bronx Criminal Courts Building, as well as the well-padded offices of Reverend Bacon, the profitable nonprofit savant.

The language is the thing to enjoy here. Plot is not this book’s strong suit. I read with real admiration Wolfe’s description of a crime victim, shot dead in the back of a Cadillac: “The victim was a fat man with his hands on his legs, just above his knees, as if he were about to hitch up his pants to keep them from being stretched by his kneecaps.”

Somehow that description blew me away. The next sentence, how the rear window of the Cadillac looked like someone had thrown a pizza against it, confirmed that the victim himself had, in fact, been blown away.

Wolfe claimed in a couple places that there was truth in the saying that “A liberal is a conservative who has been arrested.” That’s his own ‘saying’ and the first time I read it I laughed. When I read it again, I wondered…I don’t think that is true anymore, fifty years later.

So, I am still scratching my head over the title. I am inclined to agree with another reader who has pointed out this is probably less of a bonfire of the vanities than a celebration of them, but perhaps the title refers to the main character, Sherman (Shuhmun) McCoy.

Sherman McCoy, whose name recalls the ‘real thing,’ is in fact, ‘the real McCoy’ insofar as he is a man untouched by human drama to this point in his life. Raised in wealth and working in bonds, he has hardly had occasion to consider what a ‘bump in the road’ might mean to the ordinary man on the street.

In the beginning, McCoy is fearful and respectful, still, of law enforcement and legal matters in general though gradually one can perceive his discernment increasing as time—and his opportunities for incarceration—go on. Perhaps the title is not meant as anything other than the notion that the innocence of man, in the larger and smaller senses, is set alight every day in urban America, were we only aware.
Profile Image for Edward.
419 reviews398 followers
August 15, 2019
The Bonfire of the Vanities vividly captures the fear, mistrust and division of New York City in the 1980s. It explores and critiques a wide range of cultural themes, such as loyalty, race and ethnicity, isolation and segmentation, the justice system and the media. The interesting thing about the way these elements are portrayed, is that you are never really sure whose side Wolfe is taking. The novel seems to attack on all sides (the apparent lack of narrow political motive is refreshing), but it does so with a certain level of care and understanding towards its characters and the social positions they represent, so that one often feels simultaneously drawn to and repulsed by them. These characters, while archetypical, are well-formed and believable. With one or two exceptions, the plot seems to develop naturally and logically from the underlying motives of the characters and tensions within the system, rather than from an obvious desire to parody. This is incisive, cynical satire, clearly built upon a deep understanding, affection and empathy for its subjects.
2 reviews2 followers
January 18, 2009
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 points in your delineations of interior monologue is frankly amateurish. This is, of course, to say nothing of the lamentable content that this jake-legged prose trots across the page--the less said about that, the better. Honestly, I expected more from someone of your stock.

Upon picking up your intriguingly titled (alas, the titles that sing, but what wastelands between the covers!) first foray into fiction, I must admit I had my reservations. Upon the publication of I Am Charlotte Simmons, I had (how could one not?) seen your body raked over the smoldering coals of public opinion by the ink-stained hands of rough journalists. But, I reasoned, what man holds the right to excoriate his fellow who, with the daring and panache of intrepid explorers past (Cousteau, Hillary, and Shackleton among them), plunges head first into that swirling dross known laughably as "youth culture," for the anthropological benefit of his peers? And, I mused, if he got it wrong, if he, perhaps, took literary license that was perceived as misrepresentation, who gives a shake about the just representation of these feral children with their boom-bap, boom-bap music?

Alas, my trepidation proved well-founded. This book--your prose,the flaccid arc of its plot, your graceless stabs at the Dickensian--bored me straight to tears. Perhaps, sir, if there is to be a Bonfire of the Vanities, I submit to you that it should be one fueled by a tower of your books--whose ashes, sir, I would gladly wipe upon your blanched lapel.

A Reader
Profile Image for Mehrsa.
2,234 reviews3,657 followers
March 11, 2020
The book is certainly dated, but it's very good and the "masters of the universe" crowd still has that sense of untouchability as so beautifully exposed in the book. It's a really well-written book
Profile Image for Judith E.
546 reviews191 followers
November 12, 2021
I read this sometime around when it first came out and I still remember that it was a damn good book.
Profile Image for Mikey B..
983 reviews363 followers
February 9, 2013
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 the Park Avenue doorman dressed in their Napoleonic regalia rushing into the street to flag a taxi. It is beneath the dignity of upper Manhattan types to do such a lowly activity. He explodes the bubble surrounding each class type. Within the varied encounters Mr. Wolfe illustrates the isolation felt by his characters.

His settings – especially the fortress courtroom in the Bronx are well depicted and felt. Mr. Wolfe tells us that the lawyers within the courtroom dare not venture into the surrounding neighborhoods – they even order in for coffee. The deli lunch euphoria at their desks with their plastic containers of ketchup, mustard, relish, mayonnaise... is a contrast with the Fifth Avenue soirees embellished by tables of elaborate floral arrangements.

Perhaps the ending is a little too sudden and is somewhat inconclusive. And too some extent none of the characters are particularly likeable – they all seem out to get something – money, women, status. To some extent Mr. Wolfe adjusted his characters in his future novels to make them more appealing.

In many ways this is a novel about class cultures meeting and confronting each other – and all this in a New York setting where all is within walking and subway proximity. Mr. Wolfe, as stated elsewhere, captures the “carnival of life” - New York style.
Profile Image for Maria Lago.
442 reviews94 followers
February 29, 2020
Entretenido, aunque demasiado largo, lleno de personajes histriónicos en situaciones a menudo escacharrantes y desesperantes por igual. Si la sociedad es esto, que pare el mundo, que me bajo.
Profile Image for Ms.pegasus.
703 reviews138 followers
July 1, 2021
Momentous events rocked the 1980's. Ronald Reagan was elected President. The AIDs epidemic was spreading. The Berlin Wall would topple. None of this is visible in this deliciously satirical novel. Saul Steinberg's iconic New Yorker cover “View of the World from 9th Avenue" was published a decade before this book was published. That is the New York that Wolfe captures.

He unleashes an astute assessment of New York's tribal mosaic with cunning wit and subtlety. The terrain of “White Manhattan” is juxtaposed with the Third World frontier land anchored by The Bronx. The obscene excesses of Park Avenue are juxtaposted with the congested “anthill” walk-ups of the upper West Side. Bronx D.A. Abe Weiss, whose political fortunes are governed by the media, is acutely aware of the changing demographics of the Bronx: “In the summertime the Jews used to sit out on the sidewalk at night right over there on the Grand Concourse and just watch the cars go by. You couldn't get Charles Bronson to sit out there now. This is the modern era, and nobody understands it yet. When I was a kid, the Irish ran the Bronx. They ran it for a long time....And now they're finished, and so who runs it? Jews and Italians. But for how long? There's none down the street, and so how long are they gonna be up here in this building?” (p.505)

Wolfe has an ear for speech. He employs that instrument to reflect an expanse of emotions. He opens with New York's mayor's frantic paranoia as he confronts an angry mob of protesters. A gallery of self-absorbed characters follows. Peter Fallow is a parasitic muck-raker exploiting his plummy British voice for social status – and free booze. Larry Kramer, a graduate of Columbia's School of Law, scrupulously cultivates the mannerisms and patois of the homicide cops: “...for the five hundredth time in his career as an assistant district attorney in the Bronx he paid silent homage to that most mysterious and coveted of male attributes, Irish machismo.” (p.296)

Wolfe delights in puncturing the hyper-masculine pretensions of his two main characters. Bond trader and Park Avenue denizen Sherman McCoy silently preens: “...terrific posture...terrific to the point of imperious...as imperious as his daddy, the Lion of Dunning Songet...a full head of sandy-brown hair...a long nose...a prominent chin...He was proud of his chin. The McCoy chin; the Lion had it, too. It was a manly chin, a big round chin such as Yale men used to have in those drawings by Gibson and Leyendecker, an aristocratic chin, if you want to know what Sherman thought...” (p.9)

Here is is depiction of Kramer, envisioning his courtroom image: “He could see it as if the TV screen were already right in front of him...Assistant District Attorney Lawrence N. Kramer...on his feet...his forefinger raised...his massive sternocleidomastoid muscles welling out....” (p.421) Such self-absorbed obsessions are an open invitation to the schadenfreude that swells in the reader.

Wolfe's mastery of broad farce is judiciously displayed. We are introduced to McCoy as he wrestles with his wife's ridiculous pet daschund in the rain. Walking the dog is his pretext for a call to his mistress at a nearby pay phone. All of these efforts collapse when he mistakenly dials his own number and his wife answers.

Names provide a sprinkling of suggestive connotations. A predatory realtor is Mrs. Cuthrote. A wealthy Texan is flattered by the table's camaraderie and thus duped into paying for several large rounds of drinks. His name is Ned Perch – a willing fish for the table. The hapless accident victim is Henry Lamb. A white shoe lawyer works for the law firm Curry, Goad, and Pesterall.

Among Wolfe's most memorable characters is the manipulative Harlem organizer, Reverend Bacon. He effortlessly operates in the world of shell-game high finance and as the Voice of The People. His effusive oratory stymies the pathetic efforts of blue-stocking bagman Edward Fiske III, tasked with recovering $350,000 for his employer, the Episcopal Diocese. The money was meant to establish a daycare center in Harlem. For all his flamboyant oratory, Rev. Bacon deflects Fiske with a blunt truth: “By the time they reached Seventy-ninth Street, securely in White Manhattan, Fiske knew that Bacon was right once more. They weren't investing in a day-care center, were they...They were trying to buy souls. They were trying to tranquilize the righteously angry soul of Harlem.” (p.160)

It would be easy to view this book as an entertaining time capsule. That would be a mistake. Wolfe unearths from a shallow grave the lingering corpses of hypocrisy. Justice, The People, The Working Man are convenient euphemisms. He strikes with deadly accuracy at misogyny, obsessive masculinity, racism, materialism, media spin and social class. The book resonates in so many ways with the contemporary scene.
Profile Image for Diana Stoyanova.
589 reviews123 followers
April 13, 2021
В Америка е разрешено всичко, което не е забранено.... Дали общественото положение и парите могат да спечелят права?! Дали проблемите на бедните са неглижирани?! Дали чернокожите са невидими?! Том Улф дълбае яростно в живота на обществото и рисува мащабни картини- ярки, тъмни, плашещи. Да, " Кладата на суетата" е мащабен роман, написан сурово и с голям размах. Том Улф се заиграва майсторски не само с обществото, но и с езика. Предвид ��ова, преводът е разкошен и придава още по- голяма положителна тежест върху романа.

Машинации, манипулации, спекулации, безнаказаност, расова дискриминация... Том Улф ни превежда от блясъка на Манхатън и върховете на Уолстрийт до мизерията на Бронкс.

Историята ни показва една измамна свобода. Нито тези, които тънат в охолство са истински свободни, защото целият им живот се върти около това да покриват очаквания; нито тези, които са на ръба на оцеляването си са свободни, защото са оковани във веригите на нищетата.

Един от главните герои е Шърман Маккой- роден под привидно щастлива звезда, наследник на голямо богатство, финансов гуру от Уолстрийт. Звучи добре, нали?! Да, но зад красивото лустро на изобилието, той е затворен зад решетките на брак, в който не се чувства удовлетворен, така както смята, че му се полага. Шърман обаче вярва, че едва ли не всичко му е позволено и има неограничени права. Дали обаче е така в действителност?!
Убеден в това, че той, който осигурява всичко на семейството си, има правото да живее личния си живот както сметне за добре, той се забърква в любовна авантюра, която може да разруши стабилните му основи.
Той се оказва на неправилното място, в неправилното време, и отново, вярвайки в своите неограничени права, бяга от отговорност. Нещо, което може да му коства много. Дали наистина той е Господар на Вселената, за какъвто се смята?! Надали. Да хванеш бика за рогата не е като да хванеш юздите на правосъдието. Животът е като наредени плочки на домино и ако една падне, може да повлече и всички останали... Том Улф рисува изкусно всички причинно- следствени връзки и ни показва цялостна картина и взаимосвързаност.

" Кладата на суетата" е болезнено откровен роман за покварата в човешките сърца. Впечатлена съм от това как Улф засяга толкова щекотливи теми и ги описва с такава лекота.
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