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The Bonfire of the Vanities

3.86  ·  Rating details ·  75,219 ratings  ·  2,985 reviews
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
Paperback, 690 pages
Published October 30th 2001 by Dial Press Trade Paperback (first published November 1st 1987)
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Reid By all means, you should read this novel. And yes, the movie was terrible.

A great many critics say this book is a satire of Wall Street excess, but t…more
By all means, you should read this novel. And yes, the movie was terrible.

A great many critics say this book is a satire of Wall Street excess, but this is missing the point. The book is about the fissures between races and ethnic groups in post-modern Manhattan, and its protagonist is a Wall Street bond trader who suffers as a result of a media circus that he doesn't deserve. Even though Sherman McCoy, the trader, is the object of some ridicule, he is clearly the most sympathetic, hardest-working, least opportunistic character in the book, who stands to lose everything after he takes a wrong turn into the Bronx and has a violent altercation with two African-American youths during a robbery. His life becomes a media circus and he stands to lose his fortune because the Mayor's office and the law enforcement officials are desperate to prove that they don't favor white defendants in the justice system. Their search for the fabled Great White Defendant proves that they are willing to sacrifice an innocent man — McCoy injures no one in the book — in order to further their careers and improve their public personae as fighters of racism. (less)

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Meredith Holley
Mar 30, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: JAM, Caris
Recommended to Meredith 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
Jan 24, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: classic-novels
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 thi
Jul 18, 2011 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.

Sep 22, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: stela-eða-láni
"Bullshit reigns."
The Bonfire of the Vanities, Tom Wolfe

A brilliant and shrewdly constructed satire of mid-1980s America, particularly in New York City. The Bonfire of the Vanities is big, biting and humorous. Wolfe belted NYC/USA with jabs, one after another--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 in
Paul Christensen
May 27, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: novels-and-sagas
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’.

Rajat Ubhaykar
Mar 21, 2011 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
Jan 21, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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. Sher
Jan 25, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
“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 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
Jonathan Ashleigh
Feb 01, 2015 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. ...more
"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
Feb 16, 2012 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
Paul Bryant
Sep 27, 2007 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
Aug 08, 2009 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: guy-lit, 1001-core
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
Jun 05, 2007 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
Steven Godin
Aug 13, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

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
Jun 30, 2019 rated it it was ok

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
Jan 07, 2009 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
Aug 14, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 i ...more
Mar 11, 2020 rated it really liked it
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 ...more
Mikey B.
Feb 09, 2013 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
Chaunceton Bird
Dec 03, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Tom Wolfe knows how to write a book. Not just any book. A complex book with several protagonists, antagonists, sub-plots, plot twists, and relativistic crises for several levels of socio-economic New York citizens. This is an exceptionally well-written novel, I recommend it to all humans.
Kelly_Hunsaker_reads ...
Nov 24, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 1001-books
Blew. Me. Away.

I was lucky enough to spend one year of my life living in Manhattan in the early 1990s. It is a place different to anywhere else and I wondered whether this book (which I read due to its placement on Boxall's 1001 Books to Read list) could possibly capture the bigger-than-life, completely urban, life lived at the speed of light attitude that is NYC. I wondered. I doubted. And I was amazed, because it did.
Mar 25, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  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
aPriL does feral sometimes
‘The Bonfire of the Vanities' by Tom Wolfe, which is a novel describing how a media circus develops around a hit-and-run, nails it. The characters - some who are graduates of elite colleges, some who climbed up into money and power out of the underclass, others who were born into the upper-crust of generational well-connected folks - work the system within the class layers of New York City.

The stereotypical characters in the novel, who imho are not truly fictional at all because each one has an
Jun 26, 2007 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
Kimberly Dawn
Nov 07, 2018 rated it really liked it
Park Avenue...Wall Street...Wealth...Power...
A Beautiful Mistress...Social Status...
A Master of the Universe, he had it all.

If you are not your possessions, profession, or social status, what are you? After it all comes tumbling down, that is the question Sherman McCoy is forced to answer.

“He lived on Park Avenue, the street of dreams! He worked on Wall Street, fifty floors up, for the legendary Pierce & Pierce, overlooking the world! He was at the wheel of a $ 48,000 roadster with one of the mo
Feb 13, 2011 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
Tom Wolfe's poke-in-the-eye to the excess and decadence of the 1980's is still hilarious today, aided by the immensely talented voice narrator Joe Barrett.

Bonfire of the Vanities hits you with so many things, it's hard to narrow down what to mention. The main storyline is about Sherman McCoy, a successful Wall Street bond trader who constantly thinks of himself as "Master of the Universe." Naturally, he's married and a philanderer. After he picks up his latest fling from the airport, they get lo
Apr 23, 2009 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
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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

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