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The Pump House Gang

3.59  ·  Rating details ·  1,079 ratings  ·  57 reviews
Tom Wolfe's second collection (1968) takes it title from a redoubtable surfing elite, many of whom abandoned the beach for the psychedelic indoor sports of the late sixties. Wolfe here continues his fieldwork among noble savages, from La Jolla to London.
Paperback, 304 pages
Published October 5th 1999 by Bantam (first published August 1968)
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Average rating 3.59  · 
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Richard Knight
Mar 12, 2016 rated it it was ok
When Tom Wolfe sticks to one subject, like astronauts, he soars. When he puts a collection together, he falls flat on his face. Thus is the case of The Pump House Gang, which is an assortment of articles that is heavily lopsided since it's great at times, and a total bore at others. The biggest problem is that the boring stories far outweigh the interesting ones. Also, Tom Wolfe's exuberant writing style grows stale over time when there isn't a solid base behind it. I know this book was meant to ...more
An Idler
Mar 25, 2018 rated it really liked it
A collection of essays covering a range of famous people, interesting people, and what we would now call subcultures (such as the "pump house" surfers of the title or various London youth movements.) A younger Wolfe here, more rambunctious and onomatopoetic but already sharp-eyed vis a vis social classes and always on the lookout for the next influential wave of academic theory.
Rebecca McNutt
This book was kind of interesting, but I didn't find it as good as some of Tom Wolfe's other works, although the 1960's theme gave it something kind of different.
Tiny Pants
Aug 15, 2008 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: die-hard Tom Wolfe fans
My edition is way older than this, but this was the only one with a picture. The previous owner unfortunately underlined heavily and inserted helpful margin comments throughout ("GREAT!!!!!"). I read this book, along with basically the entire Tom Wolfe ouevre (excluding things I had already read or had of yet to be published) my freshman year of college, I decided to re-read it mostly I guess because the title vignette is about La Jolla in the '60s. Unfortunately, it doesn't really hold up to re ...more
Dec 24, 2007 rated it liked it
Trying to get in the spirit of visiting Southern California, where I am clearly a stranger in a strange land, I decided to pick up The Pump House Gang at a bookstore in La Jolla, mere steps from where the title essay is set.

That essay is not only ingenious but should be (and in many cases, is) required reading for would-be feature writers. There are also brilliant, if now dated, vignettes about the lives of celebrities, like Hugh Hefner and Marshall McLuhan, and the unsung, like two rags-to-rich
Aug 02, 2011 rated it really liked it
i was a bit wary (prejudiced), because hunter thompson always talked mad shit about wolfe...called him a shameless phony, etc...maybe h.s.t. was a little bit threatened by wolfe. this book documented some interesting social scenes, and (to my pleasant surprise) it was full of muscular, provocative language and imagery. he only occasionally goes out a little too far on the ledge in trying to throw in the "authentic" slang, which comes across feeling a little forced. also, i was impressed at his a ...more
Jan 03, 2009 rated it really liked it
There is an impressive range in this collection of essays, from the early California surf grom scene ("Pump House Gang"), to the pioneers of silicon breast implants in San Francisco ("Put-Together Girl"), to Hugh Heffner's eccentric lifestyle ("King of the Status Dropouts"), to a couple of ascendant art collectors in New York ("Bob and Spike"). All of them published in 1968 at that. My favorite piece was the last, in which Wolfe walks around New York city with an anthropologist who is interested ...more
Steve Hersh
Jun 02, 2016 rated it it was amazing
What an incredible collection of essays. Tom Wolfe was clearly at the top of his game in the 1960s with these fantastic entries in the New Journalism canon. The two best essays, in my opinion, are the profiles of Hugh Hefner (King of the Status Dropouts) and Marshall McLuhan (What If He Is Right?) But all of these are worth a read. This is the third book of Wolfe's that I read. It bests "From Our House to Bauhaus" and reaches the same heights as "The Right Stuff." Great great great!
Jan 20, 2008 rated it really liked it
this essay collection is excellent, covering figures who have achieved status levels outside of the mainstream social hierarchy. his subjects are rascally surfer kids, strippers, and the O.G. of creepy old men, hugh hefner. i think tom wolfe is getting pretty annoying in his old age, but this (written shortly after kool-aid) is one of his finest, in my opinion.
Mar 15, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: compilation
A wide-ranging collection of essays, almost all written within a 12-month period.

Many germinal ideas here which crop up with greater depth in more focused books from Wolfe, so apparently he had fondness enough for the content to use it as an outline for works to be published later.
Tom Marcinko
Dec 13, 2012 rated it liked it
Yes, but the copy I'm reading is an old paperback with a cover so pink it leaves permanent scars on your cornea.

But of course! It's--Tom--WOLFE!!!

Halfway through, I'm wondering what McLuhan would have made of the Internet.
Oct 22, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Sixties fans
My favorite Tom Wolfe book. Selected subjects include pieces on West Coast surfers, British mods (Noonday Underground), Hugh Hefner, weekend bikers, stripper Carol Doda, Marshall McLuhan and more demented Wolfe sketches that predate old Ralph Steadman by a hoot-owl's age. Highly recommended.
Sep 22, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Daydreamers of surfing.
This was a real treat.
Surfer youth in La Jolla,
Hugh Hefner's strange living,
Topless waitresses,
and...hey waita minute...
oh yeah, that was in this one.

Doc & Charly
May 15, 2011 rated it liked it
Articles culled from Tom's magazine writing career back in the Sixties. Well done but, obviously, dated.
Derek James Baldwin
Jul 28, 2011 rated it really liked it
More social history from the man in the white suit.
Aug 09, 2007 rated it really liked it
I thought I was going to wet myself laughing at this book. Even so, it is a most interesting look at American culture in the 60's. I should re-read Wolfe's stuff to see if it has dated.
Aug 22, 2008 rated it did not like it
Shelves: read-at-college
Not quite sure what it is about Tom Wolfe, but his style is like strangling yourself. I think his writing style is really one of the worst I have ever encountered.
Oct 29, 2009 rated it did not like it
dissapointing... either Wolfe is a dick or the old windnsea guys were racists; probably both.
Jan 21, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
I would give a lot to write like Tom Wolfe. Read this if you travel to San Diego or any other surfing locale.
Mark Taylor
Dec 29, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It started on the beach. That was where they first saw him. They weren’t quite sure which member of the group had spotted him first, but eventually they became aware of him. This guy just hanging out on the beach with a notebook. And what was he wearing? A suit? Dig, man, what kind of crazy trip was he on? And how old was he? He didn’t look that old, but he just seemed old, you know, like there was no way he would know who the Beach Boys were, or that he could possibly know anything about choppe ...more
Jul 02, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Mystery solved: youth is fleeting.
Paul Haspel
Feb 15, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: san-diego
Placing Tom Wolfe's The Pump House Gang within the context of its time is both challenging and rewarding. This collection of essays, published in book form in 1968 after virtually all of the essays had appeared in publications like New York or the London Weekend Telegraph between 1964 and 1966, beckons to us from a time that is as long-ago for us as World War I was for Wolfe's original 1960's readers. The original circumstances of the publication of these essays -- Sunday-magazine supplements fo ...more
Jul 25, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was a bit of a step down after From Bauhaus to Our House, but this did represent a jump back some of his earlier essays. But I don't know, even after getting past the rampant, casual racism and misogyny, I don't feel like Wolfe was so much engaging as he was trying to refine his style. Which is fair, all great writers have that process, I'm just not sure I need to read every step along the way. Beyond the titular surfers, I don't really feel at all enlightened about many of the subjects her ...more
Nora Rawn
May 31, 2019 rated it liked it
This was incredible fun to read--Wolfe's prose is just really *good* and evocative--though it's striking how much his concerns are limited mostly to the white and well-to-do, even though who may be blue collar or slumming teenagers. Reading it just after Play It As It Lays was like taking a little trip back in time (and finding it intriguing but not, perhaps, especially evolved or good for most of the people around then.)
Jan 20, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Great expose of the culture of the 60s. Really random topics that fit well together under the rubric of culture and the impact modern Life had upon it, but in the current frame of reference. Really enjoyed the ins and outs.
Isabelle Rieser
Oct 25, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
So daring in his talent for narrative journalism, that I could feel the intensity in his last book. At that time, I listened to him in one French interview , sharing his writing habit in a time lapse of three hours.
Mark Taylor
Jul 02, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Still relevant.
David Aiken
Apr 02, 2019 rated it it was ok
A collection of essays on various countercultures in the 60s. Interesting, but a little vapid at times.
Aug 30, 2018 rated it liked it
Ok stories, but a lack of great characters.
Dec 07, 2019 rated it liked it
Like all his stuff. Gripping writing and fearless insight. Perhaps a note less consequential than his other works, but not less enjoyable.
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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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