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The Bonfire of the Vanities

3.85  ·  Rating details ·  64,546 ratings  ·  2,659 reviews
After Tom Wolfe defined the '60s in The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test and Radical Chic and Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers and the cultural U-turn at the turn of the '80s in The Right Stuff, nobody thought he could ever top himself again. In 1987, when The Bonfire of the Vanities arrived, the literati called Wolfe an "aging enfant terrible."

He wasn't aging; he was growing up. Bonfire's pyrotechnic satire of 1980s New Yorterrible."

...more
Kindle Edition, 686 pages
Published 1987 by Picador
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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…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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Average rating 3.85  · 
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 ·  64,546 ratings  ·  2,659 reviews


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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
Matt
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 things. But it is also
...more
Lyn
Jul 18, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.

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Perry
Sep 22, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: stela-eða-láni
R.I.P., Tom Wolfe (March 2, 1930 – May 14, 2018)
Seer of Hippy Culture then the Insatiable '80s U.S.A./N.Y.C.,
Satirist of Avarice and the Cognoscenti Soi-disant, and
Chronicler of America's Race to Space on the Heels of Its Jet Pilot CowboyQuest for Record Supersonic Speeds


"Bullshit reigns."
The Bonfire of the Vanities, Tom Wolfe

A brilliant, shrewdly constructed satire of the 1980s in America, and particularly in New York City. The Bonfire of the Vanities is big, biting and humorous. Wolfe belted NYC
...more
Rajat Ubhaykar
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
Paul Christensen
May 27, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: the-best
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);
and
(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/>/>/>
...more
Jonathan Ashleigh
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.
Shovelmonkey1
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
...more
Brian
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 m
...more
Paul Bryant
Sep 27, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 give
...more
K.D. Absolutely
Aug 08, 2009 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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 starts down. It'Bavardage....HockTenor...Hack/>Haw
...more
Manny
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
Chelsea
Jun 05, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Jan-Maat
"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
...more
Chris
Jan 07, 2009 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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 exc
...more
Bradley
Wow.

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
...more
Edward
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 it does s ...more
Mikey B.
Feb 09, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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 bew
...more
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 ...
Nov 24, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
Chris
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 wr
...more
Kimberly Dawn
Nov 07, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 o
...more
Mosca
Dec 29, 2008 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Nobody that I like
Recommended to Mosca by: I'm trying to forget
............................
"Vampire of the Banalities"

This is a very unimpressive work. So very hyped up at the time of it's publication! And so representative of the worst of one our most self-inflated and shameless decades.

Certainly, the eighties produced some good literature; but that did not include this work.

This book purports to tackle some of the more challenging issues of our times: race, power, capitalism, etc. But this ends up as a superficial writing ex
...more
Solitairerose
Sep 20, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
When I am asked what my favorite book ever is, this is one that immediately springs to mind. Wolfe's writing is some of the best of the 20th Century, and this story of investment bankers, homeless people and the collusion between rich and poor is the best explanation of the 80's, and manages to be a story that explains more about an era than any history of the time ever could. Wolfe has moved from recreating how non-fiction was written to a brilliant novelist.
Justine
Feb 13, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Lobstergirl

It's hard to think of a good quality American novel that better captured a Zeitgeist. In this case it was NYC in the 80s. When I read Wolfe's descriptions of the upper class women in their Park Avenue apartments, I see Carolyne Roehm with her tiny upturned nose and giant shoulderpads. Wolfe is writing about several classes of people, but his brilliance comes out with the uppers rather than the lowers or middles. In a snooty restaurant: "Fallow could see cluster after cluster of men with bald heads and women wi
...more
Mark
May 30, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book is a whole other beast. Throughout Wolfe uses phonetics to great effect in casting his characters in all their brutal-and-suave-tongued rage. The Haves rave against the Have-nots; the Have-nots rage against the rich. And in the end, every single character, the Haves and Have-nots alike, is no better than the other. The only way you win is to embrace your animal nature, the nature to survive at all costs.

I found the character of Peter Fallow dull throughout most of the novel, but as th
...more
Jennifer
Apr 23, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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 no
...more
Holly
Jun 26, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Holly by: hollygoguen@gmail.com
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 characters....to 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
...more
Jason
Oct 15, 2008 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
I finished this last night, and I've been mulling it over all day. On the one hand, Wolfe is a talented writer, capable of creating vivid, visceral scenes. On the other hand, he relies on a lot of crutches, most notably the ellipsis-riddled paragraph to represent the frenzied thoughts of a person in panic.

Wolfe does a remarkable job of creating a bunch of horrible characters who we nonetheless end up having some positive feelings for at the end of the story. However, the reason we end up
...more
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1,813 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
...more
“Bullshit reigns.” 73 likes
“Sherman made the terrible discovery that men make about their fathers sooner or later... that the man before him was not an aging father but a boy, a boy much like himself, a boy who grew up and had a child of his own and, as best he could, out of a sense of duty and, perhaps love, adopted a role called Being a Father so that his child would have something mythical and infinitely important: a Protector, who would keep a lid on all the chaotic and catastrophic possibilities of life.” 40 likes
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