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The Bonfire of the Vanities by Tom Wolfe
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The Bonfire of the Vanities (1987)

by Tom Wolfe

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
7,436103732 (3.82)1 / 215
  1. 31
    Liar's Poker: Rising Through the Wreckage on Wall Street by Michael Lewis (mcenroeucsb)
  2. 31
    Election by Tom Perrotta (cf66)
  3. 42
    Great Expectations by Charles Dickens (lucyknows)
    lucyknows: Great Expectations and Bonfire of the Vanities can be successfully tied together in that both the authors explore the themes of ostentation, ambition and morality
  4. 20
    A Week in December by Sebastian Faulks (browner56)
    browner56: Interesting social satire that takes shots at the hubris of the financial services industry
  5. 00
    The Devil's Candy: The Anatomy of a Hollywood Fiasco by Julie Salamon (bluepiano)
    bluepiano: It's about the making of a movie from this book. Whether or not you enjoyed Bonfire, if you read it and you take Hollywood movies seriously, you'll probably enjoy Devil's Candy. (On the other hand if you don't take them seriously, don't bother with the Salamon & go for the movie itself--it's not *that* bad.)… (more)
  6. 01
    The Darlings by Cristina Alger (BookshelfMonstrosity)
  7. 13
    The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas (ann.elizabeth)
    ann.elizabeth: Literary fiction focused on a controversial, potentially illegal moment and its aftermath, examined from multiple points of view.
  8. 02
    The Devil Wears Prada by Lauren Weisberger (citygirl)
    citygirl: Skewers those at the top of the heap in NYC. Both quite funny.
  9. 03
    Brightness Falls by Jay McInerney (TheBentley)
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Showing 1-5 of 92 (next | show all)
This is a great portrait of Wall Street in the 80s. The excess, ego, over-confidence and crassness of it all. But it is also a damning portrayal of the legal system in New York, and of the press. Everyone in it is horrible to a greater or lesser degree, and no-one comes out of it well. The writing is sharp, detailed and funny with some excellent stand out scenes. ( )
1 vote AlisonSakai | Oct 9, 2018 |
wanted to experience Tom Wolf, interesting, profane, "Tom Wolf's best-selling modern classic tells the story of Sherman McCoy, and elite Wall Street bond trader... With so many egos at stake... ...hilarious American satire"
  keithhamblen | Jul 19, 2018 |
A long, but quick-moving, story of the fast downfall of a "Master of the Universe" bond trader, Sherman McCoy. The narrative generally follows the full-of-himself-but-afraid-to-leave-the-office-for-a-sandwich McCoy, the neck-flexing DA Kramer, and the drunk British newspaper reporter Fallow. All three are incredibly stupid and shallow, unbelievably so, their thoughts focused nearly exclusively on money, women, and their musculatures. Yet Wolfe's rendition of dialog is always entertaining, as often are the interior dialogs. I love Wolfe's winks when the characters edit their own sentences for grammar errors.

The narrative occasionally drops into the head of another character, e.g., one trying to recover $350,000 from the Reverend Bacon, who is leading the populist crusade against McCoy. Bizarrely, Wolfe never moves into the head of one of the black characters, and only once into a woman's head: "He wondered what was going through her mind at this moment. In fact, she was thinking about the way men are in New York. Every time you go out with one, you have to sit there and listen to two or three hours of My Career first."

The one-dimensional characters' flaws are annoying, but the light humor and well-observed satire keeps the story alive. ( )
  breic | Jul 15, 2018 |
I first read this novel just weeks after its initial publication in 1988 and thought it was spellbinding then. Thirty years later I think it has lost none of its power to enthral. In a lengthy introduction to this recent edition, Tom Wolfe cites William Thackeray’s Vanity Fair as one of his inspirations. Like Vanity Fair, this is quite definitely a novel without a hero, though it is knee-deep in victims.

As with so many great novels, the basic premise is very simple. High flying Wall Street bond dealer Sherman McCoy, scion of one of New York's leading 'WASP' families and self-styled Master of the Universe, is conducting a clandestine affair with Maria, the young, sexy wife of an ageing multi-millionaire. Having told his wife that he has to work late, Sherman collects Maria from the airport but, in a moment of inattention, he finds himself stuck in the wrong lane on the freeway and ends up taking a wrong turning. Instead of heading home to Manhattan, he and Maria find themselves lost in the depths of the Bronx. As they drive around ever more frightening streets, an incident occurs, as a consequence of which a young African American boy is accidentally knocked down by their car. In their panic, they drive away, unaware of the injuries that the boy has suffered, and return to their insulated life within New York's beau monde.

It transpires, however, that the young man, Henry Lamb, has been badly injured. Having called at hospital for treatment of a badly hurt wrist he returns home but subsequently complains of head pains, and subsides into a coma. Through the intervention of a radical activist in the African American community, aided by veteran radicals desperate to find a new cause, a crusade for justice for the stricken boy gathers pace. Gradually the foundation stones of McCoy's existence, that had previously seemed so secure, are pulled away and his enviable lifestyle starts to disintegrate.

In the meantime, Peter Fallow, a particularly odious British journalist who had been struggling to make his way in New York, finds himself being given exclusive after exclusive as the campaigners harness the tabloid press to press their cause. Fallow is a desperate parasite with a rapidly-escalating drink problem (some of the descriptions Wolfe offers of the journalist's morning hangovers are quite astounding), but he gradually finds his fortunes waxing as McCoy's wane.

Wolfe captures the racial tensions and jealousies with a pellucid sharpness that he also directs against the vagaries of the American criminal justice system in which, during a year when the local District Attorney has to seek re-election against an increasingly volatile political landscape, Sherman McCoy becomes the ‘Great White Defendant’, the token box-ticking target for whom every prosecutor has yearned.

As I said at the beginning of this review, there are no heroes in this book. Everyone, except poor Henry Lamb, is seen to be tainted and self-serving to some degree. Sherman McCoy, indeed, emerges as one of the better characters. He recognises that he has, inadvertently, done something dreadful and he acknowledges the hollowness of many aspects of his life as a Master of the Universe, although ultimately he remains unable to summon the strength of spirit to opt for a different lifestyle.

There is a Dickensian acuity of observation throughout, perhaps best exemplified in Wolfe's pillorying of the higher end of the legal profession. Top 'WASP' law firms are given names such as 'Dunning, Sponget and Leach' or 'Curry, Goad and Pesterall', reminiscent of 'Private Eye's parody firm, 'Sue, Grabbit and Runne'.

Simply amazing! ( )
2 vote Eyejaybee | Jun 30, 2018 |
Didn't read this in the 1980's when it came out, but it could have been written today as well. Such an expose on wealth, privilege, poverty, police, racism, class and legal entanglement. Sherman McCoy lives on Park Avenue, is a Wall Street hero, a wife and lovely child; however, he is also having an affair with Maria, the wife of an aged millionaire. While taking a wrong turn at night on the freeway, Sherman and Maria somehow end up in a seedy part of the Bronx where they encounter two young black teens. At one point, one of the boys is hit by the car and the car drives off.

The rest of the story is the entanglements of that crime and many other characters appear: the Black community leader, the political Bronx District Attorney, the attorney in the district attorney's office who is assigned the case, the Bronx police, the husband of Maria, the British tabloid writer who brings the crime to the public, the victim's mother, the second black youth at the scene, Park Avenue socialites, and many other who are affected in one way or another by this single event.

Sherman, however, remains the center of the story. At first thinking of himself as the "Master of the Universe", he comes to the reality that a "liberal is a conservative who has been arrested." Told with humor, cynicism, style, and great writing, almost all the characters seem very believable. (There are a few scenes which stretch the imagination, but all the characters come across as true). I do have to take some issue with Wolfe's use of so many dashes and ellipsis.

The ending is absolutely perfect: a newspaper article that appears a year later. Sherman has become the "professional defendent" as the indictment and trial get more and more bogged down. Some come out on top, others are losers, and the sleazy tabloid writer wins a Pulitzer. Great story. ( )
1 vote maryreinert | Jun 3, 2018 |
Showing 1-5 of 92 (next | show all)
The Nazi and fascist movements in Europe subscribed to similar sentiments. But, because Wolfe does not use anti-Semitic or racist epithets, the truly reactionary character of his societal vision is often unrecognized. The movie actually performs one important public service. By turning the book into a ghastly movie, the reactionary character of the book becomes far more apparent for all to see.
 
There has probably never been a less prescient journo-novel than The Bonfire of the Vanities, which subliminally heralded a New York that was given over to wild and feral African politics at one end (reading from north to south of Manhattan Island) and dubious market strategies at the other. The market strategies continue. Indeed, Wall Street has almost deposed the opinion polls as the index of national wellbeing. The ethnic spoils system, meanwhile, is manipulated by the same class as ever. If either of these elements ever undergoes a dramatic metamorphosis, it won’t be Tom Wolfe who sounds the alarm.
added by SnootyBaronet | editLondon Review of Books, Christopher Hitchens
 
added by lucyknows | editscis (pay site)
 

» Add other authors (48 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Wolfe, Tomprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Carano, RanieriTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Fastenau, JanTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lenders, BaltTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Marcellino, FredCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Verbart, GerardTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Doffing his hat, the author dedicates this book to Counselor Eddie Hayes who walked among the flames, pointing at the lurid lights. And he wishes to express his deep appreciation to Burt Roberts who first showed the way.
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"And then say what?" (Prologue)
At that very moment, in the very sort of Park Avenue co-op apartment that so obsessed the Mayor ... twelve-foot ceilings ... two wings, one for the white Anglo-Saxon Protestants who own the place and one for the help ... Sherman McCoy was kneeling in his front hall trying to put a leash on a dachshund.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0553275976, Paperback)

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 York wasn't just Wolfe's best book, it was the best bestselling fiction debut of the decade, a miraculously realistic study of an unbelievably status-mad society, from the fiery combatants of the South Bronx to the bubbling scum at the top of Wall Street. Sherman McCoy, a farcically arrogant investment banker (dubbed a "Master of the Universe," Wolfe's brilliant metaphorical co-opting of a then-important toy for boys), hits a black guy in the Bronx with his Mercedes and runs--right into a nightmare peopled by vicious mistresses, thin wives like "social x-rays," slime-bag politicos, tabloid hacks, and Dantesque denizens of the "justice" system. If the Coen and Marx brothers together dramatized The Great Gatsby, Wolfe's Bonfire would probably be funnier. Many think his second novel, A Man in Full, is deeper, but Bonfire will never die down.

You might find it interesting to compare the film The Bonfire of the Vanities, a fascinating calamity perpetrated by the geniuses Brian De Palma and Tom Hanks, with The Right Stuff, one of the very best films of the '80s. --Tim Appelo

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:14:18 -0400)

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Sherman McCoy, a Wall Street Bond trader is arrested after a freak accident.

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