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The Bonfire of the Vanities (1987)

by Tom Wolfe

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
8,022117805 (3.82)1 / 247
Sherman McCoy, a young investment banker in Manhattan, finds himself arrested following a freak accident and becomes involved with prosecutors, politicians, the press, and assorted hustlers.
  1. 20
    A Week in December by Sebastian Faulks (browner56)
    browner56: Interesting social satire that takes shots at the hubris of the financial services industry
  2. 31
    Liar's Poker: Rising Through the Wreckage on Wall Street by Michael Lewis (mcenroeucsb)
  3. 31
    Election by Tom Perrotta (cf66)
  4. 43
    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
  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. 02
    The Devil Wears Prada by Lauren Weisberger (citygirl)
    citygirl: Skewers those at the top of the heap in NYC. Both quite funny.
  8. 03
    Brightness Falls by Jay McInerney (TheBentley)
  9. 14
    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.
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» See also 247 mentions

English (104)  Spanish (4)  French (3)  Hebrew (1)  German (1)  Catalan (1)  Italian (1)  All (1)  All languages (116)
Showing 1-5 of 104 (next | show all)
With the recent passing of Tom Wolfe I decided to reread this book. I was a bit apprehensive. Would it hold up? Would it seem dated and out of step? I was, thankfully, quite wrong in those worries. "Bonfire" remains one of the rare laugh out loud books for me. Wolfe's ability to puncture every form of hypocrisy and conceit makes the characters funny in a deep way that jokes can never achieve. The strange dichotomy of absurdity and absolute realism make this a propulsive read. It is a long book but not in any way a long read. The themes in this book remain totally relevant today in fact may of them are even more important now than in 1987 when he wrote it. It is truly hard to believe that a single person could write non-fiction at the level of "The Right Stuff" and literate satire as good as "Bonfire of the Vanities." I'm glad I revisited this book. ( )
  MarkMad | Jul 14, 2021 |
I read this book when it first came out & it blew me away. It’s still great & still lays bare the differences between the haves & have nots in New York City and how these differences are exploited by politicians, clergy (looking at you, Al Sharpton), and the media for their own benefit.

This book will never get old ( )
  etxgardener | May 4, 2021 |
My rating may be overly harsh - I think that if I had read this book earlier, even a year ago but certainly 5 or 10 years ago, I would have enjoyed it more. However, reading it right now set up some uncomfortable resonances. This novel revolves around racial tensions - but viewed right now it is, to say the least, unfortunate that the black activist Rev. Bacon is not just a "manipulator" as the blurb puts it but is tainted by the strong supposition of being insincere and dishonest. To give Wolfe a bit of a break, that characterization applies to the vast majority of the characters regardless of race. And in the end, I think this is the main source of my discontent with the book, there was nobody that I could "root for" or empathize with except perhaps the minor character of Judge Kovitzky. The view it paints of 1980s New York is one in which there is nothing and nobody to admire. I generally enjoy satire but this one felt so cruel as to lose its humor. ( )
  leslie.98 | Jan 27, 2021 |
This book was 5/5 for giving a great description of a few specific parts of NYC life in the early 1980s, but 3/5 because the fundamental plot was gratingly boring. It's worth reading to get a feel for the environment, but would have been a lot more justifiable if it were 50-100 pages, not 500. While there was a bit of interesting psychological development of the main character (essentially, his decline from rich/successful and not caring about anything, to essentially a caged animal and street fighter), Wolfe doesn't actually show much about that -- it's very rushed and essentially entirely in the last chapter and epilogue. So ironically the book was too long to be worth reading, but also missed the most interesting part.

Unless you're really into this kind of literary fiction, or a huge fan of Tom Wolfe, I'd probably skip this. ( )
  octal | Jan 1, 2021 |
A remarkable adventure with a coy, dark undertone that is brilliantly worked in by Wolfe. This book is 1980s New York at its grittiest, touching on race, prejudice, and moral and mob justice. Some weaker writing is constantly saved by sharp humour, and the grand punchline is not to be missed. ( )
  ephemeral_future | Aug 20, 2020 |
Showing 1-5 of 104 (next | show all)
So regularly is Tom Wolfe's brash 1987 tome described as "the quintessential novel of
the 80s" that you almost feel the phrase could be slapped on as a subtitle. But the ability
to "capture the decade" isn't the only measure of a writer's ability, and like a hot-pink
puffball dress, this story displays a blithe disregard for nuance.

Sherman McCoy, known to himself as a "Master of the Universe",
is a millionaire bond trader at Wall Street's Pierce and Pierce,
where the roar of the trading floor "resonate[s] with his very
gizzard". His mastery is punctured, however, when, with his
mistress at the wheel, his Mercedes hits and fatally injures a
young black man in the Bronx. The story of McCoy's subsequent
downfall is told alongside those of three other men, all
characterised by their raging ambition and vanity: an alcoholic
tabloid journalist desperate for a scoop; a power-hungry pastor;
and a district attorney keen to impress one of his former jury
members, the brown-lipsticked Miss Shelly Thomas.

Wolfe revels in the rambunctious, seething world of 80s New
York and brings to life in primary-colours prose a city fraught
with racial tensions and steeped in ego. The contrasting worlds of
McCoy and his victim, Henry Lamb, are vividly dramatised, if not
with great subtlety: rich, white Park Avenue versus poor, black Bronx.

At one particularly extravagant party, McCoy strays into a room described as "stuffed…
with sofas, cushions, fat chairs and hassocks, all of them braided, tasselled, banded,
bordered and... stuffed". Sometimes this big beast of a novel feels the same: dense with
research and bulging with bombast. Yet, it has to be admitted, it's also great fun.
added by browner56 | editThe Observer, Hemione Hoby (Jan 9, 2010)
 
The best account of the 90s me-first greed and fuck you attitude I have ever read.
added by Cynfelyn | editThe Guardian, Jon Snow (Nov 19, 1999)
 
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.
 
Sheer entertainment against a fabulous background, proving that late-blooming first-novelist Wolfe, a superobserver of the social scene (The
Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby, Radical Chic and Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers), has the right stuff for fiction. Undertaken as
a serial for Rolling Stone, his magnum opus hits the ball far, far, far out of the park. Son of Park Avenue wealth, Sherman McCoy at 35 is perhaps
the greatest bond salesman on Wall Street, and eats only the upper crust. But millionaire Sherman's constant inner cry is that he is "hemorrhaging
money." He's also a jerk, ripe for humiliation; and when his humiliation arrives, it is fearsome. Since this is also the story of The Law as it applies
to rich and poor, especially to blacks and Hispanics of the Bronx, Wolfe has a field day familiarizing the reader with the politics and legal
machinations that take place in the Bronx County Courthouse, a fortress wherein Sherman McCoy becomes known as the Great White Defendant.
One evening, married Sherman picks up his $100-million mistress Maria at Kennedy Airport, gets lost bringing her back in his $48,000 Mercedes-
Benz, is attacked by two blacks on a ramp in the Bronx. When Maria jumps behind the wheel, one black is hit by the car. Later, he lapses into a
terminal coma, but not before giving his mother part of Sherman's license plate. This event is hyped absurdly by an alcoholic British reporter for
the The City Light (read: Rupert Murdoch's New York Post), the mugger becomes an "honor student," and Sherman becomes the object of vile
racist attacks mounted by a charlatan black minister. Chunk by chunk, Sherman loses every footing in his life but gains his manhood. Meanwhile,
Wolfe triumphantly mounts scene after magnificent scene depicting the vanity of human endeavor, with every character measured by his shoes and
suits or dresses, his income and expenses, and with his vain desires rising in smoke against settings that would make a Hollywood director's tongue
hang out. Often hilarious, and much, much more.
added by browner56 | editKirkus Review
 
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
 

» Add other authors (18 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Wolfe, Tomprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Barrett, JoeNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Carano, RanieriTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Fastenau, JanTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Jukarainen, ErkkiTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lenders, BaltTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Marcellino, FredCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Schwarz, BenjaminTranslatorsecondary 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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Sherman McCoy, a young investment banker in Manhattan, finds himself arrested following a freak accident and becomes involved with prosecutors, politicians, the press, and assorted hustlers.

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