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Paperback The Bonfire of the Vanities Book

ISBN: 0553381342

ISBN13: 9780553381344

The Bonfire of the Vanities

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This description may be from another edition of this product. Vintage Tom Wolfe, The Bonfire of the Vanities, the #1 bestseller that will forever define late-twentieth-century New York style. "No one has portrayed New York Society this accurately and...

Customer Reviews

5 ratings

A Modern Classic!

It's always fun to read a best seller from almost 20 years ago, especially one that was proclaimed as something of a classic at the time. It's even more enjoyable to discover that Tom Wolfe's The Bonfire of the Vanities proves worthy of its acclaim even with the absence of cell phones, email and instant messaging. I mention the technology only because such communications dinosaurs as pay phones play significant roles in the story of how an auto accident involving a bond trader and a pedestrian teenager gets complicated by his mistress, a political hack of a DA, the resentful prosecutor, a drunken opportunist of a reporter, society matrons (including the bond trader's wife), a media manipulating black activist/minister, egotistical Wall Street executives, courthouse lawyers and a wealth of other characters. The title says it all. No character in the book operates without his or her ego getting in the way of things and like a small fire that gets too close to the charcoal lighter and then the gas tank... well, you get the idea. Forget the nonsensical movie they made of this, as far as I'm concerned that film exists solely for the purpose of demonstrating that Tom Hanks can make a bad decisions once every decade or so. This novel is a delight, one that should be rediscovered by a generation of readers that was in elementary school back in the 80's.

The Great American Novel

Tom Wolfe was once asked if the novel is dead. He replied that it's not quite dead, but it's on life support. He thinks the biggest problem with modern novels is that the novelists don't bother to do adequate research on their subject. How can one write a novel about India, for example, if one has never been to India? In Bonfire of the Vanities, Wolfe has done the research and has created an exact representation of modern city life in America, complete with politically self-serving DAs, civil rights demagogues, and pompous gold-coast dandies.Wolfe is obviously a keen observer of detail. This skill combined with his mastery of the reportorial style of writing make for a great novel, and a great expose' of the hustlers and opportunists that use the system for their own self-interest. I think of him as a modern-day Sinclair Lewis, who once said that he never passed judgement one way or another, he just reported what he observed. Since most of us have probably never been in a high-rise apartment on Park Avenue or a housing project in the Bronx, it's interesting to read Wolfe's detailed descriptions down to the type of wallpaper and table centerpieces. All of this works to pull the reader into the scene, the only excess possibly being his proclivity for over-reporting clothing styles. Wolfe shows his love of clothing by using esoteric terms that probably have no meaning to the average reader.Wolfe's scenes are so realistic the reader can imagine himself being in the action. I felt Sherman's fear in the Bronx jail cell. I felt his shame when lying to his wife about his relationship with Maria. The characters and dialog are so real, even though the reader may not live in that social milieu he can identify with the situation. The action moves at a rapid pace. Wolfe doesn't get bogged down with excessive narrative. He lets the characters speak for themselves--truly the mark of a great novelist. I love the way Wolfe has the Brits comment on Americans. It's refreshing to see ourselves from another perspective. How funny it is to hear Peter Fallow complain about our "ridiculous country" and our lack of social graces, all the while sponging off of rich Americans at every opportunity.This book is timeless. I read it for the second time recently and found it as enjoyable as the first. At the end I felt myself wishing for several more chapters. Bonfire of the Vanities should always stand as one of the best examples of American literature by one of our greatest writers.

Exquisite Moments

I think that one of the most startling things about this novel is that, for everyone who reads it, there is a different pivotal image, a separate moment in the book which forms an axis for the work. For me, it's Sherman McCoy's phone conversation with his estranged wife, in which he talks about the days when, as he went off to work, he would turn on the street under the window where she was watching, and give the black power sign. It meant, to this white son-of-a-lawyer, that he wasn't going to get sucked into Wall Street, that he was only using it; that it wouldn't change him.Fast forward a dozen or so years, and Sherman is 38. He's one of New York's leading Bond salesman, a self-titled Master of the Universe who makes a million dollars a year (and that isn't enough), barely sees his wife, and is cheating with another man's gold-digging spouse. As a matter of fact, when we first meet Sherman, the only redeeming feature he has is that he does seem to really love his five-year-old daughter.Sherman is not the only disgusting character we find as our story opens. There's the mistress, Maria, who laughs at her husband from the confines of her sublet rent-controlled love-nest. The wife is bitchy enough to lose sympathy with the reader despite her husband's philandering. There's the alcoholic tabloid journalist, who is an expert at getting other people to pick up the tab. And there's a thinly veiled reference to the Rev. Al Sharpton, just to complete the picture. When the book opens, the only character with whom the reader can sympathize is Larry, a lawyer who chose to work in the Bronx D.A.'s office because he wants to "make a difference".And yet, the reader is sucked into the lives of these people. At first it may only be for a tittlating look at how bad bad people can be, but very soon (Wolfe doesn't tease us long) we stay to find out whether our characters will get caught for the crime they have committed; finally, we stay because we have come to admire Sherman McCoy.It is a testament to Tom Wolfe's abilities that by the end of the novel, we have come to completely different views of most of the characters in this novel. The wife isn't bitchy, she's just dissatisfied with a life that she didn't set out to get. The mistress isn't harmless, she's a viper. The reporter will print any lie to increase the drama of the crime he's uncovering; the lawyer will justify anything to catch his "Great White Defendant".Sherman begins the book by telling us that he is entitled to his penthouse, his sports car, his mistress, his Saville Row suits. He finishes it standing alone, unable to afford a lawyer and "dressed for jail". But he's standing, and once again, he's raising a fist in the air, determined to overcome.

America's Twisted Glory

In *Bonfire of the Vanities*, pop journalist Wolfe takes a sneering satirical look (from a surprisingly European point of view) at American culture and all of its absurdities and obsessions. New York is treated as the microcosm of 80s America with all of its fads, rivalries, economic woes and class inequality mixing together uneasily and then exploding. Sherman McCoy, the supremely irritating central charater, is a fresh-faced adolescent of 38 years who just doesn't get the fact that the world is a harsh, dangerous place--that is until he becomes the fall guy in a politically and racially charged scandal. Peter Fallow (by far the best character in the book)is a delightfully cynical and misanthropic British journalist who observes the parade the do-gooder activists, slick political manipulators, confused cops, thuggish cops, skeletal society ladies, urban punks, garish architecture, trash culture and trendy clubs with an acid wit and always a few stiff drinks under his belt. If they ever make a real movie out of this book (the existing one doesn't count) PLEASE get Jeremy Irons to play Fallow. Some people see this book as some kind of right-wing propaganda. It isn't. Wolfe, despite his own more or less conservative views, allows the story to tell itself without a lot of interpretation from above. Each character is a complex individual with his or her own unique motivations and mixture of vice and virtue. We spend time inside the minds and private lives of a wide variety of people and are allowed to make our own judgements about who deserves what measure of praise or blame. If there is any prejudice in the book it is against people who simplify complex issues. Wolfe's world, like the real thing, is brimming with paradox.

One of the Best Books Ever Written--Fabulous

Bonfire is my all-time favorite book and, in my opinion, Tom Wolfe is an absolute genius. A lot of talented authors tell us very good, sometimes great, stories, but few people have the genius to cut through all the trappings and see life exactly as it is. Tom Wolfe exposes the excesses of the 80s gloriously in this book. Okay, all the characters were hateful, but how could they have been otherwise? The only problem I found was the ending--I would have liked to have seen a little more resolution, but that doesn't detract from the book's perfection. My only real complaint is that Wolfe never gave us anything else to equal the sheer genius of Bonfire.

The Bonfire of the Vanities Mentions in Our Blog

The Bonfire of the Vanities in What Better Way to Honor National Senior Citizens Day than by Celebrating Older Authors?
What Better Way to Honor National Senior Citizens Day than by Celebrating Older Authors?
Published by Beth Clark • August 21, 2018

We literally wouldn’t be here without our seniors, so celebrate the ones in your world for their role in creating and bringing you into it by spending time with the older, wiser, ‘been there, done that’ crowd today. But first, keep reading for a list of famous authors who either started writing late in life or kept writing until they were, well, OLD!

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