November's Book: The Bonfire of the Vanities, by Tom Wolfe

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Tom Wolfe’s bestselling novel The Bonfire of the Vanities is a portrait of New York in the late 1980s—a city seething with racial tension in Harlem and the Bronx while traders were raking in huge profits on Wall Street. Wolfe’s sharp observations skewer New York society’s greed and arrogance, and highlight the simmering resentment between the haves and have nots. The New York Times Book Review called it “A big, bitter, funny, craftily plotted book that grabs you by the lapels and won’t let go.” Read it now and get your lapels grabbed!  


Get the conversation started now by leaving your comments and questions about the book!


Tom Wolfe

Comments [20]

Ed from Larchmont

So really, a very traditional and moral story.

Nov. 15 2012 08:44 AM
Ed from Larchmont

It's been a while since I read this, I forgot. I finally decided that underneath the sociological picture of New York City, it really is a story about a marriage - it's going well, then it falls apart, then the two people decide to work to get it back together, and drop the circumstances that caused it to fall apart.

Nov. 15 2012 07:58 AM
MTM from Hoboken

One of my all time favourite books - shining a light on all of our hypocricies. I was working on Wall Street at the time and Sherman was perfectly depicted. The fact that not much has changed is sad. Al Sharpton started to make sense around the mid ninties - he was the guy who noticed the elephant in the room and did not mind pointing it out. There was no way this book should/could have been made into a movie since everyone says one thing and thinks another. Whoever optioned the book did not read it. It is of a time and place and I think it will be the one book Tom is best remembered for.

Nov. 14 2012 01:20 PM
Dorothy from Manhattan

Mr. Wolfe isn't keeping up -- People aren't leaving the City for the suburbs after kids -- The streets are full of nannies and/or mothers with strollers. They might move from Manhattan to Brooklyn, but that's it.

Nov. 14 2012 12:59 PM

I read Bonfire just after moving here in 1994. I spent most of my youth in the South before moving here. It was a great introduction to the rich fabric of NYC, and much has happened in the city since! Thanks for this prescient novel.

Nov. 14 2012 12:58 PM
at525 from Park Slope

I read the book when it came out and I found it a strange experience as it blurred the line between the novel and the world of New York City that I saw around me. One day I was reading the book on the subway, a riff about young balck men in prison and how they would scrub their sneakers (running shoes) Til they were sparkling white. I looked up and there was a young man across from me with the brightest pair of sneakers, just glowing white in the dirty gray of the train. And with the laces untied and dragging of course. It was like Twilight ZOne as the novel and real life mixed together. He so captured a time and place. And Hey Tom Wolfe, how about an updated version of The Painted Word? As much as you nailed the pretense of the art world in the 70s it has so surpassed your satire today.

Nov. 14 2012 12:58 PM
annie from Bronx

Tom Wolf isn't addressing the questions he is being asked about, such as the racial ignorance and vitriol that still persists in this country.

Nov. 14 2012 12:57 PM
Nancy Lang from Brooklyn

I think its interesting, maybe concerning, maybe a sign of progress... that Al Sharpton currently hosts his own news program on a major cable network. I wonder what Mr. Wolfe thinks of this, considering the reverand character from bonfires is so close to the "old" Mr. Sharpton.

Nov. 14 2012 12:48 PM
John A

OK, Bonfire. Did Tom get to see the film before release, and, did he retreat to a 'non disclosed location' for the opening? It supposedly lost $35M

Nov. 14 2012 12:47 PM
Michael from Passaic County NJ

I wonder if Mr. Wolfe reads reviews of his work, and if so, whether he read James Woods's recent review of "Back to Blood." If he has, would he respond to Mr. Woods's criticisms: for instance, that Wolfe's novels are formulaic since The Bonfire of the Vanities, and that they sensationalize interracial conflict? (I am paraphrasing Woods's criticisms.)

Nov. 14 2012 12:41 PM

Does Mr. Wolfe see any parallels with Zimmerman-Martin case?

Nov. 14 2012 12:35 PM
John A

In that Tom gave is 'Kool Aid', "Right Stuff" and the "Me Decade" analysis, why haven't I read this book? Great appreciation from me for these.

Nov. 14 2012 12:04 PM
Janos from Manhattan

After watching the events surrounding the financial collapse in 2008-2009, does Mr. Wolfe still think that Sherman McCoy's character would lose his job, money, and family? It seems like Masters of the Universe generally get away with their transgressions, perhaps with a slap on the wrist.

Nov. 14 2012 11:13 AM
Ed from Larchmont

The book is, of course, a wonderful sociological picture, not unsympathetic, of New York City in the late 1980s. (I would think now the city has less crime.) And it's a complete picture. Loved Reverend Bacon. The only thing I didn't find in the book was a deeper level of meaning than this sociological one, but this level was excellent enough.

Nov. 14 2012 08:03 AM
Eric from Harding from Harding Township

"Plaques for Blacks!" Unfortunately, not much has changed since it's publication.

Nov. 13 2012 01:48 PM
thad from Kendrick, ID

I've only read Wolfe's The Electric Kool-aid Acid Test but loved the movie version of your featured title. Saw it again recently and laughed all the way through; I loved the exaggerated stereotypes. Will this program air during Leonard's usual M-F time slot? I'd hate to miss it. Thanks.

Nov. 13 2012 01:13 PM
Susan Zugaib

I read Bonfire when it was serialized in Rolling Stone Magazine, and looked forward so eagerly to each issue. The main character was a novelist living on the upper east side, and I thought it was a brilliant characterization. Then the book came out, and he was transformed into a Wall Street man, which I thought was a cheap shot, and his behavior became more of a cliche and made him less sympathetic. Why the change?

Nov. 08 2012 02:18 PM
Nelly from Bridgewater NJ

This is one of my favorite all time book. as a native french speaker, it was my first english novel. I remembered liking it so much I stayed up all night for a few days reading it until I was done.
It's a wonderful story and I have to say, as a foreigner, seeing all the ignorant things being said about president obama, things have not changed at all. The US still have one of the greatest racial class division in the world.

Oct. 26 2012 08:56 PM

This book is a racist diatribe. It is disgusting that you would resurrect this piece of garbage.

Oct. 26 2012 02:21 AM
judith fermon

Always have loved the book for its humor, irony and dead on social political criticism.

Oct. 25 2012 04:34 PM

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