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I Am Charlotte Simmons: A Novel Hardcover – November 9, 2004

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Product Description: Dupont University--the Olympian halls of learning housing the cream of America's youth, the roseate Gothic spires and manicured lawns suffused with tradition... Or so it appears to beautiful, brilliant Charlotte Simmons, a sheltered freshman from North Carolina. But Charlotte soon learns, to her mounting dismay, that for the uppercrust coeds of Dupont, sex, Cool, and kegs trump academic achievement every time.

As Charlotte encounters Dupont's privileged elite--her roommate, Beverly, a Groton-educated Brahmin in lusty pursuit of lacrosse players; Jojo Johanssen, the only white starting player on Dupont's godlike basketball team, whose position is threatened by a hotshot black freshman from the projects; the Young Turk of Saint Ray fraternity, Hoyt Thorpe, whose heady sense of entitlement and social domination is clinched by his accidental brawl with a bodyguard for the governor of California; and Adam Geller, one of the Millennial Mutants who run the university's "independent" newspaper and who consider themselves the last bastion of intellectual endeavor on the sex-crazed, jock-obsessed campus--she gains a new, revelatory sense of her own power, that of her difference and of her very innocence, but little does she realize that she will act as a catalyst in all of their lives. With his signature eye for detail, Tom Wolfe draws on extensive observation of campuses across the country to immortalize college life in the '00s. I Am Charlotte Simmons is the much-anticipated triumph of America's master chronicler.

Tom Wolfe Talks About I Am Charlotte Simmons
In I Am Charlotte Simmons, Tom Wolfe masterfully chronicles college sports, fraternities, keggers, coeds, and sex--all through the eyes of the titular Simmons, a bright and beautiful freshman at the fictional Dupont University. Listen to an Amazon.com exclusive audio clip of Wolfe talking about his new novel.

  • Listen to Tom Wolfe Talk About I Am Charlotte Simmons

    Tom Wolfe Timeline

    1931: Thomas Kennerly Wolfe, Jr. born in Richmond, VA, on March 2. Wolfe later attends Washington and Lee University (BA, English, 1951), and Yale University (Ph.D., American Studies, 1957).

    1956: Wolfe begins working as a reporter in Springfield, MA, Washington, D.C., then finally New York City, writing feature articles for major newspapers, as well as New York and Esquire magazines. Not satisfied with the conventions of newspaper reporting at the time, Wolfe experiments with using the techniques of fiction writing in his news articles. Wolfe's newspaper career spans a decade.

    1963: After being sent by Esquire to research a story about the custom car world in Southern California, Wolfe returns to New York with ideas, but no article. Upon telling his editor he cannot write it, the editor suggests he send his notes and someone else will. Wolfe stays up all night, types 49 pages, and turns it in the next morning. Later that day, the editor calls to tell Wolfe they are cutting the salutation off the top of the memorandum, printing the rest as-is. Thus, New Journalism was arguably born, whereby writing and storytelling techniques previously utilized only in fiction were radically applied to nonfiction. Straight reporting pieces now were free to include: the author's perceptions and experience, shifting perspectives, the use of jargon and slang, the reconstruction of events and conversations.

    1965: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux publish Wolfe's first collection of nonfiction stories displaying his newfound reporting techniques: The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby. The book cements Wolfe's place as a prominent stylist of the New Journalism movement.

    1968: The Pump House Gang and The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test (No. 91 on National Review's 100 Best Nonfiction Books of the Twentieth Century) publish on the same day, and together provide an up-close portrait and exploration of the hippie culture of the 1960s (by following the novelist Ken Kesey and his entourage of LSD enthusiasts), and the cultural change occurring at a seminal point in U.S. social history.

    1970: Radical Chic & Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers is published. This collection underscores racial divide in America, including an am using story about the socialites of New York City seeking out black liberation groups as guests, focusing on the conductor Leonard Bernstein's party with the Black Panthers in attendance at his Park Avenue duplex. (No. 35 on National Review's 100 Best Nonfiction Books of the Twentieth Century .)

    1976: Wolfe labels the 1970s "The Me Decade" in his collection of essays, Mauve Gloves & Madmen, Clutter & Vine. Wolfe illustrates the bookthroughout.

    1979: The Right Stuff is published. Depicting the status, structure, exploits, and ethics of daredevil pilots at the forefront of rocket and aircraft technology, as well as the beginnings of the space program and the pioneering NASA astronauts who were the first Americans to land on the moon, the book receives the National Book Award in 1980. An Academy Award-winning film is made from the book in 1983.

    1987: With publication of his first novel, The Bonfire of the Vanities--serialized in Rolling Stone magazine--Wolfe pens one of the bestselling and definitive novels of the 1980s, continuing his social criticism and ability to capture the lives and preoccupations of Americans, one generation at a time. Wolfe receives a record $5 million for movie rights to the novel and, despite the success of the book, the film fails at the box office.

    1998: A Man in Full, Wolfe's second novel, is published to mixed criticism, yet garners favor as a 1998 National Book Award Finalist. Here, Wolfe aims his sights on the Atlanta, GA, elite, trophy wives, and real estate developers, continuing to comment on racial issues and the chasm in socioeconomic status in America.

    2000: Hooking Up, a collection of essays, reviews, profiles, and the novella, Ambush at Fort Bragg, is published.

    2004: On November 9, Wolfe's third novel, I Am Charlotte Simmons, set at the fictional Dupont University, is published.

  • From Publishers Weekly

    What New York City finance was to Wolfe in the 1980s and Southern real estate in the '90s, the college campus is in this sprawling, lurid novel: a flashpoint for cultural standards and the setting for a modern parable. At elite Dupont (a fictional school based on Wolfe's research at places like Stanford and Michigan), the author unspools a standard college story with a 21st-century twist—jocks, geeks, prudes and partiers are up to their usual exploits, only now with looser sexual mores and with the aid of cell phones. Wolfe begins, as he might say, with a "bango": two frat boys tangle with the bodyguard of a politician they've caught in a sex act. We then race through plots involving students' candy-colored interactions with each other and inside their own heads: Charlotte, a cipher and prodigy from a conservative Southern family whose initiation into dorm life Wolfe milks to much dramatic advantage; Jojo, a white basketball player struggling with race, academic guilt and job security; Hoyt, a BMOC frat boy with rage issues; Adam, a student reporter cowed by alpha males. As in Wolfe's other novels, characters typically fall into two categories: superior types felled by their own vanity and underdogs forced to rely on wiles. But what in Bonfire of the Vanities were powerful competing archetypes playing out cultural battles here seem simply thin and binary types. Wolfe's promising setup never leads to a deeper contemplation of race, sex or general hierarchies. Instead, there is a virtual recitation of facts, albeit colorful ones, with little social insight beyond the broadly obvious. (Athletes getting a free pass? The sheltered receiving rude awakenings?) Boasting casual sex and machismo-fueled violence, the novel seems intent on shocking, but little here will surprise even those well past their term-paper years. Wolfe's adrenalized prose remains on display—e.g., a basketball game seen from inside a player's head—and he weaves a story that comes alive with cinematic vividness. But, like a particular kind of survey course, readers are likely to breeze through these pages—yet find themselves with little to show for it.
    Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

    Product Details

    • Hardcover: 688 pages
    • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (November 9, 2004)
    • Language: English
    • ISBN-10: 0374281580
    • ISBN-13: 978-0374281588
    • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.4 x 9.2 inches
    • Shipping Weight: 2.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
    • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (709 customer reviews)
    • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #377,609 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

    Customer Reviews

    Top Customer Reviews

    By M. Goldner on November 14, 2004
    Format: Hardcover
    Poor Tom Wolfe. He writes infrequently, and readers apparently bring a lot of baggage to his work, based on the reviews above and on the universality of the subject he covers here.

    Whether or not you feel like Wolfe accurately captures college life in the 21st century, one thing is for sure: Wolfe writes with more flair and color than any of his contemporaries. Like his other work, I Am Charlotte Simmons is engrossing, very funny at times and a real page turner. Certainly I found a lot here that reminded me of my college days, and Wolfe does a great job of capturing the different elements of campus life, elements that largely transcend the specific jargon and events of any specific decade.

    Whereas I was highly disappointed with the end of A Man In Full (although I loved the rest of the book), I Am Charlotte Simmons has a truer, better conclusion, and is well worth the investment. If you're a fan of Tom Wolfe, you won't be disappointed. If you're not a fan of Tom Wolfe, and you like to read, you need to check him out. I'd probably start with The Right Stuff and Bonfire of the Vanities, but basically you can't go wrong.

    I Am Charlotte Simmons is a welcome addition to the Wolfe canon, and don't let the negative reviews here sway you; as someone else has noted, even bad Wolfe is better than 99% of everything else out there.
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    Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
    Many of the college-age reviewers miss the mark completely. They get hung up on what brand of jeans they wear at their school and what music their "cool" group listens to. They completely lack the perspective to see what Wolfe is getting at - our best and brightest have been surrendered to a system that is anarchy intent only on drugs, sex, and sporting and popular culture.

    Some have criticized the amount of play sports are given in the novel. In many colleges, the first and often only thing out of the mouth of many students (if you can find one sober on a Friday night) is the current state of the sports team active at that time of the year. Every year, colleges from Washington and Lee (Wolfe's alma mater and a top-10 party school) to BYU (stone-cold sober top 10) have their current crop of athletes-gone-wild who are cheating in school, raping co-eds, and getting caught driving while on drugs. Wolfe also nails the attitudes and thinking of many athletes and athletic programs. Sure, there are exceptions, but not as many as you think.

    And the emphasis on drinking and sex is right on target. I recently attended an Illinois/Michigan football game with a nephew. I crashed in his student apartment and then walked to the game Saturday AM. The streets were littered with used condoms, empty alcohol bottles, half-naked students covered with vomit, and expensive SUV's parked crazily. Being of bookish bent, I swung by the library and found this beautiful facility as quiet as a tombstone - and as empty as the alcohol bottles in the stadium parking lot. Watch some spring break program on TV or rent girls-gone-wild (which I swear I have never done) and you will get the picture.
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    2 Comments 47 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
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    Format: Paperback
    Tom Wolfe's subject matter here - college life - is thinner than in some of his other books. But his powers of perception are undiminished, and he still delivers satire with the best of them.

    Wolfe, who is proud of the amount of research he does, is known to have visited numerous campuses in his years of work on this book. In one interview he recounted fleeing a frat party with its participants out the back door as the police raided it. Now, that's research! So I assume his characters here are reasonably true to life.

    And what he finds is this: That despite drastic cultural changes, some aspects of college life persist because they are so firmly rooted in unchangeable human behavior. Jocks and other BMOCs (big men on campus) rule because they are the alpha males that the girls want. It's biology. The girls can't help themselves from wanting them, even less so in today's amoral climate where women are free to do whatever they want in college.

    Wolfe delivers the expected campus satire. (Actually, it hews so close to reality it may be unfair to call it "satire.") The bullying coach has his own power base and million-dollar advertising deals, and ridicules any player who actually wants to get an education. The angry Asian feminist intellectual perceives any heard remark as an insult against some victim group, to which she responds with a foul-mouthed gusto her male companions can only dream of matching. The aging radical professor still wages war against jocks and fascists. The sorority girls are slutty and drunken snobs totally preoccupied with status, parties and clothes. The frat boys are drunken morons preoccupied with sex, parties and sports. And so on.

    What many critics fail to perceive about Wolfe, though, is that he is essentially a Southern writer.
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    15 Comments 150 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
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    Format: Hardcover
    To paraphrase Michael Barone, our society creates the most inept 18 year-olds and the most super competent 30 year-olds in the world. Tom Wolfe shows us in I AM CHARLOTTE SIMMONS how incompetent the 18 year olds of today are, in the setting of a prestigious University full of the best and brightest. His third novel should worry parents and enlighten the rest of us.

    Those familiar with Wolfe's style of new journalism will appreciate how he uses a combination of subtlety and action to reveal character traits and feelings. Wolfe's characters are funny because they are mostly charlatans, egomaniacs or self-righteous bores. This novel and his last both introduce sympathetic characters and he puts them into a society that doesn't understand their inherent goodness. Wolfe makes his heroes re-think their own values in a world that would just as soon stomp on them.

    Charlotte has been given the immense gift of fleeing her poor rural life and living amongst contemporary geniuses. What she assumes will be discussion groups on philosophy and science is, in fact, a campus of frat parties and hooking up. She's isolated and clings to her own small town values, but as her loneliness grows deeper, she compromises little things and later bigger things to better fit in. Wolfe gives us 700 pages to watch Charlotte's strength get sapped by the unforgiving realities of contemporary life.

    Along the way we meet jocks, geeks, frat boys, sorority girls, genius professors and radical hippy ones. We meet college coaches and rich parents and famous politicians and very few of them come off looking noble. Wolfe can be salacious when he describes the goings on and it's a big plus for the book, because we can enjoy the description and later feel morally superior to the acts themselves.
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