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on April 7, 2014
When I was in college, the heroes of the journalism department were Vietnam reporters David Halberstam and Neil Sheehan, and the so-called "New Journalism" reporters: Hunter Thompson, Gay Talese, and Tom Wolfe. Today, the best known is Tom Wolfe, thanks to books like "The Right Stuff." His first book was "The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby" published in 1965. It's an anthology of his first magazine articles, that appeared in Esquire and other periodicals.

The magazine article that first attracted attention was "There goes [Vroom! Vroom!] That Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby" about the California custom car culture. At the time, Wolfe didn't know a carburetor from a muffler, being a New Yorker without a car. However, a week in Southern California changed all that. And how. He quickly spotted the best and the brightest of the customizers was a goateed beatnik-type named "Big Daddy" Ed Roth. Roth's cross-town rival George Barris built far more custom cars than Roth, but Roth was the wild visionary--highly-intelligent, articulate, and a little crazy. Wolfe wrote about Roth with insight and understanding that the trade magazines like "Hot Rod," "Car Craft" and "Rod and Custom" apparently lacked.

It was the same thing with "The Last American Hero." Wolfe went down to North Carolina, spent a week with good-old boy NASCAR driver Junior Johnson, and returned with an insight into Johnson and Southern-style stock car racing that completely eluded magazines that covered the sport, among them "Car and Driver," and "Motor Trend."

Wolfe wrote about fashion, too. In "The Secret Vice," he told how Lyndon Johnson woke up one morning and realized that John Kennedy was not only smarter than he, but better dressed ("He dresses like some British ambassador"). Johnson zeroed in on the sleeve of Kennedy's custom-made suits, and realized the button holes on the sleeve were real: they actually buttoned and unbuttoned. The buttons on the sleeve of Johnson's off-the-rack Sears and Roebuck suits, on the other hand, were sewn on top of the fabric, like some decoration. Old Lyndon wanted real buttonholes! He flew to London (where Kennedy's suits were custom-made), walked into the first tailor he could find, and said, "Make me a suit with real buttonholes! I want to look like a British ambassador!"

All the first great magazine articles are here, including "The Fifth Beatle" about brash New York DJ Murray the K, "The Peppermint Lounge" where the Beatles twisted the night away, "Loverboy of the Bourgeoise" about Cary Grant, "The Marvelous Mouth " about Muhammad Ali, "The New Art Gallery Society," "The Nanny Mafia" and on and on. Classics, everyone. And a delight to read--and reread. As one critic put it, "Tom Wolf is a (blankety-blank) joy."
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on May 31, 2006
This is a collection of short tales about contemporary New York and America written in the early 1960s. As you might expect, Wolfe is a little more rough around the edges here, and so there is a little hit and miss. However, The Last American Hero, about driver Junior Johnson and the early beginnings of NASCAR, is breathtaking - here are the true buds of Wolfe's ideas on American Masculinity that were to flower in The Right Stuff.
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on April 9, 2015
Of course Mr. Wolfe has produced another lapidary exposition on American culture, but what is so refreshing is that there is no condescending in these pieces. Vegas, hot rods, etc. you name it and if it falls under Mr. Wolfe's scrutiny it will be treated, if not with respect, then with understanding. This book like all his works is about AMERICA as only TOM WOLFE can render it and the hell with that early Frenchman, well almost.

If Wolfe seems too keen on displaying his erudite at times almost encyclopedic literary and historical antecedents, it is only because he is and was trained to be that way. Unfortunately his critics on E 43 st in Manhattan will never get over this. But let us face he does write for the common in an uncommon fashion.
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on November 20, 2004
Tom Wolfe began his career as a "New Journalist" with this book back in 1965, and when I discovered it some thirty years later I instantly became a fan of what this man is sellin'. The articles collected in here range a wide variety of topics, and even the duller pieces are punctuated with traces of brilliance.

The most memorable for me (seeing as I haven't read it in a few years) deal with some interesting and illuminating topics, both of their time and somehow relevant today:

The title piece dealing with custom cars (what's the hottest reality show staple besides weddings and home decor?)

Phil Spector's oddness (chilling in light of his recent legal troubles)

The beginnings of what would become NASCAR (now the biggest sport in the South)

Cassius Clay AKA Muhammed Ali (the role of the black athelete in American society is still being worked out)

Vegas' rise from the desert

There are countless others, products of their time and yet transcending eras to speak to us today. Again, not every piece works, but it's a credit to the book as a whole that I can't recall which ones were failures.

If you can find this, get it. You'll look at thinks differently afterwords...
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on April 28, 2015
Reading The Kandy Kolored Tangerine Flake Streamline Baby (1965) in 2015, it's hard to appreciate just how unusual Tom Wolfe's approach to writing seemed at the time, at least for a journalist. Today, such individualistic stylistic flourishes are old hat; then, they were "the new journalism."

TKKTFSB collects a number of Wolfe's essays and articles from the late 50s and early 60s into a kind of catch-all grab bag loosely organized into several topical sections. For an early 21st century reader (or at least this one) the most interesting thing about the book is the view of life in America on the cusp of what we now regard as "the Sixties," which really was the second half of the 60s (roughly 1965-1969). Wolfe looks at underground phenomena (stock car racing, the California car culture, teenage mores, rock music, the New York Bohemian scene, etc.) that would come to have broad cultural impact in the coming years.

I especially enjoyed his portrayals of New York disc jockey Murray the K ("The Fifth Beatle") and record mogul/Wall of Sound impresario Phil Spector, two figures who at the time were regarded as exploiting a minor, inexplicable fad called rock 'n roll music. Similarly, stock car and drag racing were seen as the obsessions of dismissible subcultures (teenagers and hillbillies). Today, of course, they are huge mainstream industries.

Wolfe is an excellent writer and astute observer, so his impressions are well worth reading. While some of the pieces here are better than others, all are worth the time it takes to read them, whether it's a portrait of Las Vegas, Cary Grant, pre-Muhammed Ali Cassius Clay or the tyranny of nannies in New York City.
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on March 7, 2013
Tom Wolfe captured my admiration with this book and The Painted Word
and I have enjoyed all his books since. I met him once when he spoke at
a gathering of advertising creative directors and found him as knowledgeable,
sarcastic and entertaining as his books.
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on March 17, 2009
Curiously, I picked up a copy of this book right before Christmas. My wife gave me a copy of Boom! by Tom Brokaw for Christmas. I decided to read Tom Wolfe first. I call it the pre-sixties in my review title ... this is because so many people now think of the sixties in terms of the late sixties counter-culture. This books paints the underlayer of what was going on before all that hippie/stop-the-war/change-the-world/woodstock stuff even started. The revolution was already happening and we didn't even know it yet. Nostalgic? Not really. This is a glimpse into Wolfe developing that all-seeing Tom Wolfe inner eye to look past what was happening to see and describe what was REALLY happening. This is an amazing book, very vibrant and entertaining and as much a context piece as it is an historical artifact. You want to understand the sixties? Read this book as a primer.
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on July 25, 2013
Once upon a time there was something called "The New Journalism", a type of non-fiction that developed during the 1960s among writers as different as Hunter S. Thompson, Gay Talese, Jimmy Breslin, Joan Didion, Truman Capote, Norman Mailer and Tom Wolfe, and which endeavored to use the tools of fiction to write non-fiction. Which used scenes instead of narrative to tell the story, relied on dialogue and conversation as opposed to isolated pull quotes, and which put a very distinct and acknowledged point-of-view front-and-center.

And while there are arguments about where it started, few will dispute that Tom Wolfe was one of the earliest practitioners and that this selection of his earliest essays represent some of the first forays into it.

The 22 pieces collected here originally ran in "Esquire", "Harper's Bazaar" and "New York" in the early 60s and [to read the rest of this review, please visit]
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on September 5, 2013
If you're a Tom Wolfe fan, this is obviously a must-read. The uninitiated can use this as a fine example of New Journalism.
The strongest pieces are up front, specifically on Las Vegas and the beginnings of stock car racing and the title-piece on kustom car culture in Southern California.
The second half of the book lags a bit as most of the stories about the upper-crust of 1960s New York fall into the we-get-the-idea category. Upon modern reading, some of the material seems dated - winkle-picker boots, etc. - but charmingly so. This is a great snapshot of Wolfe and the send-up style that would come to define him.
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on March 20, 1997
If this is your first venture into the world of Wolfe this is a nostalgic reminder of the good old days and the nuances which accompanied the people and the celebrities of that time. Some the stories are samey with the customised car theme recurring but that can be lived with. Essentially it is just a compendium of his articles which were then published. Nothing fascinating in that. What is fascinating is that even though the book was written in the sixties many of his themes appear in his book 'The Bonfire Of The Vanities'. For example, there is an article on the obssessive nature of people and tailored clothes (see Sherman McCoy) and the nanny mafia (Kramer this time). The general theme is the study of the superficiality of human nature (which is the main social commentary evident in 'Bonfire').
This book on its one is a good read but is made a great read when read after or before 'Bonfire'
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