- Paperback: 704 pages
- Publisher: Bantam; Reissue edition (December 1, 1988)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 033030660X
- ISBN-13: 978-0330306607
- ASIN: 0553275976
- Product Dimensions: 4.2 x 1.2 x 6.9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces
- Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars See all reviews (367 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,960,081 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Bonfire of the Vanities Paperback – November 1, 1988
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After Tom Wolfe defined the '60s in The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test and Radical Chic and Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers and the cultural U-turn at the turn of the '80s in The Right Stuff, nobody thought he could ever top himself again. In 1987, when The Bonfire of the Vanities arrived, the literati called Wolfe an "aging enfant terrible."
He wasn't aging; he was growing up. Bonfire's pyrotechnic satire of 1980s New York wasn't just Wolfe's best book, it was the best bestselling fiction debut of the decade, a miraculously realistic study of an unbelievably status-mad society, from the fiery combatants of the South Bronx to the bubbling scum at the top of Wall Street. Sherman McCoy, a farcically arrogant investment banker (dubbed a "Master of the Universe," Wolfe's brilliant metaphorical co-opting of a then-important toy for boys), hits a black guy in the Bronx with his Mercedes and runs--right into a nightmare peopled by vicious mistresses, thin wives like "social x-rays," slime-bag politicos, tabloid hacks, and Dantesque denizens of the "justice" system. If the Coen and Marx brothers together dramatized The Great Gatsby, Wolfe's Bonfire would probably be funnier. Many think his second novel, A Man in Full, is deeper, but Bonfire will never die down.
You might find it interesting to compare the film The Bonfire of the Vanities, a fascinating calamity perpetrated by the geniuses Brian De Palma and Tom Hanks, with The Right Stuff, one of the very best films of the '80s. --Tim Appelo
From Publishers Weekly
In his spellbinding first novel, Wolfe proves that he has the right stuff to write propulsively engrossing fiction. Both his cynical irony and sense of the ridiculous are perfectly suited to his subject: the roiling, corrupt, savage, ethnic melting pot that is New York City. Ranging from the rarefied atmosphere of Park Avenue to the dingy courtrooms of the Bronx, this is a totally credible tale of how the communities uneasily coexist and what happens when they collide. On a clandestine date with his mistress one night, top Wall Street investment banker and snobbish WASP Sherman McCoy misses his turn on the thruway and gets lost in the South Bronx; his Mercedes hits and seriously injures a young black man. The incident is inflated by a manipulative black leader, a district attorney seeking reelection and a sleazy tabloid reporter into a full-blown scandal, a political football and a hokey morality play. Wolfe adroitly swings his focus from one to another of the people involved: the protagonist McCoy; Kramer, the assistant D.A.; two detectivesone Irish, the other Jewish; a slimy, alcoholic British journalist; an outraged judge, etc. He has an infallible, mocking ear for New York voices, rendering with equal precision the defense lawyer's "gedoutdahere," the deliberate bad grammar ("that don't help matters") of the wily "reverend" and the clenched-teeth WASP locution ('howjado"). His reporter's eye has seized every gritty detail of the criminal justice system, and he is also acute in rendering the hierarchy at a society party. He convincingly equates the jungles of Wall Street and the Bronx: in both places men casually use the same four-letter expletives and, no matter what their standing on the social ladder, find that power kindles their lust for nubile young women. Erupting from the first line with noise, color, tension and immediacy, this immensely entertaining novel accurately mirrors a system that has broken down: from the social code of basic good manners to the fair practices of the law. It is safe to predict that the book will stand as a brilliant evocation of New York's class, racial and political structure in the 1980s. 200,000 first printing; $200,000 ad/promo; Literary Guild dual main selection; author tour.
Copyright 1987 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top Customer Reviews
It would be wrong to see this novel as a blacks Vs whites story. It’s only the clash between bad and bad ; utterly depressing, but also utterly fascinating, and supported by a great writing style and a wry sense of humor.
The Bonfire of the Vanities, written in the mid-80s, is a perfect satire of the melting pot that is New York City. No ethnic community is spared Wolfe's biting commentary, from the African-American "Reverend" racial huckster, to the Irish cops and DAs, to the novels chief protagonist, bond trading WASP Sherman McCoy and his high society running buddies. Wolfe is in fine form while spinning this yarn about racial politics and the skewed criminal justice system that is heavily impacted by it.
Wolfe is never better than when he crawls into the mind of some of his most colorful characters, and Sherman McCoy is no exception. I would certainly rate this as one of his better efforts, though not quite up to the standards of The Right Stuff.
when the city had reached a modern peak of wealth disparity and
violent crime. I am fascinated by reading about the massive amounts of
wealth being created on Wall Street alongside egos elevated to new
heights(see Liar's Poker) happening in a place that seemed to become
more dangerous every single year. The wealthy spent much of their
energy thinking of new ways to insulate themselves from the "rest of
With Bonfire, we get the opportunity to see what it would look like
when these worlds collide in such a hostile environment - when the
proud and lofty imaginations of several modern men are challenged by
their circumstances. While all of main characters represent different
social spheres, they constantly send a similar message: "I matter ...
This novel was so much fun to read, and at the same time can give you
the opportunity to delve into the minds and hearts of men that aren't
separated by as much as they think.
*****___(Perfection) The highest degree of enjoyment / fulfillment I've personally experienced with reading
****½___(Excellent) Only lower than five stars due to falling short on any number of "subjective" categories
****____(Influential) A very satisfying experience and has me looking for more from this writer/genre
***½____(Good) Keeps me engaged but unlikely to look for more by this writer unless highly recommended
***_____(Average) Could take it or leave it and will not be looking for more by the same writer
**______(Poor) Constantly asking myself, "How much worse can this get?" every few minutes
*_______(Terrible) Belongs in the dumpster... I mean, the recycling bin