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Radical Chic and Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers Paperback – September, 1987

4.5 out of 5 stars 57 customer reviews

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Paperback, September, 1987
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Editorial Reviews


“What Tom Wolfe has done is create an appallingly funny, cool, small, deflative two-scene social drama about America's biggest, hottest, and most perplexing problem--the confrontation between Black Rage and White Guilt.” ―Time magazine

“Wolfe's genius is that he is fair; he puts the Bernstein part in perspective against the background of New York social history. Read it and weep with laughter.” ―Houston Post

“A sociological classic . . . At Wolfe's hands the socialites get a roasting they will long remember.” ―Saturday Review

“Tom Wolfe understands the human animal like no sociologist around. He tweaks his reader's every buried though and prejudice. He sees through everything. He is as original and outrageous as ever.” ―The New York Times

“Uproariously funny and socially perceptive . . . a penetrating dissection of the confusion among the classes and the search for status.” ―Women's Wear Daily

“Tom Wolfe at his most clever, amusing, and irreverent.” ―San Franciscio Chronicle

“Absolutely brilliant. One of the finest examples of reporting and social commentary I have read anywhere.” ―Gay Talese

--This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 153 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar Straus & Giroux (September 1987)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374520720
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374520724
  • Product Dimensions: 0.5 x 5.5 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (57 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,230,438 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
"Radical Chic and Mau-mauing the Flak Catchers" is comprised of two short essays written by Tom Wolfe and first published in book form in 1970. While much has changed over the last three decades in America regarding the topic of race, the essays of this book are just as applicable now as they were when Wolfe wrote them.
"Radical Chic" is the story of a party thrown by Leonard Bernstein to raise money for the Black Panthers; specifically, for their legal defenses. Wolfe lets their own words and actions at this typical party be the objects by which these elite, Manhattanite, "limousine liberals" completely humiliate themselves. The lengths to which the Bernstein crowd goes--from whom they employ to what they wear--to remove anything that could possibly be viewed as "intolerant" is simply comical to almost anyone except for this crowd. As one who currently lives in New York City, this book was hilarious to read since any differences between the crowd Wolfe satirized in 1970 and the Manhattanite left-wing elitists of today, are virtually non-existent. As "Radical Chic" closes, this crowd is sent scrambling to distance themselves from the Panthers, not because the Panthers were anarchist street thugs, but because they are shown to be virulent racists, especially regarding anti-Semitism. Upper class Leftists, scrambling to distance themselves from the anti-Semitic comments of black leaders they once supported politically... my, how things have changed.
While "Radical Chic" is the longer and usually more famous of the two essays, "Mau-mauing the Flak Catchers" is Wolfe writing at a better, more colorful level than in "Radical Chic", where the essay's subjects do most of the talking.
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Format: Paperback
These are two long essays dealing with Race in America in the late 1960's. Radical Chic is the more famous of the two. Imagine the scene as Leonard Bernstien and his wife throw a cocktail party in their posh Manhattan Apartment with members of the Black Panther Party as the guests of honor. Wolfe was present at this strange event and offers a play by play of how Radical became all the Chic in the New York social scene...briefly. Bernstien's reputation received national tarnish, and Wolfe explains it all in his witty and insightful style. The book takes a snapshot of the late 60's and Wolfe deconstructs it to explain:White Guilt, New York Society, Zeitgeist, Media Frenzy and other assorted Social-Pop phenomena. Radical Chic is a fun read and will explain a lot about how the better half understood the radicalism of the 60's. I actually prefer the lesser known Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers. Anyone who has ever been involved in interest group politics will howl with laughter as angry minority youths confront pasty white bureaucrats in Oakland in the late 60's. This essay doesn't have the celebrity glamour of Radical Chic, but a lot more people have worked on local race and diversity issues than have made the Manhattan scene with Lenny Bernstien and the like. This essay really explains the purest democratization that was the result of the radical politics of the 60's.
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Tom Wolfe's singular brand of commentary reached it sharp, devastating pinnacle in this biting portrait of that pitiable creature - the wealthy white liberal. With verve, a strong metaphorical flourish, and a ready ability to move the story forward, Wolfe finely details a party that was intended to embody the ethos of an era, and unwittingly did.
This party on January 14, 1970 (Woodstock and the flag on the moon are dissipating euphorium; Altamont is a fresh bruise) brings crafty, radical, violent Black Panthers into the lair of America's great conductor Leonard Bernstein for a fund-raiser.
It's all here: the saccharine philosophizing, the goofy earnestness, the willful suspension of reasoning, even the seeds of the increasingly acrimonious relationship between America's blacks and Jews.
Wolfe adroitly draws the scene for us:
"[Black Panther speaker] Cox seizes the moment: `Our Minister of Defense, Huey P. Newton, has said if we can't find a meaningful life.. you know... maybe we can have a meaningful death... and one reason the power structure fears the Black Panthers is that they know the Black Panthers are ready to die for what they believe in, and a lot of us have already died.'
Lenny seems like a changed man. He looks up at Cox and says, `When you walk into this house, into this building' - and he gestures vaguely as if to take it all in, the moldings, the sconces, the Roquefort morsels rolled in crushed nuts, the servants, the elevator attendant and the doormen downstairs in their white dickeys, the marble lobby, the brass struts on the marquee out front - "when you walk into this house, you must feel infuriated!'
Cox looks embarrasses. `No, man... I manage to overcome that... That's a personal thing...'...
`Well,' says Lenny, `it makes me mad!
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I can't believe it took me this long to get around to reading this book. Here we see the rich and famous cavorting with violent anti-white, anti-American, and anti-Semitic criminals during the 1960s. It's hard to say who these pampered masochistic high society types hated more; themselves or their own people. Wolfe's recounting of Leonard Bernstein's "ode to the Panthers" party is outstanding. It's great journatlism. Heck, you know a situation is surreal when Barbara Walters is a voice of reason at a social gathering.

As a writer, Wolfe, could not possibly have done a better job. The narrator is everywhere but is not himself a character in the proceedings. He may be a fly on the wall but he is a fly that takes copious notes. The details are magnificent and he has a savant's eye for great quotations. You'll laugh, you'll rage, the limousine liberals and champagne socialists will astound you. The book was written over 30 years ago but it is just as applicable today as one could replace The Black Panthers with a nineties fellon like Mumia Abu Jamal. The section on mau-mauing, or the fine art of the racial shakedown, is totally priceless. It too is as applicable to the present as to the past. Wolfe foreshadows the great future successes of Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson at coercing cash out of whites who willingly give it away to ease their politically correct minds. A magnificent effort and, at 10 bucks, the price isn't bad--a pity that he didn't write another 200 pages.
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