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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Watch out, NY!
The much-celebrated novel is a fairly unique one in the landscape of literature. Its 700+ pages and style are, as explicitly stated by Wolfe in the intro, an attempt to return to the grander realism works of the past. He specifically mentions Anna Karenina as the great example of the novel that portrays a cross section of a whole society. Only this is rarely done today,...
Published on July 2 2004 by Frikle

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3.0 out of 5 stars The Bonfire of Wolfe's Imagination
Yes, the plot drives itself.
Yes, the chracterizations are often vivid, entertaining, and thought-provoking.
Yes, the style and is agreeable and never too inconsistent with any given character at hand.
Yes, Wolfe shows and conveys his knowldge of the socio-economic stratums of America in book form. His insights into the relations between these groups and...
Published on June 11 2004 by Philip


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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Watch out, NY!, July 2 2004
This review is from: The Bonfire of the Vanities (Paperback)
The much-celebrated novel is a fairly unique one in the landscape of literature. Its 700+ pages and style are, as explicitly stated by Wolfe in the intro, an attempt to return to the grander realism works of the past. He specifically mentions Anna Karenina as the great example of the novel that portrays a cross section of a whole society. Only this is rarely done today, so what we have is one of the only major cross-sections of New York in the 80's.
However, this is a cross-section that is viciously sliced from the meaty flesh of New York society, leaving it gaping, bleeding and exposed, all in a highly satirical and humorous way.
The main story revolves around a high-powered broker and his mistress who are involved in a hit-and-run accident which leaves a young, black "youth" from the Bronx in a coma. The scandal sweeps the city as an epitomy of the racial, economic and cultural differences (and inequalities), as a mob builds up around the case. In terms of the actual plot, there's nothing complicated, rather, its the eye into the eschelons of high, middle and poor society New-York-style that makes this entertaining and enjoyable.
Wolfe exposes the massive slab of hypocrisy present in the society, from the DA who has idealistic tirades about his job (when it's really a vehicle for his extra-marital and political ambitions) to the British journalist who thumbs his nose down on all things American (while scurrying for his next free meal and alcoholic binge).
As mentioned by many reviewers, there's nothing essentially new in the book - as Wolfe said, some of it feels like it's been ripped from the headlines, but in reality much of it is art imitating life. What I liked about the book is its message of vanity and indulgence, and how quickly those superficial bubbles can be burst in a crisis to *make* a person "ordinary" again. True to an almost century-old tradition in books, there are no real heroes here. But still, despite all the horrible things the main character has done, I found myself feeling sorry for him and somewhat admiring him by the end.
Other complaints have been the superficial role of women in the book, but again, I think that's simply an extension of the superficiality of a section of society that spends more on a painting frame than a cop earns in 6 months.
Overall, a great book that speaks without being preachy and has a lot of very funny moments.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant Satire That Nails The 80's Down Flat!!!, June 17 2004
By 
Robert J. Schneider (Tacoma, WA USA) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The Bonfire of the Vanities (Paperback)
I cannot believe that it has actually been over a decade since I read Tom Wolfe's THE BONFIRE OF THE VANITIES; it is a brilliant and hilarious entertaining work of satirical fiction, and a dead-on accurate social commentary of everything that made up the 1980's, commonly (and accurately) known as The Greed Decade. This includes the incendiary racial conflagrations that had been simmering throughout the 1970's that finally began to unravel during the 80's, aided and abetted by an increasingly sensationalist media that practiced underhanded "divide and conquer" tactics in order to keep the middle and working classes down by improperly (and sneakily) shifting the discussion from class to race.
Wolfe captures all that here, albeit in a lighter tone, by following four separate tracks concurrently, and how they all come together: Financially successful but amoral and philandering nouveau-riche bond trader Sherman McCoy, professional successful but financially wanting assistant prosecutor Lawrence Kramer, professionally unsuccessful and perpetually inebriated British-born tabloid 'journalist' Peter Fallow, and socially powerful (but under-respected) self-proclaimed African-American leader Reverend Reginald Bacon. The bonfire that their vanities create is fascinating; but what is best about this book is the insightful and real-to-life humor/social commentary that Wolfe weaves into the story throughout. If you're a relatively young reader who was born in the 80's and thusly do not remember it the way that, let's say, those of us born in 1967 do, then the reading of this book is absolutely essential to understanding all the different dysfunctional facets that made the 1980's the way it was.
Do not be put off by the story's length (705 pages); it is so enjoyable and is such a compulsive page-turner that it is likely that it will only take you a week or less to get through it all. Pick this one up and treat yourself to the hilarious world of THE BONFIRE OF THE VANITIES---and if you must, rent the 1990 Brian De Palma-directed misfire and see just how totally inept Hollywood was in capturing this world. THE BONFIRE OF THE VANITIES has earned its proper place one of the greatest---and most important---works of fiction in the 20th Century.
MOST RECOMMENDED; AGES 17 & UP
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Capturing the Contradictions and Greed of '80's New York, July 7 2010
By 
Jeffrey Swystun (Toronto & Mont Tremblant) - See all my reviews
(TOP 50 REVIEWER)   
It took me more than a few years to read this book because I had to remove the image of Tom Hanks in the lead role from my mind (done after the first 50 pages). Let it be stated that I love fiction set in New York and the 1980's is a fascinating decade worthy of examination (and post-rationalization). The interlocking story is so well known now that I will not reprise it in this review. Suffice it to say that this is a tale of greed, morality, ego, "classes", and lost values. Wolfe walks and drives us all over New York and it is a dizzying and fun trip.
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4.0 out of 5 stars I'll play the Devil's Advocate..., Jan. 23 2001
By 
K. Paynter (Marietta, GA United States) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The Bonfire of the Vanities (Paperback)
First off, let me say that this book really held my interest and I enjoyed it (I gave it four stars, didn't I?).
Perhaps, though, I should not have read "A Man in Full" first. There are so many similarities between the two books that I found myself thinking that Wolfe re-wrote "Bonfire" to make "Man," yet based it in Atlanta instead of New York.
Let's see...both books had racial tensions, both concerned lawyers that only looked out for their own interests, both had a strong main character that eventually fell in the end, both involved a lot (and I do mean a lot) of spouse-cheating, both had political figures that were determined to get re-elected at any cost, both had characters that were oh-so-concerned with thrusting out their mighty muscles to impress the women...etc. etc. etc.
A previous reviewer stated that she didn't understand why people did not like the protagonist, Sherman McCoy. Let's see...hmmm...he cheats on his wife, repeatedly...he's a jerk to his fellow co-workers...he has no thought to what the consequences of his actions could do to his young daughter...in short, he generally thinks with the, er, "contents" of his pants. Granted, Wolfe writes in such a way that you do feel sorry for Sherman at the end, but I think it's important to remember that if he hadn't been cheating on his wife with Maria, then he never would have hit anyone with his car and the whole situation would have been avoided (although granted that would have made for a much less interesting book).
All in all, though, even if "Man" and "Bonfire" are similar, one cannot overlook the original genious of "Bonfire." Wolfe's descriptives of different types of people (the "Pimp Roll," for God's sake, to describe how someone walked) and the vicious observations he makes on society and its shortcomings (and believe me, no one is exempt, not even authors) aid in the creation of an intricately woven piece of literature.
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4.0 out of 5 stars All fired up and no place to go, Feb. 11 2005
This review is from: The Bonfire of the Vanities (Paperback)
It's not often that you could say that a book changed your life, but Tom Wolfe's BONFIRE OF THE VANITIES did just that for me. No, it's not life changing in the way that McCrae's BARK OF THE DOGWOOD is, with its glorious food for thought, hysterical passages, and extreme messages, but it did make me think on an entirely new level. I was a college drop-out doing nothing with my life and one day my sister gave me this book. I'm not a big reader but I could not put this book down. I became completely involved with the great characters in this book, young attorney, Larry Kramer, writer Peter Fallow, Reverand Reginald Bacon, and of course, Sherman McCoy. Wolfe wrote in such terrific detail that you feel as if you'd known these characters all your life. I started talking about them in conversations like they were close friends of mine. The story itself is incredible, taking you through the highs and lows of four main characters with Sherman being the tie that binds them all. Now, as for the life-changing part, I knew very little about the stock market, but after seeing the high-life that Sherman led, the luxury car, the Park Ave. Co-Op, and of course his lovely ladies, wife Judy and mistress, Maria Ruskin, I knew thats what I wanted for myself(except for the mistress, of course). So, I took a couple of classes, read a few books and I passed my stockbroker exam on the first try. Wall Street has been great to me--I have a job I love, great friends and surroundings and I met my wife at my firm. In short, I have never been happier and I have Tom Wolfe and his tale of a wealthy financier to thank. Must also recommend the DOGWOOD book by McCrae and another called A MAN IN FULL by the author of BONFIRE.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Nothing vain about this one, July 13 2004
This review is from: The Bonfire of the Vanities (Paperback)
I re-read this book just recently and loved it even more the sedcond time. Bonfire of the Vanities is a marvelous achievement: By turns, it doubles you over with laughter, causes you to pause and linger over a sublimely-written paragraph and shocks you into confronting the realities of our modern day institutions. The language is not for the faint-hearted -- beware. But as social satire and commentary, you're likely to find few equals.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A true "social" novel, June 13 2004
At some point in the 1980s, Tom Wolfe published an article in Harper's magazine promulgating the death of the social novel. The article caused a little stir among the literati, and sent legions of younger authors into cigarette-stimulated frenzies, hurriedly working on churning out the next great American "social" novel; like a fresh Americanized Dickens for the impending turn of the century. Well, it turns out Wolfe himself was doing the exact same thing, and it makes one wonder if the portending article was nothing more than an early plug for his novel-of-the-decade-to-define-the-decade.
"Bonfire of the Vanities" is most certainly a smart and transcending novel, completely cognizant of the politics of an era defined by greed and lack of sympathy. Reading it now as we bulldoze on past the millenium mark, it seems just as appropriate and necessary as ever before. Wolfe really has created a masterpiece here, with all the types of characters one would expect from late 1980s New York: the smug stockbroker; the weaselish journalist; the fawning assistant D.A. All these people are arrayed amid a boiling cauldron of vanity which exudes the societal malfunction of the era.
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3.0 out of 5 stars The Bonfire of Wolfe's Imagination, June 11 2004
By 
Philip (New York City) - See all my reviews
Yes, the plot drives itself.
Yes, the chracterizations are often vivid, entertaining, and thought-provoking.
Yes, the style and is agreeable and never too inconsistent with any given character at hand.
Yes, Wolfe shows and conveys his knowldge of the socio-economic stratums of America in book form. His insights into the relations between these groups and within them is noteworthy. He's well-travelled.
But, the novel is essentially nihilistic - yes, grandly and lavaciously nihilistic, but nonetheless nihilistic.
It is also too long. The writing helps justify the length, but the plot, the wonderfully simple plot does not!
And I'm not one for "gender studies" but the depiction of women in this novel is weak, marginal, and miserable.
I don't feel as if I wasted my time reading Bonfire( I skipped over the depressing last fity pages) but I feel Mr. Wolfe might have wasted some of his talent.
And what of the loose ends of seemingly important side-plots. It smacks of the dissappointment, I felt after reading his "A Man in Full." So much story, so little ending.
It's well worth the read, and is a modern classic, but some classics have flaws (like the times in which they are based) and they bring down this novel.
It at least brought me a little down.
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5.0 out of 5 stars BOTV everywhere, May 18 2004
By 
Andrew N. Villwock (Monmouth, OR United States) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The Bonfire of the Vanities (Paperback)
Has anyone else noticed that in just about any movie made in the last 10 years, whenever there is a bookshelf in the background a paperback copy of BOTV is on the shelf? Why is this? Are there that many copies in used book stores that prop masters have no choice but to select it, or was some contract signed that would ensure that it got more movie shelf time than any other book? Granted it's a wonderful book, but that doesn't fully explain the phenomenon. Just something to think about.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Impressively Accurate and Gripping, May 13 2004
By 
"bkummer4" (Philadelphia, PA United States) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Bonfire of the Vanities (Paperback)
I can understand how this book was such a milestone. True genius, in the journalistic style--for portraying so well the status and money-obsessed nature of New York, which still holds true today. Wolfe does a terrific, and I mean really terrific, job at describing the city's political climate and how easily people can be taken advantage of once power and money are thrown into the mix.
Each character's intense need to better his or her own situation is at the center of how each of them relate to the story. In that, the story is essentially a description of how five New Yorkers cross paths and manage to further and better their personal situations, at the expense of a rich Wall Street trader's criminal mistake and inward feelings of guilt. Even though Sherman McCoy's character is portrayed as your typical snooty financial industry professional, the way in which he is brought down is dismaying in itself. He is used as a scapegoat for the ills of the White Establishment by a crooked, black political figure (using the hypocrisy of the church to better himself); used as "the Great White Defendant" by an insecure, self-critical assistant DA to make his career as a trial lawyer; used as centerpiece of a tabloid story to build a shallow, alcoholic reporter's journalist career; used to displace blame by a promiscuous, sleek money-hungry trophy wife... The Bonfire shows the lengths people will go to in order to get ahead and the lack of underlying trust for others, irregardless of money and status. The book is a lesson in city life, opportunism, greed, and a fundamental lesson in our very nature and how we operate, in the strict, economic sense of the term.
In another vein, the plot takes some movie-like twists and turns that dont necessarily work well in writing. Overall, an amazing piece of work, but seems very well suited to the screen more than anything else...I still have to rent the movie!!! Overall, a gripping and very accurate rendition of the city lives we all dream of living.
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The Bonfire of the Vanities
The Bonfire of the Vanities by Tom Wolfe (Paperback - Nov. 1 1988)
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