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on March 25, 2017
Uninteresting side story. One side story is just abandoned on the way and does not lead anywhere. Very poor stylistically. Too many repetitions on clicheed expressions.
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on January 11, 1999
I have reached literary nirvana with Tom Wolfe's outrageous, hilarious take on the 1990's, "A Man in Full". This is a masterpiece, with dead-on characterizations, no-holds-barred satire and discussion-provoking social commentary.
Just the characters' names alone are priceless - Raymond Peepgas, Roger Too White, and Charlie Croker among them. Everyone is knocked here: the ego-inflated developer, the social climbing lawyer, the trophy wife, the pampered athlete. Sentences are worth reading two and three times to digest their full wonderfulness. No one can turn a phrase like Wolfe.
Okay, the ending seems a little rushed. But events tie together in satisfying fashion, and I for one was sorry to see the novel end, even after 741 pages. It's the Great American Novel of the decade.
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on June 9, 2004
You might, as you start reading Man in Full, think that it's going to be another bonfire of similar vanities. You might, but you would be wrong. I loved Bonfire of the Vanities, but this book has more heart; it's even better.
The book is mostly set in Atlanta, and Wolfe makes the case that Atlanta has a unique racial situation. Race relations and racial tensions form a major theme in the novel. Wolfe views race from many angles, including views from Atlanta's black elite, wealthy conservative and liberal southern white, and the inside of a California prison.
The characters and characterizations are marvelous. This was one of the strengths of Bonfires and it's a strength of this book too. I don't think Wolfe writes women as well as he writes men, but the men of several different walks of life are as fully fleshed as anything I've ever read. Another fascinating thing about the book is the inside knowledge Wolfe shares. The insider's view of an Atlanta mayoral campaign was truly eye-opening, as was the inside view of a prison.
The book is hard to classify, but the view is often satirical (like Bonfire), and makes fun of the pride, vanity, lusts, and fears of the elites (like Bonfire). However, there is more heart. Some of the heart shows up in Wolfe's compassion for divorced 50-something wives who have been discarded by their social climbing husbands. In Bonfire, the wives, called "X-rays" were subject to the same ridicule as their husbands; not so in this book. Wolfe also shows some compassion for the poor souls in prison, as he illuminates the brutal social structure in his california jail. It's never mawkish; it never plays for sympathy or tears, but the simple facts of prison life are a horror.
Finally, Wolfe's foray into Stoic philosophy is beautifully and brilliantly done. When was the last time you read a novel where a philosophy book formed a major plot element? I think this book will continue to be read long after we've forgotten about Tom Clancy and Danielle Steele and most of the rest of the current crop of best-selling authors.
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on January 22, 1999
Generally I think Wolfe wrote an interesting, but not great novel.
Some of the characters are well drawn, particularly the two progtagonists, Conrad and Charlie. The description of Conrad's worst day gives us an interesting baseline on which we can follow his character development throughout his subsequent experiences. Others figures are despressingly two-dimensional - especially the women, who seem to be primarily motivated by how purchasing power and age. Worst of all is Charlie's wife; I don't understand any of her motivation least of all why she has a child.
Some of the scenes are brilliantly written, such as Charlie picking up the snake and the weekend with the "liberal Jews". Unfortunately, these gems are interspersed with verbose descriptions of everything from clothing, house decor, horse mating and jailhouse talk.
The ending is the single biggest disappointment. All loose ends quickly get resolved, everyone lives happily ever after. This is what you would expect from a TV mini-series. This novel really could have used some editing in the mid sections and a (dare I say) a lengthier, more thoughtful ending.
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on October 16, 1999
I don't think I can read a Wolfe novel or story and not enjoy it.
That said, both of his novels end with a deus ex machina. Given that Epictetus leans heavily on this one, maybe we can forgive it. I liked it, but I would have liked it better without the rabbit-out-of-the-hat. Maybe next time....
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on May 26, 2000
This book is about life, and it is not the story (which is very gripping indeed) but the deep development of characters what it counts. Throughout a very detailed physical, satirical and, psychological observation of the ambitions and careers of members of the different social rungs of the Atlanta and America social ladder, Wolfe weaves a story which never falters from beginning to end and maintains the same level of writing style and quality in every chapter. All the characters, stereotyped ones, move interrelated because the actions of some of them bring big misfortunes to the life of others, All share problems in common, that is, making a living, maintaining an image and keeping their high living standards and everyone of them seem to say". Look, I have a situation here..."and are shown enduring their existence in relation to the events that come to their lives. The magic lies in the way the reader is introduced to the life of the character, because one reads and wish to make judgments about everything unexpected that happens, kind of (What I would do in this case ? What if..?) All characters receive equal treatment under the pen of the author, the top tycoon, the frustrated professional and the humblest worker. Pain and disappointment are part of life for all of them and no matter the money and prestige they have or don't have, they must confront and solve complex problems entailing difficult decisions sometimes under big pressure as tough they were hanging on the edge of a cliff. I would have changed the title of this book for another one ".Life in full.......".because some passages provide useful examples and others remarkable observations applying to everyday life ranging from the most important circumstances to the less significant ones. Highly recommendable for a gift to oneself and a dear friend
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on November 25, 2000
I'm sure that by now everyone is aware of the basic story of A Man in Full, Tom Wolfe's eleven-years-in-the-making, heart-surgery and-depression-interrupted, follow up to his great novel of the 80's, Bonfire of the Vanities. Charlie Croker is a 60 year old, good old boy, developer in Atlanta. A former star Georgia Tech halfback, his empire includes a game ranch, a frozen foods business and a white elephant of an office building that is bleeding him dry. Judging his success purely by the accouterments, he appears to be doing okay, with a hottie trophy wife, a Gulf Stream 5, palatial houses, etc. But his bankers smell blood in the water, one of them (Raymond Peepgass) has even secretly put together a syndicate to take over the office building at cut rate, and Charlie has to lay off some workers at the food business, including young Conrad Hensley, just to free up cash and buy some time. Meanwhile, Georgia Tech's new star halfback, Fareek Fanon, is being accused of raping the daughter of one of Charlie's wealthy society cronies. Up and coming black attorney Roger White II (Roger Too White) has been called in to handle the defense and he offers Charlie a deal: speak out in support of Fareek at a press conference orchestrated by the mayor, and they'll get the bank to back off. As Charlie wrestles with this decision, Conrad works his way across the country, converting to Stoicism in the process. Their paths all meet when Conrad is assigned to Charlie as a physical therapist after knee surgery and shares the tenets of Stoicism with him. With the press conference looming Charlie must decide whether to go along with Roger's plan, by praising Fareek, and save his empire and position in society or be true to himself, at the risk of losing everything and possibly causing race riots in Atlanta, and tell the truth, that Fareek, like many athletes, is shallow, self-centered, pampered and arrogant.
Of course, interspersed with this basic narrative, Wolfe provides the myriad details, learned expositions, social observations and zeitgeist probings for which he is justly famous. These elements of the novel, if not quite up to the level of his best work (Radical Chic, Bauhaus to Our House, The Right Stuff and Bonfire), are still very funny, extremely insightful and wildly ambitious. He really just blows the doors off of most other novelists, simply by being willing to attempt such a massive portrait of America.
If you just take that set up, it looks like this is merely an updating of Bonfire--rich guy's world collapsing, racial tension, etc.. But the real risk taking, the nearly masochistic reach that Wolfe makes here, is in his portrayal of Conrad Hensley. For over thirty years, Wolfe has been a master of the social satire. He has basically made a career out of pricking the gonfalon bubbles of America's most ostentatious and self-important cultural elites. But once in a great while one of his subjects has managed to pierce the ironic veil and make him stumble. The two who spring to mind most readily are the race car driver Junior Johnson (read his profile "The Last American Hero") and Chuck Yeager (read Orrin's review of The Right Stuff). Both of these men penetrated Wolfe's ironic detachment and he ended up portraying them as genuine unalloyed American heroes. Now it's perfectly understandable that this point was lost in his pretty substantial corpus of work, but with Conrad it becomes clear what was going on all along; they are all Men in Full.
When Conrad is in prison and has just discovered the teachings of Epictetus and the other Stoics, he finds himself in a situation that clearly portends his own rape and asks:
What would Epictetus have done with this bunch? What could he have done? How could you apply his lessons two thousand years later, in this grimy gray pod, this pigsty full of beasts who grunted about motherf***in' this and motherf***in' that and turning boys into B-cats and jookin' punks? And yet...were they really any worse than Nero and his Imperial Guard? Epictetus spoke to him--from half a world and two thousand years away! The answer was somewhere in these pages! What little bit Conrad had learned about philosophy at Mount Diablo had seemed to concern people who were free and whose main problem was to choose from among life's infinite possibilities. Only Epictetus began with the assumption that life is hard, brutal, punishing, narrow, and confining, a deadly business, and that fairness and unfairness are beside the point. Only Epictetus, so far as Conrad knew, was a philosopher who had been stripped of everything, imprisoned, tortured, enslaved, threatened with death. And only Epictetus had looked his tormenters in the eye and said, "You do what you have to do, and I will do what I have to do, which is live and die like a man." And he had prevailed.
There in a nutshell is what Wolfe has been looking for throughout his decades long journey through the American landscape--modern successors to Epictetus, men who live and die like men, who simply do the right thing. He had found two such men in Yeager and Johnson and now, for the first time, he has created a fictional character in their image. And Conrad becomes the vehicle through which Wolfe demonstrates that there is still a tiny flame of genuine decency burning within modern man.
This is the point at which the book becomes truly remarkable. Because Tom Wolfe--68, ill, depressed, snide, old Tom Wolfe--allows Charlie Croker to redeem himself. What a symbol of hope the author holds out to us. Charlie Croker who has been as caught up in the games and role playing of our vacuous modern world as any of the characters, real or fictional, that Wolfe has ever described, finds it within himself to become a man in full, to do the right thing, to live like a man. It turns out that Wolfe is a romantic at heart. His long career attacking pretense is suddenly cast in a different light. It turns out he's been trying to get us to strip away our materialist, politically correct, corporatist, conformist, opportunistic outer selves and become Stoics. Many of the critics refer to this book as Wolfe's most humane work and it is to this realization that they are unknowingly referring. After thirty some odd years of poking fun at people, we find out that he's trying to save their souls.
Of course, all of this is an invitation to ridicule. It's bad enough if you are merely a brilliant conservative. Worse still to be one of the great journalists of all time, and a conservative. Much worse to be a great novelist, and a conservative. But now, here comes the worst blow of all; you just can't be a brilliant journalist/novelist who's a compassionate conservative; you overload the circuits. But at the end of the day that is what we are left with. Radical Chic and Right Stuff established him as a first rate journalist. Bonfire and Man in Full elevate him to the first rank of novelists. If his politics weren't galling enough before, here he is juxtaposing an AID's benefit with a prison rape and calling on us to return to a moral philosophy that predates (and influenced) Christ. And here, in the twilight of his career, it becomes obvious that the Conrad Hensleys and the human possibilities of a Charlie Croker are central to his vision of man. No wonder the reviews are so wildly contradictory and even self-contradictory. The left wing establishment does not even seem to understand what Wolfe has set out to do, but what they do understand, they clearly don't like.
Take a look at what the critics take issue with in his work. Wolfe's critics dislike his politics. Well of course they do, his moral politics are fundamentally two millenia old and profoundly conservative. They say his female characters are weak. Of course they are; he's uninterested in women. All of his work turns out to be an attempt to understand modern men. They say he only presents characters' surface personae, not their inner beings. That's his point; we've abandoned our inner beings, our natural selves, and we live the lives we project to people. The essence of the Wolfe critique--from Radical Chic, to the Apollo program, to modern art--is that modern man is hollow. Like C.S. Lewis' "men without chests", they lack a moral core and so every passing fade or fancy is manifested in their outer beings. Lacking any internal compass for moral guidance, they follow the herd like lemmings. Are gay rights popular? Fine, I'm pro gay! Indian rights are big? I feel Native American pain! Those paint splatter things that my two year old could do are worth $5 million? Jackson Pollack is a genius! You tell me what attitude is at 50% in the polls and that's how I feel. Throughout his career, Wolfe has been throwing these forms of political correctness back in the faces of the literatti and the glitteratti. So, yes, each of these criticisms is absolutely accurate. In fact, they are the point of his writing. The critics just happen to have, typically, missed the point. And so, instead of giving A
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on February 6, 2003
The novel "A Man in Full" by Tom Wolfe describes the society of modern Atlanta with its problems between black and white, rich and poor.
The main character of the story, Charlie Croker, is a successful real estate developer however he is deep in debt. To get out of this unpleasant situation, he searches for a solution that would allow him to keep his good position in society. As a former Football star he is asked to speak for a black Football player who is accused of having raped the daughter of Charlie`s friend. This way, Charlie could loose his debts.
With the use of motifs and interesting language the author describes the problems of corruption in politics.
After a surgery Charlie is introduced to the Stoics philosophy. This event changes his attitude towards money and belongings completely and he gives his possession to the bank. Surprisingly he leaves Atlanta and becomes a successful TV- preacher whereas the city is left in trouble.
Tom Wolfe used motifs of sexuality, relationship and the role of politics to show character roots and plot development. This helped to make the sometimes complicated story line easy to understand. However one has to invest time to read this piece of literature!
The author used beautiful language and interesting characters to make the story enjoyable. All in all the novel satisfied me in reading, altough the ending is a bit too short in comparison to the rest of the novel.
I recommend this novel to those readers who are interested in politics,like to follow the development of different characters and have enough time to read.
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on January 15, 1999
Tom Wolfe not only understands today's America as well as anyone, he has the nerve to try to put everything about it into one novel. As in Bonfire of the Vanities, he tells a convoluted, but compelling story involving people from all levels of society, with lots of hilarious and spectacular scenes, and many dead-on character types. He touches all the bases of our contemporary life: money and status, race relations(and money), relations between the sexes (and money), politics (and money) -- you name it. Okay, it takes a little while for the plot really to get going, but there's so much in this book -- literally dozens of scenes, descriptions, observations, that are so perfect that if even only a few of them appeared in some other novel they would make it memorable (the workout scene; the Turpmtine scenes; the prison scenes)-- that it's well worth the ride. While as a native New Yorker I loved Bonfires, I think in this book Wolfe is even better -- his tone is a little less shrill and manic, and he manages to blend some respect for his main characters (where appropriate) along with the satire. Wolfe is our Dickens; having read his dissections of the Big Apple and the New South, I can only hope that he considers taking on Washington DC next (provided he can come up with a fictional plot stranger than reality).
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on September 5, 2000
Tom Wolfe is arguably one of our best contemporary writers. His book "A Man in Full" reflects the arguably part.
The story and the plot surrounding Charlie Crocker along with his ethical dilemas prove to be one of the highlights of the book. On the other hand, his focus on Conrad H.'s stoic obsession is hardly believable and bearable.
All in all, it is a good book, but some of the characters need further depth and realism. Also, he has a tendency to drag certain eventas or actions for much longer than necessary.
Then again his work is able to acomplish two main things almost flawlessly: First, he describes today's Atlanta Elite (and if you think it through, you can really see any modern cities high classes) down to the minor details and describing things only they would know. Second, he is able to prove that the values and principles guiding our society's actions are not only flexible, but able to bring the best of us when his spirit and morals are under trial.
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