Books by Tom Wolfe

THE KINGDOM OF SPEECH by Tom Wolfe
HISTORY
Released: Aug. 30, 2016

"Typically, Wolfe throws a Molotov cocktail at conventional wisdom in a book that won't settle any argument but is sure to start some."
A fresh look at an old controversy, as a master provocateur suggests that human language renders the theory of evolution more like a fable than scientific fact. Read full book review >
BACK TO BLOOD by Tom Wolfe
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: Oct. 23, 2012

"Full of stereotyping and waspishness, sure, but a welcome pleasure from an old master and the best from his pen in a long while."
Wolfe (A Man in Full, 1998, etc.) returns to fine form with this zingy, mile-a-minute novel of life in the weird confines of Miami. Read full book review >
A MAN IN FULL by Tom Wolfe
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: Nov. 12, 1998

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THE BONFIRE OF THE VANITIES by Tom Wolfe
Released: Nov. 9, 1987

Sheer entertainment against a fabulous background, proving that late-blooming first-novelist Wolfe, a superobserver of the social scene (The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby, Radical Chic and Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers), has the right stuff for fiction.

Undertaken as a serial for Rolling Stone, his magnum opus hits the ball far, far, far out of the park. Son of Park Avenue wealth, Sherman McCoy at 35 is perhaps the greatest bond salesman on Wall Street, and eats only the upper crust. But millionaire Sherman's constant inner cry is that he is "hemorrhaging money." He's also a jerk, ripe for humiliation; and when his humiliation arrives, it is fearsome. Since this is also the story of The Law as it applies to rich and poor, especially to blacks and Hispanics of the Bronx, Wolfe has a field day familiarizing the reader with the politics and legal machinations that take place in the Bronx County Courthouse, a fortress wherein Sherman McCoy becomes known as the Great White Defendant. One evening, married Sherman picks up his $100-million mistress Maria at Kennedy Airport, gets lost bringing her back in his $48,000 Mercedes-Benz, is attacked by two blacks on a ramp in the Bronx. When Maria jumps behind the wheel, one black is hit by the car. Later, he lapses into a terminal coma, but not before giving his mother part of Sherman's license plate. This event is hyped absurdly by an alcoholic British reporter for the The City Light (read: Rupert Murdoch's New York Post), the mugger becomes an "honor student," and Sherman becomes the object of vile racist attacks mounted by a charlatan black minister. Chunk by chunk, Sherman loses every footing in his life but gains his manhood. Meanwhile, Wolfe triumphantly mounts scene after magnificent scene depicting the vanity of human endeavor, with every character measured by his shoes and suits or dresses, his income and expenses, and with his vain desires rising in smoke against settings that would make a Hollywood director's tongue hang out.

Often hilarious, and much, much more. Read full book review >
THE PURPLE DECADES-A READER by Tom Wolfe
HISTORY
Released: Oct. 1, 1982

Not too many readers would agree with Joe David Bellamy (who provides the introduction here) that Tom Wolfe's New Journalism offers "the definitive, comprehensive, tuned-in portrait of our age." In fact, a reprint collection like this—with Wolfe's hyped-up style and waspish tone changing so little from subculture to subculture, from decade to decade—tends to suggest that the New Journalism offers more insight into the new journalists than it does into their supposed subject-matters. Still, there can be little argument with Bellamy's assertion that the major Wolfe contribution to cultural self-awareness has been "his emphasis on the hidden and sometimes peculiar manifestations of status-seeking in American life." And, for those eager to sample or re-sample Wolfe's satires, there's a fair sampling here: six pieces from The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamlined Baby (1965), with stock-car racing, Greenwich Village, and Baby Jane Holzer; a trio from The Pump House Gang (1968), including the well-known portrait of the social-climbing Sculls; Radical Chic, of course; "the Me Decade" (est, etc.); and briefer selections from recent books. Best on fads, weaker when matters of substance intrude: a representative Wolfe parade—and a feast for nostalgic trend-watchers. Read full book review >
FROM BAUHAUS TO OUR HOUSE by Tom Wolfe
HISTORY
Released: Oct. 26, 1981

A brief tirade against that perennial affront, modernist architecture—and about as clever as the title. Most of this is the usual: the impracticalities of flat roofs and glass boxes, the uplift rhetoric of their designers, the unbuilt (and ill-built) buildings of Le Corbusier, the toney asceticism of Gropius, Mies and the uniform blinds/curtains/shades, the sterile office buildings, the inhuman housing projects, the white-walled conformity of devotees' domiciles—only delivered, this time, not in reproof or in jest, but with a sneer. Wolfe's complaints are two: all of this is consciously, snobbishly "non-bourgeois" ("the spirit of avant-gardism in the twentieth century"); and it's un-American—i.e., unfaithful to "the Hogstomping Baroque exuberance of American civilization." First, insecure American architects rushed to the Bauhaus to study; then, camp-followers Philip Johnson and Henry Russell-Hitchcock heralded the coming of the "International Style"; then, in 1937, Gropius & Co. actually arrived ("uprooted, exhausted, penniless, men without a country, battered by fate")—and what did we do? We fell on our faces, made them heads of schools, made modernism the new gospel, downgraded Frank Lloyd Wright, outlawed apostates (like Edward Durrell Stone), and built those confounded boxes. Robert Venturi appeared, with Complexity and Contradiction in Modern Architecture (1966)—not to overthrow the non-bourgeois faith, however, but (with his camp historical references) to update it. And as for the Post-Modernists, that's a misnomer: they're still clustered in "compounds" (a basic modernist trait, allegedly—even Corbu had Iris brother) and still Boxed in. Short as it is, it's a tiresome business, virtually all spleen: to Wolfe, modernism seems to be a species of radical chic. But there will be readers—from among Wolfe's fans and those who still feel threatened by those glass boxes, even after 60 years. Read full book review >
THE RIGHT STUFF by Tom Wolfe
BIOGRAPHY & MEMOIR
Released: Sept. 24, 1979

Yes: it's high time for a de-romanticized, de-mythified, close-up retelling of the U.S. Space Program's launching—the inside story of those first seven astronauts.

But no: jazzy, jivey, exclamation-pointed, italicized Tom Wolfe "Mr. Overkill" hasn't really got the fight stuff for the job. Admittedly, he covers all the ground. He begins with the competitive, macho world of test pilots from which the astronauts came (thus being grossly overqualified to just sit in a controlled capsule); he follows the choosing of the Seven, the preparations for space flight, the flights themselves, the feelings of the wives; and he presents the breathless press coverage, the sudden celebrity, the glorification. He even throws in some of the technology. But instead of replacing the heroic standard version with the ring of truth, Wolfe merely offers an alternative myth: a surreal, satiric, often cartoony Wolfe-arama that, especially since there isn't a bit of documentation along the way, has one constantly wondering if anything really happened the way Wolfe tells it. His astronauts (referred to as "the brethren" or "The True Brothers") are obsessed with having the "right stuff" that certain blend of guts and smarts that spells pilot success. The Press is a ravenous fool, always referred to as "the eternal Victorian Gent": when Walter Cronkite's voice breaks while reporting a possible astronaut death, "There was the Press the Genteel Gent, coming up with the appropriate emotion. . . live. . . with no prompting whatsoever!" And, most off-puttingly, Wolfe presumes to enter the minds of one and all: he's with near-drowing Gus Grissom ("Cox. . . That face up there!—it's Cox. . . Cox knew how to get people out of here! . . . Cox! . . ."); he's with Betty Grissom angry about not staying at Holiday Inn ("Now. . . they truly owed her"); and, in a crude hatchet-job, he's with John Glenn furious at Al Shepard's being chosen for the first flight, pontificating to the others about their licentious behavior, or holding onto his self-image during his flight ("Oh, yes! I've been here before! And I am immune! I don't get into corners I can't get out of! . . . The Presbyterian Pilot was not about to foul up. His pipeline to dear Lord could not be clearer"). Certainly there's much here that Wolfe is quite right about, much that people will be interested in hearing: the P-R whitewash of Grissom's foul-up, the Life magazine excesses, the inter-astronaut tensions. And, for those who want to give Wolfe the benefit of the doubt throughout, there are emotional reconstructions that are juicily shrill.

But most readers outside the slick urban Wolfe orbit will find credibility fatally undermined by the self-indulgent digressions, the stylistic excesses, and the broadly satiric, anti-All-American stance; and, though The Right Stuff has enough energy, sass, and dirt to attract an audience, it mostly suggests that until Wolfe can put his subject first and his preening writing-persona second, he probably won't be a convincing chronicler of anything much weightier than radical chic. Read full book review >
THE PAINTED WORD by Tom Wolfe
NON-FICTION
Released: June 24, 1975

No question about it, Tom Wolfe is speaking for the yahoos in this little essay—it appeared in its entirety in Harper's Magazine, and though the Art World will no doubt assiduously ignore Wolfe's Bronx cheers, a lot of ordinary philistines will say "Right on!" Wolfe's premise is simple: since WW II modern art has been characterized by the primacy of Theory. "As for the paintings—de gustibus non disputandum est. But the theories, I insist were beautiful." The museum exhibits in the year 2000 will feature the works of the critics—Harold Rosenberg, Clement Greenberg, Hilton Kramer and Leo Steinberg. But Greenberg most of all, since it was he who supplied The Word without which Abstract Expressionism (the dominant postwar style) is incomprehensible. The essential principal which has informed contemporary art, says Wolfe, is flatness. Three-dimensional effects are pre-modern; in fact they've been around since the Renaissance. Ugh! How to preserve "the integrity of the picture plane" and the disputes it engendered among the culturati were worthy of the how-many-angels-can-dance-on-the-head-of-a-pin debates of medieval scholasticism. Tout le monde, that is to say, a handful of collectors, curators and critics, had a field day. The public (the public?) was left light years behind, gawking. The appeal of Wolfe's essay, for all its distortions and simplifications, and they are legion, comes from his very just observation that contemporary art has, by and sadly large, been smugly elitist, its market and its value defined by a small clique. Less easy to accept is Wolfe's claim that the pictures illustrate the texts; or, that an actual conspiracy exists between artist and critic. Wolfe understands the motives of a Rothko or a Stella or even a Pollock poorly. And yet, his Populist blast against the reductivism of contemporary art from Abstract Expressionism to Minimalism to Conceptual Art-a process of eliminating more and more elements from the painting—is a shaft well-aimed—especially if you think that what's lacking is visual reward and emotional impact. Read full book review >
THE NEW JOURNALISM by Tom Wolfe
NONFICTION
Released: June 6, 1973

Uh oh! Point of view, scenic construction, status life symbolism, I thought I was reading a book about the NJ by Tom Wolfe but whaddaya know, I wake up chewing gum in English 202 listening to William Phillips talk about Henry James, it's always Henry James in English 202. . . . NOOOooo!!!! ARgh! +%&$!!! Tom Wolfe!**! Ecch! PINCH MY TEETH! That's what happens, folks, when NJs start thinking they're Men of Letters like the dirty folk from Partisan Review or The Village Voice ("No, stupid! That's not Toilet Paper! Pastafazouli!), oh, you know, every place but Esquire, Playboy, Rolling Stone. . . . The gang's all here, from Georgie (Plimpton, you silly), to Norman to Joanie (Di-di-didion) to Truman (no last name needed here, ha ha ha Margaret), Gay Talese, Hunter Thompson, Rex Reed, even "Adam Smith," ain't that a kick in the head? Ha ha ha. And what does it matter that many of the selections are those authors' least distinguished work, or first published piece, or that the place of publication is often obscurely unmentioned (trouble with releases, Honest Tom?), I mean, it's the history of the New Journalism, hottest thing in lit since the Great American Novel Contest, or Balzac (Homer maybe?), and natcherly you can only expect us to get a little exclusive about it, put on a couple airs, lecture pompously (I'm entitled to it, creep) in my shiny white suit, 'scuse me, gotta go look in the mirror a sec, see myself in my macho all-American hubristic white whiny costume, gotta warm up in the dressing room, you know the big NJ contest, see you 'roun. . . . Read full book review >
HISTORY
Released: Dec. 7, 1970

The Kandy-Kolored gossip is with us again and, with a poisoned egret feather, Wolfe pinions the "Radical Chic" adventures of Lennie Bernstein and his circle. And in the second piece he presents a scurrilous vision of the conciliatory white (ibid. his humble flak-catcher) routed in a "community" anti-poverty fund program. Wolfe does an elegant hatchet job on Bernstein, "The Great Interrupter, the Village Explainer. . . Mr. Let's Find Out. . . ." Through a very dark glass indeed the famous Bernstein affair for the Panthers is reconstructed. And there are the "delicious" "most intimate nuances of status" involving white servants and the "proper scale" of decoration for the outre presence of the oppressed brothers — a presence which sends vibrations through well appointed halls like a "rogue hormone." Part II deals with another bizarre confrontation — Wolfe's forte: an hypothetical "mau-mauing" by a black militant group of a white bureaucratic slob caught in the sticky anti-poverty network. It's wired for noise: " 'Dat's right, Brudda! We be seeing you' Ba-ram-ba-ram-ba-ram 'We coming back!' " Funny, facile, completely irresponsible, a pique performance of a talented mockingbird with, as Murray Kempton recently said of a New York politico, "the social conscience of a cat." Radical Chic appeared in altered form in New York Magazine. Read full book review >
THE ELECTRIC KOOL-AID ACID TEST by Tom Wolfe
NON-FICTION
Released: Aug. 19, 1968

Promethean prose poet Wolfe. . . One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and never-ever-never-would-come-could-come down Ken Kesey. . . . A head combination if there ever was one. Kesey was "The Chief," pre-Haight, pre-Hippy, the floating plastic fantastic West Coast apostle of the impossible who so ordained that LSD was the KEY!!! and put together a band of Merry Pranksters whose name became synonymous with the freak-out of all life-styles. This is the story of how Kesey almost became God and wow-why-not-he-was-was-into-every-thing with Mountain Girl and Gretchen Fetchen the Slime Queen and the Hermit and Black Maria and Ned Cassady (who first appeared On the Road and won't Kerouac get the jealous bends over this trip) and Freewheeling Frank (Yes!. . . he's the one on the Grove list) and Owsley (mad and paranoid manufacturer of the sacrament) and just all those near and now famous. And didn't he create the psychedelic bus with sound and strobe and just vats of Day-Glo and blow those work-a-daddy minds all the way across country with the pranksters zonked on acid and speed and tokes and all the while makin' this spontaneous here and Now movie for miles and miles. . . and didn't he invite the HeWs Angels to a party that had the cops and community up-tight all right. . . and didn't he start the Acid tests and bonk out all the straights on electric Kool-Aid and wasn't he busted and didn't he escape to Mexico and come back as What Else "Captain Marvel." And Wolfe trips along until the Cuckoo's grounded. . . a sorry, sad, sordid head-ache. But a mad master portrait for Wolfe. Read full book review >
NON-FICTION
Released: June 28, 1965

Tom Wolfe is becoming the New York Herald Tribune's pet pussy-cat reporter. And why not? Whose writing is as colorful?.."Assassin Pink, Rake-a-cheek raspberry, Nude Strand coral, Honest Thrill Orange and Baby Fawn Lust."... Who is as articulate?..Ggghhzzzzzzzhhhhhhggggggzzzzzzzeeeeeong'".. AND who else writes about WHATS HAPPENING BABY' in this "new world submerged so long, invisible and now arising, slippery, shiny, electric—Super Scuba—man—out of the vinyl deeps." Who could better lay bare the culture makers, the Jet set strata, the hip psyches, the drag (racing) syndrome, symbol status symptoms, custom culture, discotheque derbys, pop art, pop rock, pop corn and offer royal roasts of Murray the K, Cassius Clay, Hey! Hey! an expose of Robert (Confidential) Harrison and Huntington "the intelligentsia Just thrill to the gaucheness of his gestures" Hartford etc. AND-AND-AND Who could have written the title article for Esquire in one night while listening to rock and roll on WABC. "Holy beasts! starving artists' Inspiration!!" W-o-o-o-o-n-n-n-n-derful-l-l. FUN-N-N-NESS! BUT!.. could this be the same Wolfe indulging in passe, even boring, comment on East Side Nannies; typical "Flipniks," LOVE in New York, "Why Doormen Hate Volkswagens" etc? N-n-n-n-n-n-n-o-o-o-o! Will the real Tom Wolfe please stand up. You Sir? Nay Sir! Who Sir! He Sir! You Sir? No Sir' Who Sir? Him Sir! You Sir? Yeh Yeh ME Sir. Read full book review >