The Bonfire of the Vanities

By Tom Wolfe,

Book cover of The Bonfire of the Vanities

Book description

An exhilarating satire of Eighties excess that captures the effervescent spirit of New York, from one of the greatest writers of modern American prose

Sherman McCoy is a WASP, bond trader and self-appointed 'Master of the Universe'. He has a fashionable wife, a Park Avenue apartment and a Southern mistress.…

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5 authors picked The Bonfire of the Vanities as one of their favorite books. Why do they recommend it?

A social satire that perfectly captured the greed and arrogance of the 1980s. Sherman Helmsly is a master of the universe, a rich bond trader with a penthouse in New York, and a randy mistress—until he accidentally runs over a black boy in the Bronx. The result is a political scandal that reaches from the mayor’s office to the tabloids, with many memorable characters and acute parodies of the era. Those who lived in or followed the scandals of the city at the time—from Tawana Brawley to Ivan Boesky—will recognize several real people and stories in this fiction.

From David's list on political crime fiction.

Tom Wolfe is the OG of novels about the monied class, ambition, power, and privilege. Set in Manhattan in the 1980’s, Bonfire of the Vanities is a panoramic story that illustrates what happens when a high-society Wall Street banker, a “Master of the Universe,” and his mistress kill a Black teenager in a hit-and-run accident. 

Also richly researched and based on factual equivalents is The Bonfire of the Vanities, Tom Wolfe’s 1987 satirical meditation on the seven deadly sins of greed, envy, gluttony, wrath, sloth, lust, and pride as they inform the lives of a diverse assortment of contemporary New Yorkers, chiefly that of Sherman McCoy, a Big Time bond salesman on Wall Street and self-styled Master of the Universe who, in his extra-marital affair with a beautiful woman, takes a literal wrong turn in his Mercedes and, after being arrested, falls from his condo high on Park Avenue all the way down into…

I read this BIG book many years ago, but it influenced my own writing greatly. Tom Wolfe's scathingly jaundiced view of the workings of Wall Street and the American political scene is an object lesson on how to write with anarchic abandon, yet brilliant satirical and intellectual insight at the same time. Once again I go back to the theme that the best authors always have an ironic eye on their subject and its participants, surveying them and their eccentricities with objectivity and often cynical amusement. If you can keep your readers amused whilst at the same time enthralled, as…

Wolf did an amazing job at describing the type of personality disorder that is all too common on Wall Street. It’s a deeply troubling story in itself, but even more so on a broader scale, where individuals such as Sherman McCoy are ubiquitous in leadership positions, and their behavior rewarded and encouraged. A hard-hitting insight into wealth, privilege, and the people it creates.

Don’t make the mistake of watching the sub-par film based on this novel, with the severely miscast Tom Hanks. 

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