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The Wrong Stuff

Christopher Hitchens

1 April 1983
The Purple Decades 
by Tom Wolfe.
Cape, 396 pp., £8.95, March 1983, 0 224 02944 4
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... literal. What those three paragraphs have in common are the three things that go to make up the Tom Wolfe effect. One, a glibness that is designed for speed-reading. Two, a facility with rapidly cross-cut images and references: a show of learning. Three, a strongly marked conservatism. It is the third of these features, ...


Theo Tait: Tom Wolfe’s Bloody Awful Novel

6 January 2005
I am Charlotte Simmons 
by Tom Wolfe.
Cape, 676 pp., £20, November 2004, 0 224 07486 5
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... Tom Wolfe is, in many ways, an outrageous figure – with his white suit and cane, his glib social analyses, and his delusions of grandeur. For three decades he has been saying that his minutely researched books herald ‘a revolution’ in literature, which is bound to ‘sweep the arts in America, making many prestigious artists … appear effete and irrelevant ...

Venus de Silo by

Dan Jacobson

7 February 1980
The Right Stuff 
by Tom Wolfe.
Cape, 436 pp., £6.95, November 1980, 0 224 01443 9
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... There are several reasons why it is possible, or perhaps even desirable, to disapprove of Tom Wolfe’s writing. It is sometimes verbose; occasionally it is too pleased with its own effects; it is bespattered with arch capital letters and exclamation-marks, in a manner that reminds one of Winnie the Pooh; despite the last comparison, its cadences and vocabulary are deplorably un-English ...
11 January 1990
Missing Beauty: A True Story of Murder and Obsession 
by Teresa Carpenter.
Hamish Hamilton, 478 pp., £15.95, October 1989, 0 241 12775 0
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Wasted: The Preppie Murder 
by Linda Wolfe.
Simon and Schuster, 303 pp., $19.95, September 1989, 0 671 64184 0
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... a receipt for several grosses of ‘biological fluid collection units’. Scrawled across the bottom of the chit was the brandname of the condoms. Douglas also began periodically to refer to a new assistant whom none of the staff members had ever met. Her name was Robin Benedict. Robin Benedict was not the average Combat Zone prostitute. She didn’t look ...

The First Person, Steroid-Enhanced

Hari Kunzru: Hunter S. Thompson

15 October 1998
The Rum Diary 
by Hunter S. Thompson.
Bloomsbury, 204 pp., £16.99, October 1998, 9780747541684
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The Proud Highway: The Fear and Loathing Letters. Vol. I 
by Hunter S. Thompson, edited by Douglas Brinkley.
Bloomsbury, 720 pp., £9.99, July 1998, 0 7475 3619 8
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... For Tom Wolfe, the New Journalism was defined by the appearance of all kinds of literary devices in non-fiction writing, but chiefly by an unwillingness to adopt the traditional journalistic tone of polite neutrality. He made the business of voice appear as if it was simply a matter of style, a confident new generation trying on a linguistic version of one of his own well-cut suits ...
15 April 1982
From Bauhaus to Our House 
by Tom Wolfe.
Cape, 143 pp., £6.95, March 1982, 0 224 02030 7
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... Tom Wolfe’s earlier squib against Modernism, The Painted Word, was a reasonable succès de scandale among those with enough interest in the New York School of painting to want to defend it, but went little further than that. From Bauhaus to Our House, on the other hand, has achieved the unprecedented feat (in architectural publishing) of making its way, albeit briefly, into the American best-seller lists, along with all those diets, cats and Barbara Cartland ...

Running on Empty

Christopher Hitchens: The Wrong Stuff

7 January 1999
A Man in Full 
by Tom Wolfe.
Cape, 742 pp., £20, November 1998, 0 224 03036 1
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... Iowa: a great big ‘thank you for not smoking’ town, with ‘buckle up’ messages played on automatic tapes in the yellow cabs, and the cheery, kitsch sovereignty of Walt Disney exerted over what was once Times Square and 42nd Street. The golden arches of McDonald’s are to be seen winking near the Bowery, and cops look out for jay-walkers as if ...
28 May 1992
Outerbridge Reach 
by Robert Stone.
Deutsch, 409 pp., £14.99, May 1992, 0 223 98774 3
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... 1974, there was a small but significant overlap of material with The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, Tom Wolfe’s souped-up, superheated journalistic account of the beginnings of the counterculture, published six years earlier. The coincidence of material was in many ways inevitable. Stone had been part of the California bohemian underground grouped around ...

Big Bad Wolfe

John Sutherland

18 February 1988
The Bonfire of the Vanities 
by Tom Wolfe.
Cape, 659 pp., £11.95, February 1988, 0 224 02439 6
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... Tom Wolfe’s The Bonfire of the Vanities is his 11th book but his first novel. Happily for him, it looks like being that publisher’s dream, a runaway best-seller which is also critically acclaimed. But I guess it will not, at the end of the day, be as highly ranked as the author’s new journalism (Radical Chic and Mau-Mauing the Flak-Catchers), his polemics on aesthetics (From Bauhaus to Our House) or his American epic docufiction (The Right Stuff ...

Short Cuts

Andrew O’Hagan: Jeffrey Epstein’s Little Black Book

15 August 2019
... Tom Wolfe​ lived round the corner from the Metropolitan Museum, at 21 East 79th Street, between Fifth and Madison. A mahogany elevator went to the sitting room of his 14th-floor apartment, much as it does to Sherman McCoy’s in The Bonfire of the Vanities. Wolfe’s ‘Master of the Universe’ – who could be Jeffrey Epstein – soon brings ignominy to his marble halls, but he never commits the basic crime of not knowing how wonderful his Upper East Side spread is ...

Everybody knows

Christina Gombar: Kate Jennings

22 August 2002
Moral Hazard 
by Kate Jennings.
Fourth Estate, 180 pp., £10, April 2002, 1 84115 737 6
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... numbers, while those who aren’t – those who work with them – may be just plain sick of them. Tom Wolfe’s Bonfire of the Vanities and Michael Lewis’s bond-trading memoir, Liar’s Poker, in common with the many chronicles that imitated them, keep their focus tightly trained on the upper echelons, as if they were all that mattered. But the ...


Karl Miller: Ten Years of the LRB

26 October 1989
... in a larger number of places. In all too many of these places there will simply be more of the customary rubbishing and rave. Few people can be looking forward to the dawn of a new respect for the judgments purveyed by reviewers. It may seem quaint for an editor of the London Review of Books, which has now been alive and kicking for ten years, to complain ...

Money Talk

Victor Mallet

21 December 1989
Liar’s Poker: Two Cities, True Greed 
by Michael Lewis.
Hodder, 224 pp., £12.95, November 1989, 0 340 49602 9
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Lords of Poverty: The Free-Wheeling Lifestyles, Power, Prestige and Corruption of the Multi-Billion Dollar Aid Business 
by Graham Hancock.
Macmillan, 234 pp., £14.95, October 1989, 0 333 43962 7
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High Life 
by Taki.
Viking, 198 pp., £11.95, October 1989, 0 670 82956 0
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The Midas Touch: Money, People and Power from West to East 
by Anthony Sampson.
BBC/Hodder, 212 pp., £15, October 1989, 0 340 48793 3
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... rulers such as Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaire. Capital flight – back to the West – is a typical symptom of the disease of foreign aid. Even if aid money is targeted at peaceful development, the income simply allows governments to spend the money they save on weapons or graft. Various elements of Hancock’s argument are familiar to critics of the aid ...

Big Daddy

Linda Nochlin

30 October 1997
American Visions: The Epic History of Art in America 
by Robert Hughes.
Harvill, 635 pp., £35, October 1997, 9781860463723
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... demolish the critique of Modernist American architecture concocted by a chauvinist die-hard like Tom Wolfe, his liberalism has its limits. Identity politics plays no role in his understanding of contemporary representation. While he is all for the rights of blacks and gays to free artistic expression he is decidedly less happy with recent feminist ...
20 August 1981
Working with Structuralism 
by David Lodge.
Routledge, 207 pp., £10.95, June 1981, 0 7100 0658 6
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... trying something new as he is when performing more conventionally on Hardy, Waugh, Ted Hughes and Tom Wolfe. It’s to be hoped, then, that readers won’t be put off this civil and modestly adventurous book by the jokes and sneers of the smart, dismissive reviewers into whose hands anything of this kind is likely to fall. The two I have named in this ...

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