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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, ...

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 ...
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 ...

Rutrutrutrutrutrutrutrut

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 ...

Crimes of Passion

Sam Sifton, 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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... the main, most of them remain unchanged. This is a fault more of the form than the author. Since Tom Wolfe made his call for the non-fiction novel in the late Sixties, journalists have from time to time adapted the novel’s form to the telling of a true story. Unfortunately, it rarely works. No matter how much research the author does (and Carpenter ...

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 ...

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 ...

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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... class as ever. If either of these elements ever undergoes a dramatic metamorphosis, it won’t be Tom Wolfe who sounds the alarm. Yet, even as he tries to move to another city, and to make the leap from former journalist to actual novelist, Wolfe keeps The Bonfire of the Vanities constantly at hand. It worked once. Why ...

Where mine is at

Gordon Burn, 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 ...

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 ...

Your mission is to get the gun

Theo Tait: Raoul Moat, 30 March 2016

You Could Do Something Amazing with Your Life [You Are Raoul Moat] 
by Andrew Hankinson.
Scribe, 204 pp., £12.99, February 2016, 978 1 922247 91 9
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... and Hankinson mentions Gordon Burn in his acknowledgments. The basic strategy of the genre, as Tom Wolfe put it in ‘The New Journalism’, is to recount actual events using the dramatic techniques of the novel: reconstructing the story scene by scene, ‘resorting as little as possible to sheer, historical narrative’; using lots of dialogue and ...

Diary

Karl Miller: Ten Years of the LRB, 26 October 1989

... British writer who matters?’ Not one, he suggests, can stand comparison with Marquez, Kundera, Tom Wolfe. What can the editor of the Independent have made of the claim that the writers praised and published in his pages do not matter? Perhaps he felt that it did not matter that D.J. Taylor felt that British writers do not matter. No doubt he is ...

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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... was going on around him. This is the real-life version of the investment banking background to Tom Wolfe’s Bonfire of the Vanities, and the characters are just as interesting. Lewis has a gift for the rapid portrait. Unless you find his flippant one-liners irritating, it is a pleasure to be guided around the jungle of bond markets by his ...

Diary

Jay McInerney: The Great American Novelists, 23 April 1987

... revaluation of the borders between journalism and fiction and inspiring, among others, Mailer and Tom Wolfe. It gave a push to the notion that the pale artifices of fiction were irrelevant to the Sixties. The novel was declared dead. In Cold Blood, The Electric Kool Aid Acid Test, The Armies of the Night, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas – these ...

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