Bonfire of the Vanities

Bonfire of the Vanities by Tom Wolfe

3 words: cynical, absorbing, storytelling

I gotta tell you: I wasn’t all that jazzed about reading this book. 

But my book club selected it, so there we were.


My thoughts before reading it went something like this…

  • Darn long book
  • 1980s touchstone, so do we really need to care anymore?

Yes. I was exactly that cynical, even though Tom Wolfe and I have long dwelt happily together in the Magical Land of Re-Reading. (The Right Stuff makes me happy just thinking about it.)

Suffice it to say, once again, your girl Unruly got it wrong. 

This book is magnificent.

Even though I didn’t like a single character within its pages.

(That’s some seriously high praise, because I’m one of those readers who absolutely must like at least someone.)

And the thing that really knocked my socks off is how timely this book is today.

It deals with race and privilege and wealth and the media and the justice system. And nobody comes out of it looking good.

While this book has a big cast, there are a few of the central figures:

  • a wealthy bond trader who hits a young African-American man with his car (while The Other Woman is with him)
  • the struggling district attorney who argues the case against him
  • the free-loading, alcoholic journalist who breaks the story

There’s enough egotism in this book to sink a ship.  

And yet I kept reading… and wanted to.

Wolfe is such a fine writer, he carried me through these pages despite my intense dislike of the characters.

And now that I’ve read this book, I keep finding ways it connects to other novels I’ve recently read. It seriously is one of those touchstone books that’s bigger than itself.

I’m so glad I read it.

So, now I’m wondering… What book surprised you by its current relevance?

5 thoughts on “Bonfire of the Vanities

  1. I've never read Wolfe…have never really wanted to…but your review of this book is making me rethink that decision. I'm glad Bonfire of the Vanities turned out to be a better read than you expected. What's your book club reading next?

  2. AWESOME review. I remember reading this book in the 90s (I think I got it after watching and enjoying the movie–you should watch that too! Good old Melanie Griffith) and it knocked me over.
    And a great question. I'd say that two books that really held up or seem very applicable are F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby, and Anthony Trollope's The Way We Live Now. I listened to the Trollope and just laughed, because all the bits about finances and speculation are like they could have been written just literally yesterday.

  3. Citizen — Thanks! I wondered about the movie… glad to hear it's worthwhile.

    I've never read Trollope, which makes me feel bad about myself. You might've just given me a nudge in the right direction.

  4. Pingback: Book club update |

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