Book Review: The Bonfire of the Vanities

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by Tom Wolfe

The story follows the downfall of a Wall Street bond salesman— a Master of the Universe (his words, not mine)— who accidentally hits and fatally injures a young man one night while lost in the Bronx. What follows is a story of fate, power, manipulation, and deception.

When I started the book, I marveled at Wolfe’s distinctive writing style, but by the time I finished, I marveled at his ability to write a page turner that lacked a single likable character. The story centers on class, power, and race in a way that seems relevant to modern sentiments. The cast of characters is wide, varied, and colorful. The common denominator of almost every character— even the side characters and those who are meant to be the upstanding characters— is a preening, self deluded vanity. Wolfe’s cynical but colorful writing style surfs the reader through scenes (and people’s minds) that at times are distasteful, and yet you feel you cannot look away. It’s the guilty pleasure of the reality TV show that you know is ridiculous and these people are all horribly self-involved, but you just can’t drag your eyes away.

For writers, I would recommend reading it for the writing style and character development alone. The mastery of each character and the way Wolfe threads them through the plot feels so effortless. It’s almost as if this was a true story someone had told him, and he’s just relaying the shameless facts, that’s how well he weaves it all. I don’t know anything about any Masters of the Universe, but this book feels like a Master Class in novel writing.

Happy Reading, Friends!

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2 thoughts on “Book Review: The Bonfire of the Vanities

    1. I really enjoyed the writing style. He’s just so unique, but at the same time the character and the story have real meat. I really hadn’t heard about Wolfe until a few weeks ago, but I will definitely be finding his other novels soon.

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