Latest Issue

Bonfire still blazes

Ten years after its US publication Tom Wolfe's novel is worth another look. But its bleak vision of mid-1980s New York has fortunately not proved prophetic

By Andrew Ferguson   January 1998

Tom wolfe wrote the first draft of his novel The Bonfire of the Vanities as a series in Rolling Stone magazine in 1984 -85. He was only halfway through when his story was overtaken by events. Novels are not supposed to be tripped up by the morning’s headlines. But Wolfe’s ambition was as much reportorial as imaginative. He wanted to capture the grisly carnival of New York City in the mid-1980s: roiling, putrescent New York, bubbling with irreconcilable ethnic hatreds, wobbling between unimaginable wealth and horrifying squalor, exploited by cynical pols, money-grubbers and charlatans. Wolfe captured it only too well.…

Register today to continue reading

You’ve hit your limit of three articles in the last 30 days. To get seven more, simply enter your email address below.

You’ll also receive our free e-book Prospect’s Top Thinkers 2020 and our newsletter with the best new writing on politics, economics, literature and the arts.

Prospect may process your personal information for our legitimate business purposes, to provide you with newsletters, subscription offers and other relevant information.

Click here to learn more about these purposes and how we use your data. You will be able to opt-out of further contact on the next page and in all our communications.

We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to

More From Prospect