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Tom Wolfe, RIP
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A life well lived.

It’s reasonable to say that Tom Wolfe succeeded in cutting a figure in American life comparable to another white-suited, big-spending writer, Mark Twain.

Indeed, I’d argue that Wolfe was near his peak for longer than Twain and on a wider variety of subjects (Twain was the master of writing about being a youth on the Mississippi — a great topic and one he made central to America’s self-image of itself — while Wolfe wrote about an extraordinary range of topics.

For example, in the 1960s Wolfe was a master satirist of upscale New York society (e.g., R adical Chic) and was quite good at writing about young society women. But then he went off to cover fighter-bomber pilots on an aircraft carrier off North Vietnam and detoured in a long obsession with masculine physical courage, culminating in 1979 with The Right Stuff. Then he reversed field back to elite society again, as in Bonfire of the Vanities. But the biggest flaw in Bonfire was that, during his 1970s sojourns among brave men, he’d lost his knack for writing about women. Eventually, however, he slowly worked his way back and by I Am Charlotte Simmons, as a 70s-something man he could now write a large, painfully insightful novel about what it’s like being a young woman.

Wolfe also, famously, switched from journalism to novel-writing. Wolfe hadn’t exactly invented The New Journalism of the 1960s, in which reporters like Wolfe and Hunter S. Thompson incorporated novelistic methods while fiction writers like Truman Capote and Norman Mailer did more reporting than was the norm. But he was present at the creation.

Wolfe didn’t get around to writing a novel until after he’d done a lot of chest thumping in public about how a reporter could write a better novel than the usual professors of creative writing who write most of our literary novels. Jann Wenner paid Wolfe to serialize in Rolling Stone the first draft of Bonfire of the Vanities about a Manhattan writer (modeled on Gay Talese?)

But, it turned out writing a great novel is, to Wolfe’s surprise, harder than he’d guessed. To his credit, he buckled down, switched the main character from the easy one of a writer to the hard one of a bond trader, did the reporting to learn about this important but obscure specialty, and when he finally released Bonfire 30 years ago at age 57 or so, he’d done it. If not the Great American Novel, Bonfire was the Great New York Novel.

Wolfe still had three weaknesses as a novelist. The first was that in his pursuit of machismo he’d lost the ability to write interesting female characters.

The second flaw was that his famously flashy prose style wasn’t as sentence for sentence well-crafted as that of his rival’s like Updike. Wolfe came up with brilliant phrases, some of which have entered the language, but he embedded them in fairly functional prose hepped up with Zap! Pow! typography. For his second novel, A Man in Full, he cranked up his prose style to impressive levels. But with about 100 pages left in the book, you can suddenly see where he suffered major open-heart surgery and the subsequent manic-depressive mood swings that are a common side effect.

The third was one he never overcame: although Wolfe picked fights with high brow prestige novelists like John Updike, his biggest weakness was at the lower brow blocking and tackling basic of coming up with an ending for his plots.

By the way, anybody know the story about why there is much disagreement this week on whether Wolfe was 87 or 88 at his death? Did he knock a year off his age when he tried out for a big league baseball team? Did he add a year to get around the draft? I’d known for a decade or so that there was some uncertainty over whether he was born in 1930 or 1931.

An iSteve bibliography on Tom Wolfe:

Michael Lewis on Tom Wolfe as a Southern Conservative

Tom Wolfe Explains the George Zimmerman Case

My review of Wolfe’s “I Am Charlotte Simmons”

My Review of Wolfe’s “Back to Blood”

20th Anniversary of Tom Wolfe’s “Bonfire of the Vanities”

Tom Wolfe’s Jefferson Lecture

Tom Wolfe: Diversity = Dispersity on Campus

Tom Wolfe’s lack of Southern White Guilt

My 1979 review of Wolfe’s The Right Stuff in the Rice U. Thresher (10/11/1979, p. 8)

“Woman in Full:” Tom Wolfe’s Female Characters

Tom Wolfe Alert: Heisman Trophy Frontrunner Won’t be Charged with Rape (This Time, at Least)

I Hereby Forgive the CIA for Abstract Expressionism

Tom Wolfe on Trump’s Lawyer Roy Cohn

The Hunt for the Great White Defendant: a Reading List

Thinking Like Tom Wolfe About Trayvon and Zimmerman

Duke Lacrosse Hoax: Does Tom Wolfe Script the News?

Tom Wolfe’s Portrait of the President as a Young Frat Guy

Tom Wolfe on Skull & Bones

UVA-Erdely-Coakley: A Rape Hoax for Book Lovers

The Ferguson Pogrom and Radical Chic

NYT in 2014 & Tom Wolfe in 1970: Black Leaders Have Few Followers

How Many Media Manias Over White Racism Have Turned Out to be Fiascos?

Tom Wolfe on 1966 San Francisco Riot

Educational Edifices

 
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  1. Rest in peace, Mr. Wolfe, knowing that you were an exemplary American man of letters.

    By the way, a big thanks to Steve for writing about Tom Wolfe so much: after seeing Bonfire of the Vanities and I Am Charlotte Simmons referenced repeatedly on iSteve, I read both, and was astounded by how insightful and prescient they were. A Man in Full is next on my list, for after the end of this semester.

    • Replies: @Pat Boyle
    , @Anon87
  2. More than 10 years ago I discovered New Journalism, and have been a devoted reader of Wolfe, Thompson, etc. I’m sure I sound like a cranky old man, but I have real trouble finding fiction I enjoy reading from any generation of writers after the New Journalists. What happened to great novelists? Is novel writing a dead art?

    • Replies: @snorlax
  3. Grumpy says:

    His most recent book The Kingdom of Speech is fantastic. I hope he left one or two more for us in a drawer.

    • Replies: @DH13
    , @Dieter Kief
  4. Favourite pomo anecdote:

    In Bonfire there’s a minor character named ‘Robert Corso’ based on Geraldo Rivera. In the movie the character of ‘Robert Corso’ is played on screen by Geraldo Rivera.

    • Replies: @Anonymous
  5. anon[488] • Disclaimer says:

    He was a noticer. He was all over the third rails of class and race. I was surprised he was never called out for too much truth. But it was always accurate and nuanced and people thought better.

    • Replies: @Reg Cæsar
    , @Boethiuss
  6. Danindc says:

    Loved Tom Wolfe! Read Bonfire as a 20 year old and it made sense to me. Man in Full was great too. Everyone in my family read it. Why was Right Stuff a great movie but Bonfire not?

    You’re right there with him Steve. Possibly more prolific though.

    • Replies: @Lugash
    , @Dan Kurt
  7. If only he could have lived a bit longer to write one more novel, perhaps about the alt right and antifa, WNs and SJWs.

    Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him.

  8. Wolfe belongs on the Mount Rushmore of American letters. He was a much needed noticer in an era of willful ignorance.

  9. Dave Pinsen says: • Website

    If not the Great American Novel, Bonfire was the Great New York Novel.

    It’s certainly the Great American Novel of the ’80s, at the very least.

    Bonfire is unique in that it’s much better than most people who liked it at the time thought it was, or remember it now. A lot of readers, like Jurek Martin, who wrote the terrible FT obit, remember it primarily as a satire of Wall Street. This, in hindsight, was a magic trick performed by Tom Wolfe: New Yorkers were so envious of Sherman McCoy-types that they missed how the rest of them were satirized by the book. McCoy comes off as a better person than most of the other characters in the novel, with the exceptions of the cops, Killian, and Judge Kovitsky.

    Wolfe also, famously, switched from journalism to novel-writing, and not until after he’d done a lot of chestbeating about how a reporter could write a better novel than the usual professors of creative writing who write most of our literary novels.

    This is similar to Jonathan Franzen, who wrote a famous essay criticizing tedious literary novels and then wrote one that was a page-turner (The Corrections, arguably the Great American Novel about the late ’90s).

  10. From Kyle Smith’s article “The Great One” on Wolfe in National Review:

    What really drove the Left crazy about Wolfe was his habit of wicked, ruthless noticing of the foibles of so many of their most cherished icons, and how he trained his satiric force on them.

    https://www.nationalreview.com/2018/05/tom-wolfe-legendary-writer-rip/

    Italics were in the original – noticing. Do you suppose Smith is an iSteve reader? Or that any NROdnik would admit to being one?

    • Replies: @Danindc
  11. So was the social climbing leftist British journalist in Bonfire based on Christopher Hitchens or Alexander Cockburn?

    • Replies: @Steve Sailer
  12. snorlax says:
    @NJ Transit Commuter

    I’m sure I sound like a cranky old man, but I have real trouble finding fiction I enjoy reading from any generation of writers after the New Journalists.

    I was born some years into Wolfe’s novelist period, and so do I.

    What happened to great novelists? Is novel writing a dead art?

    I’m sure it isn’t, but it’s a lot harder to discover great novelists nowadays, since the tastemakers are only interesting in tallying the authors’ Diversity Pokémon Points, and the rest of the bestseller list is Oprah’s Book Club airplane novel dreck.

    • Replies: @syonredux
    , @Anon
  13. The Painted Word is also a great, if lesser known, book of his. If you’ve ever wondered how art went from Norman Rockwell to photos of the used tampons of the artist, it’s a good place to start.

    • Replies: @Dave Pinsen
  14. Compare and contrast:

  15. Lugash says:
    @Danindc

    Bonfire is a downer of a movie. There’s nothing positive in it or the characters. Tom Hanks wasn’t really right for the role either. It was a dark satire that in reality wasn’t satire.

  16. @Dave Pinsen

    This is similar to Jonathan Franzen, who wrote a famous essay criticizing tedious literary novels and then wrote one that was a page-turner (The Corrections, arguably the Great American Novel about the late ’90s).

    This was also true of the French New Wave cinema. Though I’ve only found Truffaut and Rohmer among them watchable. A neocon and a paleocon!

  17. @Lugash

    Tom Hanks wasn’t really right for the role either.

    The only role Hanks is right for is his relative, Nancy.

    Or maybe their common cousin, Camille Cosby.

  18. @anon

    He was a noticer. He was all over the third rails of class and race. I was surprised he was never called out for too much truth. But it was always accurate and nuanced and people thought better.

    Don’t forget funny. That makes a huge difference.

    It’s certainly kept Steve going.

  19. @Earl Lemongrab

    Anthony Haden-Guest, the illegitimate brother of actor and lord Christopher Guest.

    • Replies: @syonredux
  20. syonredux says:
    @Steve Sailer

    Anthony Haden-Guest, the illegitimate brother of actor and lord Christopher Guest.

    The “hated guest”……

  21. @Reg Cæsar

    Note (notice?) the alphabetic clustering of these male models authors:

    W
    T
    T/C
    W
    C
    C
    U

    Never mind birth order; the secret lies in filing cabinet drawers.

    • Replies: @sayless
  22. syonredux says:
    @Lugash

    Tom Hanks wasn’t really right for the role either.

    Should have been William Hurt. He was the consensus choice, and he would have been perfect in the role. Hanks was absurdly miscast.

    • Replies: @donut
  23. utu says:

    Wolfe wanted be like Honoré de Balzac and write a series of novels like La Comédie humaine describing American society as it is. Friedrich Engels wrote: “I have learned more [from Balzac] than from all the professional historians, economists and statisticians put together”

  24. Dave Pinsen says: • Website
    @Johnny Smoggins

    Related to that, and also to Wolfe’s interest in masculine courage (e.g, The Right Stuff) is this essay of his on how Vietnam vets got rolled by the modern art establishment on the memorial.

    • Replies: @Percy Gryce
  25. syonredux says:
    @snorlax

    What happened to great novelists? Is novel writing a dead art?

    I’m sure it isn’t, but it’s a lot harder to discover great novelists nowadays, since the tastemakers are only interesting in tallying the authors’ Diversity Pokémon Points, and the rest of the bestseller list is Oprah’s Book Club airplane novel dreck.

    What was the last good novel to really make a big splash? In the classic sense that everyone was either reading it or was going to read it? Was it Bonfire?

    • Replies: @Polynikes
    , @snorlax
    , @sayless
  26. Boethiuss says:
    @anon

    He was a noticer. He was all over the third rails of class and race. I was surprised he was never called out for too much truth. But it was always accurate and nuanced and people thought better.

    Yeah this. Analogous to Wolfe being the successor to Twain, and at the risk of sucking up to our host, it’s fair to say that Sailer is the successor to Wolfe.

    • Replies: @Anonymous
    , @Reg Cæsar
  27. cthulhu says:

    The best nonfiction writer of the last 60 years, bar none. And the best observer of America since De Tocqueville.

    If you are not that familiar with Wolfe’s nonfiction work, start with The Purple Decades, which has all the essentials from the early ‘60s through The Right Stuff. “The Girl of the Year”, “The Pump House Gang”, California car culture and the beginnings of NASCAR, “These Radical Chic Evenings”, “Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers”, “The Me Decade and the Third Great Awakening”, they’re all in here. Plus excerpts from his books. After that, get his 2001 collection Hooking Up, which has two of his best essays: his brilliant profile of Robert Noyce, the co-inventor of the integrated circuit, co-founder of Intel, and one of the few true fathers of Silicon Valley; and his (in)famous two-part takedown of the New Yorker under William Shawn, “Tiny Mummies!”

    Fiction-wise, I thought that TW was as good as anybody else writing in the last four decades. I know that “Bonfire” has been getting most of the mentions, but I personally like “A Man In Full” better; the jail scenes in particular are stunningly good and moving.

    Tom Wolfe was one for the ages.

  28. You give short shrift to his absolutely brilliant “New Journalism” stories about hot-rodders, surfers, hippies etc. To me this is some of his best stuff. Breslin, Didion, Thompson et. al. cut through the stuffy facade and right-thinking of the old style type of reporting by letting the real story as told by the participants to the action at hand get through to the page. The wowie-zowie punctuation and/or lack of coherent syntax was paradoxically more real and closer to the spoken word
    .

    • Replies: @MBlanc46
  29. Polynikes says:
    @syonredux

    Cormac McCarthy is still alive. He’s not a “noticer” of current cultural trends, so maybe not as popular here. But No Country For Old Men came out about a decade ago and was pretty popular. I would probably have Blood Meridian as one of the best novels of the last 40 yrs.

  30. Christopher Hitchens bluntly discusses how Bonfire of the Vanities was about racial demographic change and the feminization of men.

  31. Wolfe belonged to another time. The world in which Bonfire was a major commercial and critical success seems totally foreign now. Could a novel so candid about race, sex and class even find a publisher now, let alone acclaim?

    Perhaps because I’m younger I’ve always thought Charlotte Simmons was Wolfe’s finest novel. In 2018 I think it’s definitely his most relevant. #MeToo, incels, Trumpism…you can see the beginnings of all of it Charlotte Simmons, in characters that are classic Wolfe: not hapless martyrs, but humans, flawed sinners whose ultimate tragedy is participating in their own destruction.

    RIP

    • Replies: @Ali Choudhury
  32. Danindc says:
    @Crawfurdmuir

    Of course he reads Sailer 90% of them do. Some crib/steal his material – Kristol, Douthat

  33. snorlax says:
    @syonredux

    What was the last good novel to really make a big splash?

    Hm. Of ones I’ve read, the most recent to fit both parts of that description is Never Let Me Go (2005). But it was merely good, not great like Bonfire.

    • Replies: @syonredux
  34. @Dave Pinsen

    This is similar to Jonathan Franzen, who wrote a famous essay

    Not exactly — Franzen already had two published novels under his belt before writing his essay and later The Corrections. It seems he was in part lamenting the lack of impact his (and other) novels were having in the broader culture (and ironically for this thread, criticized Tom Wolfe’s earlier essay in the process). But Franzen took his own medicine and stepped up his game with The Corrections.

  35. Wolfe discussing Radical Chic on William F. Buckley’s Firing Line.

    • Replies: @Anonymous Bosch
  36. Let me put another plug in for In Our Time, an anthology of Wolfe’s short pieces and sketches from the ’70s. It’s excellent and insightful.

  37. BenKenobi says:

    For some awful reason this clip is only available in Spanish, but here’s the joke:

    Lisa: “That’s Tom Wolfe, he uses more exclamation points than any other writer!”

    TW: IT’S TRUE!!!

  38. @Dave Pinsen

    Powerful punditry backed up by reportage–the Tom Wolfe hallmark.

  39. syonredux says:
    @snorlax

    Hm. Of ones I’ve read, the most recent to fit both parts of that description is Never Let Me Go (2005). But it was merely good, not great like Bonfire.

    It also didn’t have the impact that Bonfire did. Bonfire was an event. Perhaps we’re too immersed in TV and films for a novel to occupy that kind of cultural space….

    • Replies: @snorlax
  40. Anonymous[390] • Disclaimer says:

    Wolfe has a long list of original phrases that became famous.

    This sets him apart from the 99% of modern era “great” writers who write nothing memorable or quotable during their entire careers.

    We see the same trend in art & music. Lots of accolades but no actual evidence of greatness.

  41. snorlax says:
    @syonredux

    We have had events since then: 50 Shades of Gray, Dan Brown, Harry Potter, etc. Certainly not great works of literature though. (HP is perhaps great by YA standards).

    Sticking to “events” only, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (also 2005) is fun enough, although Larsson is sort of an anti-Wolfe given his left-wing axe to grind and plots and characterizations that ring completely false. And I liked the film Gone Girl, so perhaps I’d like the novel (2012) also.

    Not sure what the last non-diversity, highbrow “event” was; perhaps Infinite Jest (1996), which I mean to read but haven’t yet.

    • Replies: @snorlax
    , @Benjaminl
  42. snorlax says:
    @snorlax

    Not sure what the last non-diversity, highbrow “event” was; perhaps Infinite Jest (1996), which I mean to read but haven’t yet.

    Or Inherent Vice (2009); I haven’t read anything of Pynchon’s, which I should probably correct at some point.

    • Replies: @Dave Pinsen
  43. TGGP says: • Website

    I kept reloading my RSS reader wondering why you hadn’t posted on Wolfe yet. I hope it’s just a temporary delay/glitch. His famous “Radical Chic” has long been available online, but I figure the rich & famous get enough attention, so I put “Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers” online myself:

    http://teageegeepea.tripod.com/maumau.html

  44. donut says:
    @syonredux

    I thought Jeff Daniels might have made a good Sherman .

  45. Anonymous[510] • Disclaimer says:
    @anony-mouse

    Usually this is not a great idea. In a minor character it can be funny, but when the character is central it is probably an invitation to disaster. Truman Capote famously based a lot of the speech and mannerisms of Holly Golightly on his friend Marilyn Monroe, then campaigned for her to be given the role when it was adapted for cinema: at first upset when Audrey Hepburn got it, he along with everyone else realized that Hepburn was, in fact, the better choice.

    Having someone play themselves is a bad idea, except maybe William Shatner or Liza Minnelli, and then only because they can’t portray anyone else. Special mention to Howard Stern: like him or detest him, he was great as Howard Stern in Private Parts.

    • Replies: @Kevin Michael Grace
  46. Anonymous[510] • Disclaimer says:
    @Boethiuss

    Yeah this. Analogous to Wolfe being the successor to Twain, and at the risk of sucking up to our host, it’s fair to say that Sailer is the successor to Wolfe.

    Well, if he ever writes some more books, he might be.

  47. his biggest weakness was at the lower brow blocking and tackling basic of coming up with an ending for his plots

    True. In the end, he was a journalist who imposed art on life, rather than a novelist who brought art into life, like Mishima, who came up with an ending. If only he had cut his teeth at the NYT, he could have learned how to put the interesting bits at the end of the story…

  48. Anonymous[308] • Disclaimer says:

    I’m sorry, I guess he was a friend of yours, but this is laughable and ridiculous.

    I am Charlotte Simmons is an unmitigated disaster. Just pure, undistilled senility shot raw with no chaser.

    • Replies: @Anonymous
  49. Thirdeye says:

    Wolfe put “The Me Decade” in the lexicon in a Rolling Stone article. In 1979 Christopher Lasch gave Wolfe’s insight a more intellectualized form in The Culture of Narcissism. Both were excoriated for highlighting the unhealthy trends underlying current thought fashions. IMO the individualized form of me-ism is expressed in neoliberalism and the collectivized form is expressed in identity politics. Both dominate American politics today and they are equally rotten.

    The Electric Koolaid Acid Test captured the 1965-67 cultural supernova that would burn out around 1970, leaving us with The Me Decade. Funny thing is, Ken Kesey quickly moved on from the presonna built by Wolfe and became a traditional kind of guy fending off his image as a psychedelic guru.

    The cover image of The Man Who Notices was a poster for the movie Picnic, starring William Holden and Kim Novak. It was also used with the sheet music for Moonglow, which was featured in the film.

    • Replies: @Thirdeye
  50. Thirdeye says:
    @Thirdeye

    No, it’s not the Picnic poster. The actor looks like Burt Lancaster.

  51. Anon[374] • Disclaimer says:

    The point of New Journalism was to get at ‘truth’ through exploring subjective perspectives instead of relating objective facts. It flourished during a time of great multicultural multiple-perspective upheaval in the USA. Then it petered out in the Reagan era. But it should not have. With the decades-long deconstructionist assault on truth, we need New Journalism now more than ever.

  52. Anonymous[308] • Disclaimer says:
    @Anonymous

    Steve often excused Wolfe’s painful attempts at writing sentences and paragraphs in the English language by claiming his true value was in his prodigious social insight.

    Yeah, well, if I give you the painted word and the right stuff then you’re going to have to drop this Charlotte Simmons nonsense. He dropped the ball completely on what it meant to be a millennial, socially and intellectually. Sorry, but this isn’t 1939; there were no wide-eyed virgins shocked by the debauchery at Duke.

    I sense I’m going to meet some resistance here because I’m talking about your daughters. Yeah, them too. Oh, you raised them in the church and they *say* they were shocked by the debauchery at their elite college? Well, they weren’t.

    Around the time of Charlotte Simmons someone from Monty Python (maybe Eric Idle) was promoting some fluffy book about his tour of America on Jon Stewart’s show. Stewart asked some typically provincial New Yorker question about how crazy it must be down in West Virginia and Alabama. Idle answered, “Uhh, not very, Jon. There are no more boondocks in America. Everyone in West Virginia gets your show.” If Wolfe were the man Steve says he is, *that’s* the angle he would have taken in Charlotte Simmons. That it’s no longer possible to have radically different Americans at an elite university in the internet age–just ones unmoored from their families and homes.

  53. j says: • Website

    Blood describing Miami as it is is excellent.

    • Replies: @William Badwhite
  54. Buddwing says:

    I never read any of his novels, but enjoyed his non-fiction. I came to understand a lot about the roots of tech industry culture from the essay “Two Young Men Who Went West” in Hooking Up.
    The same about the Art and Architecture world from The Painted Word and From Bauhaus to Our House.

  55. Sam says:

    Will Steve ever give his opinion on Wolfe’s last book, Kingdom of Speech?
    Given its less than stellar reception among evolutionists,from what I recall, I always assumed Steve didn’t want to disparage his hero and that’s why he refrained but maybe not?

  56. Dave Pinsen says: • Website
    @snorlax

    His last novel, Bleeding Edge, set in New York at the turn of the millennium, is a good starting point. Not too long or dense, but still gives you a flavor of his style.

  57. anon[382] • Disclaimer says:

    Don’t know the source of confusion, but his birth certificate says 1930 according to a database search. That said, there are occasional errors.

    More tellingly, he appears in the 1930 census as a one-month old.

  58. Anon[257] • Disclaimer says:
    @snorlax

    Are James Patterson dean koonts baldocci kellerman and the rest who crank out the same book every 18 months on the Oprah list?

    I think she ended the list about 20 years ago. Would never read a book she recommended

  59. Anon[257] • Disclaimer says:
    @Lugash

    Loved the book, never saw the movie

  60. DH13 says:
    @Grumpy

    I don’t think Sailer would like it. It is a kick in the nuts to evolutionists. The Kingdom of Speech summary is that language could not have evolved as the Darwinist wish/pray it would. In The Kingdom of Speech, Wolfe said,

    By now, 2014 [when Chomsky’s critic Everett appeared], Evolution was more than a theory. It had become embedded in the very anatomy, the very central nervous system of all modern people. Every part, every tendency, of every living creature had evolved from some earlier life form—even if you had to go all the way back to Darwin’s “four or five cells floating in a warm pool somewhere” to find it. A title like “The Mystery of Language Evolution” was instinctive. It went without saying that any “trait” as important as speech had evolved… from something. Everett’s notion that speech had not evolved from anything—it was a “cultural tool” man had made for himself—was unthinkable to the vast majority of modern people. They had all been so deep-steeped in the Theory that anyone casting doubt upon it obviously had the mentality of a Flat Earther or a Methodist. (pp. 253–54)

  61. ton of attention from the NY Times. Front page, then 2 full pages., subject of op-ed. 2 obits. Flattering photos.

    Kind of scary that he had few to no comparable contemporaries. Is great talent so rare that out of a population of many millions there is no one else in his league?

    Did his passing get any mention on Fox?

  62. DH13 says:

    The study that motivated Wolfe to write The Kingdom of Speech was this one:

    Leading Evolutionary Scientists Admit We Have No Evolutionary Explanation of Human Language – December 19, 2014
    Excerpt: Understanding the evolution of language requires evidence regarding origins and processes that led to change. In the last 40 years, there has been an explosion of research on this problem as well as a sense that considerable progress has been made. We argue instead that the richness of ideas is accompanied by a poverty of evidence, with essentially no explanation of how and why our linguistic computations and representations evolved.,,,
    (Marc Hauser, Charles Yang, Robert Berwick, Ian Tattersall, Michael J. Ryan, Jeffrey Watumull, Noam Chomsky and Richard C. Lewontin, “The mystery of language evolution,” Frontiers in Psychology, Vol 5:401 (May 7, 2014).)

    To which Wolfe said:

    Language Is a Rock Against Which Evolutionary Theory Wrecks Itself – Michael Egnor September 19, 2016
    Excerpt: “The most fundamental questions about the origins and evolution of our linguistic capacity remain as mysterious as ever,” [the authors] concluded. Not only that, they sounded ready to abandon all hope of ever finding the answer. Oh, we’ll keep trying, they said gamely… but we’ll have to start from zero again. One of the eight was the biggest name in the history of linguistics, Noam Chomsky. “In the last 40 years,” he and the other seven were saying, “there has been an explosion of research on this problem,” and all it had produced was a colossal waste of time by some of the greatest minds in academia.”

    • Replies: @MEH 0910
  63. Anon[257] • Disclaimer says:

    Some comedian on late night TV. “I’m an Orthodox Jew. I’m very religious I’ve never eaten bacon. I never will. I use cocaine couple times a week but I don’t eat bacon.”

  64. @donut

    Good choice.

    William Hurt was the obvious Sherman McCoy, but he was fading. Steve Martin might have been good but also might have been really bad. Jeff Daniels would have delivered well.

    • Replies: @Rifleman
  65. Puremania says:

    About 21 years ago Wolfe talked about “regime shift” in the art world, as it went from glorifying Bouguereau to Picasso to who-knows-who. Shortly after that, Picasso works became the most-sold-off ones at MOMA (Johns, the most acquired). “Timeless”, trumped by trends, who knew? Tom had such a great feeling for that stuff.
    In fact, I think that the reason Back to Blood (spoiler alert!) wasn’t more well received was that the painful truths put forth cut a bit too deep. It’s one thing to get the reader laughing at elites in the art world. It’s something else to ponder the musclebound supercop, getting paid in scorn for doing his best to keep the wheels on civilization, as he’s contrasted to the crazy, abusive psychiatrist, who gets all the money and the hot girl.
    I suppose I’m in the minority, but I thought this book was a high point in showcasing harsh modern realities.
    “When truth gets buried deep
    Leading to a thousand years of sleep
    Time demands a turnaround
    And once again the truth is found”
    -George Harrison’s ‘lost verse’ to Donovan’s Hurdy Gurdy Man
    RIP Tom Wolfe, and thanks for that list, Steve.

  66. This is beyond silly. I have enjoyed Wolfe’s writings but his writing often drags and is pedestrian. As a sympathetic reader, I keep reading. Compare that experience to reading Mark Twain. From his most ephemeral stuff, like his travelogue from a pricey cruise of Europe and associated places like Ottoman Jerusalem, to his home run, you will not catch him out in the consistency of his intelligence and literary style. As for range of subjects, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court is a fascinating thought-experiment.

  67. @Anonymouse

    Compare the superb first half of “Life on the Mississippi” (the memoir of his youth) to the travelog second half (revisiting old haunts). Twain’s sweet spot was being a boy on the river.

  68. bomag says:
    @DH13

    I wouldn’t call that a kick… Seems reasonable enough.

  69. bomag says:
    @Lugash

    A reminder that books and movies are different mediums; one doesn’t always translate to the other with the same je ne sais quoi.

  70. Do people really care about prose style?

    Maybe they do, but I just love clarity. I do like a certain flow, but I actually find it distracting when the author writes to impress college professors or whomever.

    I do like an occasional turn of phrase, but only because it drives a point home.

    But maybe others really do love the act of reading for it’s own sake, not just to get a story or information.

    • Replies: @snorlax
  71. @Stuart Anderson

    I would recommend The Sellout by Paul Beatty, a black American author who won the British Booker Prize for it. First time an American won the prize.

    https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/10/25/paul-beatty-becomes-first-us-author-to-win-the-man-booker-prize/

    The Man Booker Prize has been won by an American author for the first time, for an expletive-ridden satire judges said “eviscerated” political correctness.

    Paul Beatty’s The Sellout was awarded the 2016 prize of £50,000, in the third year since it has been controversially opened to American writers.

    Judges said the book contained “absolutely savage wit”, managing to “eviscerate every social taboo and politically correct nuance, every sacred cow, while both making us laugh and wince”.

    The novel tells the story of a disaffected black American narrator who seeks to reinstate slavery and segregation in his “agrarian ghetto” town.

    It begins: “This may be hard to believe, coming from a black man, but I’ve never stolen anything.”

    Amanda Foreman, chair of judges, said the novel had been chosen unanimously by judges after four hours of deliberation.

  72. Daniel H says:

    Has anybody written a good/great novel about Rock & Roll? Wolfe would have been the man to do it, but alas.

  73. ChrisZ says:
    @Anonymouse

    I’ll second your endorsement of Twain’s “Connecticut Yankee.” I read it a few summers ago and was dumbfounded to discover it’s so much more than a juvenile genre novel. The critic Paul Cantor calls it the first post-colonial novel, and that’s closer to the truth.

    Twain may be underrated as a novelist because of the flamboyant persona he created for himself. I wonder if the same will be true of Wolfe a century on? I do think that, like Twain, he’ll still be read in that future time.

  74. ic1000 says:
    @Dave Pinsen

    An insightful and appreciative comment, thx.

  75. Well I’m down in Miami now, dividing my time between schemes and making go-fast trips to Cuba for mojitos with Nestor Camacho.

    Thinking over Wolfe’s passing and career, I keep returning to his last offering, The Kingdom of Speech, and noting that it took a strikingly Nietzschean angle on language for a traditionalist author. The spoken word as just another tool.

    • Replies: @Steve Sailer
  76. @Hoyt Thorpe

    When I read Nietzsche’s “Genealogy of Morals” last year, it struck me that the prose style was much like Wolfe’s (although with not quite as many exclamation points). I presume, from several lines of evidence, that Nietzsche had a big impact on Wolfe.

  77. @Daniel H

    Good question.

    Cameron Crowe might have been able to do it out of his true life story of being a teenage Rolling Stone writer, but he made the movie “Almost Famous” instead.

  78. @Daniel H

    Good question.

    Cameron Crowe might have been able to do it out of his true life story of being a teenage Rolling Stone writer, but he made the movie “Almost Famous” instead.

  79. @Daniel H

    Here’s somebody’s list of rock music related novels:

    https://www.rockcellarmagazine.com/2013/01/07/top-11-rock-novels/

    It’s not that impressive.

    I can recall Wolfe writing that his Ken Kesey book was easy to write because so many of the people associated with Kesey were talented writers. I only recently noticed that Lonesome Dove writer Larry McMurtry was a big figure in Wolfe’s Kesey book. (In fact, the elderly McMurtry recently married the Widow Kesey.)

    But for some reason, rock music and novels haven’t gone together all that well.

    • Replies: @AnotherGuessModel
  80. Wolfe was too smart & he knew that he couldn’t be what he had publicly proclaimed, American Zola. No writer could have done this.

    To be a Zola, you should be able & free to describe collectives as entities with relatively static traits, mostly rooted in biology, genetics & physiology. You should write on blacks as, statistically, atavistic semi-animals; on women as materialistic gold-diggers with occasional flashes of empathy; on Asians as functioning zombies …

    In effect, you would have to be an extreme racialist & sexist author. And this is not permissible. And Wolfe knew it.

  81. @Anonymouse

    Twain is a writer about whom Faulkner said: “A hack writer who would not have been considered fourth rate in Europe.”

    I tend to agree, but with a caveat: I admire old, dark Mark Twain with his nihilist stories & “novels” (Pudd’nhead Wilson, The Mysterious Stranger, Three Thousand Years Among the Microbes,..).

  82. DH13 says:
    @MEH 0910

    Well, in that case go and read the paper by these very non-creationist chaps:

    Marc Hauser, Charles Yang, Robert Berwick, Ian Tattersall, Michael J. Ryan, Jeffrey Watumull, Noam Chomsky and Richard C. Lewontin, “The mystery of language evolution”.

    https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2014.00401/full

  83. Rifleman says:
    @Steve Sailer

    I heard Tom Wolfe say he wanted Chevy Chase to be Sherman McCoy.

    You have to picture the later 1980s Chevy Chase in the roll. Not a young guy by then but still a somewhat awkward adult but more impressive than average dressed up in NYC formality.

  84. ic1000 says:
    @Anonymouse

    “Anonymouse”, you and “Anony-mouse” are different long-time commenters. With quite different perspectives. (Finally figured that out.)

  85. snorlax says:
    @RichardTaylor

    Wolfe wrote “stylishly,” but in a way that improved clarity, by making his often-dry subject matter more memorable.

  86. Bonfire draws on Hegel’s Master-Slave dialectic to a degree, and that accounts for some of its power. A sign of this is how depictions of McCoy’s physicality changes from the beginning to the end.
    McCoy is described as acting very hapless throughout the beginning of the book, and his big Anglo physique is obscured by the Wall Street suits as well as made to look foolish by the pastel 80s summer-wear. The references to his large Yale chin make you think that Wolfe was intentionally trying to signal that McCoy’s masculine physicality has been obscured. At the very end of the novel, McCoy is described as wearing a polo that lets his big forearms show through. In this portion, it is recounted that McCoy is fine with not having additional protections in jail, since he presumably feels he is capable of handling himself with the black and Hispanic inmates (e.g. his lack of concern over the bruise on his face).
    The tie-in to Hegel sems to be that McCoy stops caring about the opulent, mentally stressful, status-driven life and instead is comfortable in the simple world of fighting guys in a holding cell (from Dishonor-Before-Death to Death-Before-Dishonor, so to speak).

  87. Benjaminl says:
    @snorlax

    What about Ferrante and Knausgaard? Big deals, not obviously dependent on Diversity. (Or was the question just about Americans?)

    Knausgaard is even a Very White Male.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/My_Struggle_(Knausg%C3%A5rd_novels)

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neapolitan_Novels

  88. sayless says:
    @Reg Cæsar

    Who is the second one down with the red scarf? And the one with the pinstripe shirt and the black bowtie?

  89. sayless says:
    @syonredux

    “last good novel to really make a big splash?”

    Tartt’s The Secret History?

    She dressed the part, anyway.

  90. @Steve Sailer

    I suspect you’re right. Neitzsche was truly a witty, even catty, writer when he wanted to be. I think a lot of people miss his love of coinages, aphorisms, and turns of phrase. And he repeatedly laid his cards on the table about the need to unapologetically bring style back into philosophy.

  91. Pat Boyle says:
    @the Supreme Gentleman

    I will now recount a true story that is indeed stranger than fiction.

    ‘A Man in Full’ has a couple themes and a lot of plot lines. One follows a young guy into and out of prison and his acquaintanceship with the stoic philosopher Zeno. His calamitous journey into all that begins when he is accosted by Oakland CA police over some driving issue.

    So I was driving into Oakland across the Bay Bridge when I was pulled over by the cops because my registration tags were out of date. They told me they were going to have my car towed away.

    I told them about the plot of ‘A Man in Full’ and ended by saying – “You don’t want to cause something like that to happen – do you?”. They didn’t let me go but they did drive me to a bus stop.

    • Replies: @jimbo
    , @Marty
  92. Polymath says:

    Answering several people all at once:

    Vonnegut was a legit successor to Twain.

    Wolfe ran out of time. If he had been 10 years younger we would have had a couple more great novels out of him. His nonfiction and fiction are equally great (although his fiction suffers from having started so late — his novels compare favorably with almost anyone else’s first four novels and he continued to improve). His closest approximation was David Foster Wallace, whose suicide I have still not gotten over.

    “A Connecticut Yankee” ultimately fails as a novel because the ending was rushed and Twain didn’t explore in more depth what he hinted at. But Twain was much more than a writer about life on the Mississippi; like Shakespeare, or Bob Dylan, his work has the quality of inexhaustibility (no matter how much you study it, you always find keep finding new things in it). Even in his lesser work where you can see inadequacies there is much of value, just as with the other writers I mentioned.

    Wolfe is no evolution denier, but he is capable of noticing that a particular thing has a possibly superior explanation other than evolution no matter how overwhelmingly the received wisdom deters other writers from pursuing that avenue.

    Most writers fail to combine intelligence, breadth, objectivity, and courage: there is almost always some weakness that leads them into cringeworthy errors or falling victim to nasty and powerful opponents in some way. Wolfe was immune to this — he is one of the rare people of whom I think “I don’t have any advice to offer him, he can take care of himself perfectly”. (There are a few people like that around here, Sailer and Heartiste and Moldbug in particular–no one EVER takes such people on in open public debate, only drive-by sniping. Wolfe was the most influential of all such writers because he was always able to show rather than tell; it’s impossible to look at his work as a whole and not recognize that he knew exactly what was what even though he didn’t polemicize.)

  93. Dan Kurt says:
    @Danindc

    re: ” Man in Full was great too.” Danindc

    Tom Wolfe had a clinical depression during the writing of A Man In Full. When I read it I felt it was truncated–it was ended with too many loose ends and should have continued for a few more hundred pages or so. When I later found the story of his depression, I understood why it was incomplete.

    Dan Kurt

  94. jimbo says:
    @Pat Boyle

    Pedant’s note: It was Epictetus, not Zeno, that captured Conrad’s fancy…

    • Replies: @Pat Boyle
  95. @Clifford Brown

    Thanks, that’s an interesting conversation. I think Wolfe nails it when he says, “I was the man who laughed in church. The man who laughs in church, nobody ever asks him what’s funny, they always say, how dare you”.

  96. Both Sherman McCoy and Charlie Croker are at least partially redeemed by Wolfe. Both characters are portrayed somewhat sympathetically by the end. And both show some mental and physical toughness, despite being (once) rich white men.

    Contrast with the black mayors and preachers, the gold digging girlfriends, the journalists, the wealthy art and dinner party and debutante set, and so forth.

    All very un-PC, even for the 80s and 90s.

  97. @Anonymous

    David Bowie was great as “David Bowie” in both Zoolander and Extras

  98. Marty says:
    @Pat Boyle

    My opinion of the Oakland police is based on a jaywalking ticket a motorcycle cop gave me one Saturday in 1976 after I crossed against the light at Broadway/19th, at 6:00 a.m., not a car in sight.

  99. Jann Wenner paid Wolfe to serialize in Rolling Stone the first draft of Bonfire of the Vanities

    Back then, when Rolling Stone published fictitious accounts of The Great White Defendant, they let the reader know it was fiction.

  100. @j

    I live and work in Miami and recognized almost nothing from “Blood”. It was disappointing. Even the portrayals of Hialeah were not realistic.

    Stan Adams, care to weigh in?

  101. @sayless

    Who is the second one down with the red scarf? And the one with the pinstripe shirt and the black bowtie?

    Gay Talese and gay Truman Capote.

    • Replies: @Reg Cæsar
  102. Anon[277] • Disclaimer says:
    @MEH 0910

    “Creationist website I presume.”

    From the “creationist” website:

    “I could give plenty of illustrations — scientists threatened or falsely besmirched as “creationists” for giving the offense of expressing preferences for a more adequate theory than Darwinian evolution. This is one very effective way the scientific “consensus” on Darwinism is maintained.”

    So, I guess they think some folks are likely to say “Creationist website I presume” rather than, say, actually reading the material. Seems kinda paranoid, right?

    • Replies: @MEH 0910
  103. Pat Boyle says:
    @jimbo

    It was? Must be my Alzheimer’s acting up.

  104. I m afraid I must agree with a few of the guys here: Bonfire was fantastic, I burned through it,reading it at every possible opp. “Man In Full” was a bore. I never finished it. I read some of ‘Charlotte’ in that filthy rag Rolling Stone and it didn’t really grab me,tho that might’ve been my fault,as I felt a bit reluctant to read about how low young women have sunk, supposedly.

    I think I may get a copy of BOTV the movie. I love Bruce Willis ,and dayumm but Melanie Griffith looked good! I try and avoid Tom Hanks, but its not like he is without talent. The irony is that I would’ve picked Willis for Sherman McCoy. His smug,cocky I’m-me-and-you’re-not persona would’ve brought a lot to the role of the Big Shot in Peril story.

    William Hurt? That might’ve worked pretty well,seeing this angry arrogant jerk being threatened with ruin,tho personally I think old Billy Boy is too dark for the role. But..what do I know?

    • Replies: @Steve Sailer
  105. @Father O'Hara

    Bruce Willis and Tom Hanks switching roles might have worked in De Palma’s movie. It couldn’t have hurt. In the 1980s Hanks did a lot of raffish characters.

  106. @Anonymous

    The plot of I Am Charlotte Simmons was plausible enough, but the four main characters all seemed slightly off, just a bit too much like archetypes rather than believable people. I think Wolfe was maybe just too much older than later Gen X/early millennial college students to really get inside their heads.

    And also there seemed to be many small errors about how modern college life works (basketball games in quarters, fall semester exams after Christmas rather than before, several others that I mentally noted at the time but have forgotten so many years later). I know these are nitpicks, but the Wolfe of earlier decades would have been more rigorous about such things.

  107. @the one they call Desanex

    Gay Talese and gay Truman Capote.

    But Gay isn’t gay, and Truman wasn’t a true man.

  108. @Steve Sailer

    When I read Nietzsche’s “Genealogy of Morals” last year, it struck me that the prose style was much like Wolfe’s (although with not quite as many exclamation points).

    For exclamation points, you can’t beat Ian Fleming’s Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Obviously it isn’t meant to be read, but read to.

    I presume, from several lines of evidence, that Nietzsche had a big impact on Wolfe.

    Hmm. How about Fleming?

  109. @Boethiuss

    … it’s fair to say that Sailer is the successor to Wolfe.

    He’ll have to up his sartorial game.

    Not that he dresses badly now, but we’re talking the equivalent of PGA level here.

    Speaking of which…

  110. @Anonymous

    He dropped the ball completely on what it meant to be a millennial, socially and intellectually. Sorry, but this isn’t 1939; there were no wide-eyed virgins shocked by the debauchery at Duke.

    I cannot speak to Duke, but your universal claim is certainly false here in flyover country. There are still genuinely naive young women that are shocked to discover the immorality and seduction attempts that happen on campuses. Just because you don’t know them doesn’t mean they don’t exist.

  111. @Steve Sailer

    The best evidence is this superb Wolfe essay from 23 years ago:

    http://www.orthodoxytoday.org/articles/Wolfe-Sorry-But-Your-Soul-Just-Died.php

    A life-changing essay for me.

  112. MEH 0910 says:
    @Anon

    Intelligent design website I presume.

  113. @donut

    Jeff Daniels has a chin that’s admirably suited to the role.

  114. MEH 0910 says:

    https://evolutionnews.org/2016/08/in_the_kingdom_/

    In The Kingdom of Speech, Tom Wolfe Tells the Story of Evolution’s Epic Tumble
    David Klinghoffer
    August 30, 2016

    Darwinian evolution explains biological trivia — variable finch beaks and the like — but stumbles when it comes to the major innovations in the long history of life. No innovation could be more revolutionary than how homo sapiens, as Discovery Institute biologist Michael Denton puts it, “slipped suddenly into being on the rich, game-laden African grasslands of the late Pleistocene.”

    The most distinctive thing about man is of course his gift for language. On that, the great Tom Wolfe masterfully explains in a new book out today, Darwinism takes an epic tumble. Evolution cannot explain the very thing that preeminently makes us human. “To say that animals evolved into man,” writes Wolfe on the last page of The Kingdom of Speech, “is like saying that Carrara marble evolved into Michelangelo’s David.”

    The analogy is heavy with significance. An artist shapes his medium as an act of deliberate design. Wolfe, one of the most treasured writers alive today, hasn’t come out for intelligent design, at least not directly. In previous statements he has shown sympathy for ID, comparing the persecution of ID scientists to the “Spanish Inquisition.” Here too he refers to the “Neo-Darwinist Inquisition.” But his focus is on the story of how evolution, from Darwin to Chomsky, came up short in explaining speech. He lets the implications of this speak for themselves.
    ……

    Wolfe frames his story in terms of two pairs of rivals or doppelgängers — Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace, on one hand, and linguists Noam Chomsky and Daniel Everett on the other. As in every other book of his that I’ve read, Wolfe is sharply attuned to matters of status, rank, class — which explain so much not only in fashion or politics but in the history of ideas. In both of these pairs of scientists, one is the established figure, the man of rank and prestige (Darwin, Chomsky), while he was overtaken and nearly knocked from his pedestal by a field researcher of lesser cachet (Wallace, Everett), a “flycatcher” in Wolfe’s phrase.

  115. I met Wolfe coming out of the Yale Club a few years ago, in his trademark white suit. Age had taken a toll on his body, he had a hunchback and his posture was 150 degrees. Told him how much “this Trump voter ” enjoyed his books, he laughed, was very gracious and asked about my background. He cracked a sly smile and indulged my ridiculous request for a selfie.

    RIP, Mr. Wolfe…..

    • Replies: @Steve Sailer
  116. @Captain nascimento

    I was talking to a schoolteacher a few years ago and she told me about how gracious Wolfe had been to her and had even read her unpublished short stories and offered her suggestions.

  117. @Steve Sailer

    Good novels about rock are difficult to write because it’s a subject where truth is stranger than fiction, and how can you compete with that without being contrived? This feminist (ha) book review website put together a detailed and careful list in 2005:

    http://www.bookslut.com/features/2005_09_006577.php

    A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan is probably the most famous and on theme novel published after 2005. Forgotten by the list is Girl (1994) by Blake Nelson, vivid, racy, and unexpectedly moving. According to Wiki, it’s considered a contemporary classic. Another omission is Weetzie Bat (1989) by Francesca Lia Block, which I’ve never read but also has classic status.

    It’s interesting that Weetzie Bat is a young adult novel, and Girl was re-marketed as one after originally being in the regular grownup section. Rock music eternally belongs to the young, and it makes sense that young adult fiction might best capture its spirit, both in themes and writing style. Perhaps we’ve been looking in the wrong places, and the Great Rock Novel is waiting to be discovered in the YA section.

  118. I will settle a few disputes, and my word is final. :-)

    Mark Twain — you can argue about how good a writer he was. He couldn’t turn a phrase the way Norman Mailer or Tom Wolfe could.

    (One of my favorite Norman Mailer phrases, from Tough Guys Don’t Dance, when a man’s wife says something “with the sassy, untrammeled mouth of a sixteen-year-old in cutoffs at a Doctor Pepper gas station”. Or any one of Wolfe’s great phrases.

    Twain could tell a story. Granted, his stories about the Mississippi were a cut above the rest of his stuff, but he was a great story teller. Funny as heck, too.

    As for the New Journalists, Hunter Thompson and Tom Wolfe.

    At the beginning, Thompson was clearly the better writer. Read Hell’s Angels or The Great Shark Hunt. There was an intersection when the Merry Pranksters hung out with the Hell’s Angels for a while. I think Hell’s Angels was far better than The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, and was written earlier. It was one of the sources Wolfe used.

    Trouble was, Hunter Thompson didn’t take care of his body nor his brain. I thought Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas was clearly inferior to Thompson’s earlier works. Still the product of a brilliant mind, but a brilliant mind being destroyed by drugs.

    Wolfe, on the other hand, got better as he got older. Most creative types reach their peaks fairly early on. (For example, when was the last time Paul McCartney wrote anything worth listening too? Most of his best songs were written by the time he was 27, while Wolfe was about 37 when The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test was published )

    When he got older, Thompson burned out, lost his creativity, and finally killed himself. Thompson was younger (born in 1937), but had passed his peak before a 6-7 year younger Wolfe reached his. Wolfe was still writing his best books long after Thompson’s death.

    • Replies: @Steve Sailer
  119. Thanks for this very interesting bibliography. I haven’t gone through it all, but I wonder if you have something on a controversy from all the way back in 1965, around Tom Wolfe’s article “Tiny Mummies!”, an attack on the overblown reputation of the New Yorker magazine. Dwight Macdonald pointed out a lot of factual inaccuracies at the time. It’s true the inaccuracies were relatively minor. They did not affect Wolfe’s main criticisms of the New Yorker. But they were inaccuracies that affected just the sort of telling details that Wolfe uses to get you chuckling, to create a vivid imaginative world, and to pull you right into one of his great articles. Should you care that some of the things you love the most about Wolfe’s work are, well, not true? I have some more on this point, and on Wolfe’s amazing infiltration of the culture more generally, at this post on “Searching for Tom Wolfe”, here: https://naimisha_forest.silvrback.com/tom-wolfe

    • Replies: @Steve Sailer
  120. @Naimisha Forest

    A friend told me in 1982 that his surfing brother was interviewed for Wolfe’s “Pump House Gang” and he said his brother and buddies had made up some tall tales for Wolfe.

    • Replies: @Highlander
  121. @Paleo Liberal

    Wolfe’s first novel, Bonfire, was published when he was 57.

    Also he’d been trash talking for about 15 years about how real soon now he was going to write a better novel than the novelists.

    • Replies: @Paleo Liberal
  122. The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test was hugely influential in inspiring a whole lot of acid heads and Deadheads over several decades and a major factor in the Grateful Dead developing into the band and massive cultural phenomenon they became.

  123. Sam says:
    @Steve Sailer

    Becoming a Wolfe junkie from your inspiration I immediately went to youtube for interviews(after reading Wolfe of course). You can find many videos and talks, mostly ripped from C-Span, of his. I was struck by how often he would start with Nietzsche’s premonitions on the death of God and what it would portend. He was quite impressed by Nietzsche’s accuracy and he believed in it wholeheartedly as a description of what is going on in late modernity. (I had expected references to Weber and status but can’t really recall to many.) It seemed like a considerable influence although having done a few searches in his book the name doesn’t come up that often for some reason.

    Btw one of the delights of somebody passing is that old interviews and bits suddenly (re)appear on the internet often by legacy media with their long archival records.

    Wolfe on Letterman 1987-98

  124. @DH13

    DH13 wrote:

    The Kingdom of Speech summary is that language could not have evolved as the Darwinist wish/pray it would.

    Darwinists are not committed to the idea that everything is the result of random variation followed by unconscious selection.

    No one believe that language development is solely the result of conscious central planning (see, e.g., John McWhorter’s Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue for some of the serendipitous turns in the history of English).

    On the other hand, obviously people often think about how they use language (if only a caveman thinking about what sweet nothings he should utter to woo his beloved), so of course conscious choice plays a role in language development.

    The origin of language is an empirical (and probably very complex) issue.

  125. @Steve Sailer

    Sort of like how drama critic George Bernard Shaw was fed up with the quality of plays being written at the time, so decided to start writing his own.

  126. Anon87 says:
    @the Supreme Gentleman

    Same here. Before that I only knew of Bonfire being a famously bad movie. Since then I’m enjoying working through Wolfe’s work. Thank you Steve.

  127. MBlanc46 says:
    @Highlander

    Alas, I tried reading his New Journalism and found it unreadable. Perhaps I’m just an old fuddy duddy (although I wasn’t nearly as old when I tried to read him). I’m pretty sure that a lot of other folks had the same reaction. I did get through the Kesey book because I was interested in Kesey and especially Cassady (at a book signing, Kesey inscribed it “Tom Wolfe Kesey” for me). When I was a grad student at the University of Chicago Wolfe came to give a lecture. It was about 1970 and the campus was in an uproar over some Vietnam outrage or other. Unfortunately, his white-suited persona didn’t mesh with the time and place.

    • Replies: @Highlander
  128. @MBlanc46

    Odd. I saw him give a lecture about status seeking in America at Zellerbach auditorium on the Berkeley campus around 1972. The place was packed and he got quite an ovation.

  129. @Steve Sailer

    Whenever chatting with surfers always divide the height of the waves they are referring to by 2 and then subtract one foot.

  130. @Grumpy

    Yes. – And no, that is. The Kingdom of Speech is a very interesting book. I liked it. It was a slow read. Wolfe duets with Daniel Everett. I still grapple a bit with what looks now as Wolfe’s last book.

    I’m surprised by his death. I thought, he would live – just on and on…

    I think Wolfe is right about Everett and Chomsky.

  131. @DH13

    What Wolfe’s Darwin is concerned, I’m not so sure. Wolfe might have taken a shortcut in Darwin’s case.

    Tomasello and Habermas count in here too, as do Durkheim, Herder and Gadamer (with here I refer to the function/ the developement of language).

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