Rediscover: Tom Wolfe

Tom Wolfe, the colorful author and journalist--though he usually wore a white suit--died this week at age 88. His novel use of fiction techniques in nonfiction pieces made him a pioneer of New Journalism alongside the likes of Gay Talese and Hunter S. Thompson. Wolfe's first ride with that radical new style came in 1963 with a dispatch on Southern California hot rod and custom car culture for Esquire. "There Goes (Varoom! Varoom!) That Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby" was divisive, much discussed, and was included in Wolfe's first essay collection, published in 1965. His "saturation reporting" of Ken Kesey and his Merry Pranksters in The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test (1968) is a tie-dyed high water mark of Wolfe's '60s style.

The Right Stuff (1979) rocketed Wolfe's nonfiction to new heights. This supersonic tale of the space race, the seven astronauts in the Mercury program and Chuck Yeager's breaking of the sound barrier was made into a critically acclaimed 1983 film. Wolfe turned to fiction with his 1987 novel The Bonfire of the Vanities, a darkly comic social criticism of 1980s New York City and a massive bestseller. Wolfe went on to write three more novels: A Man in Full (1998), I Am Charlotte Simmons (2004) and Back to Blood (2012). His final book was The Kingdom of Speech, a criticism of Charles Darwin and Noam Chomsky published by Little, Brown in 2016. --Tobias Mutter

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