Book group – Bonfire of the Vanities

What a spot-on title! This story of high-powered Sherman McCoy brought to his knees by greed and arrogance is one of Tom Wolfe’s classics. Some in book group felt it was too long and I’d have to agree that it takes a while to read. But it’s worth your time for the incisive and vivid writing.

  1. Was this story of vanity and greed timeless or does it only work in the 1980’s?
  2. Similarly, did the story need to be set in New York or could it have worked anywhere else?
  3. How does Bonfire of the Vanities compare to other Tom Wolfe novels?
  4. How does the author paint a picture of particular scenes to elevate the dialogue and action?
  5. What were your favourite scenes where the story was brought to life? Mine involved Styrofoam peanuts, the pronunciation of ‘Shuhman,’ the shoe shine man, guests laughing at the dinner party and Sherman’s father as the lion of Wall Street.
  6. How did the depiction of the Bronx judicial system add to the complexity of the story? Did the hierarchy of the characters there reflect the class structure in Sherman’s world?
  7. What role did politics play in Sherman’s undoing?
  8. At the beginning of the story, Sherman’s identity is constructed from his wealth, reputation, power and class. Is he the same person at the end of the story? How does he define himself differently?
  9. The journalist Peter Fallow is portrayed as a feckless drunk. Is this deserved? What stereotypes are played upon within Peter’s story line? Do other characters fit neatly into stereotypical categories?
  10. Is there such a thing as an accidental crime?
  11. Is Bonfire of the Vanities a story of good vs evil? Is Sherman evil or a good person?
  12. How would you have responded in a similar situation?

Bonfire of the Vanities

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>