In the frenzy of 1980s-bashing that seized the cultural elite following the election of Bill Clinton last November, a highly relevant anniversary went unnoticed: The Bonfire of the Vanities, Tom Wolfe’s first novel, turned five years old. Odd that not a single pundit took the trouble to bid farewell to the Masters of the Universe, those “mere boys, with smooth jawlines and clean arteries,” who bought three-million-dollar apartments on Park Avenue and carried to work “one of those burgundy leather attaché cases that come from Mädler or T. Anthony on Park Avenue and have a buttery smoothness that announces: ‘I cost $500.’”

Yet The Bonfire of the Vanities is not much talked about these days, even by New Yorkers. Perhaps this has something to do with the failure of the half-witted movie Brian De Palma made of it; more likely it is a self-fulfilling prophecy, the work of earnest...


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