Tom Wolfe, chronicler of America

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TOM WOLFE’s great achievement was to write prose as big as America. Mr Wolfe thought that America’s literary elite were missing the biggest story on earth—their own country. Ensconced in their Manhattan lofts and writer-in-residence programmes they were fixated on the minor doings of their own caste rather than the mega-doings of the people who inhabited the American sub-continent. “At this weak, pale, tabescent moment in the history of American literature,” Mr Wolfe wrote in one of his manifestos, “we need a battalion, a brigade, of Zolas to head out into this wild, bizarre, unpredictable, hog-stomping, Baroque country of ours and reclaim it as literary property.”

Mr Wolfe combined a disdain for the myopia of America’s literary caste with contempt for their politics. During his time as a PhD student at Yale University he came to the conclusion that America’s upper-middle class is more interested in what is now called virtue-signalling than in understanding the world. And he exploited this insight in a succession of brilliant…Continue reading

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