The 25 Best New York City Novels

10. The Bonfire of the Vanities (1987)

Author: Tom Wolfe
Areas Featured: Bronx, Harlem, Upper East Side, Lower Manhattan

Everyone in New York City has a hustle. Though The Bonfire of the Vanities dotes on a self-centered Wall Street titan and his mistress as they do the sort of things literary stock brokers and mistresses do, Wolfe's novel takes a more systemic look at the ways New York's numerous power brokers persistently jockey for advantage during even the most tragic situations. A washed-up journalist, a Harlem-based reverend, and a team of lawyers all manipulate the lives of others for personal and political gain.

In 2007, the Times ran a piece looking at New York twenty years after Bonfire. The piece looked to power brokers like (and in some cases, the alleged inspiration for) those portrayed in Wolfe's book for their perspective on how the city has changed in the years since the novel's publication. They all cited substantive changes in the socio-political landscape, from race relations to crime prevention, changes they claim have placed the problems of Bonfire in the rear-view mirror.

Edward W. Hayes, a lawyer and friend of Wolfe's went so far as to say "today there is not enough crime to be a criminal lawyer." While many of these things may be true, what's most striking about the article is that the same power brokers that Wolfe skewered in Bonfire were still players in a position to comment on how power has "shifted" in 21st century New York. Perhaps, then, things haven't changed. —BG

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