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Toobin: What you need to know about Tom Wolfe

With Tom Wolfe, the most important thing was what you didn't see. What you saw, of course, was the white suit. Perhap...

Posted: May 15, 2018 10:24 PM
Updated: May 15, 2018 10:24 PM

With Tom Wolfe, the most important thing was what you didn't see. What you saw, of course, was the white suit. Perhaps no American writer in history was more identified with an article of clothing. The outfit -- flashy, unique, an unapologetic plea for attention -- seemed symbolic, too. Wolfe's writing, with its English teacher's nightmare of ALL CAPS and excessive use of exclamation points!!! -- stood out from the crowd as much as he did.

But to focus on the suit, or even the punctuation, was to miss the point of Wolfe's genius. He was, above all, a brilliant reporter -- a meticulous and patient observer of the chaotic world around him. Wolfe, who died Monday at 88, was the rarest bird in American letters, a master of both nonfiction and fiction, an achievement that his distinctive plumage served sometimes to obscure.

Consider, for example, his 1979 masterpiece, "The Right Stuff." The first American astronauts, from the Mercury program, were almost forgotten by the time Wolfe turned his eye to them. But by steeping himself in the material, Wolfe saw that the astronauts were not even the best story about the era. That role, and Wolfe's book, belonged to Chuck Yeager, the slow-talking West Virginian whose feats as a test pilot made the work of the astronauts (who were just "spam in a can") look small.

The phrase -- "the right stuff" -- has become such a clich- that it's easy to forget that Wolfe brought it to us, just a few decades ago.

The setting of "The Bonfire of the Vanities" -- the rarefied precincts of Manhattan's Upper East Side -- could not have differed more from the dusty Air Force bases of "The Right Stuff." But in that novel, published in 1987, Wolfe hilariously and wisely revealed both the upside and the underside of the Reagan years among the rich.

Wolfe didn't have to venture far to research this book, because even though he never lost the soft Virginia accent of his native commonwealth, he spent most of his life in the belly of the cosseted beast.

Two of Wolfe's lesser-known works revealed the range of his sophistication. In "The Painted Word" and "From Bauhaus to Our House," he offered pointed critiques of, respectively, modern painting and modern architecture. In these amusing works -- Wolfe could not not be funny -- he cast his reportorial eye on the contemporary art scene and found a truth that others preferred to avoid: A lot of this stuff was pretty ugly.

Wolfe turned crankier in his later years and works, and his high standards sometimes bled into snobbism. He never had much interest in, or insights about, people who were of different races and backgrounds than his own. But his gifts and great works will endure, for the worlds he revealed and skewered, and for the many joys his inimitable style gave to generations of grateful readers.

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 590211

Reported Deaths: 9310
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion815581297
Lake44306666
Allen31919541
Hamilton28371304
St. Joseph26766371
Elkhart24098341
Vanderburgh18643213
Tippecanoe17422121
Johnson14496284
Porter14399160
Hendricks13870241
Madison10561212
Vigo10483171
Clark10240130
Monroe9076108
Delaware8836132
LaPorte8771155
Howard7897138
Kosciusko787277
Warrick643890
Hancock638797
Bartholomew626694
Floyd6150105
Wayne5933157
Grant5818110
Dubois544372
Boone534367
Morgan516291
Marshall494184
Henry493664
Cass471760
Noble460557
Dearborn458444
Jackson414745
Shelby402179
Lawrence380575
Clinton364539
Gibson356556
DeKalb337363
Montgomery334851
Harrison328542
Knox327839
Miami309843
Steuben306340
Adams295235
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Jefferson250738
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Decatur242182
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Wells229447
LaGrange224161
Clay217932
Scott216937
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Washington177118
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Carroll152115
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Perry147227
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Franklin143433
Parke12908
Tipton128232
Pike113625
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Pulaski95237
Newton89421
Brown85530
Benton84310
Crawford7579
Martin70013
Warren6587
Switzerland6205
Union6113
Ohio4677
Unassigned0374

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 826754

Reported Deaths: 10200
CountyCasesDeaths
Franklin97493705
Cuyahoga821781012
Hamilton61350439
Montgomery41700399
Summit33399726
Lucas30111597
Butler29721228
Stark24811400
Warren18917139
Lorain18086212
Mahoning16758335
Lake15365135
Clermont15160104
Delaware1382177
Licking12679132
Trumbull12401302
Fairfield1218480
Greene11631133
Medina11128165
Clark10608264
Wood9964154
Allen9511126
Portage8867105
Miami886573
Richland8790116
Marion7319113
Tuscarawas7142174
Columbiana7085124
Pickaway702850
Wayne6781164
Muskingum671242
Erie5886118
Hancock537890
Ross530287
Scioto519662
Geauga483555
Darke457589
Ashtabula439068
Lawrence432651
Union430628
Mercer424287
Sandusky421862
Seneca413555
Auglaize412759
Huron410338
Shelby410221
Jefferson403366
Belmont395640
Washington372040
Putnam364672
Athens36369
Madison339329
Knox336522
Ashland331738
Fulton325943
Defiance319278
Crawford313268
Preble311534
Brown296619
Logan292729
Ottawa282134
Clinton279043
Williams270166
Highland262418
Jackson256943
Guernsey241725
Champaign240927
Fayette225529
Morrow22294
Perry221318
Holmes218662
Henry210247
Hardin204133
Coshocton197420
Van Wert196644
Gallia190926
Wyandot190549
Adams165615
Pike164116
Hocking163423
Carroll149516
Paulding139021
Noble117840
Meigs103221
Monroe95629
Harrison8568
Morgan79128
Vinton67113
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