Tom Wolfe, the pioneer of New Journalism and author of The Right Stuff and The Bonfire of the Vanities, has died in New York at the age of 88.
Known as The Thin White Duke for his pale three-piece suits, silk ties and two-tone shoes, Wolfe was a wizard in fop’s clothing, leaving an indelible mark on the English lexicon. He conjured the zeitgeist out of a febrile New York in the book Bonfire of the Vanities, about a megalomaniac Upper Eastsider he dubbed a “Master of the Universe”. The thin and empty rich Park Avenue wives were “social x-rays”.
In Radical Chic & Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers, he satirized the wealthy smart set for endorsing leftist radicalism to assuage white guilt rather than demonstrating genuine political convictions. He coined the term 'The Me Decade' for the period of obsessive preoccupation with personal fulfillment and self-gratification, and in The Right Stuff, his book about Project Mercury astronauts, he also gave us the phrase “push the envelope”.
The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, his 1968 account of Ken Kesey and his Merry Pranksters on the drug rounds, gave us “balls-out” — defined as “unrestrained, uninhibited”. And he gave us one of the most memorable book titles ever: The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby
His advice to young writers was "Never try to fit in; it's sheer folly, be an odd, eccentric character. People will volunteer information to you."
Few writers have chronicled the cultural shifts of America so acutely, and few have left a legacy of such rich and astute idiom.