In partnership with 92Y, FOLCS featured a screening of this 1990 widely discussed and much anticipated film based on Tom Wolfe’s bestselling novel of the same name. This comedy-drama starring Tom Hanks, Melanie Griffith, and Bruce Willis explores the mix of ambition, racism, politics, and greed in New York in the 1980s, when being a “Master of the Universe” defined the very meaning of Wall Street excess and entitlement.
Tom Wolfe reflected on the novel and film 25 years after its premiere, and United States Attorney, Preet Bharara, offered his view on its continued relevance and why Wall Street crime makes for such great drama.
Tom Wolfe was born and raised in Richmond, Virginia. He was educated at Washington and Lee (B.A., 1951) and Yale (Ph.D., American Studies, 1957) universities. In December 1956, he took a job as a reporter on the Springfield (Massachusetts) Union. This was the beginning of a ten-year newspaper career, most of it spent as a general assignment reporter. For six months in 1960 he served as The Washington Post’s Latin American correspondent and won the Washington Newspaper Guild’s foreign news prize for his coverage of Cuba.
In 1962 he became a reporter for the New York Herald-Tribune and, in addition, one of the two staff writers (Jimmy Breslin was the other) of New York magazine, which began as the Herald-Tribune’s Sunday supplement. While still a daily reporter for the Herald-Tribune, he completed his first book, a collection of articles about the flamboyant Sixties written for New York and Esquire and published in 1965 by Farrar, Straus, and Giroux as The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby. The book became a bestseller and established Wolfe as a leading figure in the literary experiments in nonfiction that became known as New Journalism.
In 1968 he published two bestsellers on the same day: The Pump House Gang, made up of more articles about life in the sixties, and The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, a nonfiction story of the hippie era. In 1970 he published Radical Chic & Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers, a highly controversial book about racial friction in the United States. The first section was a detailed account of a party Leonard Bernstein gave for the Black Panthers in his Park Avenue duplex, and the second portrayed the inner workings of the government’s poverty program.
Even more controversial was Wolfe’s 1975 book on the American art world, The Painted Word. The art world reacted furiously, partly because Wolfe kept referring to it as the “art village,” depicting it as a network of no more than three thousand people, of whom about three hundred lived outside the New York metropolitan area. In 1976 he published another collection, Mauve Gloves & Madmen, Clutter & Vine, which included his well-known essay “The Me Decade and the Third Great Awakening.”
In 1979 Wolfe completed a book he had been at work on for more than six years, an account of the rocket airplane experiments of the post World War II era and the early space program focusing upon the psychology of the rocket pilots and the astronauts and the competition between them. The Right Stuff became a bestseller and won the American Book Award for nonfiction, the National Institute of Arts and Letters Harold Vursell Award for prose style, and the Columbia Journalism Award.
Wolfe had been illustrating his own work in newspapers and magazines since the 1950s, and in 1977 he began doing a monthly illustrated feature for Harper’s Magazine called “In Our Time.” The book In Our Time, published in 1980, featured these drawings and many others. In 1981 he wrote a companion to The Painted Word entitled From Bauhaus to Our House, about the world of American architecture.
In 1984 and 1985 Wolfe wrote his first novel, The Bonfire of the Vanities, in serial form against a deadline of every two weeks for Rolling Stone magazine. It came out in book form in 1987. A story of the money-feverish 1980s in New York,The Bonfire of the Vanities was number one of the New York Times bestseller list for two months and remained on the list for more than a year, selling over 800,000 copies in hardcover. It also became the number-one bestselling paperback, with sales above two million.
A Man in Full headed the New York Times bestseller list for ten weeks and has sold nearly 1.4 million copies in hardcover. The book’s tremendous commercial success, its enthusiastic welcome by reviewers, and Wolfe’s appearance on the cover of Time magazine in his trademark white suit plus a white homburg and white kid gloves-along with his claim that his sort of detailed realism was the future of the American novel, if it was going to have one-provoked a furious reaction among other American novelists, notably John Updike, Norman Mailer, and John Irving.
Wolfe lives in New York City with his wife, Sheila; his daughter, Alexandra; and his son, Tommy.
Former US Attorney
On May 15, 2009, President Barack Obama nominated Preet Bharara to become the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York. Mr. Bharara’s nomination was unanimously confirmed by the U.S. Senate on August 7, 2009, and he was sworn in on August 13, 2009.
As U.S. Attorney, Mr. Bharara oversees the investigation and litigation of all criminal and civil cases brought on behalf of the United States in the Southern District of New York, which encompasses New York, Bronx, Westchester, Dutchess, Orange, Putnam, Rockland, and Sullivan counties. He supervises an office of more than 200 Assistant U.S. Attorneys, who handle a high volume of cases that involve domestic and international terrorism, narcotics and arms trafficking, financial and healthcare fraud, cybercrime, public corruption, gang violence, organized crime, and civil rights violations.
Since Mr. Bharara’s appointment, the office has continued the tradition of being at the forefront of prosecuting financial misconduct, including securities fraud. The office has secured convictions of numerous insider trading defendants, including Galleon hedge fund founder Raj Rajaratnam, McKinsey managing director and Goldman Sachs board member Rajat Gupta, and hedge fund SAC Capital Advisors. The Civil Frauds Unit has brought a number of significant civil actions alleging financial and healthcare fraud and collected hundreds of millions of dollars in settlements, including from Deutsche Bank, CitiMortgage, and Bank of America for fraud relating to faulty lending practices. His office has held to account several of the world’s largest corporations for their misconduct, including JP Morgan Chase for its relationship with Madoff Securities; Toyota for lying to consumers about safety-related issues; BNP Paribas for violating U.S. sanctions against Sudan, Iran, and Cuba; and Anadarko for causing environmental damage at various sites around the country. The Complex Frauds and Cybercrime Unit has also charged some of the most cutting edge financial fraud cases, in addition to sophisticated tax fraud, bank fraud, and cybercrime cases, including the LIRR pension fraud, Swiss Bank Wegelin & Co., core members of the hacking groups LulzSec and Anonymous and drug trafficking website Silk Road, and digital currency provider Liberty Reserve.
In 2012, Mr. Bharara was featured on the cover of TIME magazine and appeared on its list of the “100 Most Influential People in the World.” He was also included in Bloomberg Markets Magazine’s “50 Most Influential” lists, Vanity Fair’s “New Establishment” lists, and Worth magazine’s “The Power 100: The 100 Most Powerful People in Finance” lists in 2012, 2013, and 2014; in City & State’s “Power 100-New York City” and “Power 100-Albany” lists in 2013 and 2014; and in New York Observer’s “The City State: Albany’s Top 40” list in 2014.
Prior to becoming the U.S. Attorney, Mr. Bharara served as Chief Counsel and Staff Director of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Administrative Oversight and the Courts. During his tenure, he helped to lead the Senate Judiciary Committee investigation of the firing of United States Attorneys.
From 2000 to 2005, Mr. Bharara served as an Assistant U.S. Attorney in the Southern District of New York, where he prosecuted a wide range of cases involving organized crime, racketeering, securities fraud, money laundering, narcotics trafficking, and other crimes.
Mr. Bharara was a litigation associate in New York at Swidler Berlin Shereff Friedman from 1996 to 2000 and at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher from 1993 to 1996. He graduated magna cum laude from Harvard College with an A.B. in Government in 1990, and from Columbia Law School with a J.D. in 1993, where he was a member of the Columbia Law Review.