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The Purple Decades

by Tom Wolfe
Published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1982

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It was in the 1960s and 1970s-those "purple decades"-that Tom Wolfe rose to fame as one of the late-twentieth-century pioneers of American literature. He became the foremost chronicler of the gaudiest period in American history, much of which is spread out before us in these selections from nine of his books. Wolfe's innovations in style, his feats as a reporter, and his insights into modern American life dominated a period of widespread experimentation in the writing of nonfiction. After the triumph in 1979 of The Right Stuff, his book on the Mercury astronauts, Wolfe received the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters Harold D. Vursell Memorial Award for prose style; the American Book Award for nonfiction; and one of journalism's highest honors, the Columbia Journalism Award.

Wolfe looks and plays the part of a Gotham Boulevardier, but his ability as a reporter to enter seemingly alien worlds has become legendary. His long piece "Mau-mauing the Flak Catchers" (included here in its entirety) provided the first insider's view of that bizarre government-sponsored slum rebellion known as the poverty program. Another long piece called "The Truest Sport: Jousting with Sam and Charlie" (also complete here) has become a classic work on aerial combat in Vietnam as experienced by the pilots themselves. His 1968 book, The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test (two chapters of which appear in these pages), is recognized as the major book on the hippie movement of the 1960s.


"[The Purple Decades] is a sociologist's dream: a time capsule of ideas and idioms, brand names and places, cult heroes and calling cards." -Ellen Wilson, The Wall Street Journal

"The Purple Decades . . . [is] a selection and collection of Tom Wolfe's work from the last 18 or so years, and it's amazing how it holds up . . . Wolfe is just the most perceptive societal journalist we have, and on top of that, though it is often concealed, he endures, or enjoys, real feeling." -Margaret Manning, The Boston Globe

"Gorge in this extravagant selection of [Tom Wolfe's] writing, sprinkled with ultra-contemporary cartoons." -Emily Vincent, Houston Chronicle

"Mr. Wolfe doesn't spatter out these wonderful words for their own sake. He exhibits them because they're the right medium for his satiric and moral vision . . . Reading him is exhilarating." -Paul Fussell, The New York Times Book Review

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