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Radical Chic & Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers

by Tom Wolfe
Published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1970
Reissued by Picador, 2009
ISBN-13: 978-0-312-42913-3

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Radical Chic and Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers, Tom Wolfe's fourth book of social commentary, consists of two devastatingly funny essays, closely related in theme and substance, dealing with political stances and social styles in a status-minded world. In "Radical Chic," Wolfe describes an intriguing phenomenon of the late Sixties: the courting of romantic radicals-Black Panthers, striking grapeworkers, Young Lords-by New York's socially elite. He focuses primarily on one symbolic event: the gathering of the radically chic at Leonard Bernstein's duplex apartment on Park Avenue to meet spokesmen of the Black Panther Party, to hear them out, and to talk over ways of aiding their cause. Tom Wolfe re-creates the incongruous scene-and its astonishing repercussions-with high fidelity. But he gives us more than just a wry account of life among the Beautiful People; he also provides a historical perspective on that impulse of the upper classes to identify themselves with what they imagine to be the raw, vital lifestyle of the lower orders.

In the companion essay, Wolfe travels west to San Francisco to survey another meeting ground between militant minorities and the liberal white establishment: the newly emerging art of confrontation developed by young blacks, Chicanos, Filipinos, Chinese, Indians, and Samoans in response to the bureaucracy that grew up in and around the poverty program. Wolfe's account of the performances of such masters as the Mission Rebels, the Youth for the Future, and the New Thang, and the responses of the catchers of the flak, including the Mayor himself, makes for uproarious farce. But the points he makes about racial and ethnic game-playing in America's class wars are inescapably valid.


"A notable piece of reportage . . . Radical Chic will never be the same." -Playboy

"In both 'Radical Chic' and 'Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers,' beneath the absurdity, the hilarious scenes, there is the counterpoint of the human situation. And beyond that is an understanding of the history of that portion of it which makes all of this intelligible." -Robert Kirsch, The Los Angeles Times

"In Radical Chic and Mau-Mauing the Flak Cathcers, Tom Wolfe devastatingly describes the emergence of Radical Chic . . . Mercilessly magnified through Wolfe's analytical eye and set down here in his top form are the political and racial games that Americans play." -Edna Buchanan, TheMiami Herald

"[Wolfe] both defends and exonerates the Bernsteins, that is-their motives were sound, liberal, serious, responsible-while cocking an almighty a snook at 'the essential double-track mentality of Radical Chic-nostalgiede la boue and high protocol' that can entertain Afro hair-styles with Roquefort cheese savouries in a Park Avenue duplex." -Michael Joseph, TLS

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