Tom Wolfe, the trailblazer of New Journalism who passed away in May of this year, was never one to shy from experimentation or controversy. Leaving a legacy of groundbreaking work that included 1968’s trippy The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test and 1979’s enthralling The Right StuffWolfe’s radical voice captured a period of American history and counter-culture with poetry, humor and endless flamboyance.

In J. Peder Zane’s 2007 book The Top Ten – which previously brought us Stephen King’s 10 all-time favorite novels – Wolfe provided a list of his own favorite books, spanning work by Guy de Maupassant, John Steinbeck, Leo Tolstoy and Evelyn Waugh. It’s accompanied by a short essay extolling on his appreciation of James T. Farrell’s Studs Lonigan trilogy, a work, Wolfe writes, that contains “one of the few sublime reflections of the feeling of being in love in all of literature.”

Read on for the full list of Tom Wolfe’s favorite books, and complement with the reading list of fellow New Journalism pioneer Joan Didion.


Cousin Bette by Honoré de Balzac

Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser

Studs Lonigan by James T. Farrell

“The life of every individual, sayeth the sage, runs along the line created by the intersection of two planes: personality and social setting. I can’t think of any American novelist who ever drew that line more brilliantly than James T. Farrell in this trilogy. If this be “plodding realism,” let every American novelist start plodding Studs-style, lest the American novel fall down in a heap and die, as it now seems wont to do.” -TW

Bel-Ami by Guy de Maupassant

Appointment in Samarra by John O’Hara (also rec’d by Joan Didion)

BUtterfield 8 by John O’Hara

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck (also rec’d by Bob Dylan, Bruce SpringsteenNelson Mandela)

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy (also rec’d by Bruce Springsteen, Ernest Hemingway, Philip RothSusan Sontag)

Vile Bodies by Evelyn Waugh (also rec’d by David Bowie)

Our Town by Thornton Wilder

L’Assommoir (The Dram Shop) & Nana by Émile Zola 

(via The Top Ten)


Books by Tom Wolfe

The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby (1965)

The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test (1968)

The Right Stuff (1979)

The Bonfire of the Vanities (1987)

Categories: Writers

One comment

Tom Wolfe’s Favorite Books

  1. Thanks for the post. I read Wolfe’s The Right Stuff a few years back and was enchanted. I am going to try to read all of the books on the list that you shared. Thanks. Radical Reads is wonderful.

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