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I Am Charlotte Simmons
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I Am Charlotte Simmons

3.7 95
by Tom Wolfe

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Dupont University--the Olympian halls of learning housing the cream of America's youth, the roseate Gothic spires and manicured lawns suffused with tradition . . . Or so it appears to beautiful, brilliant Charlotte Simmons, a sheltered freshman from North Carolina. But Charlotte soon learns, to her mounting dismay, that for the uppercrust coeds of Dupont, sex, Cool


Dupont University--the Olympian halls of learning housing the cream of America's youth, the roseate Gothic spires and manicured lawns suffused with tradition . . . Or so it appears to beautiful, brilliant Charlotte Simmons, a sheltered freshman from North Carolina. But Charlotte soon learns, to her mounting dismay, that for the uppercrust coeds of Dupont, sex, Cool, and kegs trump academic achievement every time.

As Charlotte encounters Dupont's privileged elite--her roommate, Beverly, a Groton-educated Brahmin in lusty pursuit of lacrosse players; Jojo Johanssen, the only white starting player on Dupont's godlike basketball team, whose position is threatened by a hotshot black freshman from the projects; the Young Turk of Saint Ray fraternity, Hoyt Thorpe, whose heady sense of entitlement and social domination is clinched by his accidental brawl with a bodyguard for the governor of California; and Adam Geller, one of the Millennial Mutants who run the university's "independent" newspaper and who consider themselves the last bastion of intellectual endeavor on the sex-crazed, jock-obsessed campus--she gains a new, revelatory sense of her own power, that of her difference and of her very innocence, but little does she realize that she will act as a catalyst in all of their lives.
With his signature eye for detail, Tom Wolfe draws on extensive observation of campuses across the country to immortalize college life in the '00s. I Am Charlotte Simmons is the much-anticipated triumph of America's master chronicler.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“Our pre-eminent social realist...trains his all-seeing eye on the institution of the American university. . . . Wolfe's rhapsodic prose style finds its perfect target in academia's beer-soaked bacchanals.” —Henry Alford, Newsday

“Wolfe is one of the greatest literary stylists and social observers of our much observed postmodern era. . . . A rich, wise, absorbing, and irresistible novel.” —Lev Grossman, Time

“Tom Wolfe has scored a slam dunk with his...attention to style, the rule-bending punctuation, the deftness of slang dialogue, and that biting satire.” —Steve Garbarino, New York Post

“Wolfe's dialogue is some of the finest in literature, not just fast but deep. He hears the cacophony of our modern lives.” —Susan Salter Reynolds, Los Angeles Times

“[A] hilarious, exclamation-point filled novel.” —John Freeman, Time Out New York

“Brilliant . . . I couldn't stop reading it. . . . Tom Wolfe can make words dance and sing and perform circus tricks, he can make the reader sigh with pleasure.” —Michael Dirda, The Washington Post

“A lot of fun . . . Hilarious.” —Francine Prose, Los Angeles Times Book Review

“Tom Wolfe remains a peerless satirist. Alone among our fiction writers he is actively writing the human comedy, American-style, on a grand Dickensian scale.” —David Lehman, Bloomberg News

“Scathingly clear-eyed, often very funny take on college life.” —Robert Siegel, NPR, All Things Considered

“Dazzingly vivid . . . Tom Wolfe has served up another of his broadly entertaining novels.” —Adam Begley, The New York Observer

“His most fully realized and hands-down funniest work of fiction.” —Patrick Beach, Austin American-Statesman

“Captivating . . . Sit back and enjoy the ride.” —Tom Walker, The Denver Post

“Tom Wolfe is America's greatest living novelist.” —Joseph Bottum, The Weekly Standard

“Rollicking . . . Just as Americans continue to read A Farewell to Arms or The Great Gatsby, we'll be reading I Am Charlotte Simmons for many years. . . . Professors like to complain that they get a year older every fall, while students always remain the same. Add I Am Charlotte Simmons to that magic circle of campus phenomena unlikely to age.” —Carlin Romano, The Philadelphia Inquirer

Publishers Weekly
What New York City finance was to Wolfe in the 1980s and Southern real estate in the '90s, the college campus is in this sprawling, lurid novel: a flashpoint for cultural standards and the setting for a modern parable. At elite Dupont (a fictional school based on Wolfe's research at places like Stanford and Michigan), the author unspools a standard college story with a 21st-century twist. jocks, geeks, prudes and partiers are up to their usual exploits, only now with looser sexual mores and with the aid of cell phones. Wolfe begins, as he might say, with a "bango": two frat boys tangle with the bodyguard of a politician they've caught in a sex act. We then race through plots involving students' candy-colored interactions with each other and inside their own heads: Charlotte, a cipher and prodigy from a conservative Southern family whose initiation into dorm life Wolfe milks to much dramatic advantage; Jojo, a white basketball player struggling with race, academic guilt and job security; Hoyt, a BMOC frat boy with rage issues; Adam, a student reporter cowed by alpha males. As in Wolfe's other novels, characters typically fall into two categories: superior types felled by their own vanity and underdogs forced to rely on wiles. But what in Bonfire of the Vanities were powerful competing archetypes playing out cultural battles here seem simply thin and binary types. Wolfe's promising setup never leads to a deeper contemplation of race, sex or general hierarchies. Instead, there is a virtual recitation of facts, albeit colorful ones, with little social insight beyond the broadly obvious. (Athletes getting a free pass? The sheltered receiving rude awakenings?) Boasting casual sex and machismo-fueled violence, the novel seems intent on shocking, but little here will surprise even those well past their term-paper years. Wolfe's adrenalized prose remains on display-e.g., a basketball game seen from inside a player's head-and he weaves a story that comes alive with cinematic vividness. But, like a particular kind of survey course, readers are likely to breeze through these pages-yet find themselves with little to show for it. (Nov. 9) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Simultaneous with the Farrar hardcover. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.

Product Details

Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.50(w) x 9.30(h) x 2.00(d)

Read an Excerpt

I Am Charlotte Simmons

By Tom Wolfe

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Copyright © 2004 Tom Wolfe
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-374-28158-0


The Dupont Man

Every time the men's room door opened, the amped-up onslaught of Swarm, the band banging out the concert in the theater overhead, came crashing in, ricocheting off all the mirrors and ceramic surfaces until it seemed twice as loud. But then an air hinge would close the door, and Swarm would vanish, and you could once again hear students drunk on youth and beer being funny or at least loud as they stood before the urinals.

Two of them were finding it amusing to move their hands back and forth in front of the electric eyes to make the urinals keep flushing. One exclaimed to the other, "Whattaya mean, a slut? She told me she's been re-virginated!" They both broke up over that.

"She actually said that? 'Re-virginated'?"

"Yeah! 'Re-virginated' or 'born-again virgin,' something like that!"

"Maybe she thinks that's what morning-after pills do!" They both broke up again. They had reached that stage in a college boy's evening at which all comments seem more devastatingly funny if shouted.

Urinals kept flushing, boys kept disintegrating over each other's wit, and somewhere in the long row of toilet stalls somebody was vomiting. Then the door would open and Swarm would come crashing in again.

None of this distracted the only student who at this moment stood before the row of basins. His attention was riveted upon what he saw in the mirror, which was his own fair white face. A gale was blowing in his head. He liked it. He bared his teeth. He had never quite seen them this way before. So even! So white! They vibrated from perfection. And his square jaw... his chin and the perfect cleft in it... his thick thatchy, thatchy, light-brown hair... his brilliant hazel eyes... his! Right there in the mirror-him! All at once he felt like he was a second person looking over his own shoulder. The first him was mesmerized by his own good looks. Seriously. But the second him studied the face in the mirror with detachment and objectivity before coming to the same conclusion, which was that he looked fabulous. Then the two of him inspected his upper arms where they emerged from the sleeves of his polo shirt. He turned sideways and straightened one arm to make the triceps stand out. Jacked, both hims agreed. He had never felt happier in his life.

Not only that, he was on the verge of a profound discovery. It had to do with one person looking at the world through two pairs of eyes. If only he could freeze this moment in his mind and remember it tomorrow and write it down! Tonight he couldn't, not with the ruckus that was going on inside his skull.

"Yo, Hoyt! 'Sup?"

He looked away from the mirror, and there was Vance with his head of blond hair tousled as usual. They were in the same fraternity. He had an overwhelming desire to tell Vance what he had just discovered. He opened his mouth but couldn't find the words, and nothing came out. So he turned his palms upward and smiled and shrugged.

"Lookin' good, Hoyt!" said Vance as he approached the urinals, "lookin' good!"

Hoyt knew it really meant he looked very drunk. But in his current sublime state, what difference did it make?

"Hey, Hoyt," said Vance, who now stood before a urinal, "I saw you upstairs there hittin' on that little tigbiddy! Tell the truth! You really, honestly, think she's hot?"

"Coo Uh gitta bigga boner?" said Hoyt, who was trying to say, "Could I get a bigger boner?" and vaguely realized how far off he was.

"Soundin' good, too!" said Vance. He turned away in order to pay attention to the urinal, but then looked at Hoyt once more and said with a serious tone in his voice, "You know what I think? I think you're demolished, Hoyt. I think it's time to head back while your lights are still on."

Hoyt put up an incoherent argument, but not much of one, and pretty soon they left the building.

Outside it was a mild May night with a pleasant breeze and a full moon whose light created just enough of a gloaming to reveal the singular wavelike roof of the theater, known officially here at the university as the Phipps Opera House, one of the architect Eero Saarinen's famous 1950s Modern creations. The theater's entrance, ablaze with light, cast a path of fire across a plaza and out upon a row of sycamore trees at the threshold of another of the campus' famous ornaments, the Grove. From the moment he founded Dupont University 115 years ago, Charles Dupont, no kin of the du Ponts of Delaware and much more aesthetically inclined, had envisioned an actual grove of academe through which scholars young and old might take contemplative strolls. He had commissioned the legendary landscape artist Gordon Gillette. Swaths of Gillette's genius abounded throughout the campus; but above all there was this arboreal masterpiece, the Grove. Gillette had sent sinuous paths winding through it for the contemplative strolls. But although the practice was discouraged, students often walked straight through the woods, the way Hoyt and Vance walked now beneath the brightness of a big round moon.

The fresh air and peace and quiet of the huge stands of trees began to clear Hoyt's head, or somewhat. He felt as if he were back at that blissful intersection on the graph of drunkenness at which the high has gone as high as it can go without causing the powers of reasoning and coherence to sink off the chart and get trashed.... the exquisite point of perfect toxic poise... He was convinced he could once again utter a coherent sentence and make himself understood, and the blissful gale inside his head blew on.

At first he didn't say much, because he was trying to fix that moment before the mirror in his memory as he and Vance walked through the woods toward Ladding Walk and the heart of campus. But that moment kept slipping away... slipping away... slipping away... and before he knew it, an entirely different notion had bubbled up into his brain. It was the Grove... the Grove... the famous Grove... which said Dupont... and made him feel Dupont in his bones, which in turn made his bones infinitely superior to the bones of everybody in America who had never gone to Dupont. "I'm a Dupont man," he said to himself. Where was the writer who would immortalize that feeling?-the exaltation that lit up his very central nervous system when he met someone and quickly worked into the conversation some seemingly offhand indication that he was in college, and the person would (inevitably) ask, "What college do you go to?" and he would say as evenly and tonelessly as possible, "Dupont," and then observe the reaction. Some, especially women, would be openly impressed. They'd smile, their faces would brighten, they'd say, "Oh! Dupont!" while others, especially men, would tense up and fight to keep their faces from revealing how impressed they were and say, "I see" or "Uhmm" or nothing at all. He wasn't sure which he enjoyed more.


Excerpted from I Am Charlotte Simmons by Tom Wolfe Copyright © 2004 by Tom Wolfe. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.


Meet the Author

Tom Wolfe is one of the founders of the new journalism movement and author of such contemporary classics as The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, The Right Stuff, The Bonfire of the Vanities, and A Man in Full. A native of Richmond, Virginia, he earned his B.A. at Washington and Lee University and a Ph.D. in American studies at Yale. He lives in New York City.

Brief Biography

New York, New York
Date of Birth:
March 2, 1931
Place of Birth:
Richmond, Virginia
B.A. (cum laude), Washington and Lee University, 1951; Ph.D. in American Studies, Yale University, 1957

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I Am Charlotte Simmons 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 96 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I thought this book was great, with Wolfe's descriptions of today's elite college life really hitting home. I went to an Ivy-league school, and I encountered the strange dichotomy in smart young people between their eagerness to learn and their sexual and moral abandon. This theme has of course already been explored many times, perhaps most famously in Allan Bloom's Closing of the American Mind, where he talks about how young people in search of genuine self- knowledge are frustrated by today's highly politicized and morally relativistic universities. Charlotte seems to be the perfect foil here to demonstrate this: it is indeed ironic that Charlotte's family and mentor send her to Dupont, viewing it as a superior place of virtue when their own moral values are in reality much stronger. Her Momma's moral compass is precisely honed, and she is able to cut through Charlotte's half-lies and obfuscations sharply and precisely, while the faculty at Dupont are too befuddled with self- interest and self-importance to be able to do this. As a result, we are left wondering which world is better and more 'backwards' after all? But while I thought 'I Am Charlotte Simmons' is very successful in presenting these questions, I was confused by Charlotte character, particularly towards the end of the novel. The very last line of the book describes her as 'JoJo Johansen's girlfriend' as opposed to the 'Charlotte Simmons' of the title. Did she in the end lose her battle with the status-seekers of the university? She seems less to have struck some kind of balance than to still be genuinely confused. Perhaps with JoJo by her side, she has a compatriot who she can engage in genuine self-discovery with--and yet she realizes that JoJo is not one to discuss matters of the soul with. I confess that I felt frightened for Charlotte Simmons at the end, as if I were watching the last futile efforts of a flame struggling to survive in a place where the oxygen was rapidly depleting. I hope that some of Charlotte Simmons' traits of innocence, kindness, and genuine thirst for knowledge can survive the onslaught against them both by teachers and students, but I unfortunately doubt it.
jimmie55 More than 1 year ago
"I am Charlotte Simmons" was dismmissed by the critics at the time of its publication As far as I know, it still is. And, it is structured in the same manner as his two previous fictional novels, "The Bonfire of the Vanities" and "A Man in Full" - a hero (heroine in this case) who has achieved great success but through a combination of his own shortcomings, the "assistance" of disreputable people and "events", finds himself facing absolute and total personal failure. Then, when all appears lost, our hero finds the inner strength, the integrity and the set of fortuitous cicumstances that allows him to rise from the ashes and meet life on his own terms. That said, I think the critics, whoever they are, are wrong. If Bonfire is his opus work (fictional), then Charlotte is my favorite. Both her fall from grace and the depth of her dispair provide wonderful insight into the human condition. Soaring high on the fumes of her success - academic achievement, the attention of BMOC - to suddenly finding her world unraveling is highly recognizable to anyone with any sense of self. The moment she recognizes her "mistake" - when her 'bubble was burst' so to speak - and the resulting self-flagulation is literary goodness of some magnitude. Tom Wolfe at his best. I greatly enjoyed the read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
What a lot of puffy nonesense. I am so disappointed in this book. Mr. Wolfe has taken every potential negative experience of college life, inflated it by 300%, added an unnecessary amount of location description and f-bombs, and called it a novel. It makes me wonder if this was meant as a joke on the readers. I love books, preferring to read vs. watch TV, but not in the case of this trash. Don't waste your time.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Tom Wolfe successfully captures the nature of human behavior in his novel. This novel isn't for the squeamish because he is frank when he writes about Charlotte and her innocence when she encounters the wild life of college. In some instances, she reminded me of myself just in her daily experiences, and even made me turn in discomfort sometimes because her thoughts were so familiar. I believe that many of the themes in the novel are universal, and that everyone can relate to her, whether they are rich, poor, young, or old. One thing I didn't like, however, was that Tom Wolfe exaggerates many of the stereotypes of college life. I am only an incoming freshman college student, so I don't really know how much of the college life in the novel is true or not, but I believe that Wolfe stretches a few points. For instance, he portrays the basketball players as 'dumb jocks' and the sorority girls as the superficial elite. Real life athletes and sorority girls and all students in general may possess some of these characteristics, but the characters in the novel didn't portray them realistically. Overall, I enjoyed the novel. I can take some of the lessons I've learned from the book about friendships and convictions and apply them, hopefully, when I go to college.
Guest More than 1 year ago
First and foremost this was tough to get through. I read, read, read this book and it always felt like I got nowhere. I am 20 and in college and to be quite honest this was borderline pathetic. The part that continuesly let me down were his countless references to 'mons pubis', the fact that there was so much build up and the fall from glory seemed pretty melodramatic. I would agree with the comment that she is extremely naive. Another complaint I have was that he never described her appearance, from what I remember. I know that she has curly blonde hair and 'great calves'. Not even in the eyes of two men and one boy, Adam Gellin, did they describe her. A few questions that ran through my mind while reading this were,one in particular was if she was popular enough to date a frat boy and a college all star athlete why is it that her roommate Beverly looked down on her like she was like Betina. I could go on and on like Tom Wolfe did in this novel ( from the looks of it he was trying to rival the lenght of Don Quixote), but I would rather not.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I stuck with the book through the end, though I couldn't relate to Charlotte, and who could? Beautiful, brilliant, from a loving family, on full scholarship at an elite college. The way she treated Andrew Gellen made me realize how shallow she was: hardly a memorable character. Her naivete was simply not believable--no one with an IQ like hers could be so dim-witted. Andrew was the most interesting, fleshed-out character, but key things were left out, like who his parents were and how he came to be there. Such a simple thing it would have taken one paragraph. Maybe this book tried to do too much, getting into the heads of four or five different students with its multiple viewpoints and therefore spreading things too thin. It just didn't give me the experience I was looking for. If you want to read a college story, try one of the titles I've attached.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I really wanted to like this book, but just couldn't do it. It took awhile to catch my interest, but I kept at it and eventually found it more engaging. I found the long lists of 'big' words distracting. I enjoy adding to my vocabulary but when I found myself having to look up several words, it lessened my enjoyment of the book. I also usually found those words really didn't add anything. The end seemed anticlimacic I found myself thinking, 'I stuck it out through the whole book for this?'
Guest More than 1 year ago
I am glad in reading some reviews that other people agreed that this book wasn't all that the reviews had made it out to be. Regardless of Charlotte's sheltered background, I find it hard to believe that she is so naive. Additionally, why does the author insist on describing things in anatomical terms and on using such uncharacteristically (for a college student) large words. Charlotte was melodramatic and shallow as were all of the characters. And never, never in real life would the story end in such a way.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I read a few great reviews on this book b/4 purchasing, yet I had an extremely difficult time trying to get through it. I never got into the book. I thought there could've been SO much more depth to the story. Very disappointed and disinterested in reading other Thomas Wolfe books!!
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book was entertaining, but as a current college student, many of the images he portrays of 'typical' college students are completely exagerrated if not completely off. For anyone who knows anything about how an ACTUAL university functions, this can be a little bit of a ridiculous read, since you find yourself constantly rolling your eyes at the blatant exagerrations Wolfe repeatedly makes. However, I do give the book credit for being entertaining in it's own 'soap-opera' way.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I usually love Tom Wolfe's books, but I found this one disappointing. He spends a lot of time developing the characters and then has them do inexplicable things. How can Charlotte say, 'I am Charlotte Simmons', and then be content to be defined as the basketball player's girlfriend? Not to mention that the relationship between Charlotte and Jojo was not well developed at the end. It seemed as if Mr. Wolfe was rushed to finish the book, or else an editor edited it to shreds. Too many questions remained at the end of the book. Also, he describes a middle-aged lawyer and his family in the middle of the book. After going into great detail about them, they just disappear. Why put them in at all? I hope Mr. Wolfe's next book is as good as 'Bonfire of the Vanities' or 'Man in Full'. I was very disappointed with this story.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I guess it's a perfectly valid novel form i.e. a parody without the humor; just don't know what it is called. Every character in this book is an extreme stereotype. That makes for an entertaining read; but one with little or no relevance to the real world. Parents rest easy. For the majority of college students academics come first and the label on your jeans is not an issue.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This novel was absolutely terrible and I cannot possibly conceive how or why it garnered so much praise. The character development was abysmal, the plot structure was (if possible) worse, and the ending - a complete mockery of everything it means to be a 'novel.' Do not read - you will be HIGHLY disappointed.
Babette-dYveine More than 1 year ago
I love Tom Wolfe's writing, and this book is no exception. I identified with Charlotte in many places, having been "put down" many times by snobs (whether sorority girls or not). I got so caught up in it that I couldn't put it down and enjoyed Mr. Wolfe's scathing interpretation of campus and administration politics. I really would have liked it if he had added a Epilogue telling us what happened to the four protagonists. For example -- Charlotte got straight A+s for her last seven semesters and graduated cum laude. JoJo went on to a stunning career with the New York Knicks and he and Charlotte married after her graduation. Adam received a Rhodes Scholarship and is now a contributor with MSNBC. Hoyt was last seen flipping burgers at McDonald's.
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I liked this book a lot, with all the characters complexities. It is not as compelling as A Man In Full, but I couldn't put it down.
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I only wish I had read this before my college experience!! Could not put it down!!