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Taps: Tom Wolfe 1931-2018

May 19, 2018

From the Air Force Magazine website

Tom Wolfe, the journalist and nonfiction author who wrote the book—and coined the term – “The Right Stuff,” died May 14, at age 87. Wolfe’s book, published in 1979, stylistically chronicled the history and culture of US military test pilots, following their exploits through the end of the Mercury space program.

A film treatment of the same name with an ensemble cast, directed by Philip Kaufman, was released in 1983 to great critical acclaim, winning four technical Academy Awards. The book and film caused the US to re-discover its rocketplane-era test pilots, particularly Chuck Yeager, who Wolfe portrayed as the prototypical cool-headed ace and aviator, and John Glenn, who in the same year as the film’s release unsuccessfully sought the Democratic nomination for the US presidency.

Affecting a white suit and responsible in large part for the “new journalism” trend of writing factual stories in a novelistic fashion, which he called “literary journalism,” Wolfe also invented what he called “saturation journalism,” in which the reporter shadows his subject, usually a politician, for an extended period of time, to be on hand when major events take place involving that person. He also famously wrote “The Bonfire of the Vanities” and coined the terms “The Me Decade” and “Radical Chic.” —John A. Tirpak

The term “The Right Stuff” continues to describe military pilots. The film presented the stress of being a test pilot and the how these pilots handled it. 

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