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Tom Wolfe, author of The Right Stuff, 88

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NEW YORK — Author Tom Wolfe, the acerbic chronicler of American society known for best-selling books The Right Stuff and The Bonfire of the Vanities, has died at the age of 88.

Wolfe’s agent Lynn Nesbit said the writer died Monday in a Manhattan hospital, where he was being treated for an infection. “We are incredibly saddened to hear about the passing of Tom Wolfe,” his publisher Picador said. “He was one of the greats and his words will live on forever.”

During a prolific career, Wolfe turned his flamboyant pen and keen eye to pop culture, the hippie movement, the art world, race relations, and Wall Street.

But he is perhaps best known for his non-fiction 1979 best-seller The Right Stuff about the US space program and the original Mercury astronauts. Wolfe is credited with contributing the phrase “the right stuff” and another from the book, “pushing the envelope,” to the American lexicon.

Among his other books are The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test (1968), Radical Chic and Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers (1970), and The Painted Word (1975).

Wolfe turned to writing novels in the mid-1980s, penning The Bonfire of the Vanities, a scathing takedown of greed and excess in New York. Like The Right Stuff, the book also contributed a phrase — in this case “master of the universe” — to the American vocabulary. — AFP