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I Am Charlotte Simmons by Tom Wolfe

I Am Charlotte Simmons

by Tom Wolfe


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Unabridged Edition
 
Running Time
31 Hrs. 16 Min.
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  4.0  Stars Based on 3 ratings
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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, who has come here on full scholarship. But Charlotte soon learns, to her mounting dismay, that for the upper-crust coeds of Dupont, sex, Cool, and kegs trump academic achievement every time.

As Charlotte encounters Dupont's privileged elite, her roommate, Beverly, a fleshy, Groton-educated Brahmin in lusty pursuit of lacrosse players; Jojo Johanssen, the only white starting player on Dupont's god-like basketball team, whose position is threatened by a hotshot black freshman from the projects; the Young Turn 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.


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Donald
Reviewer Donald
 February 17, 2006
This Text Refers to the Hard Cover Edition:

Charlotte Simmons takes on the world in this book. You follow her life from the end of high school through the end of the first term of her freshman year at a prestigious university (which although it is located in Pennsylvania struck me as being a lot like Duke). In the process, she goes from her family's values to developing her own and chooses the kind of life she wants to have in college. She begins as a serious student and finds that focus doesn't reward everything she wants out of life. Suddenly, she feels a strong desire to be popular. And that leads her down many of the paths that students take to become popular. In the background, there are serious wrong-doings on campus and the plot develops how those are resolved as the primary background for Charlotte's assault on the great university.

Your age will probably determine how well you like this book. For those who are over 65, it will be a five stars effort. For those 50 and older, it will be seen as a four stars work. For those between 35 and 50, it will be three stars. Younger people than that will see the book as one or two stars in many cases. These reactions will be mostly based on how closely the characters track with your own college age experiences.

Here are some of the incongruities: There is much more drinking than drug taking; the desire to be popular overwhelms almost every student; academic excellence doesn't exist at a top university; an academic powerhouse of a university protects its basketball program like it's a diploma mill; the basketball coach doesn't seem to know anything about coaching or motivation; students on financial aid are impoverished so they cannot even go out for a cup of coffee; virginity is a major preoccupation of some students; and the key character is totally unaware of the world outside of her hometown even though she's a nationally ranked high school scholar.

Despite the incongruities, the book has some excellent aspects. Behind the descriptions of unending bacchanalia is a serious message about how much we control our behavior and how much our behavior is determined by our environment. There are many segue ways from research findings on neurology to make the case for not much free will, and the novel certainly argues that hormones are us at college age. That part of the commentary is interesting and well done.

The satire can be quite funny. Although many students feel physically cowed by giant classmates, everyone is totally afraid of saying something that isn't PC. Even the largest giant quivers at the thought of making a mistake in that arena. You also get a sense of why PC can be so powerful . . . as a symptom of the desire to be popular.

I got very tired though of reading about endless drinking, sexual misbehavior with the opposite sex, and the silly machinations of brain-dead students. The story could have been about 300 pages shorter and it would have worked better. Mr. Wolfe seems to think that his readers are brain dead too . . . otherwise, he wouldn't feel the need to make the same points over and over and over . . . etc.

But I had a lot of fun with the book. It brought back many memories of my college days. Enough of the material rang true about my time in the 1960s that I felt like the book deserved a four stars rating.

Donald Mitchell
http://livebetterthanabillionaireon5dollars.blogspot.com/

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  • LearnOutLoud.com Product ID: I004797
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