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Tom Wolfe challenges society's understanding of evolution in latest book

Tom Wolfe "Kingdom of Speech"
Tom Wolfe "Kingdom of Speech" 04:13

It doesn’t matter what year it is: 1981 with “60 Minutes,” 2006 with “Sunday Morning” ­-- or this summer in 2016. You will find Tom Wolfe bedecked in a white suit, and blasting out wry, wicked language aiming to irritate anyone who thinks they’re too smart, too rich or too important.


Wolfe is out with his first non-fiction book in about 15 years. “The Kingdom of Speech” is a bold argument about language and human evolution, seeking to challenge our understanding of Darwinism.

“When I opened this, I wondered if Tom Wolfe’s famous feistiness may have subsided a little bit over the years. It hasn’t,” CBS News correspondent Jeff Glor said to Wolfe.

“Well, I just try to bring truth,” Wolfe said, chuckling.

In his latest book, Wolfe argues speech, not evolution, is responsible for humanity’s highest achievements. He skewers the man who introduced evolution to the masses: Charles Darwin along with famed linguist Noam Chomsky.

“I came to the conclusion that Darwinism, the theory of evolution, is another myth. … And it’s no use saying that human beings evolved from animals, because they’re creatures with totally different powers. If you have the power of speech, that’s also the power of memory,” Wolfe said.

“It is bold and I think some would say very dangerous to say that Darwinism and evolution is a myth,” Glor said.

“Well, I think a lot of people don’t agree with me,” Wolfe said. “But the problem with evolution is, you have to wait six or seven million years. It’s a little hard to recall.” 

Author Tom Wolfe CBS News

 It is not hard to recall Wolfe’s achievements. He crashed the print party in the ‘60s with essays and arguments that used bold language to showcase his rigorous reporting, climaxing with “The Right Stuff” in 1979.

In the mid-‘80s, he switched to novels, including his most famous, “The Bonfire of the Vanities.”

“So it was journalism to start, and then it was your first novel at the age of 57. And now it’s back a bit to what you started with,” Glor said.

“Exactly. I started working on newspapers as soon as I left school -- graduate school, actually. … I assumed when I first started working for newspapers, ‘Well, I’ll be a novelist one day.’ But I lost total interest in being a novelist, because this nonfiction was so exciting,” Wolfe recalled.

“I got a little carried away, and the next book was a novel also. But I’m quite at home coming back to nonfiction and ‘The Kingdom of Speech,’” he added.

At 85 years old, it seems Wolfe’s only concession to time is the shirt. It’s a polo, collar up -- on guard -- instead of the legendary ties and tall collars. The white suit remains. As does the passion to provoke.

“Is this the last book?” Glor asked.

“To be honest, I have only five more planned. And one … coming up is on political correctness, which I think is the funniest subject in a long-- in a long, long time,” Wolfe said.

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