I’ve read Stephen Amidon’s Human Capital only now, three years after it came out. My main question is why people hadn’t been telling me about it before. OK, the operational explanation may well be that it got dismissive “not quite up to snuff” handling in the all-powerful NYT. For instance, right near the top of Michiko Kakutani’s “we are not amused” review was: “The novel never lives up to its Dreiseresque ambitions…And those larger aims sometimes clash with the author’s more commercial impulses to write a made-for-the-movies thriller.” Etc.
The reception most other places was far more enthusiastic — these near-raves from the Christian Science Monitor and the Guardian and the Observer in England corresponded more closely to my own reaction. But when last I checked, the book was #823,000 on Amazon’s sales list. One obvious comparison for the book is with Tom Wolfe’s Bonfire of the Vanities, with Amidon writing about the financial boom of the late 1990s rather than Wolfe’s mid 1980s. By normal novelistic standards (as opposed to deliberate social caricature), Amidon’s is clearly the more refined work. When compared with A Man in Full, Wolfe’s novel about the 1990s boom, Human Capital is not only better as a novel but also a more insightful and true-sounding rendering of the era. And I’m a fan of Wolfe’s! It’s worth moving this book into three- or four-digit Amazon ranking range.