At the time I read this book I was very ignorant about the politics of race in the USA, and reading it introduced me to my whiteness; it thoroughly decentred me and I never thought of myself as the universal again. Subsequently I tried to read some of Wolfe's work on politics and architecture and I couldn't, it was horrendous, and that reminded me that I don't clearly remember the point of The Bonfire, I only remember the dynamics of race and class privilege being played out in a New York I had never imagined, and fractured in the body & mind of the protagonist.
A few years later I went to New York and was completely blown away and overwhelmed every moment by it. In some ways what I saw the reflection of this book; I was primed by it to see employment/class division on racial lines, groups maintaining their distinct identities. I want to add that I don't see the latter as a bad thing at all - my perspective, formed in the UK, is that an 'immigrant' group in a 'host' culture should be able to maintain and celebrate their culture of origin and also be able to create and enjoy and celebrate identities as members of the welcoming, inclusive 'host' culture. But this model of immigrants and hosts, which is, now I think about it, pretty supremacist and hierarchical, is meaningless racist ignorance in New York, and Wolfe shows that it is meaningless racist ignorance. That's why I think this is worth reading.