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Bagombo Snuff Box: Uncollected Short Fiction [Kindle Edition]

Kurt Vonnegut
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (49 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Here, Kurt Vonnegut's final short story collection--Bagombo Snuff Box (1999)--we have combined early and rather more obscure stories which had not appeared earlier. Drawn largely from the 1950s and the slick magazine markets which Vonnegut had from the beginning of his career in the postwar period demonstrated an uncanny ability to sell, these stories show clearly that Vonnegut found his central themes early on as a writer. More, he had been able to place stories in great consumer magazines like Colliers (that his good friend and college classmate Knox Burger was editing Colliers during this time was perhaps no small factor in Vonnegut's success). There were only a handful of science fiction writers of Vonnegut's generation who were able to sell in such a broad manner outside of the genre during the ‘50s, but it was this success that allowed Vonnegut the consistent denial that he was not a science fiction writer at all.

Vonnegut's themes--folly, hypocrisy, misunderstanding--cycle through these stories although with perhaps somewhat less bitterness than what had come before. Even through the screen or scrim of magazine taboos, Vonnegut's voice is singular, infused by disaffection and wit. Most of Vonnegut's characters stagger through the plot full of misapprehension, cowardice, and self-delusion. In "Thanasphere," the achievement of space travel becomes a means of communicating with the dead (and for that reason the project is abandoned). In "Mnemonics," a forgetful protagonist is given a drug that prompts him to remember everything with the exception of an unrequited crush. This late collection of Vonnegut's work clearly shows the unifying themes of his work, which were present from the very outset, among them, his very despair.


Kurt Vonnegut (1922-2007) is one of the most beloved American writers of the twentieth century. Vonnegut's audience increased steadily since his first five pieces in the 1950s and grew from there. His 1968 novel Slaughterhouse-Five has become a canonic war novel with Joseph Heller's Catch-22 to form the truest and darkest of what came from World War II.

Vonnegut began his career as a science fiction writer, and his early novels--Player Piano and The Sirens of Titan--were categorized as such even as they appealed to an audience far beyond the reach of the category. In the 1960s, Vonnegut became closely associated with the Baby Boomer generation, a writer on that side, so to speak.

Now that Vonnegut's work has been studied as a large body of work, it has been more deeply understood and unified. There is a consistency to his satirical insight, humor and anger which makes his work so synergistic. It seems clear that the more of Vonnegut's work you read, the more it resonates and the more you wish to read. Scholars believe that Vonnegut's reputation (like Mark Twain's) will grow steadily through the decades as his work continues to increase in relevance and new connections are formed, new insights made.


Author Kurt Vonnegut is considered by most to be one of the most important writers of the twentieth century. His books Slaughterhouse-Five (named after Vonnegut's World War II POW experience) and Cat's Cradle are considered among his top works. RosettaBooks offers here a complete range of Vonnegut's work, including his first novel (Player Piano, 1952) for readers familiar with Vonnegut's work as well as newcomers.

Editorial Reviews Review

From out of the blue, here's a new collection of Vonnegut fiction--his first magazine stories from the 1950s in book form at last, with some charming reminiscences (and three new endings for old stories) by the author. Vonnegut says these tales were meant to be as evanescent as lightening bugs, and that image captures their frail magic. They're like time travelers from an epoch when stories swarmed in mass-market magazines, before TV dawned and doomed them.

Later greatness glimmers here: the offbeat sci-fi of "Thanasphere" (in which an astronaut encounters dead souls in space) and the hero's bogus adventures in alien lands in "Bagombo Snuff Box" look forward to Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse Five, as do the war stories "Souvenir," "Der Arme Dolmetscher," and "The Cruise of The Jolly Roger," which incorporate and amplify Vonnegut's actual war experiences. There's authentic midcentury news here, even in the gentle Saturday Evening Post social satire of "The No-Talent Kid," "Ambitious Sophomore," and "The Boy Who Hated Girls," which pretty much nail the high-school marching band experience. The pieces are peppered with odd, true observations and neat little turns of phrase: one incompetent kid in Lincoln High's band marches "flappingly, like a mother flamingo pretending to be injured, luring alligators from her nest."

You can't miss the ironic humor and the humane, death-haunted melancholy of the young war veteran and tyro writer. This collection beats his first novel, Player Piano, and anticipates the masterpiece Cat's Cradle, whose tiny chapters resemble short stories. Young Vonnegut is derivative, mostly of Saki and O. Henry, partly because he couldn't think of endings, and their switcheroos offered a handy model. But from the start, Vonnegut's idiosyncratic voice is unmistakable. --Tim Appelo

From Publishers Weekly

Any new book by Vonnegut, especially since he has vowed to retire from literature, will be welcomed by his fans. But as the author himself says in his introduction, these 23 apprenticeship stories "were expected to be among the living about as long as individual lightning bugs," and they will be of most interest to completists and scholars. Vonnegut's best short stories from the '50s were collected in Welcome to the Monkey House. Those in this collection for the most part work humbly with formulas dear to mid-century middlebrow magazines like Colliers. Included are tales like "The No-Talent Kid" and "The Boy Who Hated Girls," both featuring a genial bandmaster named George Helmholtz, who has to deal with misfit high school boys while dreaming of owning a seven-foot-tall drum. In "Thanasphere," Vonnegut tries out a sci-fi themeAa man is sent into space in a rocket and discovers that space is full of the voices of the dead. In a short, ironic piece, "Der Arme Dolmetscher," a soldier who recites a line from Heine's "Die Lorelei" that he has learned by rote is assumed to "talk Kraut" by a bungling officer. Pressed into service as a translator, he acquires just enough of the language to help his detachment surrender in the Battle of the Bulge. The title story concerns a man who visits his ex-wife and feeds her a cock-and-bull story about being an adventurer. In "Runaways," two teenagers realize that love is not enough to get married on, gently deflating the myth of the then-incipient youth culture long before the Summer of Love. Vonnegut's afterword, "Coda to My Career as a Writer for Periodicals," comments in his trademark style about his midwestern origins and the vagaries of writing for magazines. BOMC featured alternate.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Product Details

  • File Size: 1246 KB
  • Print Length: 388 pages
  • Publisher: RosettaBooks (August 21, 2011)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B005IHW7MO
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Lending: Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #137,116 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
22 of 22 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A welcome addition to the Vonnegut canon October 3, 1999
Since most of the stories in "Bagombo Snuff Box" were previously uncollected in book form, the arrival of this collection is a treat for all Vonnegut fans. As a writer of "slick fiction" for the magazine market of the 1950's and early 1960's, Vonnegut tailored his stories for a general readership; while the experimentalism of novels like "Slaughterhouse-Five" and "Breakfast of Champions" is nowhere on display, Vonnegut's craftsmanship is well-documented by these stories. "Bagombo Snuff Box" should be treated much like The Beatles Anthology collections; neither is for the casual fan, but both are indispensable for completists. The stories included in this collection are a cut below the stories in "Welcome To the Monkey House" (it's easy to see why they were left out of Vonnegut's first collection), but each is an enjoyable read, with several stories ("Thanosphere", "Custom-Made Bride" and "Souvenir") standing out for their voice and originality. This is also required reading for any serious students of Vonnegut, as many of the themes explored in his major works are given an early run-through in these stories. "2BRO2B" reads almost like a first draft of "Welcome to the Monkey House" and "Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow" from the Monkey House collection. The stories are also interesting as snapshots from a by-gone era, particularly in their treatment of women. One of the strongest characters in the collection is Sheila White, of "Lovers Anonymous," a talented, ambitious woman whose sublimated talents places a strain on her marriage. Read more ›
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not genius, the making of one December 21, 2001
Kurt Vonnegut fans will want to read this, but... if you're new to the man, start elsewhere. Diehard Vonneguttians will enjoy this collection as it contains some worthwhile stories, but, mostly, it shows how his trademark caustically witty style developed. These stories aren't great in themselves, but they point the way. Certainly his literary merit based on his novels alone is beyond question - one of the 20th century's greatest and most important authors, Vonnegut helped shape the way many people, including myself, think. However, these stories are not great in themselves, certainly not compared to the high standard Vonnegut has since set for himself. Still, fans will want to read this book, as it contains some interesting stories, lays the foundation for his later masterpieces, and, indeed, completes their collection. New readers should start elsewhere.
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21 of 25 people found the following review helpful
Title of this review is a quote from Mr. Vonnegut in this book. The ONLY reason I stopped at 4 stars is that any author who writes with this much skill at the start of his career, must become better and better as his skills mature, and his experience increases. This is the first time I have read Mr. Vonnegut's work, and this collection of short stories has made me a fan that looks forward to the Author's work as it developed. Before you even reach the first story, Mr. Vonnegut provides a biography which is worth the cost of the book if you place a high value on humor, and regardless of whether you agree, social commentary wrapped in a wickedly subtle, and occasionally not so subtle manner. His definition of reading is the best I have ever read, and his description of his time as a salesman for Saab is priceless. Developing so much interest for a reader in the span of a short story is a remarkable feat for any author. Mr. Vonnegut together with John Steinbeck, Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and William Faulkner, to name a few literary masters, brought these stories to life when magazines ruled and TV was a nightmare (for the most part) yet to come. Together with artistic legends like Norman Rockwell and N.C. Wyeth, these stories were entertainment for much of America. In spite of all the advances in communications, picking up a book with talent like this, will always endure. Thanks Mr. Vonnegut!
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining collection of short stories July 20, 2004
This book offers an entertaining set of Vonnegut's previously uncollected short stories, most of which were written in the 1950s and early 1960s. While the quality of the tales is not as good as those in his previously published Welcome to the Monkey House, anybody who is a fan of Vonnegut's work, or even someone who simply likes good stories, will enjoy this book.

Yet like all good fiction, Vonnegut's work is as valuable for its insights as for its ability to entertain. While the stories collected here are in a variety of genres, one theme does emerge from them - the hunger for distinction. From the title story to "The Package", "The Powder-Blue Dragon" to "Runaways," many of the stories are about people seeking something that distinguishes them from the rest of their world, usually somthing that is artificial or external to who they are. That these searches usually end in folly for the characters appears to illustrate Vonnegut's point - it is who we are as people that matters, not the trinkets we buy or the poses we adopt. Though hardly radical today, it is a point that offers an interesting contrast to the consumer-driven age that spawned such tales.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
If you like Vonnegut you'll like this book.
Published 3 months ago by Judy Cabito
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
I love Kurt Vonnegut, and this collection of stories is fun.
Published 5 months ago by Elly H. Fithian
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
I really like all of Kurt Vonnegut's books.
Published 6 months ago by David Lee Nelson
4.0 out of 5 stars Great Short Story Collection
A very nice collection of human interest short stories.
Published 6 months ago by Moody Van
5.0 out of 5 stars Lots of great characters and each story is
I was a pleasure to read this early Vonnegut that was originally published in magazines. Lots of great characters and each story is, to some degree, a morality play from the early... Read more
Published 6 months ago by Al Jacobus
5.0 out of 5 stars wonderful collection.
This is a great book. It is a glimpse into the zeitgeist of the fifties where men were men and wen were wen and the high school band director is an Everyman with a clarinet. Read more
Published 7 months ago by Freemont DelRay
4.0 out of 5 stars Cat's Cradle and other earlier Vonnegut you'll enjoy these stories
If you're more into Player Piano, Cat's Cradle and other earlier Vonnegut you'll enjoy these stories. Read more
Published 7 months ago by UrBiggestFan
4.0 out of 5 stars First story is AMAZING..
First story is AMAZING...the others seem to dwindle a bit in comparison, however as a guy who primarily reads science fiction it is nice to break from it and read about other walks... Read more
Published 9 months ago by justin Mishler
3.0 out of 5 stars I'm glad I read the stories
These are relatively early Vonnegut short stories, apparently written while he was still developing his style. Read more
Published 10 months ago by J. Mattingly
5.0 out of 5 stars Vonnegut continues to entertain.
Typical of the author. Entertaining and fun. Although predictable, it is still good reading. One can easily develop a habit of reading his work.
Published 18 months ago by William R. Jenkins
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More About the Author

Kurt Vonnegut was born in Indianapolis in 1922. He studied at the universities of Chicago and Tennessee and later began to write short stories for magazines. His first novel, Player Piano, was published in 1951 and since then he has written many novels, among them: The Sirens of Titan (1959), Mother Night (1961), Cat's Cradle (1963), God Bless You Mr Rosewater (1964), Welcome to the Monkey House; a collection of short stories (1968), Breakfast of Champions (1973), Slapstick, or Lonesome No More (1976), Jailbird (1979), Deadeye Dick (1982), Galapagos (1985), Bluebeard (1988) and Hocus Pocus (1990). During the Second World War he was held prisoner in Germany and was present at the bombing of Dresden, an experience which provided the setting for his most famous work to date, Slaughterhouse Five (1969). He has also published a volume of autobiography entitled Palm Sunday (1981) and a collection of essays and speeches, Fates Worse Than Death (1991).

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