on May 17, 1998
Cat's Cradle is by far the best Vonnegut novel that I have yet read. Blending his patented wry humor with acute social insight presented in an absurd fantasy world, Vonnegut has written an exceptional novel of love, lies, and the self destruction of mankind. The story centers around the narrator, Jonah, who is called by name once in the entire book. We are told in the beginning that he is writing a book on the events of the day the first atomic bomb was dropped on Japan. His research leads him to a correspondence with Newt Hoenikker, the midget son of Doctor Felix Hoenikker, father of the atomic bomb. After meeting with Newt, destiny leads our protagonist to the impoverished island republic of San Lorenzo, where among other adventures, he finds religion, falls in love, and becomes president. All of this by itself would make for a very entertaining book, but it is not in the story line that Vonnegut's genius lies. Cat's Cradle is rife with painfully accurate insights into the institutions that our society holds so dear, such as, religion, politics, and science. Vonnegut invents for the inhabitants of San Lorenzo a brand new religion based completely and admittedly on "foma", or lies. This wouldn't be so shocking, except for the fact that this "bokonism" seems to make perfect sense. Other Vonnegut ironies pervade the book and are too elaborate to go into. Kurt Vonnegut is my favorite author of all time. Cat's Cradle is one of his funniest, most absurd, and frightening novels. This book truly causes one to stop and think about the things that one holds as unquestionably true. All of the incredible people, places, things, and ideas in Cat's Cradle are intricately woven into a perfect tapestry that sums up and spells out many of mankind's self-created problems in 191 pages.
on July 21, 2002
I don't like sci-fi, but I loved this. This is the first Vonnegut I've read (I took a chance after reading so much praise for it) and it definitely won't be the last. It's one of those rare and wonderful books in the same vein as Animal Farm: simple prose, easy to read, yet with ironic tinges and thought-provoking depths; a novel that can be read and enjoyed at many different levels.
Cat's Cradle is narrated through Jonah, an author who aims to write a book on the single day the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. On investigating the atomic bomb's main founding father (and his three children) he is told about a *non-existant* substance with the capacity to provide all water on earth with a different molecular structure, turning it into Ice 9 (ie, a substance that could bring about the end of the world) A different assignment takes Jonah to the small island of San Lorenzo where he encounters Felix Hoenikker's three children and a society where the religion of choice (a religion that everyone knows is based on lies, yet still has utter faith in) is punishable by death, for the simple fact that it adds excitement to the dull lives of the inhabitants. I won't go any further...
The thing that delighted me most about this book was the way in which it was written. A lot of great and influential books are ones that (on the whole) you enjoy, but take a while to get into, and at times you feel like giving up on: you know the book in question is good literature, but the style and plot make finishing it seem a chore.
Similarly, a lot of fast-paced books hold little impact, don't challenge the mind and are forgotten the instant you read them.
Kurt Vonnegut has managed to write a powerful and memorable novel in a short, snappy style: this book has everything that makes a compelling, challenging read. Vonnegut lets you get a feel for the characters without going into lengthy descriptions, he manages to make sharp, subtle criticisms of religion, human nature and society without rambling or whining, his plot is exciting yet not unrealistic, he creates a hellish world that plays on everyone's fear of obliteration in precious few words. I thought the ending was too abrupt, but it fitted well with the rest of the story (and it would have been even more disappointing if he'd created a satisfying, everything-tied-up-nicely ending)
I found this impossible to put down, and highly recommend it to any fan of literature.
on November 21, 2000
Vonnegut writes the book with the question that "God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater" plays with on a different level, all the while throwing in philosophies, wit, and things to ponder on and about during the COLD WAR.
The narrator (first-person incompetent) is somewhat vacant, and being so, maneuvers the story the best way possible.
The narrator is writing a book on the atomic bomb and he travels about meeting strange people who know the creators of the bomb. The characters he meets are funny and strange (You would have to be an oddball to be toying with doomsday.). In his journey he finds the sons and daughter of the inventor of the A-bomb. He finds that these three are an eccentric and foolish trio. The daughter and sons hold with them ice-nine, a weapon that makes the a-bomb seem infantile. Ice-nine was an attempt by their father to make battlefields (mud) solidify, making battle easier on soldiers. It winds up making any moisture it touches solid and blue, but its one flaw is, once put into the atmosphere it regenerates without stopping, freezing everything in its path(including human beings).
Vonnegut throws in the element of Bokononism, a quirky, weird religion spawned by an eccentric, self-made prophet named Bokonon. This angle plays in the mind of the reader as it debases the relevancy of all religions, thus, for example, making Catholicism or Islam just as strange as Bokononism. Bokononists chant about man being born of the "mud."
Symbolically the three children holding ice-nine, a single flake of which will end mankind as we know it, stand for three world superpowers. It shows that anyone, no matter how high in power, can be foolish, and should have no access to such an element of destruction. The ice-nine is just a symbol of the end of mankind through the folly of science, for the ice-nine turns things bluish white, like ice--putting man in another ice-age, destroying all "mud". The island of San Lorenzo is like Cuba--through its history no one really cared about anyone else ceasing it, but since there is an odd belief there(Bokononism/Communism),people poke around there now. It shows how such a small place, like Cuba, in the Cold War, could be ground-zero for the end of humanity, and warns against intervention there.
Being that the Cold War is over, this is an era piece that some may think is stagnate. Yet the tools to end civilization are still out there, so this book is relevant as long as science and government have and look for a greater means of destruction.
Though this book is funny and eccentric on surface, it is ultimately found to be a political warning. This humorous look at what could be the end, parallels Orwell's "Nineteen-Eighty-Four" in the field of political writing for the sake of warning (Orwell warns about the threat of Totalitarianism, Vonnegut warns about man's acute closeness to his own demise). This book is not as hard-nosed as "Nineteen-Eighty-Four." It is funny, but this is done to show the folly and incompetence that mankind's demise is handled with: Vonnegut's use of juxtaposition is without flaw.
Bokonon adds a religious facet to this novel. He ultimately shows folly and incompetence in the creation of something other than doomsday devices--religion. After the reader drops the hypocrisy of thinking their religion is "the one," Vonnegut brings up the question: Were people like Jesus or Mohammed just fools out spreading nonsense for the sake of an ego-trip?
This book touches on so many intense questions. It puts forth a vehicle for such deep introspection, yet it is hilarious. I only wish I were to have read this in the mind set of the world in the early sixties, when this book was first published. Vonnegut was way ahead of his time with this one. His writing, when dissected, makes me think he is one of the great thinkers of the twentieth-century into the twenty-first...
This was my first time reading Vonnegut, and I bought this novel largely based on his reputation as an author and the reviews I read here. The premise of the novel also sounded interesting. The narrator, Jonah, is writing a book about the events that took place on the day the atomic bomb was dropped, and focuses on the "father" of the atomic bomb, Felix Hoenikker, and his children. He eventually finds himself on the fictional island of San Lorenzo amid the backdrop of political and religious instability.
I could tell right away that Vonnegut was an excellent author. That is clear from his writing, which is very elegant and well organized. The book is a short read at 300 pages, and with chapters at 1-2 pages long, most people will be through it in a few hours. The chapters all flow into each other and there is no "jumping around" between other characters, as Jonah narrates the story through the first person.
Those are the positives and the reason I gave Cat's Cradle three stars. I believe this is a good book and likely an intellectual commentary on society and the arms race, etc etc, however all of this must have gone completely over my head because I didn't see any of it. Maybe this book is "too" intellectual for me, since I am not used to having to think so much while reading. What's more, the satire also went over my head and I do not recall any humorous moments in the entire book, and kept looking for the plot.
I do not mean for this review to turn people off of Cat's Cradle, just to let them know what they are getting into. If your usual fare is Tom Clancy, Stephen King, J.K. Rowling, etc, and you are not used to writers like Vonnegut, Douglas Adams, Chuck Palahniuk (this book reminded me a LOT of Survivor: A Novel), you may find you are missing out on most of the actual book. I was not disappointed when I finished Cat's Cradle, but I certainly wasn't as satiated as I usually am when I finish a good novel. Caveat emptor.
on January 13, 2001
If you've never read Kurt Vonnegut before, then you face a slight dilemma. You have two options available to you (well, really you've got more than two, but as long as you're reading this, I'm running the show and I say you've only got two):
1) You can read a slew of other Vonnegut books and build up to reading "Cat's Cradle," or
2) You can read "Cat's Cradle" and be so entirely blown away that no Vonnegut book will ever again live up to your newly inflated expectations.
That said, "Cat's Cradle" is an absolute must read for anyone and everyone over the age of birth. To summarize Vonnegut's crazy, whacked out plot would be an exercise in futility: it's got something to do with the father of the atomic bomb and his three bizarre children and the narrator who will chronicle their story as they get mixed up with the inhabitants of the island of San Lorenzo, all of whom are Bokononists. Confused yet? You should be. Throw in a little bit of ice-nine, a chemical that can feasibly bring about the end of the world, and you might have a slight inkling of the pieces of Vonnegut's puzzle.
Still, for all of the crazy characters and situations in "Cat's Cradle," it's ultimately a brilliant satire of the Cold War; at one particular moment a character realizes the importance of dichotomies, why we must believe the other is "evil" for us to be able to see ourselves as "good" and how absurd such things are, how phony and constructed they are. At the heart of all this is Vonnegut's brilliant metaphor for the cat's cradle, and it's a beauty.
Even if all this political satire doesn't grab you, just the way in which Vonnegut manages to throw a dozen ridiculous balls in the air and keep them well juggled and catch them all with grace by the final page is testament to his skill. "Cat's Cradle" is a book that'll make you sit up and think, but will also make you laugh out loud and maybe even touch you emotionally, particularly during the American ambassador to San Lorenzo's speech. It's so gut wrenching and absurd and oh so wonderfully written that you'll be hooked before you even realize it. Read it; this is as good as it gets.
on May 2, 2010
Cat's Cradle is completely amazing. One of Vonnegut's best. Plenty of other reviews will tell you that, though. Just make sure you buy the right edition. As you may have noticed, there are two editions available in the Kindle store- one published by "Rosetta Books" for $7.19 (the first search result for "Cat's Cradle" in the store with an orange and white cover) and one for $5.59 (the third result with a blue cover and a picture of a bird cage). While I'm sure any sane person would buy the cheaper edition anyway, if you accidentally buy the more expensive edition like I did you will be thoroughly annoyed. For some reason, when a quotation mark appears mid-line the space before it is deleted and a space after it is added. For example:
We had locked "Papa's" door
We had locked" Papa's" door
While it's easy to figure out most of the time, if you're not paying terribly close attention or if a line is continued from a previous page, it can be hard to tell whether a quote is beginning or ending.
I called customer service and they sorted it out immediately, refunding my money and allowing me to purchase the cheaper, less flawed edition. Service was great, but I didn't realize there was another edition until I was 87% through the book. It wasn't the end of the world, but watch out. I wouldn't download anything else from Rosetta Books either.
In conclusion, buy the cheaper version. You won't be disappointed. Cat's Cradle is great, especially if you're a Vonnegut enthusiast already.
on May 9, 2011
I don't want to spend too much time writing a review of what is, in essence, a classic novel. This is my first reading of Cat's Cradle, and my first time reading anything of substantial length by Kurt Vonnegut. The simple reason I don't want to spend too much time reviewing this book is that it has already been reviewed countless times, especially by people far more familiar with it than I am.
SPOILER ALERT! This is a short book, and it's almost impossible to avoid spoiling even the ending while trying to discuss significant aspects of the work. Also, this book has been around a while, meaning it's highly unlikely you won't have heard at least a capsule summary of the plot. That said, the following two paragraphs reveal details near the end of the book.
There were only two things I found disappointing in the story: First, there was no speculation nor explanation given as to why there would suddenly be purple-mouthed tornadoes all over the place. Perhaps that was just the author's speculation about the knock-on effects of all the Earth's water suddenly converting to ice-nine.
Second, there was mention of a strange nimbus ("lavender corona") surrounding the "weird plug" of rock sitting on the back of Mt. McCabe, and it wasn't clear if this was some strange phenomenon or not; the narrator spoke of his desire to visit this formation, to climb it, but he never reports doing so. It's an unexplored detail, and in such a slender volume, such things make me wish for more.
The writing was excellent: literate, trenchant and witty. This is my first foray into Vonnegut, so I have no other points of reference to go by.
The Rosetta Books edition of this Kindle e-book seems to fall somewhere between the ultra-cheap e-books (free or $0.99) and the premium e-books (with list prices close to those of the print editions) sold by Amazon -- both in terms of price and in terms of general quality. This edition was mostly decent, but had some typesetting issues with punctuation (wrong type of quote or apostrophe used -- open quote instead of close quote, for instance). Further, there were several cases where it was obvious that the text was obtained using OCR of a print edition, and this manifested frequently as the wrong letter in a word, or a letter like "m" being replaced by "rn."
I was never unable to determine what was truly meant in any passage, but the handful of flaws in this e-book could be easily corrected.
I once heard Kurt Vonnegut speak at a commencement ceremony at a Bennington College in Vermont in 1970, when his daughter was graduating with a bachelor's degree. He spoke quite eloquently about what graduates should do with their lives, and I remember parts of that wonderful speech as if it were yesterday. Indeed, Kurt Vonnegut is a writer of prodigious talents, a visionary seer disguised as an ordinary man, a contemporary wise man who speaks to us in amusing yet frightening allegories about the nature of contemporary man and the absurd technological culture he lives in today. This book, "Cat's Cradle", is among his finest novels, like most of his others, a work combining a wry sensibility with an amusing ability to confect sweet sounding yet bitter-tasting tales of mayhem and woe.
The plot of Cats Cradle is pure science fiction, and revolves around work to create a way to help American tanks more mobile in rain soaked and muddy circumstances, when such an ability to transverse the impossible terrain would give our guys in their tanks an overwhelming advantage over their evil foes. Our protagonist is a scientist working on isotope of water (called Ice -9) that has the ability to crystallize water into a unique form of ice that does not need freezing temperatures to crystallize. With such a capability, the Army could solidify the water in the mud, making it firm and allowing our tanks to roll over it with impunity. The problem is that once introduced into the ground, the compound has untoward effects no one had considered. And the basis for the cautionary tale is spun.
All of this is just the premise that allows Vonnegut to explore the far reaches of human behavior and the insane ways in which our culture is operating. It is a brilliant work, one that delves into the deep recesses of what we are, why we are that way, and where we seem to be going. It is at once a satire, a running commentary on the nature of our institutions, and the way in which we lie, cheat, and pretend to be people we are not, and as in his wild and wacky novel "Mother Night", shows why you should be afraid of who it is you are pretending to be, for it may come back to haunt you. This book literally explodes with a plethora of stinging insights into contemporary society, and constitutes a brilliant, albeit ironic, diagnosis of what a contradiction it is to be a human being trying to live a sane life in an insane world. This really is magical mystery tour, and one that will take your breath away. Enjoy!
on May 25, 2006
Publisher: Dial Press Trade Paperback
Cat's Cradle offers a pessimistic outlook on human society, religion, and politics, but does it in such an ironic, lighthearted yet dark way that the reader won't be able to put it down. The protagonist John, who is only referenced by name once in the story, attempts to learn from the children of the fictional scientist Doctor Felix Hoenikker about the day the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. It is revealed that the late Dr. Hoenikker, who was one of the top minds behind the bomb, created another weapon before his death. This substance, known as Ice-9, is a form of ice that freezes at room temperature. If it comes in contact with water it will force its molecular pattern on it, and freeze it into the diamond-like Ice-9 as well. The only known samples of it were given to Dr. Hoenikker's three children, Newt, Angela and Frank. Through a seemingly random series of events they eventually encounter each other on the poverty stricken island of San Lorenzo; ruled by a merciless dictator where everyone belongs to an illegal religion known as Bokononism.
These beliefs are central to the novel. A man named Bokonon sought to create an escape for the miserable people of San Lorenzo, and so he constructed a religion of "foma" or lies, which he himself calls lies at every turn. Ironically it seems to make perfect sense. These lessons, which are often in the form of short poetry or Confucius-like statements, are interspersed among the chapters of the novel by John, the narrator, who has realized he too is a Bokononist.
Cat's Cradle's deceptively simple writing style masks the deeper messages it offers including lessons on love, pain and human nature. These seemingly innocuous sentences blend together to create both a compelling story, and a valid view of both events in the past and those likely in the future of humanity. In short, this novel is an enjoyable read brilliantly choreographed by one of the greatest American authors of our time.
on February 22, 2001
Cat's Cradle is by far the best Vonnegut novel that I have yet read. Blending his patented wry humor with acute social insight presented in an absurd fantasy world, Vonnegut has written an exceptional novel of love, lies, and the self destruction of mankind. The story centers around the narrator, Jonah, who is called by name once in the entire book. We are told in the beginning that he is writing a book on the events of the day the first atomic bomb was dropped on Japan. His research leads him to a correspondence with Newt Hoenikker, the midget son of Doctor Felix Hoenikker, father of the atomic bomb. After meeting with Newt, destiny leads our protagonist to the impoverished island republic of San Lorenzo, where among other adventures, he finds religion, falls in love, and becomes president. All of this by itself would make for a very entertaining book, but it is not in the story line that Vonnegut's genius lies. Cat's Cradle is rife with painfully accurate insights into the institutions that our society holds so dear, such as, religion, politics, and science. Vonnegut invents for the inhabitants of San Lorenzo a brand new religion based completely and admittedly on "foma", or lies. This wouldn't be so shocking, except for the fact that this "bokonism" seems to make perfect sense. Other Vonnegut ironies pervade the book and are too elaborate to go into. Kurt Vonnegut is my favorite author of all time. Cat's Cradle is one of his funniest, most absurd, and frightening novels. This book truly causes one to stop and think about the things that one holds as unquestionably true. All of the incredible people, places, things, and ideas in Cat's Cradle are intricately woven into a perfect tapestry that sums up and spells out many of mankind's self-created problems in 191 pages. --This text refers to the Mass Market Paperback edition.