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Hocus Pocus [Kindle Edition]

Kurt Vonnegut
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (113 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Eugene Debs Hartke (named after the famous early 20th century Socialist working class leader) describes an odyssey from college professor to prison inmate to prison warden back again to prisoner in another of Vonnegut's bitter satirical explorations of how and where (and why) the American dream begins to die. Employing his characteristic narrative device--a retrospective diary in which the protagonist retraces his life at its end, a desperate and disconnected series of events here in Hocus Pocus show Vonnegut with his mask off and his rhetorical devices unshielded.

Debs (and Vonnegut) see academia just as imprisoning as the corrupt penal system and they regard politics as the furnishing and marketing of lies. Debs, already disillusioned by circumstance, quickly tracks his way toward resignation and then fury. As warden and prisoner, Debs (and the reader) come to understand that the roles are interchangeable; as a professor jailed for ""radical"" statements in the classroom reported by a reactionary student, he comes to see the folly of all regulation. The ""hocus pocus"" of the novel's title does not describe only the jolting reversals and seemingly motiveless circumstance which attend Debs' disillusion and suffering, but also describe the political, social, and economic system of a country built upon can't, and upon the franchising of lies.

At 68, Vonnegut had not only abandoned the sentiment and cracked optimism manifest in Slaughterhouse-Five, he had abandoned any belief in the system or faith for its recovery. This novel is another in a long series of farewells to the farmland funeral rites of childhood.


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

From Publishers Weekly

While awaiting trial for an initially unspecified crime, Vietnam vet and college professor Eugene Debs Hartke realizes that he has killed exactly as many people as he has had sex with, a coincidence that causes him to doubt his atheism. According to PW , "The cumulative power of the novel is considerable, revealing Vonnegut at his fanciful and playful best."
Copyright 1991 Reed Business Information, Inc.


After you have read one of Kurt Vonnegut's gleefully pessimistic novels, his words go on colouring your world for a long time afterwards... not to read him would be to miss out on lessons that need to be learned about the age we live in' Sunday Times. 'It is all done with voice. Vonnegut is a master of the first-person, manic-depressive stand-up' Observer. 'Although it is set in the near future, Hocus Pocus is the most topical, realistic Vonnegut novel to date, and shows the struggle of an artist a little impatient with allegory and more than a little impatient with his own country' New York Times Book Review.

Product Details

  • File Size: 1028 KB
  • Print Length: 340 pages
  • Publisher: RosettaBooks (August 21, 2011)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Lending: Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #140,842 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

4.1 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
53 of 53 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars In the shadow of Musket Mountain November 26, 2005
Format:Mass Market Paperback
This is probably my favorite of all of Vonnegut's works. It's the story of an ex-military man who becomes a teacher at a school for learning-disabled rich kids. He eventually is fired from the school for telling the students what an embarrassment it is to be an American, and he is hired by the prison across the lake. The story only gets more cynical and more sentimental from there. As each character dies, and so it goes, they are buried in the shadow of Musket Mountain when the sun goes down, a nice, poetic touch on this deeply sarcastic look at the American ruling class. I loved the alternative history lesson provided in this book, it's nice to see the positive side of American socialism and the potential it once held way back at the start of the 20th century. Hocus Pocus is one of those books I go back to ever couple of years and re-read...I like it that much.
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30 of 30 people found the following review helpful
Unlike the other Vonnegut novels that I have read, "Hocus Pocus" seems to come dangerously close to biting off more than it can chew -- and for the first half of the book it does. It takes a full hundred-and-fifty pages or so for Vonnegut to get a handle on all of the disparate themes that have crammed their way into this novel: racial strife, economic strife, the state of education in America, the follies of elitism, the de-humanizing effects of war (a Vonnegut favorite), love, sex, marriage, alcoholism, pride, honor, television, genetics and heredity, the outsourcing of American businesses, prison overcrowding, cultural identity ... believe it or not, I could go on. "Hocus Pocus" is too much of a hodge-podge, and it doesn't seem to know what it is trying to say or where it is drawing your attention at first. Thank goodness the second half of the book is a marked improvement. It actually ends up being enjoyable and says a lot of intelligent (if typically Vonnegut) things.

Still, there are some other problems with "HP" that could potentially turn a reader off -- particularly if they are not accustomed to Vonnegut's unique brand of storytelling. Eugene Debs Hartke is not a compelling Vonnegut protagonist; he has the quirky personality, the jaded outlook that comes with experience and the moral ambiguity, but he is surprisingly boring when you consider that he's an ex-soldier renowned for his deft and brutal technique, a sex addict and married to an insane woman to boot. He just doesn't resonate the way a Billy Pilgrim, Kilgore Trout (who makes a sort-of appearance here when one of his short stories turns up, for all you tried and true Vonnegut fans out there), or Howard W. Campbell, Jr. do in their respective stories.
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19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Porn and Vonnegut October 21, 1997
By A Customer
Format:Mass Market Paperback
I never really considered the fact that Kilgore Trout's (Vonnegut's alter ego science fiction writing character) stories always appeared in pornographic magazines, until I saw an excerpt from Hocus Pocus in either Playboy or Penthouse, giving me an excuse to say I'd bought the magazine for its articles and stories.
It makes me wonder then about what this says about pornographic magazines. Maybe it suggests that many of them, in order to try to create an illusion of legitamacy, will take chances with literature that mainstream magazines might find to controversial.
Indeed Vonnegut's Hocus Pocus may seem controversial to some, for it talks about things that a large majority of Americans would be more comfortable ignoring. Just as the main character, Eugene Debs Hartke is fired from his teaching job for having overly pessimistic ideas, Vonnegut's book itself pulls America's skeletons out of its closet.
Perhaps what certain literature has in common with pornography, is the tendency people have to try to ignore what they both say about our society, to try to push it as far under the bed as possible.
Hocus Pocus picks at the scabs of not only America's greatest embarrassments, but also our greatest failures. Everything from television talk-shows to the Vietnam War, racism, classism, the death of our economy, and the overcrowding of prisons is laid bare in all its uncomfortable ugliness.
The difference however, between Hocus Pocus and a simple pessimistic rant, is Vonnegut's unique ability to make us laugh at it all, but without downplaying its seriousness at all. Overall it is a must read, for Vonnegut fans and for any American that wants to live honestly with him/herself.
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20 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Book (And refutation to some reviws) January 1, 2004
Format:Mass Market Paperback
Let me first tell you that this is by far one of Vonnegut's best. The social commentary that is diguised in the form of satire is rather tremendous and poignant. It has definitely an anti-war flavor to it, but it never overshadows the real substance of the author's witticism. It's a funny book, but not "hillarious" as the back cover of this volume attests. From a different point of view, it's a rather sad book if you understand the implications of the subject matter. A very good book and would recommend to any one interested in modern and post-modern American prose.
* Vonnegut is a post-modernist, which implies that the book (or any work of art) can and more likely be free of classical rigidity. So, complaining that he jumps back and forth through time and places is not a good criterion to undermine this work.
* Repudiating this work because of Vonnegut's anti-war passages is as unfair as doing the same for say, Hemingway, O'Brian, Dalai Lama.
* This is a quinteseential post-moder work, and as said above, it should and does not need to conform to the cannonical rules of plot flow, time flow, and characater development. You could even call this book a Cubist work due to its subdivisions within chapters.
* This book goes much more than just war. It goes into love, sex, selling of American enterprises (and hence America) to foreign investors, race, class consciousness, and the attempt to keep the status quo by those who are ver well-off.
* This book is completely well structured. Your could easily read just one chapter and be as happy as reading the whole book. The chapters are self-sufficient and self-contained. The further chapters are elaborations of thing, characters and bits from preceding chapters.
* This is a GOOD book!
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
Very interesting. Lots of sharp phrases u r gonna love
Published 2 months ago by ia
1.0 out of 5 stars One Star
not enjoying this far out work of extreme fiction could be just me
Published 2 months ago by few words in florida
5.0 out of 5 stars hilarity
Just great haha he has me laughing from his grave literally always a pleasure my friends thanks again K V
Published 2 months ago by Keith crossland
4.0 out of 5 stars Creative Satire!
Vonnegut created a fictional satire comparing a prison riot to Vietnam. His main character, Gene Hartke narrates the story with flashbacks from his life as soldier and teacher. Read more
Published 2 months ago by Eve Gaal
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderfully satirical while challenging the reader to face issues that...
Typical Vonnegut! Wonderfully satirical while challenging the reader to face issues that may be out of their comfort zone. A great read!
Published 2 months ago by Gary
5.0 out of 5 stars A very pleasant surprise.
I have always wanted to read more Vonnegut, and I happened to come upon this one through the good graces of Amazon. Read more
Published 2 months ago by jeffrey r.
4.0 out of 5 stars but this one is true to Vonnegut's style and still a great book. The...
I prefer Slaughterhouse and Mother Night, but this one is true to Vonnegut's style and still a great book. Read more
Published 3 months ago by Christopher Ogle
5.0 out of 5 stars America's finest.
The best.No American writer comes close except maybe melville.
Published 3 months ago by Rocco J.
5.0 out of 5 stars Fun reading with a point and in the end, a story.
Kurt makes reading fun. If you don't like a story that takes you the scenic route and off on many non-essential turns along the way then this might not be for you. Read more
Published 5 months ago by flyinpro
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Classic Vonnegut, ironic and cynical, laughed all the way through it.
Published 6 months ago by Amazon Customer
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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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