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Just One Catch: A Biography of Joseph Heller Hardcover – August 2, 2011

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Editorial Reviews


"Daugherty's Just One Catch sets out the markers of Heller's life clearly enough, putting the biographical facts in order in one simple volume . . . the first biography of Heller and a decent starting point."—Los Angeles Times

"Tracy Daugherty's Just One Catch is a large literary biography, rich with anecdote, and full of dirt that only an aspiring author would love. The story of how the sketches of "Catch-18" became Catch-22, of how Heller's agent and publisher secured the book, of how it took him eight years to finish it, and of how it eventually made him rich and famous are so compellingly written as to be porn for the unpublished."—San Francisco Chronicle 

"There's no catch. Tracy Daugherty has written a generous, smart and comprehensive biography of a 21st Century American master. "—Gary Shteyngart

"Just One Catch is a truly smart and compelling biography of a major American writer. Joseph Heller wrote our greatest war novel and made a lasting contribution to the idiom, but he was also a singular figure through decades of cultural transformation. Tracy Daughtery deftly situates Heller's role in the American saga while never losing sight of the man, his grand literary quest, his huge personality, his politics, his passions, his weaknesses and kindnesses, his appetites.”—Sam Lipsyte

Just One Catch is not only an intricate and compassionate portrait of its subject, but also an absorbing account of the genesis of the novel that irrevocably transformed mid-20th century American discourse.  And even more than that, it’s a revelatory and moving social history: a reminder of a now-vanished culture in which the literary and the political informed one another in the most crucial and formative ways.”—Jim Shepard

“In addition to chronicling the life of an iconic American novelist, it also provides a kind of literary equivalent to TV's Mad Men, pulling the reader into a world that eerily replicates our own, even as we thought we'd left that world long ago.  The pleasure of reading this biography is in Daugherty's ability to both frighten and reassure us that history does indeed repeat itself.  Which information is a real catch 22.”—Antonya Nelson

"Catch-22 is the great comic American novel of the 20th century.  Tracy Daugherty has given us a biography worthy of its author.  A major achievement, or should I say major major major?"—Christopher Buckley

"Just One Catch has countless insightful, amusing anecdotes from Heller’s childhood, military service and postpublication notoriety as a celebrated literary figure. But the writing, publishing and ensuing aftermath of Catch-22 is the clear focal point of Daugherty’s book."—Time Out 

“A masterful, wonderfully thought-provoking biography about one of America’s greatest contributors to 20th century literature. Both touching and illuminating, this is that rare biography worthy of its source material.”—Stan Lee

"Daugherty's groundbreaking portrait of the prophetic, contradictory, and essential Joseph Heller is dramatic and revelatory." —Booklist, (starred review)
"A breezy, entertaining, and well-researched biography worthy in tone and scope of his subject."—Publishers Weekly, (starred review)

About the Author

TRACY DAUGHERTY is the author of four novels, four short story collections, and a book of personal essays.  His critically acclaimed biography of Donald Barthelme, HIDING MAN was published in 2009.   He has received fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts.  Currently, he is Distinguished Professor of English and Creative Writing at Oregon State University. 


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 560 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press; First Edition edition (August 2, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312596855
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312596859
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 2 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (31 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #976,638 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Herschel Greenberg VINE VOICE on July 27, 2011
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Catch-22 is one of my favorite books. I read it in high school--we had to choose a book that would be used for all assignments throughout the school year. This means I became very familiar with the literary themes of Catch-22 and of Joseph Heller's life. I looked forward to revisiting an "old friend" in this new biography.

However, I found this book difficult to give a "star" rating. Some parts of the book are 5 stars. These parts focus on Heller and one aspect of his life. They are clear and well written. Daugherty likes to use quotes extensively, and some of the better parts are when the passages communicate information about the influences regarding Heller's life without reading a quote every other sentence. I also liked discovering other authors of this time, like William Saroyan, who wrote a great story called "Tracy's Tiger."

Other parts of the book are worth 2-4 stars. These are the parts (which can go on for pages) that focus more on the peripherals of Heller's life and I found many of them uninteresting. I felt as if Daugherty was required to name drop EVERY person Heller met, and she goes off on tangents in order to explain who that person was in Heller's life. Some of these people are influential to Heller, I am sure, but it slowed this biography down to a crawl. In fact, this is a long read, and I think it could have been cut down by about 100 pages and still been equally biographical.

In addition, I feel this book is more than a biography of Joseph Heller. The book should really be called Just One Catch: A Biography of America Post World War II. Again, these are the parts that were both very interesting and very boring to me. Some aspects of American culture in the 50's and 60's were enlightening.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Steve Schwartz VINE VOICE on July 15, 2011
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I read Catch-22 when it first came out. It was one of those books no self-respecting college student could avoid in the Sixties. I read and thought it wonderful, but it never became a cherished favorite of mine. Indeed, I don't believe I've read it in 30 years. Unlike most, apparently, I preferred the books Heller wrote after Catch-22, which I return to again and again: Something Happened, Good as Gold, Picture This, Closing Time, and God Knows - none of which duplicates the other. Heller's fans kept wanting a sequel to his megahit. Fortunately, he never really gave it to them. Closing Time may take up the Catch-22 cast again, but it, to me, is a completely different, far wiser book.

For an author considered one of majors of his time, Heller didn't write all that much. He defensively disparaged his profession, or at least his practice of it, but he put in a great deal of intellect and physical effort so that he didn't repeat himself. He actually studied other writers, not so much to raid them, but to help him think about what he was doing and how to go about it in an original way. He was happiest thinking of himself as a Coney Island grifter, making huge undeserved piles of money for very little work, eating with cronies in Chinese restaurants in Manhattan, trading nifties with people like Mario Puzo, Mel Brooks, and Carl Reiner. Nevertheless, he really did work like a dog. It's incredibly difficult, after all, for a novelist to change direction every time he sets out. Furthermore, his career cost him his family.

Daugherty, a novelist himself, retails the career and the life.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Lita Perna VINE VOICE on July 13, 2011
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
This hefty 471 page biography begins with Joseph Heller's Coney Island childhood, the early influences of his family and friends, then takes us through his war experiences that inspired Catch 22, examines the effects on him of fame, shows his unsuccessful struggle to duplicate the popularity of Catch 22, and concludes in his later years with his second wife and ends with his death in East Hampton in 1999 at age 76.

This comprehensive, often compelling story of Joseph Heller, shows how he was influenced and how he influenced the attitudes and issues of the ever changing era in which he lived. His post war novel about WWII became the anti war novel of the 1960's.

He grew up poor in the 1930's in the lights and shadows of a garish amusement park, the "Nickel Empire" of Coney Island in a neighborhood teeming with Russians, Germans, Italians and Armenians. His mother only spoke Yiddish.

Contradictions began early. He learned his brother and sister were not really his brother and sister. When he was four years old he attended a party his family held and found out it was really his father's funeral.

He was a gunner in WWII. He held low level jobs. He worked in Ad agencies. He attended the University of Southern California, NYU and Columbia, taught college in Pennsylvania and he was restless and he agonized and he bit his nails and he wrote.

Joseph Heller bit his nails throughout his life. He worried that he was not a natural writer. His short stories were often rejected. His first story was published for $25.00. It made him happier than learning about the end of the war.

He was working at Time Magazine when he wrote Catch 22 at his kitchen table. It took him a year to draft the second chapter.
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