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Slaughterhouse-Five Hardcover – November 1, 1991

4.2 out of 5 stars 2,443 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Kurt Vonnegut's absurdist classic Slaughterhouse-Five introduces us to Billy Pilgrim, a man who becomes unstuck in time after he is abducted by aliens from the planet Tralfamadore. In a plot-scrambling display of virtuosity, we follow Pilgrim simultaneously through all phases of his life, concentrating on his (and Vonnegut's) shattering experience as an American prisoner of war who witnesses the firebombing of Dresden.

Don't let the ease of reading fool you--Vonnegut's isn't a conventional, or simple, novel. He writes, "There are almost no characters in this story, and almost no dramatic confrontations, because most of the people in it are so sick, and so much the listless playthings of enormous forces. One of the main effects of war, after all, is that people are discouraged from being characters..." Slaughterhouse-Five (taken from the name of the building where the POWs were held) is not only Vonnegut's most powerful book, it is as important as any written since 1945. Like Catch- 22, it fashions the author's experiences in the Second World War into an eloquent and deeply funny plea against butchery in the service of authority. Slaughterhouse-Five boasts the same imagination, humanity, and gleeful appreciation of the absurd found in Vonnegut's other works, but the book's basis in rock-hard, tragic fact gives it a unique poignancy--and humor.

From Publishers Weekly

"Listen: Billy Pilgrim has become unstuck in time." So begins Vonnegut's absurdist 1969 classic. Hawke rises to the occasion of performing this sliced-and-diced narrative, which is part sci-fi and partially based on Vonnegut's experience as a American prisoner of war in Dresden, Germany during the firebombing of 1945 that killed thousands of civilians. Billy travels in time and space, stopping here and there throughout his life, including his long visit to the planet Tralfamador, where he is mated with a porn star. Hawke adopts a confidential, whisper-like tone for his reading. Listening to him is like listening to someone tell you a story in the back of a bus—the perfect pitch for this book. After the novel ends, Vonnegut himself speaks for a short while about his survival of the Dresden firestorm and describes and names the man who inspired this story. Tacked on to the very end of this audio smorgasbord is music, a dance single that uses a vintage recording of Vonnegut reading from the book. Though Hawke's reading is excellent, one cannot help but wish Vonnegut himself had read the entire text.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 215 pages
  • Publisher: Perfection Learning (November 1, 1991)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0812417755
  • ISBN-13: 978-0812417753
  • Product Dimensions: 4.3 x 0.8 x 6.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2,443 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #455,746 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By A Customer on August 16, 2000
This novel is essential in many ways. It is undoubtedly one of the best-written, most well respected novels of the 20th century (No. 6 on the list that was a compilation of all the other lists) and is, therefore, essential to your understanding of 20th century fiction. If you have never read Vonnegut, this book should be the first one you read: it is the most famous and one of the best and really captures the essence of Vonnegut. Finally, despite its literary merit, this is a FUN book to read. You will laugh, you will think, but, most of all, you will enjoy reading it and you will finish it FAST.
This should be your introduction to Vonnegut. I've found that true Vonnegut fans don't often choose Slaughterhouse-Five as their favorite, but, instead choose one of Vonnegut's other wonders (Breakfast of Champions, Cat's Cradle, Sirens of Titan, etc.). I think that most would agree that this is a good jumping off point, just as, in music, people often start with Greatest hits albums and then work from there.
Only Vonnegut could make such a strange premise believable and emotional. The book shifts time and place from paragraph to paragraph without warning. It is about aliens and WWII. It all works so perfectly, however and is so profound to those who read carefully. Billy Pilgrim is one of the great characters in all of literature.
Don't be scared off by aliens and the weird premise. It works better than 99% of so-called "normal" books. Absolutely ESSENTIAL.
thanks {{{milo}}}
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Slaughter House Five deserves its reputation of being a piece of great American literature. The book follows a young man, Billy Pilgrim through his life. Billy believes aliens, tralfamadorians to be exact, have abducted him. We assume that it's through these aliens that he learns to time travel, a skill he frequently uses. In the book Pilgrim bounces around time to all the various portions of his life, many times returning to World War II where he was captured, taken prisoner, and held in slaughterhouse five in Dresden, Germany. He seems to be defined by this moment in his life as he frequently returns there. If you know anything about Vonnegut, you know that he too was held in Dresden, Germany when the city was firebombed. This is the major setup for this antiwar novel as Dresden was home to over 100,000 persons while at the same time Dresden didn't have any industry lending itself to the war effort. Obviously you wander, "Then why was this city bombed? What advantage came from killing well over 100,000 thousand civilians?"
One of the major themes of the book is fate. The prayer of serenity appears twice in the book stating that we need to change the things we can and be wise enough to know which things we cannot change. Also the Tralfamadorians speak of fate. They say they know how the universe is going to end, but they do nothing to stop it. Vonnegut seems to say that yes, war is one of those things we cannot avoid, but we need to change the things we can about it, like the atrocious bombing of Dresden.
Overall, the book's message is clear, and Vonnegut delivers his message in a very accessible way. The story of Billy Pilgrim is enjoyable to read, and contains more than dry philosophy that some antiwar novels are filled with.
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Format: Hardcover
I know this novel fairly well having read it several times (once aloud to my students). It is about all time being always present if only we knew, or could realize it, or had a sense about time in the same way we have senses for light and sound.

It is also about the Allied fire bombings of Dresden which killed something like 25,000 people. (And so it goes.) Kurt Vonnegut begins as though writing a memoir and advises us that "All of this happened, more or less..." Of course it did not, and yet, as with all real fiction, it is psychologically true. His protagonist, Billy Pilgrim, an unlikely hero, somewhat in the manner of unlikely heroes to come like Forest Gump and the hero of Jerzy Kosinski's Being There, transcends time and space as he bumbles along. This is a comedie noire--a "black comedy"--not to be confused with "film noir," a cinematic genre in which the bad guys may win or at least they are made sympathetic. In comedie noire the events are horrific but the style is light-hearted. What the genres have in common is a non-heroic protagonist.

This is also a totally original work written in a most relaxing style that fuses the elements of science fiction with realism. It is easy to read (which is one of the reasons it can be found on the high school curriculum in our public schools). It is sharply satirical, lampooning not only our moral superiority, our egocentricity, but our limited understanding of time and space. And of course it is an anti-war novel in the tradition of All Quiet on the Western Front and Johnny Got His Gun.

Vonnegut's view of time in this novel is like the stratification of an upcropping of rock: time past and time present are there for us to see, but also there is time future.
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Listen:
Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse Five is really something else. I have to admit this is one of the few books where I saw the movie first (years ago), and about 3 years ago, I decided to read the novel. Left a deep impact on me, although I had a hard time understanding it.
So a couple of months ago I saw the movie again, loved it again (although I normally detest movies done after books), and then decided to read all of Vonnegut's novels and shortstories, and chronologically this time, starting out with the promising Player Piano.
Now I reread Slaughterhouse Five, and so far it is Vonnegut's best book. It is clearly an attempt to describe his impressions in World War Two and especially Dresden, but instead of writing a realistic novel about war, Vonnegut 'invents' a totally non-linear genre of science fiction that is absolutely unique in its scope.
There is no suspense at all, because the novel's main character (not to call him hero) Billy Pilgrim is unstuck in time, which means he travels back and forth in time. We meet a young Pilgrim traumatized by his gun-loving father, a Pilgrim lost in World War Two, a Pilgrim married to the obese daughter of a rich John Birch Society nutcase and above all a happy Pilgrim living on Tralfamadore, a planet in a faraway solar system. All this is narrated in no particular order, and maybe the book needs to be read twice to get its scope, but it is worth it.
Vonnegut's style also reaches a level that I haven't seen of him in the past, very bitter-sarcastic-loving-sweet... all at once. Every death is followed by a shrugged "So it goes.", and paragraphes are often introduced with "Listen:".
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