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Cat's Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut
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Cat's Cradle (1963)

by Kurt Vonnegut

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
18,743237151 (4.11)373
Vonnegut's satirical commentary on modern man and his madness. An apocalyptic tale of this planet's ultimate fate. Features a midget as the protagonist; a complete, original theology created by a calypso signer; and a vision of the future that is at once blackly fatalistic and funny.
Recently added byrena40, Dubrow-Grey, Garden., MuggyB, ericmoon, bradleyhorner, private library, Europa_Erupts, Grant_McLeester
Legacy LibrariesWalker Percy
1960s (17)
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» See also 373 mentions

English (231)  Catalan (2)  Italian (1)  French (1)  Swedish (1)  Hebrew (1)  All languages (237)
Showing 1-5 of 231 (next | show all)
This felt like the literary equivalent of being unceremoniously boarded onto a not-quite-whitewater raft with a reliable guide whose presence you trust despite repeated declarations that you shouldn't trust anything that he says. Then, before you know it, you're hurtling downstream, taking in the scenery and truly enjoying yourself even though you don't have a clue where you're going, but watching time and again as every detail and circumstance flows perfectly into the next. But even as things start to go wrong and your snarky co-passengers begin bailing overboard en masse, everything is as it should be.

I find that you can apply this to the plot, the structure, and the meta-narrative without issue. I've never read Vonnegut before, and I'm sad it's taken so long. ( )
  Garden. | Jun 1, 2020 |
I have always had a penchant for apocalyptic literature. Maybe because I always had the feeling that the world has more of a chance for ending in my age than any others before it.

Would people survive? Probably not.

But what other way can we deal with it, without dealing in satires? Probably not. That's the only weapon we have when the others have ice-nine enough to end the world.

Another weird but excellent book. It deserves every star it got from me. ( )
  MahiShafiullah | May 25, 2020 |
A writer learns about a manufactured crystal that could freeze the world.

1.5/4 (Meh).

There's no story, and a lot of bad, bitter pseudo-philosophy. ( )
  comfypants | May 24, 2020 |
the most beautiful place in the world
  victor.k.jacobsson | May 23, 2020 |
I have a complicated relationship with Kurt Vonnegut and his work, mostly because I tend to enjoy his writing on the surface while struggling to accept the deeper implications of his ideas. I've always had a hard time explaining what it is I don't like about Vonnegut, but now that I've read four of these things, I feel like it's time to give it a shot.

In Cat's Cradle, a typical Vonnegut protagonist (world-weary dude in his mid-30s who for some reason has had lots of sex) happens to get wrapped up in a combination apocalypse/family drama scenario, as one is wont to do, rubs his feet against a pretty lady's feet, as one is wont to do, and converts to a religion that he knows was completely made up for the purpose of placating the poor, unwashed masses of a poor, unwashed country, as one is wont to do. From a narrative standpoint, this isn't Vonnegut's best. I had an easier time believing in the ice-nine ice age and the love bond that people create when they rub their feet together than in the entire rest of the San Lorenzo story. There are chance encounters between characters that take a Doctor Zhivago-esque streak of coincidences to come about. It all feels messy and, especially at the very end, a bit quick.

One thing I did like (and this goes for each of Vonnegut's novels) is the key question of personal responsibility that Cat's Cradle raises. Who is responsible for the end of the world? Is it Papa Monzano's fault? He's the one who ate the ice that froze the world. That certainly gives him the lead. But more than that, isn't it the fault of Frank Hoenikker, who gave an unstable dictator in a third world country more power than he was capable of handling reliably? The biggest question of all is how much blame lies with ice-nine's creator, Felix Hoenikker. He created a substance capable of destroying the world without caring at all about whether or not it might be used, valuing science over the sanctity of human life. All three are of course partially responsible, but with whom should the buck ultimately stop?

I believe that Vonnegut views Felix as primarily responsible, and this is an entry point into my most serious disagreement with the philosophy of his works. I imagine Vonnegut would say that Felix is a man who myopically pursues scientific truth whose research ultimately leads to the end of the world. That's the truth, but it's not the whole truth. It completely takes away agency from Frank, Papa Monzano, and the rest of the gang, while it also ignores the original purpose of ice-nine, which was to aid military personnel as they crawled through muddy swamps. Now, this is a minor quibble on its own, but it's important to remember that as Cat's Cradle condemns one man responsible for many deaths, it elevates another.

Bokononism, the underground majority religion in San Lorenzo, exemplifies Vonnegut's views on religion. It's a religion that is open and honest about the lies that went into creating it, and rather than being ashamed about those lies, Bokonon makes the point that lies can be useful. When used correctly, lies can create a foundation for a person to live a happy, healthy, fulfilling life. Bokononism is closely tied to Vonnegut's brand of atheism. Kurt wouldn't have been the type, had he been alive today, to be arguing on Twitter with Christians or featuring in YouTube videos entitled "Vonnegut OWNS Idiot Theists In Just Two Sentences!!!!!" The way he sees it, in a vastly indifferent universe, it's useful to have something that gives you a little hope and/or peace of mind, whether it's based on truth or not.

Reflecting on this idea made me think of two different books for similar reasons. The first was Anna Karenina. Over the course of the last 20 pages of the novel, Konstantin Levin finally comes to a resolution over his book-long existential crisis. After years of emotional turmoil, and soon after witnessing the death of his brother, he comes to a crossroads. Understanding clearly then for the first time that for every man and for himself nothing lay ahead but suffering, death, and eternal oblivion, he decided that it was impossible to live that way, that he had either to explain his life so that it did not look like the wicked mockery of some devil, or shoot himself.Had this been a Kurt Vonnegut book, Levin would have dealt with this by having smarmy, mediocre sex with 20-25 people, rolling his eyes at the world, and resolving to commit suicide at some point. Instead, Levin worked tirelessly, both mentally and physically, to find answers to what seemed to be an unanswerable question. He finds his conclusion in the words of one of his farmhands, and the difference between Tolstoy's conclusion and Vonnegut's is subtle but important. Levin, like Bokonon, finds peace in his beliefs, but unlike Bokonon, he believes in the TRUTH!!!!

Sort of. I don't actually know that, but Levin is firmly convinced that his beliefs are based on universal truths, both God-given and otherwise, and that's what is important.

Here's why that matters. After the apocalypse in Cat's Cradle, the surviving citizens of San Lorenzo seize Bokonon and demand an explanation of what has happened. Bokonon tells them that God is done with them and wants them to die, so they should go along with his wishes. Everyone listening accepts this and commits suicide, except Bokonon of course. Upon discovering this, Mona, the pretty lady that likes to rub her feet against other people's feet, laughs and says, "It's all so simple... It solves so much for so many, that's all." She then follows her fellow islanders in suicide.

What happened here? How did a group of people that practiced a religion openly based on lies make a decision to follow it into mass suicide? Was it really just because it was a simple solution??? Unfortunately, I think so.

This brings me to the other book Bokononism reminded me of, C.S. Lewis' The Screwtape Letters. One particular line written by Screwtape, an assistant to the devil advising his nephew on how to tempt a human into sin, has stuck with me for a long time. "Believe this, not because it is true, but for some other reason. That's the game."That is a lesson that goes far beyond Lewis' Christian apologetics. When you aren't searching for truth, it becomes much easier to believe things out of spite, despair, or even convenience. The citizens of San Lorenzo believed in Bokononism not because it was true (something it never pretended to be) but because it made their lives easier. They believed they should commit suicide not because it was true, but because it was a simple explanation of their plight.

That's the ultimate condescension of Vonnegut's view of religion. We can't handle a complicated world, so we must simplify it in order to make it easier on our brains, no matter what the cost.

I, for one, prefer the Felix Hoenikker approach. When you actively pursue the truth in something, whether it be science, religion, or even literature, it will always lead to engagement, whether you ever reach any truth or not. When you actively pursue peace of mind, you'll find the easy way out fairly quickly, whether it's a philosophy of detachment in the vein of Camus' The Stranger, a new religion you find soothing, or a toaster you drop in your bathtub.

Felix was a crummy dad, and his invention led to the end of the world in Cat's Cradle. But in the real world, would we be better off with more people like Felix, or more people like the citizens of San Lorenzo? It's not a great choice, but I'll take the former over the latter any day of the week. ( )
  bgramman | May 9, 2020 |
Showing 1-5 of 231 (next | show all)
"Cat's Cradle" is an irreverent and often highly entertaining fantasy concerning the playful irresponsibility of nuclear scientists. Like the best of contemporary satire, it is work of a far more engaging and meaningful order than the melodramatic tripe which most critics seem to consider "serious."
 

» Add other authors (56 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Vonnegut, Kurtprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Curtoni, VittorioTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
House, JulianCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kapari, MarjattaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Koeppl, LíviaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kunkel, BenjaminIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Pelham, DavidCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Roberts, TonyNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Vezzoli, DelfinaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Series (with order)
Canonical title
Original title
Alternative titles
Original publication date
People/Characters
Important places
Important events
Related movies
Awards and honors
Epigraph
Nothing in this book is true.
'Live by the foma* that make you brave and kind and healthy and happy.'
The Books of Bokonon. I:5
*harmless untruths
Dedication
For Kenneth Littauer

a man of gallantry and taste.
First words
Call me Jonah.
Quotations
"No wonder kids grow up crazy. A cat's cradle is nothing but a bunch of X's between somebody's hands, and little kids look and look and look at all those X's..."
"And?"
"No damn cat, and no damn cradle."
'Aamons, Mona', the index said, 'adopted by
Monzano in order to boost Monzano's
popularity, 194-199, 216n; childhood in com
pound of House of Hope and Mercy, 63-81;
childhood romance with P. Castle, 72f; death of father, 89ff; death of mother, 92f; embarrassed
by role as national erotic symbol, 80, 95, 166n.,
209, 247n., 400-406, 566n., 678; engaged to P.
Castle, 193; essential naivete, 67-71, 80, 95f,
116n., 209, 274n., 400-406, 566n., 678; lives with
Bokonon, 92-98, 196-197; poems about, 2n., 26,
114, 119, 311, 316, 477n., 501, 507, 555n., 689,
718ff, 799ff, 800n., 841, 846ff, 908n., 971, 974;
poems by, 89, 92, 193; returns to Monzano, 199?
returns to Bokonon, 197; runs away from
Bokonon, 199; runs away from Monzano, 197;
tries to make self ugly in order to stop being
erotic symbol to islanders, 80, 95f, 116n., 209,
247n., 400-406, 566n., 678; tutored by Bokonon,
63-80; writes letter to United Nations, 200;
xylophone virtuoso, 71'.
I showed this index entry to
She hated people who thought too much. At that moment she struck me as an appropriate representative for almost all mankind.
,"...I was very upset about how Americans couldn't imagine what it was like to be something else, to be something else and proud of it."
"The highest possible form of treason," said Minton, "is to say that Americans aren't loved wherever they go, whatever they do. Claire tried to make the point that American foreign policy should recognise hate rather than imagine love."
Last words
(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Canonical DDC/MDS

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Book description
In Vonnegut's satirical commentary on modern man and his madness. An apocalyptic tale of this planet's ultimate fate, it features a midget as the protagonist; a complete, original theology created by a calypso singer; and a vision of the future that is at once blackly fatalistic and hilariously funny. A book that left an indelible mark on an entire generation of readers, Cat's Cradle is one of this century's most important works...and Vonnegut at his very best.
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Penguin Australia

3 editions of this book were published by Penguin Australia.

Editions: 0141189347, 0141045442, 0241951607

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