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Cat's Cradle (1963)

by Kurt Vonnegut

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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19,561254155 (4.11)378
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.
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Legacy LibrariesWalker Percy
1960s (5)
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English (245)  Catalan (2)  Italian (1)  French (1)  Swedish (1)  Spanish (1)  Hebrew (1)  All languages (252)
Showing 1-5 of 245 (next | show all)
Although written in the 60′s, the race/gender parodies were distracting. Otherwise the concepts satirized and some of the characters were interesting. The book felt mostly disjointed, however, as the narrative didn’t cohesively tie together its elements into a whole that was greater than the sum of its parts. The snark kept the book afloat, and I appreciated that all were skewered, including the narrator himself. ( )
  jiyoungh | May 3, 2021 |
I didn't like this one as much now as I did the first time I read it. ( )
  jlweiss | Apr 23, 2021 |
Confusion. I don't know where to begin. This was my first time reading Vonnegut and I didn't have the slightest clue as to what to expect. Reviews that I had read online about Cat's Cradle made the story sound so weird and confusing. And it is.

Bokonism is a fictitious religion in which practically everyone on the small island of San Lorenzo practices. It was started by a man named Bokonon. It is practiced in hiding because the current president of the island, "Papa" Monzano, will kill anyone who claims they are a Bokononist. How are they killed? By being hung onto a giant hook by the stomach until they die.

Except "Papa" Monzano is a Bokononist too. Everyone is. And then there's Ice-Nine, which is a chemical made by a scientist that freezes all the water in the whole wide world. Which was made to stop U.S. Marines from having to trudge through mud. Our narrator John seeks to interview the inventor of the atom bomb Dr. Hoenikker.

There is a message here somewhere. Religion and war. Science. I just haven't figured it out yet. Would I read Vonnegut's other works? I think I will. ( )
  ProfessorEX | Apr 15, 2021 |
On the way to Berlin, Dresden, and Hann. Münden. Vonnegut, a second generation American of German descent seemed to be a good choice for the flight. I usually find it easy to knack over a Penguin paperback on a long-haul flight, but not this time. I've been struggling to read deeply since a major life event early last year has shifted the focus of my spare time.

I purchased a Penguin Vonnegut at the airport for some light reading but didn't manage to finish until some months later. I found Vonnegut's work to be interesting but a little far-fetched - it smacked of a Woody Allen style of science fiction (see the trailer for "The Sleeper") that was somehow banal yet allegorical in a mildly interesting way.

Much of the social commentary was lost on me. I suppose for a conservative reader of the early 1960s the foot-touching free love may have been a bit out there, but for me it was all old hat. I had the feeling of the 'thirteen days' and the Bay of Pigs fiasco.

Usually I am a fan of history but Vonnegut is rather economical with his contextual elements - an Animal Farm kind of focus on the sociological order rather than the 'iceberg' cerebral development approach. It was interesting today that I listened to a podcast on Jack London's literary style.

This sent me on a quest to look back at some of my previous readings of several of London's works. One thing I found was that I have been critical of London's racism (poignant in the wake of the Black Lives Matters protests beginning in the US and now happening in solidarity but focused on Indigenous deaths in custody here in Australia).

But I was also pleased to note that I had picked up on the problem (Jack London's To Build a Fire):
The trouble with him was that he was without imagination.
That's how I felt about Vonnegut's work. Until the meaning of the title came to my attention. The cat's cradle.

It's a child's illusion. It requires one's imagination. One flick of the hands and the cradle is gone. It doesn't exist.

I am usually way off but occasionally, like with Jack London, I am on the mark.

I found in Cat's Cradle the Stoic technique of the "bird's eye view". Once we view the world from above, we realise two things.

First, the insignificance of our petty existence. The arguments of today, the idiot tailgating me on the Hume highway last night, flashing his lights and sounding his horn. All nothing. I remember noting too, with flying, that once you are above the clouds it is always a perfect day, It is all a matter of perspective.

Second, we are all in this together. I am currently reading Ryan Holiday's Stillness is the Key. He mentions Edgar Mitchell's famous words upon viewing the world from space:
You want to grab a politician by the scruff of the neck and drag him a quarter of a million miles out and say, 'Look at that, you son of a bitch.’
It is interesting that just this week, Mitchell's words have resurfaced in what has been called the world's first political protest in near space, but targeted at Donald Trump.

In the above musings, and almost two months after I finished reading Cat's Cradle, I realised Vonnegut's genius. It is all an illusion. There are hands, there is string, there is imagination. The cat's cradle is made up of reality and intangibles. Neither works without the other.

Fake news, The Guardian versus The Australian and all of the left versus right is more of the same nonsense. It is not imagination, it is not creative, it is dogmatic, divisive, and dodgy. Yet the people believe.

This is what I get from Vonnegut. It is not the illusion, but that we make sense out of the world through our "bounded rationality" combined with our sense of imagination. Not fake or make-believe, but creative and expressive and from the depths of our intellect.

Regrettably, Kurt Vonnegut reminds us that without imagination (the creative as opposed to the conspiratorial kind), we are doomed to an inevitable end. Like London's "everyman" in To Build a Fire, we are not reflecting on our mortality in the face of nature, but rather imagining ourselves to be something more significant and smacking of hubris. For London:
The trouble with him was that he was without imagination. He was quick and alert in the things of life, but only in the things, and not in the significances.

But London, too, was a fan of eugenics. Vonnegut was subtler, less egotistical, more realistic. If I had to sum up Cat's Cradle, I would say that London had too much imagination, whereas Vonnegut is the Goldilocks' little bear version of "just right".

P.S. It's a shame that The Three Bears was originally written by Robert Southey and not the Grimm Brothers to fit my German theme. And the original Goldilocks was an old woman and the three bears were bachelors. But you can use your imagination! I visited the Grimm Brothers Museum in Kassel, Germany, on 3rd December 2019. ( )
3 vote madepercy | Jan 30, 2021 |
This is my very first Kurt Vonnegut's book and I regret not a thing. The themes explored are how the irresponsible use of science can make such a destructive weapon and how absurd religion works in meddling with human life. It is also a bit ethnographical since Vonnegut got his Anthropology degree from this book. A delightful read for me and definitely a Zahmahkibo. This book profoundly explores pretty much the themes of all Kurt Vonnegut's books. If you think more about it, the more depressing it becomes. Hmm, a bokomaru would be preferable right now. ( )
  bellacrl | Jan 19, 2021 |
Showing 1-5 of 245 (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 (21 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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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
For Kenneth Littauer

a man of gallantry and taste.
First words
Call me Jonah.
"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..."
"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."
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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.

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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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