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And So it Goes: Kurt Vonnegut: A Life

3.86 of 5 stars 3.86  ·  rating details  ·  1,469 ratings  ·  221 reviews

The first authoritative biography of Kurt Vonnegut Jr., a writer who changed the conversation of American literature

In 2006, Charles Shields reached out to Kurt Vonnegut in a letter, asking for his endorsement for a planned biography. The first response was no ("A most respectful demurring by me for the excellent writer Charles J. Shields, who offered to be my biographer

Hardcover, 513 pages
Published November 8th 2011 by Henry Holt and Co. (first published November 1st 2011)
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New York Times 100 Notable Books of 2011
34th out of 100 books — 41 voters
The Fault in Our Stars by John GreenAnd So it Goes by Charles J. ShieldsBagombo Snuff Box by Kurt VonnegutSlaughterhouse-Five by Kurt VonnegutWampeters, Foma and Granfalloons by Kurt Vonnegut
2nd out of 30 books — 1 voter

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MJ Nicholls
A cursory glance at Charles J. Shields’s bibliography shows him to have authored a string of hack profiles ranging from Saddam Hussein to J.K. Rowling, plus books on sexual disorders, Uruguay and Vladimir Putin. Clearly this is the man to write the first full-length biography of bouffant satirical demigod Kurt Vonnegut. CLEARLY. Like him or not, he will remain, for time immemorial, the first and only man to have authority from The Master to write a full-length bio (or, at least, a vague thumbs-u ...more
Adam Floridia
As someone who conceitedly fancies himself a Vonnegut scholar, I like to think that I’m an expert on all things Vonnegut. Every time I read a new book of KV criticism, I huff and sneer demeaningly thinking, “Pfff, I could write that because I’m so great; I just haven't done it yet.” Shields' biography is what I could only dream of writing. So, Charles J. Shields, my hat is off to you: kudos for putting me in my place.

The depth and breadth of research that went into this is staggering. I read mo
Richard Reviles Censorship Always in All Ways
This review of the OUTSTANDING book has been revised and can now be found at Expendable Mudge Muses Aloud!
As I read And So It Goes, I thought I was going to regret having done so. It's a sobering experience to discover someone I admire has feet of clay. There is no doubt that Kurt Vonnegut was a deeply flawed and troubled person, quick to anger, a user of those who thought they could trust him, a philanderer and a distant father. But given the unbearable circumstances of his life, a mother who committed suicide, a beloved sister dying young of cancer and being a not only a prisoner of war but being ...more
Moira Russell
Yes, that was pretty terrible, although less awful than most biographies of female writers (much less prurient description of Vonnegut's love life, for one thing). It was also unsettling how we were just supposed to unquestioningly accept Vonnegut's second wife as a cast-iron bitch, probably because she chose not to cooperate with the biographer (see: Ted Hughes, Sonia Orwell, &c &c). I did enjoy learning totally useless facts about Vonnegut, such as his favourite program being Law and O ...more
Dann LaGratta
I just finished And So It Goes: Kurt Vonnegut a Life by Charles Shields. This could easily be one of the most jilted half-assed biographies I've ever read. Shields opens the book with his desperation to get Vonnegut to allow him to be his biographer and allow him to write his book. Kurt initially refuses the request and then eventually allows it. Shortly after, Kurt Vonnegut passed away.

The major problem in this book though is that Shields appears to hate Kurt Vonnegut. He seems like a man who h
David Raffin
Charles J. Shields seems to really not like Kurt Vonnegut. This is a problem since the market for this book is people who do like Kurt Vonnegut. And I'm not saying that just because of all the dirty laundry about his personal life, but because he has no appreciation for his actual literary work. The best part of the book is at the very beginning, past the awful part where he talks about how he got to write the book, the part about Vonnegut's family and school years. This should have been a bette ...more
Perhaps people familiar with Kurt Vonnegut's media persona will not need a book that serves to humanize the curmudgeonly author. But for people like me, who only know him through reading a few of his books, this is a fascinating, if depressing, story. It paints a picture of a man scrambling and grasping for respect in a field that often doesn't seem inclined to provide it. It shines a light onto a troubled family life and personal grievances, both justified and not. It examines two marriages tha ...more
Mal Warwick
And So It Goes: The sad life of Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

The face that peers out at you from the cover is immeasurably sad. It’s the face of a man in middle age weighed down by lifetimes of tragedy. The man — one of the most remarkable novelists of the 20th century — is Kurt Vonnegut, known throughout much of his adult life as Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

In And So It Goes, Charles J. Shields plumbs the depths of Vonnegut’s sadness. He began work shortly before Vonnegut’s death in 2006 and conducted lengthy inter
In the spring of 1967, Kurt Vonnegut spoke at Reed College where I was freshman. I attended his lecture which I don't remember. I also dropped in on a group discussion he held in the common area of my dorm. He hooked me there. Mainly Vonnegut talked about his struggle to write a book about the firebombing of Dresden. I was surprised to learn of this event and quite impressed with Mr. Vonnegut. When the book he was working on (Slaughterhouse Five) was published, it was not the book I expected but ...more
I wanted to read this book because Kurt Vonnegut is one of my all-time favorite authors. His inventive imagining and placing human feelings into inhuman scenarios reflect a chaotic modern world. He was never satisfied with telling a story straight or leaving any of his characters alone to wrestle with the fates he gave them by themselves. I think he was probably a better writer than a human. He wanted to be a better creator than his creator, but he was flawed in the same ways he felt god was fla ...more
Excellent and detailed, Shields bio gives a close up portrait of the man and some of the motiviations behind his works. The New York Times review said it revealed Vonnegut as a sad man. I didn't really get that, but he certainly had some sad moments. Given KV's wit and sarcasm and I can also definitely see some big laughs in there. I also enjoyed reading Vonnegut's comments on his own work.

Nice to find out that my favorite Vonnegut, The Sirens of Titan was possibly his favorite. he says that it
Kevin Stephens
I'm not sure I've read a biography before in which the author takes such apparent delight in dissing his subject. Yes, Vonnegut built a bridge for millions of youngsters to cross from science fiction to literature. That to me seems commendable. No, he did not have the traditional pedigree you find among the literary elite. Yes, he wrote easy-to-read books that were long on humor and humanism and short on other virtues, and collected a lot of young, liberal, naive, not-exactly-literary-lion fans ...more
David Patneaude
This book is an exhaustive and sometimes exhausting (yet always admirable) look at the life of a uniquely talented, creative, and innovative American writer, and institution, who was as full of quirks and contradictions as the characters who populated his writings.

I first became aware of Kurt Vonnegut when I was serving in the Navy and in the middle of a long and tedious WestPac cruise, surrounded by the absurdity of military life and a pointless, murderous (sound familiar?) war. Much to the cha
Scott Rhee
The first time I read Vonnegut was in high school, Mr. Milheim's English class. The book was "Slaughterhouse Five", and I think I read it from cover to cover in one sitting.

I would like to say that I loved it because of its anti-war message, its clever non-linear narrative, its wonderful humor, and its cynicism, but, in truth, I loved it primarily because it was the first time I ever saw the word "motherfucker" in a book.

Vonnegut killed my innocence. So be it.

I have been an unabashed Vonnegut
I should start by saying that I rarely read biographies. Sure, I enjoy an occasional memoir or collections of autobiographical short stories, but for some reason biographies rarely interest me. When I do choose to read a biography it is typically because I find myself idealizing someone too much and I need to bring them back down to reality a little bit. Such is the case for my relationship with Mr. Vonnegut. I had a difficult time with the beginning of this book. I found Shields interjecting so ...more
"Idols are best when they're made of stone," Joan Baez wrote in a song about Bob Dylan, the songwriting voice of a generation. It could also apply to a man many viewed as being the literary hero of the counterculture. As Charles J. Shields shows in his outstanding biography of the author, Vonnegut was far from a flawless person or author. Yet his fallibilities helped create his literary legacy.

And So It Goes: Kurt Vonnegut: A Life is an "authorized" biography of Vonnegut. In 2006, having just pu
The first authoritative biography of Kurt Vonnegut Jr., a writer who changed the conversation of American literature.

In 2006, Charles Shields reached out to Kurt Vonnegut in a letter, asking for his endorsement for a planned biography. The first response was no ("A most respectful demurring by me for the excellent writer Charles J. Shields, who offered to be my biographer"). Unwilling to take no for an answer, propelled by a passion for his subject, and already deep into his research, Shields wr
Shields does a very good job researching and humanizing Vonnegut. Vonnegut himself is my favorite author, whose insights I couldn't get enough of. What Shields does is humanize him.

Most of Vonnegut's works have had some degree of autobiographical content in them, and Shields' account of Vonnegut's life and relationships is nothing new. But what Shields does exceptionally well is talk about it objectively, and the impact those events had on Vonnegut himself, and how that impacted his novels and
James Warfield
Please visit my website No, But Wait, Hear Me Out to read the review. The clicks would mean a lot. If you're feeling lazy, the review is copied underneath this.

I’ve been a massive Kurt Vonnegut fan for the better part of my life. I was never assigned to read him in high school, instead, I picked up a copy of God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater on my own in my freshman year of college and instantly craved more. I think my favorite part of any Vonnegut story is how he writes the story: the odd breaks, th
There is an art to blending research with engaging prose to create a page turning biography. Charles Shields has that talent. His presentation keeps the narrative moving and he holds the reader from cover to cover.

Unfortunately for Vonnegut fans, they will not like everything they read. His life is not about kindness, wealth distribution or any other topic of his novels. He seems to be barely getting through the day. Vonnegut's treatment of his first wife Jane was so appalling that you almost ap
Ryan Williams
'My books are being thrown out of school libraries all over the country—because they’re supposedly obscene. I’ve seen letters to small-town newspapers that put Slaughterhouse Five in the same class with Deep Throat and Hustler magazine. How could anybody masturbate to Slaughterhouse Five?'

Well, quite.

The good thing about a writer's biography is you can put a tick or cross next to any guesses you have about his life. Few who read Vonnegut will suppose that he was an affable, teetotal, non-smoker
A well-researched, well-written biography of Kurt Vonnegut. This is a must read for fans, anyone who wants to know about the 'true' Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., and anybody who needs to write a paper about Vonnegut (there is a lot of information and anecdote that can buttress even the most specious essay). I did gain a few insights and a much better idea about who Vonnegut was as a person (though one reading, years ago, of Palm Sunday got me closer to reality than I had thought) and it really illuminated ...more
Alex Robinson
Vonnegut is a presence in all his books, so it's tempting to think you "know" him based on his novels. As is usually the case, the private person behind the public persona is much more complex. It's jarring to read less pleasant details about an author I've loved for 25+ years (infidelities, neglecting his family, etc) but we're all grown-ups and Vonnegut wasn't the first idealist unable to live up to the philosophies he promoted, and that shouldn't diminish his work.
Mary G
I like to write my own reviews before looking at others. This time, however, my eye caught the start of a less-than-positive review and I was a bit taken aback. I thought And So It Goes was excellent. Lengthy, but excellent. (I kept looking at the %read in the right bottom of each Kindle page. It seemed to take forever for the number to advance!)

Vonnegut grew up in Indianapolis, where I’ve resided for the past 40 years. Vonnegut is a big deal here. The city had a “year of Vonnegut” a couple of y
Mark Ueber
I did not expect much when I started this book. I just wanted to learn more about Vonnegut, and I am only 150 pages into it, but this book is terrific. Vonnegut comes across at times as childish, brilliant, helpless, charming, sensitive, driven, self-absorbed, and always interesting. His service during World War II is, by itself, enough, to justify the writing of the book. I am eager to read the rest of it.
Chickens McShiterson
-After reading this bio, I'm going back and reading every work of Kurt's that I own, which is damn near all of them.

Admittedly, I am a fanboy of Kurt Vonnegut's, and when reviewing his books I always feel a slight tinge of bias- I tend to like or love all of them and I am not sure whether this is an extension of my affection for him or because he truly is as awesome as I think he is. I can apply the same bias to Henry Rollins, as a matter of fact- the mere genius of the artist tends to color my
As another reviewer noted, what's missing fr this book is Vonnegut. The writer only got to meet him twice before he died, so it was obviously hard to really infuse a true sense of Vonnegut, especially for a writer who literally jumped into his novels.
That being said, I learned a lot about Vonnegut- a man of contradictions. I could get into all of them, but the book does a pretty good job of elaborating them. As I was reading this book, I continuously asked myself: can I deprecate the man and his
Kurt Vonnegut has been one of my favorite authors since I read Slaughterhouse-Five in high school. I'm certain that that sentence would be repeated by many of his fans. Given my love for him, reading this biography seemed a great opportunity. I'm not often moved by the deaths of famous folks, but I was truly stricken by Vonnegut's passing. I still am, all these years later. I enjoy many authors, but he is one of the few who I am emotionally invested in.

I've read quite a lot of Vonneguts's non-f
The writing of the biography is solid and it covers Vonnegut's whole life but your interest in delving into this lengthy biography is dependent on your interest in Vonnegut himself. Have to say that my attention waned as he became more a philanderer and I found myself more interested in what was going on with his soon to be ex-wife and longtime partner Jane Cox.

Not to say that Vonnegut's life wasn't intriguing and as a writer it was fascinating to learn how long it took him to write one of his
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Charles J. Shields is the author of And So It Goes: Kurt Vonnegut: A Life, Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee, the highly acclaimed, bestselling biography of Harper Lee, and I Am Scout: The Biography of Harper Lee (Henry Holt Books for Young Readers).

He grew up in the Midwest and taught in a rural school in central Illinois for several years. He has been a reporter for public radio, a journali
More about Charles J. Shields...
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