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And So it Goes: Kurt Vonnegut: A Life

3.88  ·  Rating Details  ·  1,686 Ratings  ·  239 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

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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
Indianapolis
2nd out of 30 books — 1 voter


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Community Reviews

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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
Dec 27, 2011 Adam Floridia rated it it was amazing
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
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Richard Derus
Apr 12, 2013 Richard Derus rated it really liked it
This review of the OUTSTANDING book has been revised and can now be found at Expendable Mudge Muses Aloud!
Mark
Feb 26, 2012 Mark rated it really liked it
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
Feb 05, 2012 Dann LaGratta rated it did not like it
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
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David Raffin
May 29, 2012 David Raffin rated it it was ok
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
Danny
Jan 16, 2012 Danny rated it really liked it
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
Dec 02, 2011 Mal Warwick rated it it was amazing
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
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Nancy
Jan 19, 2012 Nancy rated it it was amazing
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
Brian
Nov 05, 2011 Brian rated it liked it
Shelves: review
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
Harold
Feb 10, 2012 Harold rated it really liked it
Shelves: vonnegut, bio-autobio
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
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Kevin Stephens
Aug 14, 2013 Kevin Stephens rated it it was ok
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
Jules
Jan 14, 2016 Jules rated it it was amazing
Wow! Such an amazing and thorough biography, incredibly researched and no stone is left unturned.... Every facet of his life is examined and explained meticulously, and the research is so thorough that no piece of speculation on the author's part is left unexplained or not backed up by several sources. My only complaint would be that while the direction is very focused, the writing itself tends to meander (but I can't blame him for this, he seems to want to include every little piece of knowledg ...more
David Patneaude
Mar 23, 2014 David Patneaude rated it really liked it
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
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Scott Rhee
Feb 15, 2014 Scott Rhee rated it it was amazing
Shelves: biography
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
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Emily
Dec 14, 2011 Emily rated it really liked it
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
Tim
Nov 06, 2011 Tim rated it really liked it
Shelves: biography
"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
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Lady♥Belleza★✰
Jan 11, 2013 Lady♥Belleza★✰ rated it really liked it
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
...more
Zahir
Mar 31, 2013 Zahir rated it it was ok
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
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James Warfield
May 25, 2013 James Warfield rated it really liked it
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
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Louise
Nov 09, 2012 Louise rated it it was amazing
Shelves: biography, writers
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
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Brian
Feb 12, 2016 Brian rated it really liked it
It seems on browsing through some of the reviews of "And So It Goes" that many readers picked up this biography hoping to find the persona that Kurt Vonnegut crafted, as opposed to an honest story about the person. This is not a hit piece, as some reviewers assert, but rather a biography of the man, not the image he cultivated to sell his books. They are two very different things. Charles Shields is a fan of Vonnegut's, even going so far as to call him "an extraordinary man" in the text's Introd ...more
Brian Bess
Dec 12, 2015 Brian Bess rated it really liked it
And so he went

Charles Shields' 'And So It Goes' is the first 'authorized' biography of Kurt Vonnegut. Authorized, in that he did get approval from his subject to write a biography and he interviewed him for a few hours and met him on a couple of occasions, the last just a few hours before Vonnegut suffered a fall that resulted in his death a few days later in April of 2007. Previous to this book, almost all that we have had of biographical import has come from Vonnegut himself as presented in au
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Zac
Aug 21, 2015 Zac rated it liked it
This uninsightful list of things that happened to Kurt Vonnegut will give you the basics of Vonnegut's life, but it's not particularly good company. Reading this book is like reading a letter from a dullard member of the family who wants to tell you about a more interesting member of the family.

I read biographies to learn the awful truth about the people I admire so that I stop admiring them and just think of them as venal human beings. Shields's workmanlike (and by that, I mean "not particular
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Benjamin
May 31, 2015 Benjamin rated it liked it
I have no general interest in knowing the personal lives of my favorite authors, but Vonnegut is such a central character of his own work that I made an exception to read this biography. And it turns out that this idea is a recurring theme in the biography; it appears most brazenly in a quote of David Slavitt appearing in Chapter 13.

It turns out Vonnegut was an asshole. This, in and of itself, is not too surprising, but it is disappointing to see the contrast between the values he espoused and t
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Ryan Williams
Mar 21, 2015 Ryan Williams rated it really liked it
'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
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1.1
Jul 13, 2014 1.1 rated it really liked it
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
May 09, 2012 Alex Robinson rated it really liked it
Shelves: bio
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 Williams
Feb 09, 2014 Mary Williams rated it it was amazing
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
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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
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More about Charles J. Shields...

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