And So it Goes: Kurt Vonnegut: A Life
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And So it Goes: Kurt Vonnegut: A Life

3.85 of 5 stars 3.85  ·  rating details  ·  1,161 ratings  ·  198 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.
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New York Times 100 Notable Books of 2011
34th out of 100 books — 41 voters
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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
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!
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...more
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
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
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
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...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...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...more
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
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...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
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...more
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...more
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
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...more
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...more
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...more
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
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...more
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.
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...more
Patrick Book
Despite the author being a Vonnegut devotee this is an honest rebelling of the life of a man who never really got his due. Shields lays bare the story of a man whose insecurities and fears always got the best of him.

Oh, but how much less rich would our literary world be without him?

Vonnegut describes himself as an asshole in his own writing. That's true, but he was so much more than that. This book is invaluable in providing a deeper understanding of his motivations, his true intent, and the sad...more
Jill Furedy
I found this to be a fairly straight forward biography, and the author stayed out of the narrative for the most part, so I don't have a strong opinion of it. There were places I wanted more info (what did happen on Loree's last visit? What did Jill's friends or family think of their relationship since his side were so clearly against it...and she won't talk!), but there was a lot if ground covered. I was sorry the biographer didn't get to spend more time with Kurt, but then again he wasn't a hap...more
Winter always reminds me of home, and home always reminds of Vonnegut. So it seemed perfect that I spied this new biography at my local library and brought it home. And it is what it purports to be: a comprehensive biography of Vonnegut, (almost) year by year. One point that really struck home for me was that Vonnegut's fans think of him as a friendly and liberal voice, but his personality and actions (especially to his loved ones) often belie otherwise. It is kind of shocking, since Vonnegut's...more
False Millennium
I discovered and read Vonnegut in my college years. I even passed on his name later to then college students who enjoyed him. I read a book, maybe even one of his later ones, where he expressed a fear that the young would be his only readership; i.e. he wouldn't be a writer of consequence. I think for any artist it is hard to realize how ever many acclaims you received in life, it may be all for nought in the big picture.

Back when Vonnegut was still married (and not knowing much about him,) I ha...more
Robert Morrow
Vonnegut is one of the authors I've put aside for years because the temptation to copy his style is too great. Slaughterhouse-Five and Cat's Cradle would certainly make my Top 100 books list if I had one. There are few modern writers who have created more memorable lines, from brilliant socio-cultural observations ("History! Read it and weep!") to simple human experience ("then every cell in Billy's body shook him with ravenous gratitude and applause").

While I was delighted to hear that Mr. Shie...more
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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
More about Charles J. Shields...
Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee I am Scout: The Biography of Harper Lee Mythmaker: The Story of J. K. Rowling (Who Wrote That?) Saddam Hussein Mohandas K. Gandhi

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