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CivilWarLand in Bad Decline

4.22  ·  Rating Details  ·  11,172 Ratings  ·  973 Reviews
Six short stories and a novella. Set in a dystopian near-future in which America has become little more than a theme park in terminal disrepair, they constitute a searching and bitterly humorous commentary on the current state of the American Dream.

Funny, sad, bleak, weird, toxic - the future of America as the Free Market runs rampant,the environment skids into disarray, a
Paperback, 179 pages
Published February 6th 1997 by Vintage (first published 1996)
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Nine Stories by J.D. SalingerThe Complete Stories and Poems by Edgar Allan PoeA Good Man is Hard to Find and Other Stories by Flannery O'ConnorDubliners by James JoyceThe Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury
Collections of Short Stories
58th out of 2,128 books — 1,589 voters
Tenth of December by George SaundersInterpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa LahiriKarmic Krackers by Dab10CivilWarLand in Bad Decline by George SaundersSmall Matters by Michael Kanuckel
Contemporary Short Story Collections
4th out of 322 books — 186 voters

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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Mar 07, 2013 s.penkevich rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to s.penkevich by: Paquita & Brian
What a degraded cosmos.

We live in a world where cruelty towards others is becoming more and more accepted – how easy we rationalize our self-righteous anger against someone who cut us off, brought us an undercooked meal, said something stupid, etc., and even seen as funny. Saunders, like the ghost of Christmas future, would like to show us where that is leading us. Civilwarland In Bad Decline, his first collection of stories, paints a grim portrait of a near-future filled with everything from
Paquita Maria Sanchez
Man, this little guy...I can't fault it a single sentence. Every story in this tiny collection made me want to high-five the author with one hand and cradle my hanging head in the other. Maybe I was a bit hard on his later Pastoralia because I needed to warm up to Saunders, maybe my head was just in the right space this time around, or perhaps this really is the superior group of stories. Whatever magical trippydippy cosmos aligning parade of "f*ck yeah" was going on, I dug the expletive deleted ...more
Nov 18, 2015 Lyn rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Have you ever heard a politically incorrect joke and laughed, and then felt guilty, but then laughed again?

Have you ever driven by a car wreck and slowed down to see the emergency response vehicles, and the vehicle made to look like a damaged accordion?

Have you ever watched a reality TV show and saw folks fighting each other and tearing clothes and being separated by bouncers and realized you were hypnotized by the gross lowest common denominator humanity?

Have you read Civilwarland in Bad Declin
Mar 22, 2016 Jason rated it liked it
Me at 18: I read Vonnegut; I read Tom Robbins; I read Mark Leyner; I read Douglas Adams. I had just left the nest in a small Oklahoma town. I knew hardship. I knew the void of culture that threatens to suck you in like a black hole. I knew the vapid anguish that takes center stage in Saunders' stories. Humor was therapy then, the absurd a close friend. We scoffed at the religious majority and their follies, poked fun at the consumerist drone of daily existence. Then came anger and resentment. Bu ...more
A.J. Howard
The past couple of months, two activities have dominated my leisure time: reading and watching NBA hoops. After reading CivilWarLand in Bad Decline, I was reminded of a hoops argument that I think should carry over to modern literature as well. The argument has to deal with the unceasing quest for the so-called next Michael Jordan.

Michael Jordan was the transcendent athlete, if not public figure, of my childhood. There are a generation of kids who still drink Gatorade, buy Nikes, and wear Hanes
Ian Grayejoy
Jul 25, 2015 Ian Grayejoy rated it really liked it
Welcome to the Occupation

The whole way through George Saunders' first collection of short stories, there are suggestions that the world is not as it should be.

Imagine a world like this, totally unlike our own:

The characters and narrators are (or are surrounded by) kooks and wackos. People have names like Shirleen and Melvin. Where there were once cornfields and flood plains, there are now parking stations and theme parks. Gangs invade civil war re-enactments. All dreams are defiled. All entertai
Paul Bryant
I already knew & liked the title track so I skipped to the big novella "Bounty" and thought hello hello this is like a Motown follow-up where say "Reach Out I’ll be There" was followed up by "Standing in the Shadows of Love" which is like the same song tweaked a bit (but still great) or "I Can’t Help Myself" followed up by "It’s the Same Old Song" which really is, how daringly blatant they were. I thought this was a short story collection but it’s more like a rock opera, where the stories in ...more
Apr 12, 2008 Ken rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Ken by: Tim Hall
I can’t help but feel like a jackass for coming to the game so late. It has been over ten years since Civilwarland in Bad Decline was first published and introduced George Saunders to the literary world. As a guy who is constantly pounding the table about the value of short stories, I look a bit o’ the fool for having not read and known the value of Saunders’ debut collection. What a way to kick in the doors and make an entrance into the literary world.

Saunders is amazingly comfortable in his ow
Feb 16, 2013 Hadrian rated it it was amazing
These are the funniest future hellscapes I've ever read. I likely scared the neighbors with my crazed laughter about the brothel in the former Safeway and the pickled fetus exhibition. And the ghost swearing in Latin. And the slaveowner saying he is a kind and civilized man. But I digress.

These stories, when taken together, revolve around the same hyperkinetic image of a future America, dreaming of eternal happiness while sloughing in mud, rich, violent and yet so fawningly humble, religious and
Set in a near-future America which appears to have become one big dilapidated theme park, the bizarre stories (and novella) of CivilWarLand in Bad Decline are by turns funny, disturbing and moving. Saunders' characters are invariably weird, eccentric, even occasionally horrifying, yet they end up feeling more human than the majority of fictional characters. It's also satisfying to find I can now detect Saunders' influence in the work of so many other writers I admire - to name a few: Lindsay Hun ...more
Nov 14, 2015 Jon rated it liked it
A collection of short stories and one novella, this was Saunders’ debut and I have decidedly mixed feelings about it. It has glowing reviews and the cover blurbs all proclaim that George Saunders is a brilliant satirist and this book marks “the debut of an exciting new voice in fiction” (I really need to start ignoring cover blurbs when making book-buying decisions). Comparisons are made to Kurt Vonnegut and Nathaniel West throughout the review excerpts, but I really didn’t feel the book lived u ...more
Glenn Sumi
A tough book to rate. More like 3.5.

Blown away by Saunders's most recent book of stories, Tenth Of December, I was curious about his debut book of stories and a novella, published in 1996. There are similar themes: dystopias, social injustice, exploitation. And that unique narrative voice – satiric, colloquial, with a finely tuned ear to the banal cadences of the tech world and corporate-speak – is certainly there.

But perhaps because I liked the later book so much, these feel embryonic, brimming
Aug 27, 2014 Tin rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
George Saunders is one of those wonderful discoveries I had last year. His Folio Prize winning Tenth of December blew me away and I knew I had to read more, if not all, of his works. I wanted to go down the line of his fiction books, with Civilwarland in Bad Decline being the earliest, published 17 years earlier than Tenth of December. The short stories from the former may not be as polished and potent as those of the later, but it still has everything I loved about Saunders' writing. It is ungu ...more
Nov 18, 2009 g rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to g by: The Millions blog
This is a hard one to rate. I found three of the stories--"CivilWarLand in Bad Decline," "Isabelle," and "The 400-Pound CEO"--absolutely revelatory: trust me, you have never read anything like these stories before. At the risk of adjective overload, they are clever, unsettling, unexpected, and deeply moving--easily five star material. They are dark and apocalyptic but hysterical and heartwarming: the world's gone terribly, terribly wrong, but the narrators are sympathetic, likable guys with fami ...more
Roderick Vincent
Apr 19, 2016 Roderick Vincent rated it it was amazing
Six word review
Stories to read again and again.
8/12/13 Further Thoughts:
If there's a good analog to Saunders I think it's Vonnegut. More than anything because of the imaginitive quality of their respective works than anything else. But also the strangeness that they force the readers to just accept as parameters of their world. I've detected a furtive sense of comparison, particularly on this site, to DFW (everyone of my reviews seems to come back to him. Crutch or brainwash on my part? Or was he as boldly important as the DFW cult says he i
Nov 21, 2011 Drew rated it really liked it
This is the first Saunders I've read, and I have to say there are a lot of surface-level similarities with some Wallace stuff. The most obvious is that Saunders wants to communicate a really bleak message about late-stage capitalism, but he feels the need to make his prose consistently and manically funny so that people will bother to read it. I like a funny book as much as the next guy, but I do occasionally feel a little insulted by an author who seems to think I'll stop reading if the jokes d ...more
Jul 21, 2013 Darwin8u rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2013
Poor George Saunders must have had a real real bad theme park experience in his youth. This collection of stories makes the dystopia of Zombieland seem sedate. I love Saunders' take on American consumption and the way he is able to shove values and virtues of 20th century America into a funky future that makes all our virtues absurd and makes this anti-utopia seem closer than you might have previously imagined.
Ned Mozier
Jan 19, 2014 Ned Mozier rated it really liked it
Science fiction does not normally tickle my fancy, but this time is relevant as just a few decades into the American future and I enjoyed the humorously dark short stories of theme parks and working-class pathos, but I truly loved the novella: My experience with short stories capped with a novella is a good one, where this first time author (in 1996) seems to be warming up and readying for a novel. The novella "Bounty" is my favorite, a kind of Pilgrim's Progress where the mutated minority (the ...more
Jose Luis
Oct 23, 2013 Jose Luis rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Saunders es uno de los autores más lúcidos de su generación. Acierta de pleno en su retrato de una "realidad" alterada, deformada o construida por el hombre sobre las ruinas de una realidad insoportable, devastada o inhabitable. La metáfora del parque temático como entorno que se superpone o reemplaza el mundo, la simulación de un tiempo o un espacio de cartón piedra que usurpa la categoría de lo real, como rasgo fundamental de nuestra época, es un acierto y le permite explorar las tensiones que ...more
Ryan Mishap
Saunders favors fictional theme park/museums for settings. These absurd, run-down, and improbable places satirize the myths and reality of the United States while affording the author a way to utilize what is basically fantasy/science fiction without being rated as a genre writer. Even the stories set in nominally real places are like theme parks--the drug war infested urban setting, for example.

These nearly succeed. I found myself nodding unconsciously as I read and matched up symbols with real
Mike Carey
Feb 24, 2013 Mike Carey rated it really liked it
This is a very hard book to describe. I found it really compelling and hard to put down, but Saunders' view of the world is so desolate and harrowing that I came away emotionally sandblasted. I think that was part of the intended effect, and I don't mean it as a criticism.

The protagonists in Saunders' stories are mostly helpless and adrift in a world that's been trashed and pillaged by twenty-first century capitalism and then recreated by canny, cynical entrepreneurs as a heritage experience. Ci
Jun 29, 2013 Kay rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is some of the saddest and most affecting fiction I've read in a little while. Saunders taps into something dark and introspective in this book by using bizarre settings and fantastical elements. He's obviously at the top tier of science fiction writers working today.

Though I see from the reviews "Offloading Mrs. Schwartz" is regarded as the deepest emotionally in this book (it's really good), I actually found myself returning to thinking about "The 400-pound CEO" and "Downtrodden Mary's F
Nov 12, 2007 Stacy rated it really liked it
I read an interview with Saunders in the Believer and saw him at Powell's and damnit if it wasn't about time that I read a little Saunders. So I read a little Saunders and loved a little Saunders. Stories so brisk you need goggles and a helmet. Most are tragicomedy, but one story in particular, "Isabelle", utterly devastated me over the course of 7 pages. Amazing. His style is infectious, too. I read an interview recently with Amy Hempel who said that she could always tell when her students were ...more
Apr 24, 2015 TK421 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: short-stories
Probably closer to a 4. The novella "Bounty" brought this one down for me. Not really sure why, but my interest in this story never developed. Perhaps I need to reread it at a later date to appreciate it. That being said, all of the other stories were magnificent.
Althea Ann
This month's post-apocalyptic book club selection...

A slim collection of seven short stories... well, six short stories and one longish story. Individually, every one of these stories was very good. However, in the end, I wound up deducting a star because, well, they're all kind of the same story.

Don't get me wrong, I'm aware that's kind of the point... but it got a bit repetitive.

Civilwarland in Bad Decline - A hapless worker is stuck in his job at a decrepit, near-bankrupt historical theme par
Jun 16, 2008 Nicole rated it really liked it
out-there, surreal, touching...loved it. what really made me want to read the book was this answer he gave in an interview, regarding his vision and why he writes what he writes:

"...I think at the very last minute of the world, after we've global-warmed ourselves, and it's 400 degrees and only the elite can live in these little refrigerators with plasma TVs, the people who are burning to death outside are gonna kind of be reaching for the hand of the person next to them or having a memory of chi
Michael Shilling
This book was probably a lot more interesting when it came out in 1996. Certainly it predicts the United States of Idiocracy quite well. But every story is pretty much the same, and they are much too short for the characters to develop into human beings for me. Instead, the major characters are the places these people work/are enslaved by, and though this hierarchy of importance is the point, it gets old quick. "The 400 Pound CEO" is the gem here, and "Bounty," the novella, well, I just couldn't ...more
Marc Kozak
Feb 09, 2015 Marc Kozak rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
If you subscribe to the maxim that all great literature is super depressing, give George Saunders all of the awards.

All of the short stories and 100-page novella in this collection are, in a word, bleak. And Saunders is truly a talented writer, which means boy are you gonna feel it. Most of the horrible things people have done and can do to each other are included in some here. Saunders chooses to make most of his protagonists down-on-their-luck simple folk who have lost a lot, but are still try
Jack Waters
This was my introduction to Saunders, and it's a delightful reread. I hadn't knowingly read him until he won the "genius grant" from the MacArthur Foundation in 2006. A curious reader might benefit by starting with this collection. It's like Saunders shows you your heart's beat before you feel it. I'd love to see most of these short stories turned into short films. Ben Stiller bought the rights to them.

The title story is an enjoyable ride through a war-reenactment type theme park(similar things
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Madison Mega-Mara...: CivilWarLand in Bad Decline 1 4 Feb 28, 2013 08:05AM  
What is there to discuss? This was an amazing, funny book! 2 55 Oct 23, 2012 04:27PM  
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George Saunders was born December 2, 1958 and raised on the south side of Chicago. In 1981 he received a B.S. in Geophysical Engineering from Colorado School of Mines in Golden, Colorado. He worked at Radian International, an environmental engineering firm in Rochester, NY as a technical writer and geophysical engineer from 1989 to 1996. He has also worked in Sumatra on an oil exploration geophysi ...more
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“I have a sense that God is unfair and preferentially punishes his weak, his dumb, his fat, his lazy. I believe he takes more pleasure in his perfect creatures, and cheers them on like a brainless dad as they run roughshod over the rest of us. He gives us a need for love, and no way to get any. He gives us a desire to be liked, and personal attributes that make us utterly unlikable. Having placed his flawed and needy children in a world of exacting specifications, he deducts the difference between what we have and what we need from our hearts and our self-esteem and our mental health.” 47 likes
“What I'm primarily saying,' he says, 'is that this is a time for knowledge assimilation, not backstabbing. We learned a lesson, you and I. We personally grew. Gratitude for this growth is an appropriate response. Gratitude, and being careful never to make the same mistake twice.” 30 likes
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