Hocus Pocus
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Hocus Pocus

3.8 of 5 stars 3.80  ·  rating details  ·  19,661 ratings  ·  567 reviews
'After you have read one of Kurt Vonnegut's gleefully pessimistic novels, his words go on colouring your world for a long time afterwards... not to read him would be to miss out on lessons that need to be learned about the age we live in' Sunday Times

'It is all done with voice. Vonnegut is a master of the first-person, manic-depressive stand-up' Observer

'Although it is set...more
Paperback, 288 pages
Published October 17th 1991 by Vintage Classics (first published 1990)
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(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Erik Ryman
Sep 08, 2008 Erik Ryman rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Lovers of satire
Hocus Pocus is the story of Eugene Debs Hartke, a Vietnam veteran, who after leaving the Army became a teacher at a private school and then a prison. After a prison break, he is mistaken for one of the ring leaders and ends up awaiting trial, dying of TB, contemplating his life and trying to count the number of women he has slept with.

In itself, that would make a good basis for an ordinary book, but as this is a novel written by Kurt Vonnegut, the basic story has little to do with making this on...more

I had to laugh like hell...

Reading Hocus Pocus hard on the heels of Brave New World, Amusing Ourselves to Death, and various other social/political material certainly gave a new depth to this amazing novel. I've owned it for quite a few years but had never quite gotten around to reading it: I suppose there is a time and a place for everything, because I would not have resonated with this novel as strongly at any other time.

Life seems to be, in Vonnegut's vie...more
Aidan Watson-Morris
Jun 02, 2014 Aidan Watson-Morris rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: people who never liked vonnegut, people who always liked vonnegut
Shelves: 2013
andrew jackson jihad is a band consisting of two white guys who identify themselves as folk punk. needless to say, they are not very good. however, being a bad band is not a crime (especially not in the punk genre); their crime is naming their most popular album after a line in this book: people who can eat people are the luckiest people in the world. because, in context, that quote is clever, moving & well timed, but all i could think of as i read it was andrew jackson jihad. stop doing tha...more
I can't say that this is one of Kurt Vonnegut's best works. To be honest, it's rather more depressing than many of his other novels - and they're a rather depressing lot anyway! Unlike his Bluebeard, though, this book lacks a deeply moving and somehow uplifting ending. It lacks a sense of resolution...perhaps that's what Vonnegut intended. It probably is.

But even so, Vonnegut retained his gifts as a writer. So although I found myself frequently feeling a little depressed by this book, I also cou...more
My favorite of Vonnegut's lesser known works. Has the same wit exemplified in Cat's Cradle and Breakfast of Champions. I think a big part of why I like this one so much is the numerology games he plays throughout. (I do love me some numbers). The choppy style takes a little bit to get used to (the self aware first person voice supposedly only had scraps of paper of divergent sizes to write on) but it pays off once you get used to it. Vonnegut has always been a master at seamlessly amalgamating f...more
Paul (formerly known as Current)
Kurt Vonnegut creates, with his own unique perspective and style, a novel of entropy and fragments that is quite enjoyable to read--here, in the wandering time line of memory are causes and effects of history and accident specific to one man's life and yet which tie together and comment on our history and society.

In some senses, the story takes a form of a mystery: we are presented with a character who is in "prison" and we are learning how he got there and what he has done to be imprisoned.

There's something utterly terrible in finishing a book that made you feel like your whole being (as never before) was acknowledged as beautiful while you read it. Tears...a lot of tears. A ache in your heart...a yearning for the love affair that you've just had with this author (reaching for him in your quiet times and not being rejected but Validated) is over. Done. Kaput. But to know that you are for now and for ever in love with him. That a simple little word strategically placed within its p...more
Jan 26, 2008 Russell rated it 1 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: really, really, really completionist Vonnegut fans
I love Kurt Vonnegut. It would be difficult to overstate how formative Cat's Cradle was for me. I got a major kick out of Slaughterhouse Five.

But this book was missing everything that made those great. There's no winking wisdom behind the satircal bitterness. No blindingly fresh observations from the mouths of fools and idiots. There's no fun.

If you took all the wit and imagination and irony and subtlety out of Slaughterhouse Five, you'd end up with this. I can see why someone would want to w...more
Erik Graff
Aug 11, 2014 Erik Graff rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: everyone
Recommended to Erik by: no one
Shelves: literature
Like Vonnegut, I share a deep admiration for Eugene Victor Debs. Like Vonnegut, I probably idolize the man. The contrast between Hartke, the protagonist, and Debs, his namesake, is significant and Hartke knows it.
Susan Emmet
Have always loved Vonnegut (maybe because I so agree/lean toward his "politics" and take on things of all sorts). Again bought this novel at John Merrill's Bookshop in Hallowell. Long taught Welcome To The Monkeyhouse and other V. works as an English teacher.
Amazing journey of Eugene Debs Hartke, born in Indiana, who attended West Point, served as a commander in Vietnam where he "disposed" of many people, all the while being called "The Preacher," who ends up teaching learning-disabled college s...more
This is not, not, not a book to be read if you haven't read Kurt Vonnegut in your life. It is also something that needs to be handled with a certain care and consideration for satire and the hilarity that can come with it. Kurt Vonnegut is a master of cynicism and being able to open one's eyes to the often times ridiculous world around us.

This story is an intricate weaving of sections that are as variable in length as they are in subject matter. And yet, with the expertise of a skilled writer, V...more
I guess my main problem with Vonnegut is that I don't find him funny. His book jackets always have quotes shouting "HILARIOUS", "REALLY FUNNY", "ABSURD HUMOR", but he doesn't make me laugh or even smile. What I usually find funny are things I don't expect. Vonnegut's goofy, irreverent codger tone is too predictable.

And then he always tells you exactly what to think about his characters and the events in his books. No room for interpretation. He doesn't let your imagination do anything with the c...more
Alyssa Archambo
I will preface my review by saying that Kurt Vonnegut is not for everyone. Personally, I love the subject matter he writes about and his style. However, I know quite a few people that wouldn't be able to get through two chapters of this.

Hocus Pocus doesn't have much of a traditional plot; if anything, it's more of a character study of Hartke, the main character in the novel. Like the summary says, it's a fictional autobiography. For some readers, it may be slow going because of this, but there's...more
Joe Mcveigh
Kurt Vonnegut Twofer - Hocus Pocus and Look at the Birdie

I'm going to assume that you, dear reader, have not read any Vonnegut. Because if you have, all I need to say about these two books is that if you enjoyed the other Vonnegut works you read, you'll enjoy these too.

Maybe that's not quite right. Maybe you need to have enjoyed a certain aspect of Vonnegut's writing style.

Sometimes Vonnegut will start the story by telling how it ends. Sometimes he will tell the reader exactly which character...more
The first Vonnegut book I read. Immediately hooked.


I can't possibly imagine what I thought about this when I first read it.

Okay, that's not entirely true. I do remember one thing I thought about it, but more on that later.

So let us examine the state in which I first read this book. Obviously, I didn't pay much attention to the statement on page 54, "I am not writing this book for people below the age of 18, but I see no harm in telling young people to prepare for failure rather than success,...more
I'm sure that some windy literary critic could write an entire dissertation comparing Slaughterhouse Five's portrayal of World War II and HOCUS POCUS's portrayal of the Vietnam conflict. But I'm not that person. Whereas aliens and time travel bathed Slaughterhouse in the light of sci-fi surrealism, the depictions of war in HOCUS POCUS are much more raw and adult.

This book is even more depressing to read after 8 baleful years of the Bush administration. When Vonnegut described what a shitcan our...more
Nate D
Sep 15, 2009 Nate D rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Nate D by: Maya
I've never been the hugest Vonnegut fan despite being well aware that given what he was trying to do and who he influenced, he should be up there with my favorites. Or should have been when I was a teenager. Or something. I'm not sure what my reservations were exactly, as I hadn't read anything by him for a while, and I really figured I should come back and reboot. Thanks to my roommate's well worm copy of Hocus Pocus I had the chance.

And okay, now I'm totally sold.

Initial reservations having to...more
All the usual Vonnegut themes. Depression, alienation, random acts, the brutality of life, the meaningless violence of humanity, resignation, and the belief that humanity is nowhere as smart as it thinks it it, and that the Earth (and universe) would be better off if we became extinct. Wrap this all up in Kurt's signature blend of self-depreciating humor. Should be another winner, but. . .

I just couldn't get into this one as so many of his other books. I love Vonnegut and have been reading him...more
M. D.  Hudson
Of my recent Vonnegut rereads this was one of my favorites. The way the past sort of clutters up the present, both with people and institutions is the best part of it. The protagonist's agonizing past as a soldier, the goofy history of the bells. The futility of breaking out of prison only to find another prison of sorts. The politics is a little amusing, with the Japanese running everything to the point where yen circulate with dollars...this was standard outlook around the time I graduated fro...more
"Just because some of us can read and write and do a little math, that doesn't mean that we deserve to conquer the Universe."

With this line ends Hocus Pocus, a book which is most aptly named. To tell the honest truth, I am not sure I understand all of it. Now and then I would see where the writer was going and somewhere, I would laugh but it is a labyrinth of a story. Maybe one day I can come back to it and read it again. Some parts strike you for the bare truth they hold in them, in some parts...more
One of my favorite Vonnegut's so far, because of words like...

"The difference is that we have the
misfortune of knowing whats going on,
which is no fun at all. And this has
given rise to a new class of preening
narcissistic quacks like yourself who
say in the service of rich and shameless
polluters that the state of the atmosphere
and the water and the topsoil on which all
life depends is as debatable as how many angels
can dance on the fuzz of a tennis ball"

"The complicated futility of ignorance."...more
Alis Lazlo
"How embarrassing to be human."

- - - - - - - - - - -

"One, I remember, was supposedly the autobiography of a talking deer in the National Forrest who has a terrible time finding anything to eat in the winter and gets tangled in barbed wire during the summer months, trying to get at the delicious food on farms. He is shot by a hunter. As he dies he wonders why he was born in the first place. The final sentence of the story was the last thing the deer said on earth. The hunter was close enough to h...more
Interesting, like Vonnegut always is.

Hocus Pocus
starts out at the end and you spend the whole book reading little stories to see how the character ended up where he is now.

Eugene Debs Hartke is a prisoner being held in the library of Tarkington College. The book is his collected memoirs which were written on numbered pieces of scrap paper. The future he lives in is dominated by the Japanese economy and the American foreign and domestic policies are consumed by "The War on Drugs." Racism is much...more
Stephie Jane Rexroth
"Debs died in 1926, when I was a negative 14 years of age.
The year is 2001 now.
If all had gone the way a lot of people thought it would, Jesus Christ would have been among us again, and the American flag would have been planted on Venus and Mars.
No such luck!
At least the World will end, an event anticipated with great joy by many. It will end very soon, but not in the year 2000, which has come and gone. From that I conclude that God Almighty is not heavily into Numerology."
This incredibly witty funny clever book is a satire about a man scarred by Vietnam war, the decline of american culture and values, the manic consumerism, selling out, higher education and racial politics and other incredibly serious topics. Written back in 1990, it is a bit dated, but at the same time unsettling vision of the future. I would definitely recommend this one.
A Vietnam vet writes an odd, disjointed memoir. As in other Vonnegut novels, the story jumps around in time, focused on one slightly anti-establishment man in his later years who observes the world around him with a slightly alien gaze. I wasn’t too impressed with this one; there’s no plot, of course, and I didn’t like the main character or want to read about him.
I have not read very much of Vonnegut's work but I feel confident saying that after this read, I will definitely be pursuing more of his catalog. The story of Hocus Pocus is simple and straight forward, so much so that the reader should probably be warned that the book does not follow the traditional plot that one would expect to find; there is no buildup of tension, no plot development, no climax or denouement. The book is written in an autobiographical format but in a way that I think most of...more
Barbara Bananas
OOf. Great book. Really tense.

I decided to see how many Kurt Vonnegut books I could read in a row. Turns out the number is 3. This was the last one and I was having the weirdest dreams that month. Had to stop after this one, I kept feeling like society was going to collapse any minute.
Dana Gynther
Wacky ole Kurt-- he really tells it like it is!
This book sat on my shelf for some twenty years-- I'm glad I finally brushed the dust off and read it. Interesting, thought-provoking, even prophetic.
Not one of my favorite Vonnegut books, but quite a good read nonetheless. What struck me is how contemporary it feels, even though talk of Vietnam has shifted to Iraq and Afghanistan. With that substitution, nearly all the other issues he brings up (environmental destruction, inequality, the prison system, etc.) haven't changed much at all. This, to me, adds an extra level of cynicism to the novel - which it did not really need. I also love the idea about bacteria and other microorganisms that c...more
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Kurt Vonnegut, Junior was an American novelist, satirist, and most recently, graphic artist. He was recognized as New York State Author for 2001-2003.

He was born in Indianapolis, later the setting for many of his novels. He attended Cornell University from 1941 to 1943, where he wrote a column for the student newspaper, the Cornell Daily Sun. Vonnegut trained as a chemist and worked as a journali...more
More about Kurt Vonnegut...
Slaughterhouse-Five Cat's Cradle Breakfast of Champions The Sirens of Titan Mother Night

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“Just because you can read, write and do a little math, doesn't mean that you're entitled to conquer the universe.” 290 likes
“Another flaw in the human character is that everybody wants to build and nobody wants to do maintenance.” 171 likes
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