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Mother Night

4.17 of 5 stars 4.17  ·  rating details  ·  37,200 ratings  ·  1,422 reviews
Mother Night is a daring challenge to our moral sense. American Howard W. Campbell, Jr., a spy during World War II, is now on trial in Israel as a Nazi war criminal. But is he really guilty? In this brilliant book rife with true gallows humor, Vonnegut turns black and white into a chilling shade of gray with a verdict that will haunt us all.
Paperback, 282 pages
Published May 11th 1999 by Dial Press (first published 1961)
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Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt VonnegutCat's Cradle by Kurt VonnegutBreakfast of Champions by Kurt VonnegutThe Sirens of Titan by Kurt VonnegutMother Night by Kurt Vonnegut
Vonnegut's Best
5th out of 36 books — 464 voters
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee1984 by George OrwellThe Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. TolkienThe Catcher in the Rye by J.D. SalingerThe Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Best Books of the 20th Century
353rd out of 5,976 books — 39,693 voters

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Community Reviews

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The thing I love best about Kurt Vonnegut is that he was both the ultimate cynic and the ultimate humanist. What better character for him to create to embody those views than a Nazi with good intentions?

Howard W. Campbell Jr. was an American citizen who grew up in Germany and became a prominent Nazi thanks to his virulent anti-Semitic propaganda. However, Howard had actually been recruited before the war began to be an American spy who provided vital intelligence to the Allies via codes hidden i
This is the best Vonnegut I’ve read so far. American Nazi Howard W. Campbell, Jr. is awaiting trial on war crimes. A traitor to the American people, Campbell is responsible for the deliberate spread of damaging propaganda throughout Germany and its occupied territories during World War II. He is an evil, dangerous man who is undoubtedly guilty of high treason.

Or is he?

As the account of Campbell’s life in Germany unfolds, much is revealed about his motives, the benign sequence of events leading t
When most people think of Kurt Vonnegut, the novels Slaughterhouse-Five and Cat's Cradle immediately come to mind. It's a shame that more people aren't familiar with Mother Night, a novel in which Vonnegut explores the nature of moral ambiguity and what high-minded ideals we sacrifice on the altar of war. It's a skillful blend of Vonnegut's trademark dark humor and philosophical musings about human morality as observed through the lens of war. To put it simply, this is some good stuff.

Sitting in

Vastly underrated piece of black comedy, about a World War 2 double agent whose cover is a Nazi propagandist in the style of Lord Haw-Haw. Vonnegut says in the preface that this is the only one of his books where he knows what the moral is. You are what you pretend to be, so be careful about who you pretend to be. For my money, Vonnegut's second best book, running Cat's Cradle very close.

It's not just me - the great Doris Lessing also wrote once that she couldn't quite understand why this book
As much as I enjoyed reading Kurt Vonnegut expound upon Kurt Vonnegut in A Man Without a Country not that long ago, it didn't quite satisfy the craving I've had for his fiction. Sure, there is something to be said for watching a favorite author turn his fine-tuned gallows humor on himself and the society in which he both lives and has lived but sometimes I just want to be told a story, damnit.

Before launching into the novel proper, Vonnegut introduces Mother Night as the only story of his with

Future civilizations - better civilizations than this one - are going to judge all men by the extent to which they've been artists. You and I, if some future archeologist finds our works miraculously preserved in some city dump, will be judged by the quality of our creations. Nothing else about us will matter.

Mother Night is one of the author's favorites, so according to the above quote extracted from the book, it is how he would want to be judged by posterity. I believe I read somewhere tha
Jason Koivu
I'm going to make an unpopular statement right now: This is the best of Kurt Vonnegut's novels. Okay Cat's Cradle and Slaughterhouse Five fans, fling your dung at me, I understand.

The characters, setting, plot, all of it comes together in a well-wrapped tale in which a man fights the truth of his own identity under the pressing weight of the author's imposed moral law that states you are what you pretend to be. In Mother Night, the story of an American spy working undercover within Germany duri
Before this, I'd never read anything by Kurt Vonnegut.

From this day forward, consider me a fan.

It's strange, really, how some books fall into your life at exactly the right time. I don't know how it happens. If we somehow unconsciously know that this is the book we need and pick it up and let it take us places. Perhaps. All I know is this particular book came into my life at the most opportune moment. I say opportune, because I just recently acquired the skills to really understand this book,
Nov 16, 2012 Brad rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommended to Brad by: k.i. hope
It's been a long, long time since I read Mr. Vonnegut. I remember his satire being funny. I didn't laugh this time around. Maybe it was just me, but Mother Night was deadly serious.

Guilt. Not the state of being physically guilty of committing a negative action, a "crime" if you prefer, but the feeling of guilt that festers in one's soul for a lifetime. That's the guilt, that Raskalnikovian guilt, that interested me in Mother Night

I liked Howard J. Campbell Jr., Joseph Goebbels best radio propa
Jul 27, 2007 Dan rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: everyone
This is one of my favorite books. I picked this book up and read it through in one sitting. I couldn't put it down I was so engaged.

This book presents the moral dilemma of Howard W. Campbell Jr. an American who became a Nazi propagandist. However, he only became a Nazi propagandist because he was spying for the USA. Yet, he was a really good propagandist. His dilemma is this: Does the good of spying for America obviate and out weigh the evils he did by making propaganda for the Nazis or do his s
Right up front Kurt Vonnegut explains the moral of this short novel: We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful what we pretend to be. We then are shuffled rapidly through a cast of post-war men and women wearing masks, decked out to publicly play an adopted role, whilst concealing their true feelings and being underneath. The champion dissembler is Howard W. Campbell Jr., a former deep-cover American operative in the heart of Nazi Germany, who so brilliantly espoused propaganda and spa ...more
MJ Nicholls
As a deliberate contrast to Jonathan Littell’s 1000-page monster The Kindly Ones, I re-read this early Vonnegut masterpiece. The 1997 Robert B. Weide adaptation with Nick Nolte is one of my favourite movies, and where the novel is structured in typical nonlinear fashion, the movie embellishes and adds colour to the novel in its linear form. The two mediums compliment each other perfectly, so if you haven’t seen the film version, do it soon! And if you haven’t read this brilliant novella, the co ...more
God, this book is so devastating. Vonnegut is so chameleonic, or something, how the lightness of his prose brilliantly belies the darkness of his themes, but oh my god, I can't even think how to express how sad this one made me. Everything is so sharply focused, every word is so perfectly, harrowingly placed. The loops and recursions and double-agents and plots within plots: all perfect. All awful. All honed for maximum pathos and horror without becoming maudlin or overdramatic. I feel punched i ...more
Jul 13, 2013 Mel rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: readers/thinkers
Recommended to Mel by: sister
Shelves: top-picks
My sister, a librarian and crazy mad Vonnegut fan (when he passed away she actually wrote the eulogy for her town's local newspaper), said to me when she suggested this book, that Mother Night is probably Vonnegut's most underappreciated novel, while Vonnegut himself considered it one of his best. His other personal favorites?: Slaughterhouse 5, and Cat's Cradle. She is a librarian with a PhD, so I don't argue literature with her; and Vonnegut is her favorite. When a reader can claim A favorite ...more
May 09, 2007 Aaron rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Everyone
In a beautiful allegory of human duality, Vonnegut presents us with a character wavering on two worlds: pre-WWII and post-war; good and evil; certainty and ambiguity; past and present; life and death. As an American spy during the war, the main character is now faced with the ambivalence of whether he helped the Allies more than Germany, and if his civic responsibility was anything more than self-serving. Vonnegut delves deep into the psychological repercussions of ethical decisions, and society ...more
I have always enjoyed the way that Vonnegut sees the world, and his books, while written with well-formed characters and usually somewhat interesting plot-lines, have always struck me as 'idea' books. This book had a lot of ideas in it. They made me think, and usually I liked the way they directed my thoughts.

This is one of my favorite Vonnegut novels. It's something about how likable Campbell is, even at his very worst. About how the one thing he can say about himself with pride is that he has
Oh KV - no one can write the messy, unpalatable Truth of us like you. The only sane response to the great weight of sadness, which must come with any understanding of our species, is the sorrowful smile of your prose.
Mother Night is perhaps one of the most incredible, thought provoking and haunting books discussing human morality and perspective that I have ever had the honor of reading. This isn’t a review; rather it’s a diatribe about a book that literally knocked me off my chair with its brilliance. Mother Night is uncomfortable. It pushes the boundaries of perspective and forces us to ask questions that many would prefer not to ask. However, in the end it’s well worth it. Mother Night is a book that will ...more
Wow.... wow. I am just not sure what to make of this book. As a jew who still cannot think hard about the holocaust without tearing up, part of me found this book offensive. But then the literary soul in me appreciates it for its twisted view. And I do appreciate that all in all, this book is a commentary about war and more specifically, about human nature as related to war.

I probably would never have picked up a book written from the point of view of a nazi (albeit an american spy-nazi). I hav
Heart-breakingly sad, utterly horrific; if funny, then savagely so.


Dark and biting, with the blackest of humor. Vonnegut is one of the very few humorists out there who leaves you sadder than when you started. But I mean that as a compliment. He's one of the best.

Words fail me. He really as is great as people say.
Dan 2.0
What that?! Are we absolutely, positively, sure this is Vonnegut? Where are all those crazy sci-fi elements? What, no Tralfamadorians? Where is that confusing, time shifting narrative? We aren’t seriously “stuck in time” for the whole story? What about all those absurd characters? No Kilgore Trout, Dwayne Hoover, or Billy Pilgrim? Hold on though…some of these guys are pretty weird too. And I did also notice a few references to Schenectady, New York. Hmm…so maybe this really is Vonnegut.

I should
Lorenzo Berardi

Today I will tell you about an interesting and unexplicably underrated semi-underground tribe: the Vonnegutians.

Either urban or rural, the Vonnegutians are spread all over the world (with primeval colonies in Indianapolis and the Galapagos islands) and cover at least three generations.

Tendentially secularists, the Vonnegutians may however be inclined to join the subtropical doctrine of Bokononism at an earlier or a later stage of their lives.

Regretfully, the social behavior of the Vonnegutians
"Dov'è il male? E' quella parte di ogni uomo che vuole odiare a tutti i costi, che vuole odiare e avere anche Dio dalla sua parte. E' quella parte di ogni uomo che trova tanto attraente qualsiasi genere di brutalità".

Questo libro sarebbe il perfetto accompagnamento a un libro di genere diverso, La banalità del male di Hannah Arendt. Entrambi, in modalità e forme differenti, affrontano il tema dei processi ai nazisti post seconda guerra mondiale, e il paragone, avendo letto il primo, ha accompagn
Jun 10, 2013 S. rated it 4 of 5 stars
Shelves: dormouse
my favourite of the Vonnegut novels, has edged slightly down from the 5/5 I gave it in December, rereading it just a few hours ago. I read this first at age, what, 17? finding it eminently more fast-paced than Slaughterhouse Five or Cat's Cradle (the other two really good vonnegut books). however, even at age 19 I was in class a little skeptical of the huge Vonnegut-fan club, and I continue to be the 4/5 club rather than the 5/5 club; it's great gallows humour; it's eccentric, zany, and more tha ...more
Erik Simon
Perhaps I'm alone in this, but I don't like when people recommend books to me. No special reason, at least none worth probing--I just don't like it--it presumes so much, sort of like giving a gift of visual art to someone (although I'd not turn down a Hopper or Homer original). However, one of my favorite aspects about Goodreads is the "Home" page where I can spy on what others are saying about books and about book reviews, especially the dozen or so GR friends whose tastes I greatly admire. I l ...more
Given the opinions of Doris Lessing, and of Manny and Jennifer (aka EM) here on GR, I feel that it must be some failing in me that I didn't like this book more. Somehow it went by me and hardly registered. It wasn't unpleasant to read, it had some effective and touching moments, and yet it never came off the page for me. The figures seemed stock, even the main character Howard Campbell seemed ephemeral.

Vonnegut says in the introduction that the book is the only one of his stories the moral of w

This is the book I mentioned in my review of The Dinner, as an example of perfectly executed satire and moral ambiguity. I love opening a Vonnegut novel because I never know what I am going to find. Even when he stumbles, as I feel he did in The Sirens of Titan, he is so uniquely himself and I am never bored.

Howard W Campbell Jr: ersatz Nazi spewing out propaganda for the Party in WWII, undercover CIA spy, loving husband. He is writing his memoirs while languishing in an Israeli prison awaiting
This isn't my favorite Vonnegut, but it was still worth the read.

As with most of what I've read by him, Vonnegut's story centers on the insanity of war, racism and Nazism.
Howard W. Campbell is awaiting his trial for war crimes. In his jail cell, he relates his life as an American living in Germany as a radio broadcaster of Nazi propaganda.

Vonnegut explores moral ambiguity, accountability, and, as is his genius, manages to lace it with some laugh out loud humour.

So, again, not my favorite, but I'
Jul 29, 2011 Michael rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: anyone
Recommended to Michael by: Andrew Thomas Breslin's official...I am now a Vonnegut fan. My first comment has to be that had I read this book first, I would have been better equipped to appreciate 'Slaughterhouse-Five' Perhaps someone should compile a list of Vonnegut books in a "to be read" order that is not chronological, but based on how he shares his insight.

I'm not yet sure if he writes from personal experience, or as most great writers can collect his thoughts from sources outside himself, then translate that information into sto
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Why the title? 2 129 Oct 24, 2014 07:55AM  
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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 about Kurt Vonnegut...
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“We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.” 11608 likes
“Say what you will about the sweet miracle of unquestioning faith, I consider a capacity for it terrifying and absolutely vile.” 496 likes
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