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Cat's Cradle

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Same ISBN as this.

Cat’s Cradle is Kurt Vonnegut’s satirical commentary on modern man and his madness. An apocalyptic tale of this planet’s ultimate fate, it features a midget as the protagonist, a complete, original theology created by a calypso singer, and a vision of the future that is at once blackly fatalistic and hilariously funny. A book that left an indelible mark on an entire generation of readers, Cat’s Cradle is one of the twentieth century’s most important works—and Vonnegut at his very best

287 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1963

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About the author

Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

527 books32k followers
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 journalist before joining the U.S. Army and serving in World War II.

After the war, he attended University of Chicago as a graduate student in anthropology and also worked as a police reporter at the City News Bureau of Chicago. He left Chicago to work in Schenectady, New York in public relations for General Electric. He attributed his unadorned writing style to his reporting work.

His experiences as an advance scout in the Battle of the Bulge, and in particular his witnessing of the bombing of Dresden, Germany whilst a prisoner of war, would inform much of his work. This event would also form the core of his most famous work, Slaughterhouse-Five, the book which would make him a millionaire. This acerbic 200-page book is what most people mean when they describe a work as "Vonnegutian" in scope.

Vonnegut was a self-proclaimed humanist and socialist (influenced by the style of Indiana's own Eugene V. Debs) and a lifelong supporter of the American Civil Liberties Union.

The novelist is known for works blending satire, black comedy and science fiction, such as Slaughterhouse-Five (1969), Cat's Cradle (1963), and Breakfast of Champions (1973)

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 13,937 reviews
Profile Image for Manny.
Author 29 books13.6k followers
September 23, 2014
Most people have read Cat's Cradle, so I won't bother to try and hide spoilers. Did you say you hadn't read it? Well, what are you waiting for? This isn't Ulysses, you know, it's short and funny! So, now that it's just us people who know the book, I want to say why I disagree with the criticism you often see, that it's too fragmentary. On the contrary, I think it's very focused, and makes its point with near-perfect economy and wit. There are two obvious themes. One is how the irresponsible use of science to construct ever more deadly weapons is probably going to end up destroying the whole world. The other is a wonderfully crazy take on religion. Each of these themes is satisfying in its own right; what's less clear is that they have anything to do with each other.

Let's look at the first theme. Vonnegut's scarily plausible thesis is that it won't be a question of some madman destroying the world on purpose. I love General Jack T. Ripper in Doctor Strangelove, the obvious movie parallel to this book, but I find him somehow less convincing than the series of deranged, helplessly incompetent people in Cat's Cradle. Felix Hoenikker, an obvious Asperger's type, invents Ice-9 in response to a casual question from the US military. His three damaged children get hold of the secret, and exploit it for their own petty ends. Plain, charmless Angela sells it to the Americans in exchange for a playboy husband; Newt, the midget, gives it to the Soviets for a dirty weekend on Cape Cod with a tiny Russian dancer; and, fatally, humorless Franklin sells it to "Papa" Monzano, who makes him a Major General in the largely imaginary army of San Lorenzo, a bankrupt state, I believe, loosely based on Haiti and the Dominican Republic. After that, things just proceed by themselves; nothing works in San Lorenzo, so why would you be able to successfully guard a doomsday device? And, sure enough, it gets used completely by accident.

The second theme is presented through Bokononism, a kind of Caribbean version of Christianity, and surely the best fictional religion ever devised. Is there any person here who's never tried boku maru? (Unfortunately, in real life it doesn't have the effect described in the book. Pity). Bokononism is the one thing that makes life worthwhile for Papa's miserable subjects. Officially, the religion is outlawed; in practice, everyone is a Bokononist, which makes their lives rich and meaningful. Everything about the religion turns out to be a lie, and there is even a technical term, foma, for the lies that make up its substance. None the less, Vonnegut succeeds admirably in showing what a good religion it is. The scene where Dr. Schlichter von Koenigswald reads the Bokonist last rites to the dying Papa Monzano is funny, but also moving. I love the line "Nice going, God!", which expresses that particular sentiment with unusual clarity and feeling; it's extremely respectful, while pretending to be the exact opposite.

So, what is the connection between the two themes? I think in fact that Vonnegut tells you straight out, but since he does it at the beginning (a favorite ruse of crime writers), you don't quite notice it. He introduces Bokononism, and recounts its creation myth, which is absurd even by the standards of this magic realist genre. Then he cheerfully tells you that Bokonon himself admits that it's all lies. Finally, he comments, in one of his better-known quotes: "Anyone unable to understand how a useful religion can be founded on lies will not understand this book either". As already noted, Bokonon's wise lies in fact make an excellent religion.

Here's what I think he means by this. The potential destruction of all life on Earth isn't a very amusing subject. It's so horrifying that you can hardly think about it at all. But Vonnegut manages to present most of the book as a comedy, so that you are able to think about it, which we desperately need to do before it's all too late. By making it funny, he is formally lying to us, but these lies are more useful to us than the truth; we're in pretty much the same situation as the San Lorenzans, who couldn't survive without their mendacious religion.

People during the Cold War were, with good reason, scared shitless that the world was going to end soon in a nuclear holocaust. We came terrifyingly close during the Cuba Missile Crisis. (As Christopher Hitchens says, do you remember where you were the day JFK nearly killed all of us?) There were many books and movies intended to help people relate to what was going on. Some of them just presented the threat straight up, in as realistic a way as they could manage: the version I like most is Shute's On the Beach. But I would say that the mirror-reversed ones, like Cat's Cradle and Doctor Strangelove, were better. It's amazing how powerful a weapon humor is; I feel they did more to help persuade us not to blow ourselves up.

We need these people badly if we're going to stay sane. Can someone point me to a new Vonnegut, who knows how to make us laugh at global warming and the financial meltdown? I'd rather like to read him.

This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Lorenzo Berardi.
Author 3 books229 followers
February 13, 2010
There are two voices inside my head. Let's call them Lore and Enzo. At the moment L & E are quarreling on Cat's Cradle.

L) Oh come on! This book is wonderful. Perhaps it's the best novel Vonnegut has ever written.
E) Are you kidding me? Have you read the whole of it?
L) Of course I've read it from its first word to the very last one.
E) And haven't you noticed anything strange?
L) What are you talking about?
E) I mean, you know, it's a discontinuous novel. I can't deny it has a great beginning, but it gradually loses its brightness reaching the end.
L) What?! Are you telling me you haven't appreciated the marvellous description of San Lorenzo island and so on?
E) No, no. The Banana Republic part is ok...but look at the plot!
L) What's wrong with the plot?
E) Well..at first the narrator wants to write a book about this eccentric scientist who has planned the atomic bomb.
L) Yeah. Go on.
E) And then he decides to interview one of the scientist sons. But as soon as he meets Frank Hoenikker in San Lorenzo he seems to lose all his interest for him.
L) I disagree! Have you forgotten Ice-Nine?
E) No, but...
L) And what about Bokononism? You can't deny that the concept and the teachings of this fake religion link every single chapter of the novel. You can't say it's discontinuous while everything in it is so closely-knit!
E) That's a point of view. Besides I haven't liked the structure of the novel. More than one hundred chapters..
L) They're not "chapters" they're more like episodes.
E) Mmmh...
L) I think you're not in my karass.
E) Karass? Actually all that you join are granfalloons.
L) Foma! Lies! A pack of foma!

Shut up voices! I need a boko-maru right now. Is there anyone who wants to share the soles of her feet? Busy, busy, busy.
Profile Image for Danger.
Author 33 books629 followers
March 28, 2011
I've read this book four times. It's better than the Bible, because unlike the Bible, this book knows it's fiction.
Profile Image for Ahmad Sharabiani.
9,566 reviews56.6k followers
August 30, 2021
(Book 427 From 1001 books) - Cat’s Cradle, Kurt Vonnegut

Cat's Cradle is the fourth novel by American writer Kurt Vonnegut, first published in 1963.

It explores issues of science, technology, and religion, satirizing the arms race and many other targets along the way. After turning down his original thesis in 1947, the University of Chicago awarded Vonnegut his master's degree in anthropology in 1971 for Cat's Cradle.

At the opening of the book, the narrator, an everyman named John (but calling himself Jonah), describes a time when he was planning to write a book about what important Americans did on the day Hiroshima was bombed.

While researching this topic, John becomes involved with the children of Felix Hoenikker, a Nobel laureate physicist who helped develop the atomic bomb. John travels to Ilium, New York, to interview the Hoenikker children and others for his book. ...

گهواره گربه - کورت ونه‌ گات جونیور، انتشاراتیها (نشر افق، ثالث)؛ تاریخ نخستین خوانش: بیست و دوم ماه می سال 2011میلادی

عنوان: گهواره گربه؛ نویسنده: کورت ونه‌ گات جونیور، مترجم: علی اصغر بهرامی؛ تهران، نشر افق، 1383؛ در 406ص؛ چاپ دوم 1386؛ چاپ سوم 1392؛ چاپ چهارم 1394؛ شابک 9789643691615؛ موضوع: داستانهای نویسندگان ایالات متحده آمریکا - سده 20م

عنوان: گهواره گربه؛ نویسنده: کورت ونه‌ گات، مترجمها: مهتاب کلانتری؛ منصوره وفایی؛ تهران، ثالث، 1383؛ در 375ص؛ شابک9643800385؛

رمان «گهواره گربه»، چهارمین اثر نویسنده ی آمریکایی: «کورت ونه‌ گات» است، که نخستین بار در سال 1963میلادی، چاپ شده است؛ ایشان در این کتاب، در باره ی علم، تکنولوژی، و مذهب، بحث می‌کنند، و مسابقه ی تسلیحاتی، و بسیاری از مفاهیم جدی دیگر را، به سخره می‌گیرند؛ عنوان کتاب، از بازی کودکانه ­ای گرفته شده، که با نخی بازی می‌کنند؛ که دو سرش گره خورده، و بین انگشتان دو نفر، دست به دست می‌شود؛ در صفحات نخستین رمان، «فلیکس هوینکر»، مخترع فرضی «بمب اتم» را می��یابیم، که درست، در لحظه ی افتادن، یا پرتاب بمب، مشغول همین بازی است؛ «گهواره گربه»، در سال 1964میلادی، کاندیدای دریافت جایزه ی «هوگو»، برای بهترین رمان، بوده است

تاریخ بهنگام رسانی 27/07/1399هجری خورشیدی؛ 07/06/1400هجری خورشیدی؛ ا. شربیانی
Profile Image for Vit Babenco.
1,424 reviews3,380 followers
July 6, 2020
Progress: scientific revolution, revolution number nine, ice-nine… Science is neutral and it may serve evil as readily as good…
After the thing went off, after it was a sure thing that America could wipe out a city with just one bomb, a scientist turned to Father and said, ‘Science has now known sin.’ And do you know what Father said? He said, ‘What is sin?’

Some invent powerful explosives and some invent new religions and it is hard to say which invention is more dangerous.
Well, when it became evident that no governmental or economic reform was going to make the people much less miserable, the religion became the one real instrument of hope. Truth was the enemy of the people, because the truth was so terrible, so Bokonon made it his business to provide the people with better and better lies.

There is a little ugly dystopia hidden within every big beautiful utopia…
Profile Image for s.penkevich.
853 reviews5,847 followers
February 18, 2023
Live by the harmless untruths that make you brave and kind and healthy and happy,’ Vonnegut writes in Cat’s Cradle, pointing to something fiction is really well suited towards. I mean what is fiction if not an untruth that can help understand truths, especially when the truth is so difficult and often rather frightening. Especially when the truth is that death is coming. The world is a scary place with Death around every corner. Turn on the news, there’s Death waving to you from behind a podium, sitting in a CEO office, riding flood waters down a city street; open your news feed and you’ll find Death romping the four corners of the world and likely find them stirring up an argument in the comments section. That little fucker is everywhere. During the Cold War, people in the US were hyper aware of Death on a mass scale as nuclear proliferation and proxy-wars were always at the back of their minds, which can really send you jittering through life on anxiety. But luckily they had folks like Kurt Vonnegut who pointed at Death and laughed and got everyone to laugh with him. Cat’s Cradle is a marvelous book for laughing in the face of Death, one that still holds up today as science and technology keeps racing towards newer ways to put us all in our graves.

This was one of those books that first really opened the doors to literature for me when I was I high school. I mean, I was fairly obsessed with this book for awhile and it sent me down paths to other exciting books. We read it for a class and i was so enthusiastic about it my teacher gifted me a copy of Slaughterhouse-Five which I also loved. So many great minds have elucidated upon this novel so efficiently there’s not much else to say, but I’ve been thinking on this one a lot lately and wanted to share. Vonnegut is a lot of fun and manages to convey pretty heady topics of ethics and humanity in easy to swallow capsules of humor without detracting from the importance of the subjects. He also reminds us to laugh, even at ourselves, and that nothing is so sacrosanct we can’t critique it.

Anyone unable to understand how useful religion can be founded on lies will not understand this book either.

In the book of Bokonon—the fictional religion in the book— it asks the question ‘What can a Thoughtful Man Hope for Mankind on Earth, Given the Experience of the Past Million Years?’ The answer it gives is simply ‘nothing.’ Which, like, fair. Vonnegut frequently satirizes war and the weapons of destruction we build (there is a brilliant moment in a bomb factory with a banner on the wall talking about peace on earth), and here we once again find humanity creating technology like Ice-Nine for the sake of militarization despite its potential to quite literally end the world. ‘Science has now known sin,’ a scientist says after witnessing the testing of the nuclear bomb, to which Dr. Hoenikker asks ‘what is sin?’ Vonnegut getting all existential here looking at the idea that sin is a moral narrative established by religion, and as we see in Cat’s Cradle, narratives are a way in which we ascribe meaning to life and make sense out of chaos. Which is comforting when everything seems so much bigger and scarier than us.

I recently spent a a lot of time reading and thinking about Terror Management Theory and wrote about it pretty extensively as it applies to the novel White Noise, but a lot of that is going on here in Cats Cradle as well. Roughly, being assailed by thoughts of death in situations where we are forced to consider how beyond our control it is rally us towards finding ways in which we feel we have some sense of control or community. In DeLillo he discusses consumerism or fascism in this regard. But we also see how religion is another. What is clever about Bokononism in Vonnegut is that it is expressly fictional—in our world and in the reality of the novel. It was invented to give people something to believe in, to use as a compass to ascribe meaning to suffering and life, and—and this is humorously clever—declared illegal to ensure people will believe in it.
Well, when it became evident that no governmental or economic reform was going to make the people much less miserable, the religion became the one real instrument of hope. Truth was the enemy of the people, because the truth was so terrible, so Bokonon made it his business to provide the people with better and better lies.

The banning of Bokononim adds an element of edginess and subversiveness that makes it all the more enticing. Look at how powerful conspiracy theories are, so much of it draws on giving the believer a feeling they have some secret knowledge that makes them better. Have there been any studies over if the teenagers who make knowing underground bands and art into a personality becoming more inclined to conspiracy theories later on? But it also plays into how the world is becoming so miserable they needed people to believe in something, though is believing in a conspiracy theory to avoid reality actually a good thing? And when people start affecting the lives of others based on the beliefs in a system that is an elaborate fiction, does that only add more suffering and problems to a world already wallowing in problems?

What is clever about Bokononism is all the in-group language it has, such as karass (a group of people linked in a cosmically significant manner, even when superficial linkages are not evident. Ex Bokononism itself) or sinoookas (the “tendrils” of people’s lives). ‘With emotionally charged buzzwords,’ writes Amanda Montell in her book Cultish: The Language of Fanaticism, ‘[groups] establish an ‘us’ and a ‘them’’ which can ‘be as comforting as a tranquiliser.’ The language makes you an “insider” that can become ‘an addiction to the discourse, to the special feeling of knowing something other people didn’t.’ While she is discussing fascist groups, this isn’t far from how Bokononism probes all sorts of religions and the ways they may have of maintaining their flock and instilling a belief all outside are unsaved or damned. Having the book peppered with the language of Bokononism is a way Vonnegut draws us in almost as an insider too.

My favorite of the term, though, is foma, which means a ‘harmless untruth.’ There is something rather meta here, as in context it addresses the way the religion of the novel is a harmless (is it?) untruth that gives meaning to the people’s lives of this island, but it brings me back to the idea of fiction to begin with. Fiction is, well, a fictional story that is geared to have a meaning from the events depicted in it, be it a moral message, a way to move about an idea and learn from it, a criticism of structures around us, etc. Vonnegut is using a foma to address issues of religion, power, weaponization of science and technology, and above all, human nature. And he does so in a way that satisfies with wit, irony and humor that allows us that is comforting and empowering as we laugh in the face of destruction. Which is something we always need and could definitely use lately. I mean, we don’t have Ice Nine putting a snowy end to the world in the dramatic fashion of the novel, but if we can feel comfortable approaching difficult topics, maybe we can be empowered to make change. To laugh at those who stand in the way of improvement, to reduce them to a cartoonish villain because those we feel we can overcome if we hold to love and goodness. Because, as Vonnegut tells us ‘there is love enough in this world for everybody, if people will just look.
Profile Image for Lyn.
1,867 reviews16.5k followers
October 7, 2019
Vonnegut's best?

Many will say that it is and who am I to disagree. It does include all the best elements of Vonnegut in his genius: humor, dark and subtle, and sometimes not subtle at all, irreverence, absurdity blended with realism to create a surrealistic setting where the reader is cautiously intrigued by whatever is going on.

And the messages and themes, of love, relationships, responsibility, both internally and globally. Also, like several of his more endearing works, this one remains thought provoking years after being read, a quasi-morality play that the reader will revisit often and sometimes with little coaxing.

** 2018 addendum - it is a testament to great literature that a reader recalls the work years later and this is a book about which I frequently think. The great takeaway from this one is not so much ice-nine, although that is certainly memorable, but Bokonon and most specifically the beautiful Mona. A treatise on Bokononism and its effect on SF since, both in its facial aspect as well as Vonnegut's use as a satire on religion could and should be explored.

***** 2019 re-read

This was a bright star on my 2019 Vonnegut re-reading EXTRAVAGANZA!! and it did not disappoint. I first read this back in HS and several times in college and in the dark days before GoodReads. Back then I thought it was hilarious and outrageous.

While I still agree that it is one of his most outrageous works (My vote for top of that list though is Slapstick) and it is still funny, from my mid-century vantage I know see that in some ways this is his most scathingly cynical and the humor is a way of cutting the toxicity, like Anthony Burgess’ use of the language Nadsat to minimize the ultra-violence into a palatable offering. Vonnegut was 41 when this was published, and I am now 50

John is a disaffected but still naïve writer whose loss of his cat (John Wick?) triggers his response to chronicle the human side of the creation of the atomic bomb. Setting out to interview the family of Nobel prize winning physicist Felix Hoenikker, a principle researcher in that DYNAMITE!! Creation, John is led on a journey that winds up on the Caribbean island of San Lorenzo and a discovery of the playfully made up religion of Bokononism and also the end of the world.

Felix’ creation of ICE-NINE and of his absent minded professor innocence is a surgical tool in Vonnegut’s able social commentary to discuss the deadly combination of naïve research and military purpose.

Speaking of Burgess and his made up language, Vonnegut here tries his hand at an expansive dictionary with some words he would later use to describe his 1974 anthology Wampeters, Foma & Granfalloons.

Profile Image for mark monday.
1,644 reviews5,097 followers
June 6, 2012
there are probably as many reviews of Cat's Cradle as there are stars in the sky, so no doubt there's little i can add that's of any value. who cares? i love hearing myself talk, so let's go for it!


well, this is harder than i thought. it's as easy as describing why i love my favorite pillow or threadbare t-shirt, or why i like rainy days as much as sunny days. okay, here goes. the inventiveness of Cat's Cradle and its bleak, absurd humor was incredibly eye-opening to me in high school and it practically provided a template for how i looked at things. in college, it was a joy to return to, particularly after the tedious nonsense foisted upon me in various classes (well, in time, i grew to love all the tedious nonsense foisted upon me, but that was years later, and besides the point). after college, it defined the outlook of almost everyone i knew around me, and i remember bothering folks to read it so that they could understand some of my references, or so that they could read their own worldview, in book form. when i said things like "impaled... on a giant hook" or "i want to read your index", folks had no clue about what i was talking about. i guess that's why i eventually stopped saying those phrases.

and back to the book. Cat's Cradle: it has warmth and anger and wisdom and an almost naive kind of brashness at times. i love that combo.

favorite character: cynical young Philip Castle: do-gooder, sarcastic asshole, painter, owner of a hotel that scorns snobs and is therefore pretty empty. i love you, Philip Castle! my second fictional crush slash look, i see myself! type character. Holden Caulfield came first and Donnie Darko eventually replaced you... but you were the dreamiest.
Profile Image for Leonard Gaya.
Author 1 book862 followers
May 31, 2021
Cat’s Cradle (1963) is perhaps less famous than Slaughterhouse-Five (1969). It is also less complex, less pomo in style, less “busy, busy, busy”, as Bokonon would say. In short, less of a cat’s cradle. But there is a certain quality to this book that makes it one of Vonnegut’s most profound and enjoyable novels. For the most part, the plot is fairly linear and arranged in the classical form of a Swiftian-Voltairian fable. It is told by a first-person narrator/writer/protagonist (“Call me Jonah”, cf. Moby-Dick) who is, at the start of the story, doing some research on the day the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. One thing leading to another, he ends up on a Caribbean island with a group of improbable and bizarre characters... Anyway, to hell with the plot and characters, just read the fucking book!

Despite the apparent simplicity of the story, and without drawing too much attention to itself, all the quirks we know and love about Vonnegut’s writing are here: short, fast-paced, scrappy chapters, icy irony and black humour, catchy paragraphs, punchlines, a motley of weird situations, eclectic bits of science and philosophy, a marquetry of dialogues, letters, indexes, poems and calypso songs, spoof excerpts from the utopian Books of Bokonon, metafictional mise en abyme of the book within itself, etc.

The themes that form the bedrock of most of Vonnegut’s novels are all here too: human craziness, the belief in pipe dreams (granfalloons in Bokononist parlance), art and religion (happy lies that make life barely bearable), free will and determinism (zah-mah-ki-bo), the absurdity of existence. More importantly, the novel lays out, toward the end, the imagery of apocalyptic destruction (pool-pah) — annihilation falling from the sky, bunkers, mass graves — that harks back to Vonnegut’s personal experience during the carpet bombing of Dresden in February 1945. Famously, the author further developed this atrocious episode in the quasi-autobiographical sections of Slaughterhouse-Five. Which led him to conclude:

Perhaps, when we remember wars, we should take off our clothes and paint ourselves blue and go on all fours all day long and grunt like pigs. That would surely be more appropriate than noble oratory and shows of flags and well-oiled guns. (LoA, p. 167)

And so, despite Vonnegut’s steadfast vitality and jocularity, Cat’s Cradle is still a story that goes from Hiroshima to Dresden and could indeed have been titled The Day the World Ended. Vonnegut’s novel is, in many ways, a cautionary tale on the menace of nuclear Armageddon — the allusion to the 1962 Cuban missile crisis is only thinly veiled —, and still holds (liquid) water today, as we face an impending climate disaster to boot. In a word: the cradle of humankind is screwed!

Side note and final irony: Cat’s Cradle earned its author a master’s degree in anthropology from the University of Chicago.
Profile Image for BlackOxford.
1,081 reviews68.1k followers
November 12, 2021
Health Warning: Truths Kill Better Than Cigarettes

I have a theory that only adolescents and geriatrics can appreciate Vonnegut. The first because he confirms what they fear and despise about the adult world they’re about to enter; the latter because they equally have learned to fear and despise the world they’ve left behind. Those between the extremes literally cannot afford to take Vonnegut seriously. The cost of doing so would be severe depression or social (or bodily) suicide. But for those who engage in therapeutic despair, Vonnegut is strangely comforting, a Christ-like figure who takes on the world’s absurdity so that the rest of us don’t have to.

Like it or not we live as a matter of faith. St. Paul had it right after all about that. Except he had the object of faith wrong. It’s not Jesus, who had as little clue as the rest of us about what was going on. No, his faith and ours is in the God behind it all, the deus absconditus, the divine puller of strings who is executing a clever plan that he hasn’t let us in on. The only important doctrine of this faith is that anyone who thinks he knows the plan is a knucklehead. For a religion, this is about as simple as it gets.

So the only thing to do when you have faith is to keep on truckin’. ‘It is what it is,’ as they say. Head down, pencil scribbling, keyboard clacking, socket-wrench turning, as the case may be. Thinking about the end-result - a solid bolt, an airworthy plane, a hydrogen bomb, millions dead and dying - will drive you mad. Making a living is what it’s about. Getting ahead, getting a name in the business, being top dog. Even if you don’t make it, you tried your best, you kept the faith.

Best thing is to pull your head in like a turtle and lay low about things not relevant to getting ahead. That’s part of the faith really and saves immensely on headache medication. And so is science, part of the faith that is. Scientists are the most faithful, something like priests really, and they generally keep low, really low, except when something big happens like a new model Chevrolet or an atom bomb. Then they come out of their shells and bask, hoping someone will throw a prize or a promotion their way. Afterwards they pull their necks back in and disappear.

Scientists value life. That doesn’t mean they care too much about living people or other biological forms. They just find life mysterious and like to study it. Don’t get me wrong. Some scientists have wives and friends and children whom they might care about but the lives of hundreds or thousands or millions of people are just statistics. So if your wife dies in a road traffic accident it’s a tragedy, but if a whole city vanishes under a mushroom cloud that’s a sign of progress… scientifically speaking. Sometimes the truth hurts. It’s called being objective and is the most important virtue of the scientist. Essentially it means they aren’t allowed to cry at work.

So all you scientists out there, young and old, just keep on doing what you’re paid to do. Truth is too precious to lose. And new patents don’t register themselves, do they? Corporate teamwork is what it’s all about. Remember that corporate loyalty is how you show your faith most clearly. Nihilism is out. Without faith, where would we be? In the crapper, that’s where we’d be. And by the way, whatever you’ve heard about this stuff called ice-nine that can freeze all the water in the world, it’s a lie. And anyhow, it’s top secret.

Postscript: my daughter-in-law happened to post me this today. https://www.thedailymash.co.uk/news/h... Kurt, where are we when we need you most?
Profile Image for Linda.
511 reviews
February 23, 2020
I stopped at page 175 and I have NEVER done that. I never give up on books I start. This book made me re-think that practice. Normally, even if I do not like a book, I can find something about it to keep me going but with Cat's Cradle I just had to quit. I need to feel something - curiousity, irritation, sadness, happiness, love, desire, anger, escapism, like I am learning something new, that I need the lesson this book is offering... whatever. I need to connect to the book, the story, the characters in some way. With this book I felt nothing, nada, eh. It was easy reading for sure but it seemed almost like it was a joke. It reminded me of my junior high schools days when the teacher asked us to write stories and read them to the class. You wrote hollow silly things that you thought sounded clever and exciting and then years later when you come across the story in a box of keepsakes you laugh at how stilted and basic it was. I know, Vonnegut is suppose to be speaking to the issues of religion, science, humanity with irony and humour - lots of people love this book. I did not care about any of it, not even the Ice Nine that probably destroyed the world (I don't know because I didn't finish the book) I decided that to continue would be a waste of life essence. The good thing I can say about this experience is that it made me realize that I don't have to finish a book.
Profile Image for Michael.
655 reviews966 followers
July 24, 2018
Hasty and jokey, Cat's Cradle begins as a satire about a journalist's attempt to investigate the life of one of the creators of the atomic bomb, but ends as a bleak allegory about the annihilation of life on earth. Vonnegut's irreverent wit and straightforward prose make his work a useful gateway to adult fiction for teens, and this novel ranks amongst his best. Adults who never encountered Vonnegut's books during their youth, by contrast, might find the book's pessimism or its hyper-episodic structure to be a bit tedious.
Profile Image for Steve.
251 reviews874 followers
February 10, 2017
Another review in the KISS series (Keep It Short, Steve)

In Anne Fadiman’s superb book about books called Ex Libris, she divides readers into two categories: those who keep their books in pristine condition (courtly lovers) and those who delight in marginalia (carnal lovers). I started out as one of the former (conditioned, no doubt, by fear of library fines), but became one of the latter. Cat’s Cradle was my first prurient experience, dating back to high school. Part of the reason was that I snagged my copy at a garage sale for a dime – cheap even then. But the real motivation was to highlight this great little rhyme:
Tiger got to hunt, bird got to fly;
Man got to sit and wonder 'why, why, why?'
Tiger got to sleep, bird got to land;
Man got to tell himself he understand.

That one deserved stars, a yellow marker, and the granddaddy of all desecrations – a dog-ear. I liked how it was framed as such a natural conclusion to the activity of thinking. We tell ourselves that our efforts to understand have paid off.

If I’m honest, I don’t recall much of the book’s premise. I remember thinking Vonnegut was one of those cool, sort of counter-cultural writers who wielded his satirical axe well. He may have been a bit darker than Tom Robbins, and less playful with his words, but he was similarly entertaining, incisive and free-wheeling. The book tracks the unusual offspring of the man who invented the A-bomb. They possess a substance called ice-nine that can make water freeze at room temperatures. And you can imagine what might happen if it fell into the wrong hands. The Russians and Americans procured some as did the dictator of a secluded Caribbean island where a religion called Bokononism is practiced despite being illegal and, according to Bokonon himself, based on lies. Still, anything that sells “living by the harmless untruths that make you brave and kind and healthy and happy” will have its appeal.

Vonnegut would poke fun at religion, politics, and just about any other human institution where our base natures hide in some gussied up form. And he may well have had a point. If I remember this cautionary tale correctly, a follow-up poem of my own might apply:
Monkey got to play, fish got to swim;
Man got to risk his life to some psycho’s whim.
Monkey got to doze, fish got to coast;
Man got to rest assured he won’t become a ghost.

And it may give us pause.
Profile Image for Lisa.
977 reviews3,327 followers
May 26, 2020
I loved this book!

It turned out to be one of those easy-to-read stories that leave you thinking, and thinking, and thinking. The science fiction aspect of the plot is not important at all. It is the impact of power, knowledge and ritual on every single individual that made me want to restart reading it as soon as I finished. I absolutely adore the creation of Bokononism and the development of a new language to suit the needs of the religion-in-the-making.

Margaret Atwood's MaddAddam experiments with the same kind of post-apocalyptic scenario and the never-ending question of what humanity needs to survive. Of course Vonnegut's vision is a lot darker than Atwood's. Humanity wiped out completely on a whim, no hope of reproducing our species at all, the only question remaining is how to die and what symbol to carry in your hand to show the hated - and hating - creator above.

The experience of being trapped in Dresden as an American prisoner of war during the bombing and destruction of the city might have formed the sense of absurdity that Vonnegut displays in his vision of mankind.

To put it in Bokononist words: the cruel paradox of the heartbreaking necessity of lying about reality combined with the heartbreaking impossibility of lying about it is at the center of the book. Foma!
Profile Image for Valeriu Gherghel.
Author 6 books1,294 followers
April 28, 2023
„Nu fi fraier! Închide cartea asta imediat! E plină de minciuni!"

Să vedeți cum a fost. Mi-am făcut mai demult un caiet cu citate din înțelepții mei preferați. Zilele trecute l-am răsfoit și am căzut peste trei extrase din Kurt Vonnegut. Toate erau din Leagănul pisicii. Asta mi-a amintit cît de tare mi-a plăcut cartea. Apoi mi-am zis: „Ia să văd io ce-mi mai amintesc din romanul ăsta minunat!”. Mi-am controlat minuțios memoria. N-am o ținere de minte ieșită din comun, dar memorez cu ușurință ceea ce-mi place. Spre mirarea mea, din Leagănul pisicii nu mai țineam minte aproape nimic. Asta după două lecturi, ultima din aprilie 2014. Mi-am zis din nou: „Ceva nu-i în regulă, ce s-o fi întîmplat cu memoria mea din 2014 și pînă astăzi? Nu cumva am devenit amnezic fără să-mi dau seama?”.

De obicei, o carte bună se ține minte măcar în liniile ei principale. Nu reții, firește, toate amănuntele, nici nu are rost, dar intriga e imposibil s-o uiți aproape cu desăvîrșire. De aceea se și vorbește de cărți memorabile. Pentru susiscălitul, Leagănul pisicii era / este un roman excelent (de asta sînt sigur), dar greu de ținut minte. Mi-am propus, în consecință, să-l recitesc și să caut motivele uitării mele. Pînă una-alta, aș menționa că romanul e scris cu vervă și cu un umor ascuțit. E o satiră a unei lumi mult mai interesată de „cercetarea științifică pură” decît de sufletul oamenilor. Intriga e ușor de rezumat. Romanul e scris la persoana întîi.

Un narator, John (Jonas), își propune să scrie o carte despre ziua în care a fost bombardată Hiroshima. Își începe ancheta cu unul dintre „părinții bombei atomice”, fizicianul Felix Hoenikker. Cum numitul savant a murit, corespondează cu fiul lui, Newt / Newton, un pitic. Și așa John află că, în dimineața atacului, Felix Hoenikker era în pijama și juca „leagănul pisicii”, complet nesimțitor la tragedia pe cale să se întîmple. Mai aflăm că premiantul Nobel a lăsat moștenitorilor o invenție malefică: „apa-nouă”. Cam asta e prima parte. În partea a doua, John ajunge în republica San Lorenzo aflată pe insula cu același nume. Trebuie să ia un interviu unui miliardar. Aici îi întîlnește și pe cei trei copii ai lui Felix Hoenikker. Se îndrăgostește mortal - dragoste la prima vedere - de Mona Aamons Monzano, fiica adoptivă a dictatorului Miguel „Papa" Monzano, o mulatră cu părul blond, cu o ereditate finlandeză. Pe insula San Lorenzo trăiește și un înțelept nihilist, numit Bokonon, „profetul proscris al insulei”, căutat cu înverșunare de autorități și venerat de toți locuitorii republicii fără excepție. Învățăturile lui Bokonon sînt, în realitate, niște adevăruri triviale, formulate adesea în versuri. Ideea principală a profetului e că omul - ca specie - a fost dintotdeauna un idiot.

Din păcate, odraslele lui Hoenikker au primit ca moștenire bucăți din „apa-nouă”. O moleculă din acest elixir al morții poate îngheța instantaneu orice lichid. De altfel, „apa-nouă” va provoca, în urma unui accident grotesc, sfîrșitul republicii și moartea locuitorilor (se sinucid la îndemnul lui Bokonon). Oceanul îngheață brusc, se pornesc tornade pustietoare, are loc o apocalipsă prin îngheț. Mona Aamons Monzano și John / Jonas au norocul să găsească un adăpost, buncărul dictatorului (deja) defunct. Supraviețuiesc. Cînd Mona constată că poporul din San Lorenzo s-a sinucis în unanimitate, procedează la fel. Cuprins de tristețe, John își propune să ajungă pe culmea muntelui McCabe. Aici îl întîlnește, desigur, pe indestructibilul Bokonon.

În mod cert, romanul are prea multe personaje: dr. Asa Breed (frate cu Marvin Breed, patronul unui magazin de obiecte funerare), domnișoara Faust, poetul Sherman Krebbs, Angela, Franklin și Newt (fiii lui Emily și Felix Hoenikker), Julian și Philip Castle (tată și fiu), Claire și Horlick Minton (ultimul e ambasatorul Statelor Unite în San Lorenzo) etc. Populația romanului e excesivă. Cititorul se pierde în atîtea digresiuni biografice și, dacă nu e foarte atent la desfășurarea firului epic, pățește ca mine...

P. S. De unde vine titlul:
„- Leagănul pisicii nu-i altceva decît nişte fire încrucişate între degetele cuiva, iar copiii se uită, se tot uită la fire...
- Şi?
- Nici urmă de leagăn sau de pisică!”

P. P. S. Am recitit nota de mai sus și mi-am dat seama cu stupefacție că iar am uitat romanul lui Vonnegut. Asta e lucrarea diavolului...
Profile Image for Nicole.
441 reviews13.4k followers
May 15, 2022
To pierwsza książka Vonneguta, której początek tak bardzo mnie zainteresował. Niestety tak jak przy dwóch poprzednich gdzieś zatraciłam umiejętność rozumienia o co chodzi.
Profile Image for Kenny.
494 reviews861 followers
August 21, 2022
Live by the harmless untruths that make you brave and kind and healthy and happy.
Cat's Cradle ~~ Kurt Vonnegut

Buddy read with Aesaan

I've told this story before, but it bears repeating. My junior year of college, I had a roommate, Don, his nickname was Har Don ~~ which he hated; Har Don loved Kurt Vonnegut ~~ no, he worshiped Kurt Vonnegut. It’s ironic since everything Har Don believed in was the antithesis of what Vonnegut stood for. Har Don insisted I read Vonnegut's SLAPSTICK. He told me it was the greatest novel ever written. I did, and it isn't. He insisted I was wrong. I wasn't. But, I was done with Vonnegut; there were authors I was craving to read and Vonnegut was not one of them.

Skip ahead to my joining Goodreads. Friends here, people whose opinions I truly respect, kept telling me I had to read Slaughterhouse-Five (my review) . So, I broke down, and picked up a copy, and I loved it.

I wanted to explore more of Vonnegut's universe, so, when my amazing friend, Aesaan, and I decided to do a buddy read we decided upon Vonnegut's Cat's Cradle so he could experience Vonnegut's universe too. We both loved it.


Once more I was dazzled by the world Vonnegut created. I have to admit I was wrong to turn my back on Vonnegut so long ago.

When reading Vonnegut I wonder if he believes there is any hope for humanity. All we do as a race of people is so self-destructive. I can only imagine what Vonnegut would write with all the fodder he’d have to work with today.

Science and religion are the two main targets of satire in Cat’s Cradle. While Vonnegut satirizes science and religion, he offers no alternative to these belief systems. I truly believe Vonnegut views humanity as hopeless in his humorously, nihilistic view; yes, Vonnegut believes human existence is meaningless. Vonnegut is the ultimate pessimist who has no answers to the mess humans have made of things, and, thankfully, doesn’t pretend to have any answers.

I don't think Vonnegut would appreciate the serious tone of this review, Kenneth. Lighten up.


Our narrator in Cat’s Cradle is Jonah ~~ as in Jonah and the whale. Or is he John ~~ as in The Gospel of John. I do know for certain, the only God in any of the atheist Vonnegut’s novels is Vonnegut himself.

Our narrator, Jonah/John is investigating the life of the Father of the atomic bomb to write a book on him and remembrances of the day the A bomb was dropped. While researching his subject, Jonah/John embarks on a journey of discovery towards the next man-made destructive event in the form of ice-nine. To tell you more of ice-nine would only spoil the fun the great god Vonnegut has instore for you dear reader.

Does it seem weird to compare Vonnegut, a life-long atheist, to god? Somehow, it seems fitting.


Every chapter ~~ the longest of which is three pages long ~~ in Cat’s Cradle ends with a unexpected shock, followed by a brilliant punch line to wrap up the topic of interest in the chapter and hurling the reader into the next. Cat’s Cradle is a book that begins with the writing of a book about the end of the world and itself becomes a book about the end of the world. The plot slowly squeezes out of the chaos of memories as the lives of the characters all converge on one location ~~ the plotting here is brilliant. The god Vonnegut has gathered them together to perform the task of ending the world. The author Vonnegut has gathered them together to create this tale.

In the end, Cat’s Cradle is a series of fables about science, weaponry, war, fate, and religion. The moral is up to the reader to decipher ~~ if there even is a moral. Vonnegut knew he wasn’t changing the world with his writing, but what he did do was to entertain and bring smiles to his readers.

However, the god Vonnegut did impart one very important lesson in Cat’s Cradle ~~ Science is magic that works.

Profile Image for Fergus, Quondam Happy Face.
970 reviews17.6k followers
May 25, 2023
Old Kurt’s depressive gravitas really racheted up our national paranoia quotient with this, when it stormed onto the world stage like gloomy gangbusters.

As for myself, it just darkened my dark brown study into Mood Indigo.

That was because I was already Ice-Nined on the bitter effects of First Gen Mood Stabilizers in a brutally forgotten general office, so flatlined I didn’t know if I was punched, bored or reamed.

Another of the hard knocks that made me embrace a Christian Identity.

But Vonnegut was a member of the Greatest Generation, having become an exhausted infantryman by the end of WWII.

So his world-weariness combined with a zany imaginative paranoia to demand his own kinda practical & healthy outlet for his depression.

Wish I'd written stories in the 1970's...

Books like this, though, helped back then. They persuaded me that the struggle is real.

Guys, I still think on the average very few scientific geniuses are out to deep-freeze us, like in this book with the character of a poor misbegotten mastermind - so relax.

Vonnegut, the old soldier, was simply letting off steam.

And even in this novel there is humour!

Or at least dear old Kurt's Mother-Night brand of humour (ready for it?)...

For, in trying to ease the PTSD of his army experiences, Vonnegut has a tired old General say:

"Why can't anyone do something about all this MUD ( that my troops gotta deal with)!?"

Necessity is the mother of invention.

And so Ice-Nine is born.

So it goes...

And so, also, it is the beginning of the End.

And that at least, Meredith, was Vonnegut's final answer to your million dollar question: "what's the World COMING TO?"

Bad part is that we doped up hippies believed him.
Profile Image for Brett C(urrently overseas again).
784 reviews165 followers
May 2, 2021
Unfortunately I had to power through this one. This is my fourth Kurt Vonnegut story and I think he's written better books. He does a good job of creating black humor with the use of technology and religion. The overall theme was the fatalistic warning of the misuse of technology.

The second theme was the danger of blindly following religious precepts. I am a religious and spiritual person but I interpreted this book as the dangers of fundamentalism when religion goes off the deep end. In the book, Bokononism is a newly created/revelated religion and follows the negative stereotype: "The newer the religion, the weirder it gets."

I found 'Mother Night' and 'Player Piano' much more enjoyable. These books and 'Slaughterhouse Five' are good starting points for someone new to Kurt Vonnegut. Thanks!
Profile Image for Jennifer (formerly Eccentric Muse).
457 reviews942 followers
March 9, 2014
This was a difficult re-read. In the flush of youth, when I first read it (at my cynical, pessimistic - and arrogant - peak), every line spoke to me. Now, I am amazed at how flimsy the story, and how brittle and bleak - but oh-so-deeply entrenched - is the cynicism. I don't remember it that way. Today, it made me deeply, almost unbearably sad to think that the world - that I - felt so aligned with the dominant worldview of this novel. It still speaks to me, but it says different things.

I haven't re-read Slaughterhouse Five, so can't know right now if I'd have the same response to it, but I can say that in Cat's Cradle there is no relief from the pessimism with any of Vonnegut's trademark compassion, humanism or humour, as there is in, for example, Mother Night or Jailbird, both of which remain enduring favourites of mine upon many re-reads.

All of Vonnegut's novels are, by definition, permeated with a deep pessimism - but most of them offer up at least some slim hope, usually in the form of a single human being's ability to connect with another, or even just need that connection (which at least points to his or her humanity). There is the opportunity for atonement for wrongs done which provides some comfort, if not absolution. There is a sense of humanity's deep flaws, but also its resilience and capacity to love.

There is none of that here.

Here, conversations and human relationships are superficial, cliché-ridden, vapid - even worse, unnecessary. Traditional connections between people are lampooned as granfaloons - a gentle and whimsical irony, even the word itself, that betrays a deeper violation of trust and breakdown of social structure.

Science and scientists create world-destroying technologies simply because they can, and because they are so far removed from any connection to humanity, love, a moral or ethical system, that they have no compunction or qualms in doing so.

The drive for conventional sex - as opposed to the Bokononist practice of boku-maru - has evaporated as its only value is not to express love or build intimacy, but for procreation - which dampens desire faster than a cold shower in a post-Ice Nine world. Politics have failed, and are so irrelevant and corrupt that a random stranger who shows up on a remote island is named president because no one else wants the job.

The comfort of religion is non-existent: Bokononism, the closest thing to a spiritual belief system, undermines the need for belief and a sense of purpose, and its own believers, in a layered irony so serpentine it almost sucks itself into an intellectual black hole. Everyone believes in it in secret, which is not secret, although it is punishable by death. Everyone turns to it for comfort in times of both celebration and trauma, and it invariably mocks them with its own meaninglessness.

Published in 1963, this novel is of a time and place (as was I when I first read it) that no longer exists in exactly this form, although it is hauntingly, chillingly contemporary and because written as an allegory, easily transposed. Although this particular Cat's Cradle, a metaphor for seeking pattern and meaning with its added layer of infinite futility, is an allegory for the scientists who first split the atom and the weaponry of mass destruction to which that accomplishment led, it is an end-times scenario that offers maximum flexibility across time and remains disturbingly apt.

Vonnegut's anger at that particular act, those men, that world is palpable - it radiates from the page.

I've written before on goodreads that the difference between today and 1963 is that the dangers we now face - although surely as potentially planet-destroying - are still far enough away to afford us the false comfort of deniability. Not so in 1963. Vonnegut himself had seen the atom bomb deployed. He knew how the world could end, and it was imminent. In Cat's Cradle, he is at his most nihilistic - he believes, as the San Lorenzans did after Ice Nine was let loose, that suicide is absolutely the only sane answer in a doomed world.

In short, though its prose barely holds together as a story, and though its humour is so dark as to be invisible (at least to this reader, on this read), this novel's satire is so biting, its cynicism so pervasive, its sense of futility and purposelessness so extreme, that the thing almost felt hot to the touch. As hard as it was to read, it's equally hard not to acknowledge it as a masterpiece.
Profile Image for Dave Schaafsma.
Author 6 books31.3k followers
August 25, 2022
“Live by the harmless untruths that make you brave and kind and healthy and happy.”

Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five, one of the great anti-war novels of all time, is based on Vonnegut’s own experience as a soldier during WWII in the bombing and destruction of Dresden. The book is darkly funny, veering into science/speculative fiction, but underneath it all is barely contained rage and despair at the stupidity of the human race, especially with respect to the conduct of war and the destruction of civilians in cities. Cat’s Cradle, his fourth novel, continues Vonnegut’s rage against the war machine, this time focused on Dr. Irving Langmuir, one of the architects of the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, fictionalized in the guise of Dr Felix Hoenikker, whom Vonnegut has constructing a cat’s cradle when the bomb is actually dropped. Vonnegut met and talked with Langmuir at one time.

Here’s how to make a cat’s cradle:


I won't include information here on how to make an atomic bomb. We have enough idiots who have these bombs ready to end the human race. And, we already know how to bomb (or not bomb) a nuclear power plant, so no need for that.

This book, Cat's Cradle, is actually structured as a kind of elaborate (though seemingly random) cat’s cradle. As Vonnegut observes, it is a cheat: No cat. No cradle. Just a series of exes, a pattern appearing to be beautiful, but ultimately meaningless, absurd, like Vonnegut’s basic philosophy. Senseless acts of beauty, vs. senseless acts of destruction. You make your choice. But if bombs are dropped on cities to win wars, Vonnegut makes clear, life is senseless. Vonnegut's books, he once said, "are essentially mosaics made up of a whole bunch of tiny little chips. . . and each chip is a joke.”

The book begins like Moby Dick: Call me Johan. Johan is writing a book about the day the bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. Much of the action takes place on a fictional island, San Lorenzo, with mostly poor people and a dictator. The country follows the Bokoninist religion, one that Vonnegut made up. All religion is absurd to Vonnegut, though one principle of Bokoninism makes sense to him: All religion is s pack of lies. Vonnegut uses this religion in various books, involving wampeters, granfalloons, karasses, stuppas, and so on. The plot is silly, fun, dark, all of that, but one point has to do with man’s relation to technology and science, especially that which loses its connection to people. The threat of nuclear destruction in the Cold War is a major theme. The Cuban Missile Crisis happened in 1962; Vonnegut’s book came out in 1963.

“Perhaps, when we remember wars, we should take off our clothes and paint ourselves blue and go on all fours all day long and grunt like pigs. That would surely be more appropriate than noble oratory and shows of flags and well-oiled guns.” Vonnegut may not have been a fan of the national American holiday set on the fourth of July, nor the public misty-eyed singing of "The Battle Hymn of the Republic," with its heroic imagery about the bombs bursting in air, accompanied by fireworks to mimic bombing.

One thing that Cat's Cradle looks at is the Books of Bokonin, whose Fourteenth Book answers the question:

"What can a Thoughtful Man Hope for Mankind on Earth, Given the Experience of the Past Million Years?"

It doesn't take long to read The Fourteenth Book. It consists of that one question and a one-word answer followed by a period. This is the one-word answer: "Nothing.”

Johan concludes his writing: “If I were a younger man, I would write a history of human stupidity; and I would climb to the top of Mount McCabe and lie down on my back with my history for a pillow; and I would take from the ground some of the blue-white poison that makes statues of men; and I would make a statue of myself, lying on my back, grinning horribly, and thumbing my nose at You Know Who.”
Profile Image for Adina ( On hiatus until next week) .
827 reviews3,230 followers
September 9, 2016
Update: I decided to upgrade the rating to 5*. When trying to "sell" the book to my father I realized how much I enjoyed this.

The last time I read more than one book by the same author in one year was probably in high-school. I usually prefer to read as diverse as possible, even if I lean toward a certain genre. Saying that, I read two Kurt Vonnegut books in six months and I do not regret my deviation from the norm. I think I might be turning into a Vonnegut fan.

I do not know what it is so special about Vonnegut. Maybe the way he combines nonsense and powerful philosophical/social/political messages. Maybe it is the entertaining experience I have when reading his books even when he writes about disasters. I love the way he uses comedy and satire to express a message.

In my opinion Cat’s Cradle book deals with two major themes. The first one is how we could use science irresponsibly to build deadly weapons which might end up destroying the world. The message is that we are more likely to destroy ourselves by mistake, being reckless than to be destroyed in an evil premeditated manner.

The second theme is represented by and interesting take on religion. The author creates a new religion book which emphasizes the ways a new religion can be created on lies and the crazy imagination of one man. Does it ring any bell? I can think of some examples in the real world quite easily.

The relationship between the two themes is not so clearly presented. For me, religion and science are both two powerful tools used to control the life of the population. Both of them can save you or kill you, if it is let on irresponsible hands. The book can be read as a wake up call as the themes feel very current.
Profile Image for Chris.
341 reviews959 followers
April 14, 2008
Nothing in this review is true.

As much as I enjoy reading Vonnegut, one of the nagging little doubts I always have is that I'm missing something. That there's a hidden message in there that I'm not picking up on. Or, on the other hand, that I am picking up messages that just aren't there.

Which is, perhaps, the point of the whole book.

The world is full of lies. Good lies, bad lies and indifferent lies, but lies nonetheless, and we pick and choose the lies that make our lives happiest. The lie that we know more than other people, or that we are chosen by one deity or another. They're all lies, and the acknowledgment of that is.... depressing.

So, rather than just write about that, Vonnegut wrapped it in a "religion" known as Bokononism - the indigenous and completely artificial "faith" of the island of San Lorenzo. And in order to tell us about Bokononism, we need a narrator - and a disaster. Which brings us to Ice-Nine.

A variant of water ice which is the final creation of the father of the atom bomb - Dr. Felix Hoenikker - Ice-Nine is solid at temperatures up to 45.8°C (114.4°F). A single crystal of Ice-Nine can convert any liquid water it touches, which will in turn convert any other water in contact with that. If Ice-Nine were to come into contact with a natural body of water, the chain reaction would lead to the total freezing of the planet Earth.

The narrator's journey to the end of the world is an interesting one, started by a search for the truth and ended with the death of humanity. As, perhaps, all searches for truth must.
Profile Image for Swrp.
663 reviews
April 9, 2023
My first Vonnegut has been a wonderful experience!

A journalist is conducting research and investigation for his book, which he is writing on the life of the Nobel laureate and ‘father of the atomic bomb’ late Dr Hoenikker. The journalist starts a correspondence with the three children of the nuclear scientist, and the journey then leads him to the island of San Lorenzo.

Kurt Vonnegut`s Cat’s Cradle is thoughtful, hilarious, philosophical, oftentimes crazy, clever and a delightful read. The story depicts the selfishness of human beings very well, but more than that this book is about the behaviours of carelessness and unaccountability that seem to be deeply ingrained in the DNA of most humans.
Profile Image for Dan Schwent.
2,923 reviews10.6k followers
September 29, 2014
When he embarks on a project to write a book about the creators of the atomic bomb, Jonah has no idea what he's going to unearth: Dr Felix Hoenikker and Ice-Nine, a substance that will instantly freeze any water it comes into contact with into more Ice-Nine, a substance capable of destroying all life on earth. Can Jonah find the missing Hoenikker children and secure their chips of Ice-Nine to safeguard the world?

Here we are, my second experience with Kurt Vonnegut and one of his Big Important Books. This time, he takes on science, religion, politics, and man's ability to destroy himself.

I didn't enjoy Cat's Cradle as much as Slaughterhouse-Five but they probably shouldn't be compared since they aren't the same kind of book. Slaughterhouse is experimental and timey-wimey and Cat's Cradle is much more straight-forward and easy to digest.

Jonah's project leads him to Felix Hoenikker and his three odd children, and eventually, to San Lorenzo and Bokononism, a new religion. Having been through 12 years of parochial school and a couple decades of weekly doses of church, fiction with a religious bend doesn't need much effort to hook me so I was engaged right away. Bokononism is Vonnegut's way of showing how full of shit most religions are, since Bokonon is pretty open about his religion being a pack of lies.

I don't have much else to say about Cat's Cradle. It was a piece of funny yet thought-provoking satire about science, religion, and mankind destroying itself. Four out of five stars.
Profile Image for Henk.
850 reviews
April 12, 2022
Definitely very different than Slaughterhouse Five, and one of the most grim endings to a book ever, certainly from the perspective that this book is tagged as humour
People weren't his speciality - about the inventor of the atomic bomb

Nonsensical might be a appropriate monicker, even though war, McCarthyism, critique on Cold War American foreign policy, ethics of scientific progress and new age religion all form part of the heady mix that Cat's Cradle offers. I just didn't find the whole very funny nor very poignant.

The short chapters are rather distracting instead of helping one get faster into the book. Loosely it recounts the travails of a biographer of the inventor of the atomic bomb, who gets sucked into a Caribbean island dictatorship and a new kind of super weapon involving a compound called Ice-9.

There was a queer son of a bitch Thinks the main character about the inventor of the atom bomb, but in general there are little normal people in the whole book.
Terrible rhyming and simple songs accompany the reader, hallmarks of a new age religion.
Sometimes their is humor, like in this exchange:
Are you an American?
That happiness is mine.

Or in this deadpan assessment:
Some people got free furniture and some got bubonic plague, about a shipwreck where only wicker furniture and rats made it to shore of an island.
I also enjoyed this insult:
How does he know what’s important?
I can carve a better man out of a banana.

But in general I just wasn't captured sufficiently by the plot and narrative, and I found the fascination with a 18 year old by the main character, a divorced man who prides himself on having 53 women, more than a bit awkward.

Science is magic that works but the humor in this book just didn't cut it for me: despite the interesting themes the book felt disjointed and rambling to me.
Profile Image for Lawyer.
384 reviews831 followers
June 13, 2013
Cat's Cradle: Vonnegut's String Game

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Cat's Cradle, First Edition,Holt, Rinehart and Winston

Published in 1963, "Cat's Cradle" is Kurt Vonnegut's fourth novel. I consider it one of the great satirical works of the 20th Century. Often referred to as a modern Mark Twain, Vonnegut's view of American society more fully embraces a society and its group values, while Twain's targets for his biting wit were more specifically aimed, although with the same verve and joy in the revelation of the foibles of life.

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Kurt Vonnegut circa 1963

Placing the central character in a supporting role, Vonnegut opens "Cat's Cradle" with the narrative statement of an otherwise anonymous observer of life. "Call me Jonah," he writes, echoing Melville's opening to Moby Dick, "Call me Ishmael.

Jonah, as the biblical character was, would prefer to be a neutral observer of life. Jonah's goal is to write a history of the day America dropped the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, not what it was like in Hiroshima or Nagasaki, but what it was like to be an American.

It's been a tenet of the rules of human behavior that it's easier to drop a bomb on somebody.

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Paul Tibbets gives a wave from the B-29 he named for his mother."Hey, Mom! You're never gonna guess what I'm about to do."

You're not down there to see the damage you did. It's in that dirty, gritty face to face business when you see the face of an enemy disappear in a cloud of red mist, after you've pulled the trigger you may have some problems.

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What Tibbets and his crew didn't see.

To capture the essence of what it was like to be alive on that day, Jonah searches for and finds the children of Felix Hoenekker, a co-inventor of the atomic bomb.

Hoenekker has been dead for years. However,his children, Frank, Angela, and Newt are very much alive. Newt, the youngest Hoenekker is a whimsical character, an oddity, not only on the basis of his parentage, but also that he is a midget.

Newt offers information that is critical to one of the central themes of "Cat's Cradle." He informs Jonah that he did not ask about the most significant response his father had to the successful test of the atomic bomb. When fellow scientist, a stand in for Robert Oppenheimer,whom Vonnegut does not name, speaks of the sin he and his fellow scientists have created, Professor Hoenekker's response is stunning. "What is a sin?"

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Robert Oppenheimer, Los Alamos, NM, 1945, quoted from the Bhagava Gita, "Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds."

During the test, Hoenekker is playing the children's game "Cat's Cradle." Hence, the title, and the degree of Hoenekker's detachment from the consequences of his contribution to the nuclear age.

Vonnegut, following his service in World War II, was employed by General Electric. His job was to write about the smartest guys in the room and put a human face on them. The company was known for allowing its scientists free rein in theoretical research. And, remember that wonderful slogan of GE once upon a time. "GE--We bring good things to life!

Vonnegut realized that science was capable of wreaking catastrophic results when research led to the development of products capable of being put to destructive use if allowed to fall into the wrong hands. Hoenekker is modeled on a scientist working for GE at the time Vonnegut was earning his paycheck there. In fact, the man, who shall remain nameless here, joked about creating the very substance which would be the genie let out of the bottle in "Cat's Cradle."

Not only did Hoenekker help build the atomic bomb, it seems he developed a substance Ice-9. For Hoenekker it was an amusement resulting from an exercise of the intellect. However, Ice-9, if allowed to come into contact with moisture of any sort, turned any object into solid ice. The implications are obvious.

Jonah accompanies Angela and Newt Hoenekker to the Island of San Lorenzo. Oldest brother, Frank is the small country's Major General, serving dictatorial leader Papa Monzano. Frank is next in line to become President of the Island. Monzano is quite ill.

Throughout the novel, expounding on the indifference towards the actual results of scientific results, Jonah learns that each Hoenekker heir carries a piece of the deadly Ice-9.

Possibly good might triumph over evil. Perhaps some divine intervention might prevent the release of this deadly substance. Where is God when life hangs in the balance?

Why, God is nowhere to be found. Vonnegut's expressions of his opinion of religion have changed throughout his life. He has gone from believer, to agnostic, to atheist, depending which interview you read and the mood in which Vonnegut was found by the particular interviewer at the time.

But in "Cat's Cradle," religion is represented by a mischievous character named Bokonon who turns religion on its head. Bokonon doesn't hesitate to include in his teachings that all religions are lies.

However, Vonnegut does not allow Bokonon to leave the matter as simply as that. The question is decidedly more complex. It is not that God does not exist, he is merely indifferent. God paid his dues. He made man out of mud, gave him a planet with everything he needed in it. A little worship would be nice, but, hey! Job's done. Time to retire. You're on your own.

Perhaps that is Vonnegut's most terrifying premise. Who needs God, when Man is perfectly capable of making an absolute mess out of a world that was working just fine when Man was given it?

The government of San Lorenzo is ostensibly Christian in its religious belief. The practice of Bokonism is an offense punishable by death. The implement of execution is called the Hook. You get caught practicing Bokonism, you get the Hook. Papa Monzano has made it clear, the HOOK is especially reserved for the man himself, Bokonon.

Papa Monzano turns a blind eye to the fact that all San Lorenzoans practice Bokonism. The Book Of Bokonon may not be printed or published. However, those books are everywhere, carefully copied down by hand. Each book is a personal treasure of the owner. The Book Of Bokanon is against the law for it contains the most basic truths of life. In summary, don't take anything seriously, because at it's most basic level the reason behind a social convention is ridiculous.

But it's a joke. One huge Cosmic Joke. Bokanon, the God of San Lorenzo is off the Hook. Always.

Only Man ever ends up on the HOOK. No God or Devil is necessary to hang him there. Left to our own devises, we're perfectly capable of hanging ourselves.

On San Lorenzo, or anywhere else, there's no need for a sermon of the likes of "Sinner's in the Hands of an Angry God." Neither, would it be necessary for Uncle Screwtape to instruct Nephew Wormwood on the finer arts of temptation in obtaining the souls of men. Jonathan Edwards and C.S. Lewis may be on a library shelf, but they aren't required reading.

Those guys, the scientists? Aren't they the whiz kids we really turn to when we're looking for a better life? Maybe they are the new Man made Gods. Vonnegut doesn't condemn science, or religion, or government, although his depiction of those entities are wickedly presented in satirical fashion. This is a very cautionary tale that reminds humanity to be careful of what it wishes for--that's the message, at least for me.

I first read "Cat's Cradle" as a very young man. I found everything in it profoundly hilarious. In "Cat's Cradle" I found a way to reinforce my rebellious beliefs against practically everything, remarkably reinforced by a writer who was almost as smart as I was. As Mark Twain said about his father, when Twain was 15, he thought his father was the dumbest man he'd ever known. When Twain was 20, he was amazed at how much the old man had learned.

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My first copy of "Cat's Cradle"

Yesterday, a friend told me "Cat's Cradle" has become her daughter's favorite book. She just celebrated her Sweet 16. I'd love to be around to get her take on it when she's 59 going on 60, as I am.

I probably won't be around to find that out. So it goes.

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Update, June 13, 2013: Cat's Cradle has been chosen as a group read by goodreads group "Literary Exploration" for its July read.
Profile Image for Phrynne.
3,222 reviews2,052 followers
November 17, 2015
I struggled a bit with this one. Kurt Vonnegut's writing is always a little unusual but this book seemed to be excessively disjointed and rambling. I felt my brain wandering off into more interesting thoughts and had to keep rereading bits. Keeping track of all the characters' names was hard too. Not a successful read for me I am afraid.
Profile Image for Darwin8u.
1,559 reviews8,688 followers
January 10, 2017
"...for the quotation captured in a couplet the cruel paradox of Bakononist thought, the heartbreaking necessity about lying about reality, and the heartbreaking impossibility of lying about it.

Midget, midget, midget, how he struts and winks,
For he knows a man's as big as what he hopes and thinks!

-- Kurt Vonnegut, Cat's Cradle


I first read this in 9th grade. The grade my two kids are right now. Life has a way of making you feel both old and insignificant. When I first read this book I was focused on the technology of Ice-9 and the absurdity of weapons of mass destruction. This time, as I read it in a quickly cooling bath.* Seriously, all men over 40 should read this book naked in a bath that is quickly losing its heat, while wrinkles develop on their hands, feet, etc. There is nothing emasculates a man faster than a cold bath, nakedness, age, and Kurt Vonnegut.

Anyway, 28 years after first reading it and I still love this book. It was my first Vonnegut. One of my first exposures to the world of literature as absurdism, dark satire, and the wicked wink of postmodernism. I was hooked.

* with all this damn technology, one would think it would be easy to develop a better system for insulating baths. During the last 60 years, our society has gone from porcelain to plastic. So, now I can't even scratch OR freeze my ass in my tub and remain dignified.
Profile Image for Warwick.
824 reviews14.5k followers
April 29, 2017
Think what a paradise this world would be if men were kind and wise.

In 1963, when this book first came out, the world was still unclenching after the Cuban Missile Crisis. The nervy terror beneath the posturing of the Cold War is writ large here, and in cartoon colours; indeed the very name of the Cold War finds a deadly literality in Vonnegut's ‘ice-nine’, the chemical compound that will destroy all life on earth. Vonnegut's tone – a desperate hilarity which, I think, reflects real fear – has something in it that reminded me of Tom Lehrer's nuclear anthem ‘We Will All Go Together When We Go’ of a few years later:

And we will all go together when we go!
What a comforting fact that is to know!
Universal bereavement,
An inspiring achievement!
Yes, we all will go together when we go!

Vonnegut's apocalyptic outlook is saved from the taint of adolescent cynicism because of his constant reminders that things could be so much better. There's a melancholy utopianism in his worldview, which is represented, in Cat's Cradle, by the Caribbean religion of Bokononism. Unlike most religions, Bokononism is up-front about its fictional nature: honesty, for Vonnegut, is the quickest path to wisdom, however uncomfortable, and the extracts from Bokononist teachings are among the most appealing parts of his story.

‘Maturity is a bitter disappointment for which no remedy exists, unless laughter can be said to remedy anything.’

It took me a while to warm up to Cat's Cradle. Vonnegut's approach is broadbrush, his language basic (though there are some nice lines – we hear that one character ‘ran to the heart of the house in the brainless ecstasy of a volunteer fireman’). The cast is made up of cut-out stock figures, including the brash American abroad, the high-minded impersonal scientist, the fat third-world dictator, the teenage hula-girl sex object. But in the second half of the (short) book, with everyone brought together on a remote fictional island, these elements start to combine in surprisingly powerful ways. When you look back on the book, this is the bit you remember: cartoon characters on an island, swapping religious parables and making jokes about imminent extinction. I suspect people who read this some years ago have forgotten the whole first half in New York – I suspect this because I read it a couple of days ago, and that bit's already hazy to me.

And the ending is so memorable because, despite the slapstick, it is deadly serious. Maybe a few years, or even months ago, one could have enjoyed the story uncomplicatedly, but it's funny how these things come around again. In his introduction to the Penguin Modern Classics edition, Benjamin Kunkel meditates on the following Bokononist verses:

Duffle, in the Bokononist sense, is the destiny of thousands upon thousands of persons when placed in the hands of a stuppa. A stuppa is a fogbound child.

‘Even the silly coinages of Bokonon,’ Kunkel deadpans, ‘seem to have taken on, for Americans at least, a certain utility and precision.’ But – oh god! – he wrote this in 2008, under George W Bush – a poor leader, but a peerless statesman in comparison to the detestable thundercunt presently in office, who has turned a book that should be a period piece into a model of contemporary relevance. Vonnegut would have been disgusted, but wholly unsurprised.
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