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3.82  ·  Rating details ·  19,273 ratings  ·  735 reviews
Jailbird takes us into a fractured and comic, pure Vonnegut world of high crimes and misdemeanors in government—and in the heart. This wry tale follows bumbling bureaucrat Walter F. Starbuck from Harvard to the Nixon White House to the penitentiary as Watergate’s least known co-conspirator. But the humor turns dark when Vonnegut shines his spotlight on the cold hearts and ...more
Paperback, 310 pages
Published January 12th 1999 by Dial Press Trade Paperback (first published 1979)
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Chris You pick it up, open the pages, and read the words in left-to-right order.
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
38 books — 604 voters
1984 by George OrwellThe Catcher in the Rye by J.D. SalingerFahrenheit 451 by Ray BradburyAnimal Farm by George OrwellTo Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Cult Classics
964 books — 1,598 voters

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3.82  · 
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 ·  19,273 ratings  ·  735 reviews

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Jul 20, 2011 rated it liked it
Not one of the better known Vonnegut novels, and significantly different than most of his other collection. This is perhaps his most serious work.

Jailbird lacks the absurdist bent characterized by so much of his other satire, and is conspicuously somber throughout most of the book, though it still features Vonnegut’s fast style and light approach. This might also be his most politically dogmatic work, eschewing his ubiquitous humor and playful wisdom with a staid, thoughtful passion for rights n
Mar 07, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2016
“I was making my mind as blank as possible, you see, since the past was so embarrassing and the future so terrifying.”
― Kurt Vonnegut, Jailbird


Sometimes, I'm not sure if we are running recklessly toward a Philip K Dick future or a Kurt Vonnegut future. Sometimes, it sure seems like a bit of both. Both authors like to play with ideas of fascism. I think part of the draw, for me, of these two authors right now is how they sensed (Vonnegut especially in this book) the absolute absurdity and realit
Aug 15, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 5questions
I could never choose a favorite Vonnegut book, but when he died recently it was Jailbird I picked up to reread and feel his humanism and his compassion for all of flawed mankind. To me the underlying theme of Vonnegut's work is the importance of fundamental kindness. Even when Vonnegut it as his most negative about a situation, his conviction that compassion and generosity would be enough to fix whatever problem he's dwelling on shines through. His disappointment that this approach is all too se ...more
Scott Stevenson
Jan 10, 2015 rated it it was amazing
The author does not want you to know this but Goodreads has just been purchased by the RAMJAC Corporation.
Ian "Marvin" Graye
Happy Peaceful Jailbirds

This is a curious novel. For the first 11 chapters (170 pages), it read like an autobiography (of a former journalist and Harvard graduate become adviser on youth affairs in Richard Nixon’s administration). Only in the 13 chapters (136 pages) that followed did it take on the familiar comic absurdist style of social commentary for which Vonnegut is better known.

Love of Labour

The novel is a critique of private enterprise, capitalism and the labour relations that are imposed
Vit Babenco
Apr 20, 2013 rated it really liked it
“Coming right at me was the husk of the man who had stolen Sarah Wyatt from me, the man I had ruined back in Nineteen-hundred and Forty-nine. He had not seen me yet. He was Leland Clewes!
He had lost all his hair, and his feet were capsizing in broken shoes, and the cuffs of his trousers were frayed, and his right arm appeared to have died. Dangling at the end of it was a battered sample case. Clewes had become an unsuccessful salesman, as I would find out later, of advertising matchbooks and cal
Feb 19, 2009 rated it liked it
I began reading this book just after finishing Anna Karenina and I am glad I did. It was essentially everything Anna Karenina was not (in a good way).

The prose was classic Vonnegut, light, fast paced and strangely hilarious. I look at Vonnegut as many look upon their grandfathers. There are the same corny jokes you've come to expect and despite their corniness you can't help but laugh and be pleased with them.

Jailbird was particularly interesting and at the same time confusing for me. The tale g
Ben Babcock
Feb 07, 2015 rated it liked it
One of the central conceits of Jailbird is that the RAMJAC corporation seems to own everything, and it is owned by Mrs. Jack Graham, a reclusive woman whom few people have met in person and who gives orders by telephone, confirming them by mailing a letter to her subordinates signed by fingerprints from both hands. That’s weird, right?

Problem is, this is a Vonnegut novel, so it’s not nearly weird enough.

Walter F. Starbuck is a Harvard man, a minor public servant who does time in a white-collar p
It strikes me, not for the first time whilst reading Vonnegut that writers can be divided into two camps. The ones who have to work to include that smart-arse-clever line/sentence/phrase they jotted down somewhere, sometime and really really need to get in. Who was it who said that the more you like something you've written down, the more likely it is that you should take it out? And the ones who, even if what they say hits you with a jolt - and Vonnegut's lines often do that - they nonetheless ...more
Jun 23, 2013 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This was my first foray into Kurt Vonnegut territory, and I expected to have stronger feelings one way or another about his work. Instead, I was mildly pleased when the book was finished and I could move on to something else. It is plain to see that there is a host of individuals out there who regard Vonnegut as an icon, and I will not presume to gainsay them. He simply did not strike a chord with me.

Perhaps if I had read a book or two of his in my younger days, or chosen a different title for m
I don't mind so much the Republicans who embrace greed and general douche-baggery.

But it's those Republicans who cloak themselves in smug, moral self-righteousness, the ones who invoke God and think somehow Jesus would be on board with their selfish hypocrisy, that really annoy me.

In the intro to Jailbird, Vonnegut refers to a letter he had recently received from a high-school reader who told Vonnegut he had read almost everything by him and wanted to share the single idea he found at the core o
Erik Graff
Feb 28, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Vonnegut fans
Recommended to Erik by: no one
Shelves: literature
This is one of Vonnegut's more explicitly politically contemporary novels and one of his best--in his opinion as well as mine. I snuck it in just before starting the second semester at Loyola University Chicago.
Nov 28, 2017 rated it really liked it
"While I was a student, I sometimes caught the whiff of a promise that, after I graduated, I would be better than average at explaining important matters to people who were slow at catching on. Things did not work out that way." (46)
The last book by Vonnegut that I read, God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater, left me rather cold—this one, Jailbird, was much better. In fact, I'd say it's up there with his best.
Mar 05, 2018 rated it liked it
Kurt Vonnegut's characters and plotlines are the literary equivalent of 'that's just how it be on this bitch of an earth' and I love it.
MJ Nicholls
Oct 12, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: novels, merkins
Jailbird is a quintessentially Vonnegutian tale of rich-man guilt and the futility of capitalist America.

The story is most effective when dealing with Walter's love interests. Vonnegut captures the intensity and importance of relationships like no other writer, by stretching them throughout life, showing how love endures more than money or career success. He does this, of course, with dollops of sentimental irony.

I think "sentimental ironist" isn't a bad summation of Vonnegut's style, though his
Descending Angel
Feb 03, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: vonnegut
Maybe Vonnegut's most political work, dealing with the Watergate scandal, attacking capitalism and communism and having a more serious approach to it even though it is still unmistakably Vonnegut. I wouldn't call this one of his top books, I would place quite a few above it, but it still is a fast paced and amusing joyride which only Vonnegut could write.
Jan 17, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Kurt Vonnegut is one of my favorite authors, and he has yet to let me down. Other readers are correct in the pacing of this book - it moves along a bit slower than other Vonnegut novels, but this was probably intentional with the author constantly referencing what a sad, old, fragile man he had become. I can't think of a single time that I've witnessed a fragile old man rushing through his story.

There were several things that made me fall in love with this story, which actually not my standard f
Dec 31, 2009 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
First I have to say that Mr. Vonnegut is amazing, so I'm a bit biased. If you REALLY want to start reading all of Mr. Vonnegut's books (which you should want to do) please don't start with this book. But then again Jailbird is much more straightforward in its story line then some of his other books so it might be a bit more accessible. I like how Mr. Vonnegut's writing skips around and truly makes no sense until about half way through when it starts to slowly come together. Jailbird is not like ...more
Feb 02, 2011 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I found this book in my bathroom and decided to read it. It was left there by a guest who was probably pooping when he was reading it. That's OK with me. About a third of the way through the book, Walter F. Starbuck, the hero (though he would probably prefer we not call him that), finds a paperback book in a bathroom stall at an airport and decides to read it. I about fell off my chair.

When I was a senior in high school, I was introduced to Vonnegut and proceeded to read everything the man had
Feb 11, 2009 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, own, funny, vonnegut
Maybe this really deserves four stars, I just can't tell anymore. For me, Of Human Bondage set the bar so high it's now unreachable and most likely all the ratings I've given since have suffered accordingly.

What did I learn from this book?
Apparently that whole Sacco and Vanzetti thing was as important as that graphic novel I read about the wobblies said, it must have been because Vonnegut constantly references it throughout the book, according to the index at least a dozen times. Who puts an i
Noran Miss Pumkin
Apr 05, 2008 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: kurt V. fans
Recommended to Noran by: John.
Shelves: popular-books
i know the the teenager the author mentions in the preface of the book or is it the intro. many i guess think he does not exist, but he does. the author even sent him a leather bound edition of this tome autographed. the book, will like most the this author's works--not my taste. some like this type of pizza, i do not.
Charlie Weiss
Jan 25, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction
I have officially given up on choosing a favorite Vonnegut. They're all amazing, which is why I'm reading every last one.
Though I was a bit thrown off with this one, firstly because I thought Kilgore Trout was real, not just a pseudonym of Dr Bob Fender. Secondly, the fact that most of the facts referenced in this book are true. Like Sacco and Vanzetti, and Watergate.

Here's my favorite part of this one:
And then I regaled myself with a story by my prison friend Dr. Robert Fender, which he had pu
Dec 12, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: audio
Known as his “Watergate novel,” this touches on the labor movement, power, and politics, all draped in dark humor, of course. It’s told from bureaucrat Walter Starbuck’s POV in the days following his release from prison for his wee involvement in the Watergate scandal. This isn’t Vonnegut at his best, but still enjoyable. I’m always thrilled for a Kilgore Trout cameo, though he is slightly different in this account.
Jan 27, 2019 rated it really liked it
Walter F. Starbuck Has Come Unstuck in LIfe

Dear Mr. Vonnegut,

I understand that life's full of pain and disappointment. But if you want people to be kinder, why do you make your characters drift along like boats without a rudder? And why do you keep suggesting there's little or nothing we can do to change things?

Your Reader


Dear Reader,

Because I’m torn myself, and it only grows worse with age. Too many memories. Wish I could focus on the good times like the Tralfamadorians, but my brain
Jan 19, 2016 rated it really liked it
This is, if not the best Vonnegut I have read, at least in the top two. The many disparate plot lines and events that Vonnegut ties together seem a natural fit under his great skills.
Once again Vonnegut gives us a hapless protagonist who lets the waves of life wash over him, rarely taking the time to notice or care all that much. "Jailbird" is written as an autobiography of its central character Walter F. Starbuck. Walter's life has always been a life of the moment, and his very values and core
Jeff Lacy
Aug 14, 2014 rated it it was amazing
About the haphazardness of power, economic and political, and the irony and folly of Walter F. Starbuck's life affected by it.

I did not enjoy this story or it's characters, but it's Vonnegut. I recommend anything he writes.

Revise: Aug 30, 2014: I have been thinking about this book since I finished it and wrote my review above. I have come to the conclusion that this book, perhaps more than most of Vonnegut's other novels works on a myriad of themes: friendship, success, failure, injustice, wrong
Trevor Denton
Jan 04, 2012 rated it really liked it
Jailbird is all over the place in that great Vonnegut way. It's about an elderly man who is released from minimum security prison, where he was serving a sentence for white collar crimes he committed while inadvertently involving himself in the Watergate scandal.

The book is a great collection of character interactions, as the protagonist reconnects with several people from his past life, as well as people in the new, dispassionate world in which he finds himself.

Through the actions and thoughts
Jan 21, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Jailbird is a personal favorite of mine, which means that it ranks in the top 5 of Vonnegut's novels. Here we find Vonnegut at his most grounded and his most overtly political. These are, of course, relative terms for a writer as inventive and socially conscious as Kurt Vonnegut. He explores the absurdities of the American education system, socialism, corporate monopolies, class identification, and man's fundamental lack of compassion in the face of money or power.

In Jailbird, as in all of his
Dave Allen
Apr 25, 2016 rated it really liked it
Was waffling between 3 and 4 stars on this, but being a big fan of Vonnegut I went 4. The reason I hesitated is that this did not quite contain that whimsical Vonnegut-ness I am used to. This book was a little more straight forward and written as if it were a memoir penned by the main character. I think if I hadn't read so many of his other works and wasn't influenced by that, this would have been 4 or 5 stars. That said, like most of his works, definitely worth the read.
Lukasz Pruski
Nov 10, 2017 rated it liked it
"She believed, and was entitled to believe, I must say, that all human beings were evil by nature, whether tormentors or victims, or idle standers-by. [...] We were a disease, she said, which had evolved on one tiny cinder in the universe, but could spread and spread."

I am ambivalent about Kurt Vonnegut's Jailbird (1979). On the one hand the author pushes many of my hot buttons and I agree with his choices of human failings to lampoon - human race as a disease affecting the universe is a brillia
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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
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