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3.82  ·  Rating details ·  21,182 ratings  ·  886 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 Vonnegut Jr.Cat's Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut Jr.Breakfast of Champions by Kurt Vonnegut Jr.The Sirens of Titan by Kurt Vonnegut Jr.Mother Night by Kurt Vonnegut Jr.
Vonnegut's Best
37 books — 618 voters
1984 by George OrwellFahrenheit 451 by Ray BradburyThe Catcher in the Rye by J.D. SalingerAnimal Farm by George OrwellTo Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Cult Classics
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Average rating 3.82  · 
Rating details
 ·  21,182 ratings  ·  886 reviews

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Jim Fonseca
Feb 17, 2020 rated it really liked it
If I selected one passage to tell what this book is abut I’d pick this: “I still believe that peace and plenty and happiness can be worked out in some way. I am a fool.”

The author is famous for his biting satire (and cynicism?) and, as one reviewer says in the blurbs, “nothing is spared.” It’s loaded with political satire and black humor.

The back cover gives a summary that I will use so I don’t give away too much of the plot:

“Jailbird takes us into a fractured and comic, pure Vonnegut world of
Jul 20, 2011 rated it really 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
J.L.   Sutton
Mar 03, 2020 rated it really liked it
“I still believe that peace and plenty and happiness can be worked out some way. I am a fool.”

Jailbird has been called Kurt Vonnegut's Watergate novel. What it lacks in absurdity (at least compared to several of his other novels) is more than made up for by his biting sarcasm, cynical insights and dark humor. Our protagonist, William F. Starbuck, is a minor-level co-conspirator in Nixon's White House who is sent to a minimum security prison for two years. Interweaving political and labor histor
Steven Godin

Another slick satire from Mr. Vonnegut. Here the focus lies with Watergate, Communism, trade unionisms, labor history and capitalism, through the eyes of narrator Walter F. Starbuck. And once again we have Vonnegut's much traveled character Kilgore Trout making an appearance. For those who are familar with him, it might not come as a surprise he is in jail for treason. But this is all about Starbuck, who finds himself out of the can in 77, where he arrives in New York and falls pray to an all to
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
Kara 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
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
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
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
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
Feb 01, 2020 rated it liked it

As far as lesser-known Vonnegut (is such a thing real?) goes this is nothing spectacular. If you’re an avid Vonnegut reader then you know to expect an emphasis on kindness, a distrust of political figures, and irreverent comedy. This book has all three of course. It also features narrative motifs you might be familiar with: the repetition of a phrase to emphasize a point, for example. “Ting-a-ling” makes another appearance as well.

Anyway, you could go to Rosewater if you wanted something more
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. ...more
Jul 10, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
"The economy is a thoughtless weather system—and nothing more."

This is a Vonnegut Novel which I tried to read many times since last November. About a second gen American guy who went to Harvard survived the great depression working for government followed by becoming jobless out of McCarthyism for his communist connections from his college days. He goes back again to work for government in a few years time only to get 2 years time of imprisonment for having been a part of Watergate scandal and l
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.
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
MJ Nicholls
Oct 12, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: merkins, novels
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
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. ...more
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. ...more
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. ...more
Jul 08, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
In the lesser known work Jailbird , Vonnegut plays with absurdism of a kind markedly different from his own characteristic style: one that refers to both the fecundity and futility of the social, political and ideological realities of our world. This book is ostensibly about Walter F. Starbuck; who went to Harvard and later to prison for tangential involvement as a (largely forgotten) public servant in the Watergate scandal; and his first 24 hours as a free man. It is expectantly one of deep po ...more
Feb 11, 2009 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: funny, fiction, own, 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
Jelani Headley
Jan 26, 2021 rated it really liked it
Quite an interesting read. Being that this was the first time reading Vonnegut I had no real expectations and for that I’m glad. His style throughout the book is sort of brilliant. He will give you all the information besides the actual event or words said in a suspenseful way. Ultimately summarizing the passage with a singular sentence that gives more weight to everything he describes. The historical-fiction aspect of the book is something that I’ve rarely seen books use and would love to read ...more
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
Lorenzo Berardi
Let's face it: this is a minor novel by Vonnegut.
Which means - mind you - that 'Jailbird' is still a good book.

There is a certain melancholic Shawshank Redemption-like feeling here and I've found the pages about Sacco & Vanzetti to be particularly touching and interesting. The weather sympathises.

A sentimental novel imbibed of heavyweight topics such as the Watergate, McCarthysm, civil rights, fight against the corporations and much more.

Any other novelist would have either made a mess out of
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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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