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Hocus Pocus

3.83  ·  Rating details ·  30,701 ratings  ·  1,191 reviews
Here is the adventure of Eugene Debs Hartke. He's a Vietnam veteran, a jazz pianist, a college professor, and a prognosticator of the apocalypse (and other things Earth-shattering). But that's neither here no there. Because at Tarkington College—where he teaches—the excrement is about to hit the air-conditioning. And its all Eugene's fault. ...more
Paperback, 322 pages
Published November 1997 by Berkley Books (first published 1990)
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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.
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37 books — 622 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
1,114 books — 1,785 voters

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Average rating 3.83  · 
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 ·  30,701 ratings  ·  1,191 reviews

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Dec 02, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
There are a couple of authors who aimlessly write, sometimes attaching all this "drivel" to one profound, emblematic theme. None of that with Vonnegut, who writes about the Vietnam War like no one else: with the courage to mix in futuristic and antiquarian events, all fictional but lifelike, as well as merging composite psyches with individual personal histories. He has a beating heart, and it beats louder and faster, with a warlike violence and even more often with a human tenderness, as Vonneg ...more
J.L.   Sutton
Nov 18, 2019 rated it liked it
"The excrement has hit the air-conditioning, big time."

While I found Kurt Vonnegut's Hocus Pocus interesting, this might well be my least favorite Vonnegut book. Our protagonist, Eugene Debs Hartke is named for the political activitist, Eugene Debs, and anti-war Senator, Vance Hartke. Debs’ most famous quote, “while there is a lower class, I am in it, and while there is a criminal element I am of it, and while there is a soul in prison, I am not free” appears numerous times in the book. As he a
Erik Ryman
Aug 03, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Lovers of satire
Hocus Pocus is the story of Eugene Debs Hartke, a Vietnam veteran, who after leaving the Army became a teacher at a private school and then a prison. After a prison break, he is mistaken for one of the ring leaders and ends up awaiting trial, dying of TB, contemplating his life and trying to count the number of women he has slept with.

In itself, that would make a good basis for an ordinary book, but as this is a novel written by Kurt Vonnegut, the basic story has little to do with making this on
Jul 30, 2011 rated it liked it
"The truth can be very funny in an awful way, especially as it relates to greed and hypocrisy."

In many ways, this is about hypocrisy and deception and so is one of Vonnegut’s most scathingly cynical and satirical works, and yet his scorn here is subtle, though rarely playful as he can be and has demonstrated in other novels. This most reminded me of his 1979 novel Jailbird. We have another unreliable narrator, but this is Vonnegut and so situational irony and complexity spice the topsy turvy per
May 26, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
A biting satire with sharp teeth.

An often hilarious and all too often sadly accurate commentary on our culture and humanity as whole, all wrapped up in a story about a Vietnam Veteran turned instructor that witnesses a mass prison break and eventually becomes a prisoner himself. On pure plot - we are being told the story by the main character, Eugene Debs Hartke, named for a Socialist Atheist, raised by a pair of nit-wits, and then made to go to West Point by the paternal nit-wit. Eugene Hartke
Dec 03, 2017 rated it liked it
“The 2 prime movers in the Universe are Time and Luck.”

“Hocus Pocus” is one of those Vonnegut novels that works from time to time. The first 75 pages or so are slow going. However, around page 100 I found myself more interested in the story. And it was easy going from then on.
Vonnegut reveals the story in this text piece by piece in scraps of memory revealed by the narrator. Each page reveals more of the larger picture, and the reader finds themselves understanding just a little bit more of the
M.L. Rio
I haven't read a book I loved this much in a long time. In Hocus Pocus Vonnegut is at his best, walking the line between absurdism, satire, and tragedy with unsurpassed finesse. It's not a story for everyone, because nothing in this story is sacred. (Even the Kennedy assassination isn't off-limits.) The humor is grim, the characters often unpalatable, the outlook bleak. What makes it so compulsively readable is Vonnegut's skill and insight as raconteur. The non-linear narrative seems at first to ...more
Sep 27, 2010 rated it it was amazing

I had to laugh like hell...

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

Life seems to be, in Vonnegut's vie
Tom Quinn
Vonnegut's writing seemed to grow more overtly autobiographical as he neared the end of his life. Maybe that's not accurate, since he was inserting himself into his own narratives as early as Slaughterhouse-Five. Maybe I just notice it more easily now. At any rate, this time he's literally present as the editor of this, an alleged work of found literature, and figuratively present in the character of Eugene Debs (no relation), a veteran who worked at a college and has strong opinions about the h ...more
May 24, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: american, 2017, fiction
"The truth can be very funny in an awful way, especially as it relates to greed and hypocrisy."
- Kurt Vonnegut, Hocus Pocus


Having read Timequake prior to reading Hocus Pocus (these are his last two novels), I was glad I reveresed the order. While I wasn't blown away by 'Hocus Pocus', it was moderately better than 'Timequake'. Hocus Pocus was a bit wide at the hips. Vonnegut was covering a lot of ground with this novel. He was looking at issues of race, war, economics, politicis, education, mone
Dec 07, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: audio, 2013
I love Vonnegut, but this one felt a little forced and was largely forgettable. Forced in the way that it felt like another one of his phrases (like "so it goes") was being churned out and forgettable because I can't even remember that phrase.

Still, not terrible, just one of his weaker novels.
Apr 29, 2010 rated it it was amazing
This is not, not, not a book to be read if you haven't read Kurt Vonnegut in your life. It is also something that needs to be handled with a certain care and consideration for satire and the hilarity that can come with it. Kurt Vonnegut is a master of cynicism and being able to open one's eyes to the often times ridiculous world around us.

This story is an intricate weaving of sections that are as variable in length as they are in subject matter. And yet, with the expertise of a skilled writer, V
Jul 10, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: humor
I can't say that this is one of Kurt Vonnegut's best works. To be honest, it's rather more depressing than many of his other novels - and they're a rather depressing lot anyway! Unlike his Bluebeard, though, this book lacks a deeply moving and somehow uplifting ending. It lacks a sense of resolution...perhaps that's what Vonnegut intended. It probably is.

But even so, Vonnegut retained his gifts as a writer. So although I found myself frequently feeling a little depressed by this book, I also cou
Mar 28, 2011 rated it it was amazing
2ND TIME READING: Vonnegut is just amazing. What we have here is an inciting incident, an incident around which everything else in this book pivots, and instead of focusing on that, we examine the two dozen satellites that are trapped in it’s orbit. In doing that, this book explores and satirizes and subverts so many disparate yet somehow related things (the prison system, higher education, neo-McCarthyism, family, Vietnam, etc) that it’s hard to know which direction is up. But Vonnegut tells st ...more
Oct 22, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"Any form of Government, not just Capitalism, is whatever people who have all our money, drunk or sober, sane or insane, decide to do today."

''Hocus Pocus'' is first-person narrative told by Eugene Debs Hartke, West Point graduate and Vietnam War veteran told in retrospective and written on scraps of paper whilst in prison.

Hartke is thoughtful about his war record but not tormented by it and is quite candid about the number of people he killed or had killed on behalf of his Government nor the ma
Jan 24, 2008 rated it did not like it
Recommends it for: really, really, really completionist Vonnegut fans
I love Kurt Vonnegut. It would be difficult to overstate how formative Cat's Cradle was for me. I got a major kick out of Slaughterhouse Five.

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

If you took all the wit and imagination and irony and subtlety out of Slaughterhouse Five, you'd end up with this. I can see why someone would want to w
Jan 22, 2018 rated it it was ok
Shelves: fiction

There were a few moments in this brutally satirical, over the top, wackadoodle slapdash that felt real, and lived. Eugene Debs Hartke, Vietnam War veteran, is a professor at Tarkington College, where every student is learning disabled or possibly just stupid. He's teaching a Music Appreciation class and asks the students to pick a piece of music to go with a major event in their lives, the way Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture was about Napoleon's defeat in Russia. A boy named Bruce Bergeron picks the
Nov 22, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
My favorite of Vonnegut's lesser known works. Has the same wit exemplified in Cat's Cradle and Breakfast of Champions. I think a big part of why I like this one so much is the numerology games he plays throughout. (I do love me some numbers). The choppy style takes a little bit to get used to (the self aware first person voice supposedly only had scraps of paper of divergent sizes to write on) but it pays off once you get used to it. Vonnegut has always been a master at seamlessly amalgamating f ...more
Jul 03, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Vonnegut brings his strengths to bear on this dark, deeply ironic and topical novel (still topical more than 20 years after it was published). The protagonist and first-person narrator is Eugene Debs Hartke, a Vietnam veteran with a history of killing and promoting the war as part of the Army propaganda machine. With a contemplative tone - he is not traumatized although he'd have fair reason to be - he goes back and forth telling stories of his life, leading up to the events that put him in the ...more
Jul 27, 2018 rated it it was amazing
“Any form of government, not just capitalism, is whatever people who have all our money, drunk or sober, sane or insane, decide to do today.”

Kurt Vonnegut can be difficult and frustrating but his use of bitter sarcasm and dark humor in Hocus Pocus proved to be effective in plotting out the life of a deeply-flawed and narcissistic Vietnam veteran turned professor. It’s fun to read how a very problematic character talks about social conditions, racial injustice, and inequality.

There are parts wher
Maggie K
Sep 08, 2014 rated it really liked it one can capture the ironic humor that comes from an otherwise tragic situation quite like Vonnegut.

In this book, our protagonist is on his deathbed, and reviewing his life, which was really just a series of unfortunate events...and in the words of one character.."I had to laugh like hell"

By the end of the book, the concept of having to laugh at the irony that is life just shone through like a beacon. this is something I can definitely appreciate!
Apr 18, 2017 rated it really liked it
"How embarrassing to be human."

Dark social satire set in martial-law America where prisons are "color-coded" and the Japanese own nearly everything. Basic takeaway: humans are still stupid and ruining the planet. History repeats itself. Bleak, but funny. Plus, there's a brief Kilgore Trout appearance.
Erik Graff
Oct 21, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: everyone
Recommended to Erik by: no one
Shelves: literature
Like Vonnegut, I share a deep admiration for Eugene Victor Debs. Like Vonnegut, I probably idolize the man. The contrast between Hartke, the protagonist, and Debs, his namesake, is significant and Hartke knows it.
Paul (formerly known as Current)
Kurt Vonnegut creates, with his own unique perspective and style, a novel of entropy and fragments that is quite enjoyable to read--here, in the wandering time line of memory are causes and effects of history and accident specific to one man's life and yet which tie together and comment on our history and society.

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

Mar 20, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorite-writers
There's something utterly terrible in finishing a book that made you feel like your whole being (as never before) was acknowledged as beautiful while you read it. Tears...a lot of tears. A ache in your heart...a yearning for the love affair that you've just had with this author (reaching for him in your quiet times and not being rejected but Validated) is over. Done. Kaput. But to know that you are for now and for ever in love with him. That a simple little word strategically placed within its p ...more
Amirtha Shri
Apr 12, 2020 rated it liked it
'How embarrassing to be human.'

Hocus Pocus is the kind of story that's ideal to read when you want to chuckle at some biting quick humour. There's not much for a story here but the non-linear plot keeps you engaged. It is the story of Eugene Debs Hartke named after an American labor and political leader Eugene V. Debs and anti-war senator Vance Hartke. His formative years and crucial life decisions were shaped by his father who hardly knew what was in Gene's interest, after which he emerges a wa
Aug 28, 2018 rated it really liked it
“Just because you can read, write and do a little math, doesn't mean that you're entitled to conquer the universe.”
― Kurt Vonnegut, ‘Hocus Pocus’

Told from the point of view of Eugene Debs, professor at Tarkenton college/Vietnam War vet/prison warden /outsider philosopher. ‘Hocus Pocus’ is an often funny, broad and wide-ranging commentary on race, class, war and its aftermath, nationalism and provincialism, economics and education, ignorance and enlightenment. Always quotable, Vonnegut packs a l
Larry Bassett
Vonnegut is irreverent! And while I have to say his irreverence Is very much in line with my attitude, page after page after page of it like the Ratatat Tat of a machine gun was a bit much even for me. The paragraphs were staccato throughout the book. Thank goodness the book is short and it was over before it could wear me completely out. The fact that I listened to it in the Audible format was a benefit.
Apr 16, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This was written in such a bizarre fashion that it took me awhile to get into it. The longer I read the more I realized Vonnegut was able to pack quicker and harder punches.

There was a lot here and I laughed like hell.

Also finding out Andrew Jackson Jihad got their album title for "People Who Eat People are the Luckiest People in the World" from this book was super cool.
Joseph Inzirillo
Mar 08, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
For Me this book started slow but definitely picked up to the Vonnegut I know and love. A stark view of war and society in a way only he could write it. Excellent read. And so it goes.
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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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