Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Mother Night” as Want to Read:
Mother Night
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

Mother Night

4.19  ·  Rating details ·  82,760 ratings  ·  3,353 reviews
Librarian note: Alternate cover edition for this ISBN can be found here.

Mother Night is a daring challenge to our moral sense. American Howard W. Campbell, Jr., a spy during World War II, is now on trial in Israel as a Nazi war criminal. But is he really guilty? In this brilliant book rife with true gallows humor, Vonnegut turns black and white into a chilling shade of gra
Paperback, 282 pages
Published May 11th 1999 by Dial Press (first published 1961)
More Details... Edit Details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
Average rating 4.19  · 
Rating details
 ·  82,760 ratings  ·  3,353 reviews

More filters
Sort order
Start your review of Mother Night
May 22, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The thing I love best about Kurt Vonnegut is that he was both the ultimate cynic and the ultimate humanist. What better character for him to create to embody those views than a Nazi with good intentions?

Howard W. Campbell Jr. was an American citizen who grew up in Germany and became a prominent Nazi thanks to his virulent anti-Semitic propaganda. However, Howard had actually been recruited before the war began to be an American spy who provided vital intelligence to the Allies via codes hidden i
Luca Ambrosino
English (Mother Night) / Italiano

Probably Vonnegut will never be one of my favourite writers. However, I must say that "Mother Night" is a good novel. Howard W. Campbell Junior is an American playwright emigrated to Germany of the Third Reich, become the symbol as well as the radio personality of Nazi propaganda. Campbell Junior brings us his memories from an Israeli jail, waiting to be tried for crimes against humanity.The tragicomic story that comes out gives us totally grotesque characters, m


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

It's not just me - the great Doris Lessing also wrote once that she couldn't quite understand why this book
Ahmad Sharabiani
Mother Night, Kurt Vonnegut

Mother Night is a novel by American author Kurt Vonnegut, first published in February 1962. The title of the book is taken from Goethe's Faust.

It is the fictional memoirs of Howard W. Campbell Jr., an American, who moved to Germany in 1923 at age 11, and later became a well-known playwright and Nazi propagandist. The action of the novel is narrated (through the use of metafiction) by Campbell himself.

The premise is that he is writing his memoirs while awaiting trial
Apr 04, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: american
Spotting Fake News

Fake news did not arise with Donald Trump’s tweets. Propagandists of the Left and the Right have used it since before there was a Left and Right. America has always had a fascist edge. 19th century Nativists, Know-Nothings, Klansmen, Red Shirts, White Leaguers, and Constitutional Unionists invented fake news long before the John Birch Society, Glenn Beck, Lou Dobbs or the alt-Right of Steve Bannon claimed that mass media routinely hide the truth about immigrants, Jews, and Blac
Feb 21, 2009 rated it really liked it
When most people think of Kurt Vonnegut, the novels Slaughterhouse-Five and Cat's Cradle immediately come to mind. It's a shame that more people aren't familiar with Mother Night, a novel in which Vonnegut explores the nature of moral ambiguity and what high-minded ideals we sacrifice on the altar of war. It's a skillful blend of Vonnegut's trademark dark humor and philosophical musings about human morality as observed through the lens of war. To put it simply, this is some good stuff.

Sitting in
Jul 20, 2011 rated it really liked it
In Stanley Kubrik's film, Full Metal Jacket, one of the most highlighted scenes is where the protagonist is asked to explain the peace symbol and "Born to Kill" slogan on his helmet. His response:“I think I was trying to suggest something about the duality of man.”

Cannot help but wonder if the writer for Full Metal Jacket had been thinking of Mother Night when he wrote that line. One of the darker novels in Vonnegut’s collection, but still with the humor and blithely irreverent tone that is his
J.L.   Sutton
Nov 11, 2019 rated it it was amazing
My favorite Kurt Vonnegut quote (“We are what we pretend to be…”) comes from Mother Night. A bit silly, but I think this was the reason I was reluctant to read Mother Night.

Image result for vonnegut we are what we pretend to be

I liked the quote so well that I was somehow afraid that the novel would disappoint. From the outset I want to say Mother Night is fantastic! In Mother Night, it somehow seems like Howard W. Campbell Jr. is guilty of something, but what exactly? As an American working undercover as a propagandist for the Germans during WWII,
This is the best Vonnegut I’ve read so far. American Nazi Howard W. Campbell, Jr. is awaiting trial on war crimes. A traitor to the American people, Campbell is responsible for the deliberate spread of damaging propaganda throughout Germany and its occupied territories during World War II. He is an evil, dangerous man who is undoubtedly guilty of high treason.

Or is he?

As the account of Campbell’s life in Germany unfolds, much is revealed about his motives, the benign sequence of events leading t
Oct 12, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: classics, fiction
I like books that show the world is not all good or all bad; it's not all black or all white. It's shades of grey. That is what Kurt Vonnegut does in Mother Night.

The book opens with our protagonist sitting in a jail cell in Israel, awaiting trial for his part in spreading Nazi propaganda during World War II.

We quickly learn that he was sending coded messages to the Allies on his radio program, and are now left questioning whether or not he is guilty of war crimes. Does his encouragement of hatr
Ɗẳɳ  2.☊
Nov 05, 2014 rated it it was amazing
What the . . . surely this wasn’t penned by the legendary Kurt Vonnegut, right? I mean, where are the wacky sci-fi elements? The Tralfamadorians or the head-scratching, confusing time-shifting narrative? We aren’t seriously “stuck in time” the entire novel, are we? What about his colorful cast of eccentric weirdos? No Kilgore Trout, Dwayne Hoover, or Billy Pilgrim? Ah, but there were some oddballs, and I couldn’t help but notice a few references to Schenectady, New York. That’s rather curious, b ...more
Jan 06, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: mainstream
“This is the only story of mine whose moral I know. I don’t think it’s a marvelous moral; I simply happen to know what it is: We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.”

Before I started writing this review I quickly scanned other reviews of this book on Goodreads just to see if many of them start off with the above iconic quote. I did not find one so I went ahead with putting in the quote. Probably not that great an idea, that is why nobody want to do it! I
Brett C
Apr 05, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: kurt-vonnegut
For me this was a memorable and enjoyable story. It's a story of war and aftermath consequences. More importantly: everybody's pretending! A great black humored story written only the way Kurt Vonnegut could author. I have read several other works by KV and this is one of his better stories (in my opinion) .

The moral of the story: be careful of who you pretend to be, because you become what you pretend to be!

I recommend "Slaughterhouse-Five" and "Mother Night" to anyone new to Kurt Vonnegut. "
As much as I enjoyed reading Kurt Vonnegut expound upon Kurt Vonnegut in A Man Without a Country not that long ago, it didn't quite satisfy the craving I've had for his fiction. Sure, there is something to be said for watching a favorite author turn his fine-tuned gallows humor on himself and the society in which he both lives and has lived but sometimes I just want to be told a story, damnit.

Before launching into the novel proper, Vonnegut introduces Mother Night as the only story of his with
Jason Koivu
Nov 22, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites, fiction
I'm going to make an unpopular statement right now: This is the best of Kurt Vonnegut's novels. Okay Cat's Cradle and Slaughterhouse Five fans, fling your dung at me, I understand.

The characters, setting, plot, all of it comes together in a well-wrapped tale in which a man fights the truth of his own identity under the pressing weight of the author's imposed moral law that states you are what you pretend to be. In Mother Night, the story of an American spy working undercover within Germany duri
Algernon (Darth Anyan)
Jun 13, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2013

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

Mother Night is one of the author's favorites, so according to the above quote extracted from the book, it is how he would want to be judged by posterity. I believe I read somewhere tha
Jun 09, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: humorous-fiction
"You are the only man I ever heard of," Mengel said to me this morning, "who has a bad conscience about what he did in the war. Everybody else, no matter what side he was on, no matter what he did, is sure a good man could not have acted in any other way."

Poor Howard Campbell, Jr., an American living in Germany, is recruited to spew on air Nazi propaganda that is laced with coded information for the Allies.

"You'll be volunteering right at the start of the war to be a dead man. Even if you live t
"We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be."

Waiting to be tried for war crimes, Howard Campbell writes his memoirs in a jail cell in Jerusalem. American-born, but raised in Germany, Campbell was once a successful playwright, married to a beautiful actress named Helga. He had no particular political leaning, but the Ministry of Propaganda thought he’d be the perfect mouthpiece to promote the regime’s ideology through radio broadcasts. In order to protect hims
Barry Pierce
I've always considered Vonnegut to be one of my favourite writers but I keep forgetting to read his books.

Mother Night is quite a different novel from what you'd expect with Vonnegut. There is no mind-bending science fiction or metafictional madness. Instead we have the story of Howard W. Campbell Jr., an American accused of being a Nazi due to his radio broadcasts from Germany during the war. He was actually a US counter-spy leaking Nazi secrets to the US but that little caveat is not well-know
Steven Godin
Howard W. Campbell Jr, a name that will now live long in the memory, for while behind bars in an Israeli prison awaiting trial for crimes against humanity during the second world war he sets out his memoirs, and so unfolds a remarkable story. Living in Berlin with his German wife he writes and spreads Nazi propaganda over the airwaves all the while being a spy for the U.S military, and after the war is holed up in an apartment in New York. But with his name now recognized as a war criminal, and ...more
May 29, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: readers/thinkers
Recommended to Mel by: sister
Shelves: top-picks
My sister, a librarian and crazy mad Vonnegut fan (when he passed away she actually wrote the eulogy for her town's local newspaper), said to me when she suggested this book, that Mother Night is probably Vonnegut's most underappreciated novel, while Vonnegut himself considered it one of his best. His other personal favorites?: Slaughterhouse 5, and Cat's Cradle. She is a librarian with a PhD, so I don't argue literature with her; and Vonnegut is her favorite. When a reader can claim A favorite ...more
Sam Quixote
Feb 28, 2017 rated it really liked it
Opening in 1960, former Nazi Howard W. Campbell Jr. is sitting in a Jerusalem jail awaiting trial (a la Adolf Eichmann did in real life) for his part in the Third Reich’s crimes as a radio propagandist - except he was really an American double agent, sending coded messages to the Allies through his broadcasts. But is he a hero for working to defeat Hitler or damned for furthering the Nazis convictions against the Jews in the process?

Mother Night is the best Kurt Vonnegut novel I’ve read (though
Nov 10, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: usa, 2017-read
"We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful what we pretend to be."

Howard W. Campbell, Jr. is one of the most important propagandists of the Third Reich, and he is an American spy. While sending coded messages to the U.S. during WW II, he is also contributing to the German war machine. "Mother Night" is the memoir this fictional character writes in a Jerusalem prison, while awaiting trial for war crimes.

This is an equally dark and funny metafictional novel, full of clever ideas, puns, j
Dec 05, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Before this, I'd never read anything by Kurt Vonnegut.

From this day forward, consider me a fan.

It's strange, really, how some books fall into your life at exactly the right time. I don't know how it happens. If we somehow unconsciously know that this is the book we need and pick it up and let it take us places. Perhaps. All I know is this particular book came into my life at the most opportune moment. I say opportune, because I just recently acquired the skills to really understand this book,
Jun 21, 2007 rated it it was amazing
God, this book is so devastating. Vonnegut is so chameleonic, or something, how the lightness of his prose brilliantly belies the darkness of his themes, but oh my god, I can't even think how to express how sad this one made me. Everything is so sharply focused, every word is so perfectly, harrowingly placed. The loops and recursions and double-agents and plots within plots: all perfect. All awful. All honed for maximum pathos and horror without becoming maudlin or overdramatic. I feel punched i ...more
Heart-breakingly sad, utterly horrific; if funny, then savagely so. I can’t write about people writing about Nazis and WWII without feeling that I diminish the power of their work. If you read one thing about the period, this short novel would do just fine. I will leave it at that.
Jun 16, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Brad by: k.i. hope
It's been a long, long time since I read Mr. Vonnegut. I remember his satire being funny. I didn't laugh this time around. Maybe it was just me, but Mother Night was deadly serious.

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

I liked Howard J. Campbell Jr., Joseph Goebbels best radio propa
Nov 13, 2009 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Right up front Kurt Vonnegut explains the moral of this short novel: We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful what we pretend to be. We then are shuffled rapidly through a cast of post-war men and women wearing masks, decked out to publicly play an adopted role, whilst concealing their true feelings and being underneath. The champion dissembler is Howard W. Campbell Jr., a former deep-cover American operative in the heart of Nazi Germany, who so brilliantly espoused propaganda and spa ...more
Caro the Helmet Lady
“We are who we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.”

Howard W. Campbell, Jr., the protagonist of the story, is a perfect example of someone who tried to do "as the Romans do" in Germany at the inhuman time of Third Reich and World War II and to get rid of his own conscience, yet got completely outplayed by it. It's absolutely impossible not to laugh at his attempts to please everyone and agree with everything his life brought upon him. At the same time his awareness o
MJ Nicholls
Dec 26, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
As a deliberate contrast to Jonathan Littell’s 1000-page monster The Kindly Ones, I re-read this early Vonnegut masterpiece. The 1997 Robert B. Weide adaptation with Nick Nolte is one of my favourite movies, and where the novel is structured in typical nonlinear fashion, the movie embellishes and adds colour to the novel in its linear form. The two mediums compliment each other perfectly, so if you haven’t seen the film version, do it soon! And if you haven’t read this brilliant novella, the co ...more
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 next »
topics  posts  views  last activity   
The Humour Club: 5 Dark Humour Books You Might Like 1 12 Oct 19, 2020 12:29PM  
I Love My Humor D...: 5 Dark Humour Books You Might Like 1 8 Oct 19, 2020 12:26PM  
Why the title? 5 355 Apr 02, 2020 08:09AM  
Goodreads Librari...: Wrong ISBN: Matka noc 10 32 Mar 03, 2020 09:54AM  
Mentor Texts: Mentor Texts 1 7 Dec 10, 2017 09:19PM  
Book Barn Goons: Jan 2017 - Mother Night, by Kurt Vonnegut 6 45 Jan 27, 2017 06:56AM  

Readers also enjoyed

  • Kurt Vonnegut's Cat's Cradle (Modern Critical Interpretations)
  • Slaughterhouse-Five, or the Children's Crusade
  • The Crying of Lot 49
  • Catch-22
  • Post Office
  • The Way We Live Now: from The Age of American Unreason in a Culture of Lies (A Vintage Short)
  • Liška v dámu
  • Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
  • And So it Goes: Kurt Vonnegut: A Life
  • epicac
  • Ubik
  • Lo stereoscopio dei solitari
  • Blood Meridian, or the Evening Redness in the West
  • White Noise
  • Portrecista psów
  • The Stranger
  • Ham on Rye
  • A Scanner Darkly
See similar books…
See top shelves…
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

Related Articles

You might know comedian Colin Jost from his work as the co-anchor of Saturday Night Live’s Weekend Update, or perhaps you know him as Scarlett...
131 likes · 48 comments
“We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.” 16922 likes
“Say what you will about the sweet miracle of unquestioning faith, I consider a capacity for it terrifying and absolutely vile.” 728 likes
More quotes…