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4.6 out of 5 stars
Cat's Cradle: A Novel
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on March 27, 2002
Kurt Vonnegut is nothing short of a magician. Call him a writer if you must, but it seems unfitting for a man who weaves yarns about new religions, Ukranian midget dancers, apocalyptic chemical inventions, and feet-rubbing fornication. Writer just doesn't do justice.
Regardless, Cat's Cradle is a wonderful read and a heck of a time. Plot, character, and setting, as always in Vonnegut's work, take a back seat to the infectuos humor and unconventional writing style of its author.
The narrator is named Jonah, a writer who wishes to conduct a non-fiction story revolving the lives of people surrounding the Atom Bomb titled "The Day The World Ended". From this moment, our wild ride begins as we are introduced to the great cast of characters, including Dr. Felix Hoenikker, one of the so-called "Fathers" of the Atom Bomb, who may or may not have created a chemical capable of turning all the worlds water supply into ice, his family, the president(dictator)of a small Pacific Island San Marcos, Papa Manzano, and his lovely daughter, all the way down to Bokonon himself, founder of the Bokonon faith which is based in foma (lies). The journey through Vonnegut's mind is a worthwile one, if nothing else for his startling creativity, and hilariously bleak view at humanity. I will leave you with this quote from the great books of Bokonon:
"Beware of the man who works hard to learn something, learns it, and finds himself no wiser than before. He is full of murderous resentment of people who are ignorant without having come by their ignorance the hard way."
Well said.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on March 15, 2015
Cat's Cradle is probably most famous for popularizing the idea of "ice-nine", a fictional crystal structure of water with the potential to destroy humanity. During the Manhattan Project, a leading scientist, Dr. Hoenikker, discovers this previously unknown allotrope that serves as a nucleation site to convert any regular water into more ice-nine. What makes this effect catastrophic is ice-nine's high melting point of 45 C, meaning that contact with the substance would instantly kill a human or quickly freeze over the oceans of the world.

Our narrator encounters Dr. Hoenikker's children while writing a book about the day the first nuclear weapon was dropped on Japan. Two of them have immigrated to San Lorenzo, a tiny island nation in the Caribbean ruled by the dictator "Papa" Monzano. There, our narrator discovers the strange religion of Bokononism, which is practiced by most of the island's inhabitants in an open-secret manner, but is officially punishable by death by hanging from a hook. Before he knows it, the narrator befriends some American expats close to "Papa" Monzano, and is soon chosen to take over the dictatorship as "Papa" falls deathly ill. Rather than linger in pain, however, "Papa" commits suicide by the ice-nine he had obtained from Dr. Hoenikker's son. To put it mildly and free of spoilers, this presents a significant hazard to our narrator and the inhabitants of San Lorenzo.

This sparse plot summary certainly doesn't do Cat's Cradle justice. Though just over 100 pages, the novel covers a wide spectrum of Vonnegut's strong, often counterculture views, including criticism of American friendships with dictatorships masquerading as free societies and the ridiculousness of the world's various religions. The parallels of ice-nine to nuclear weapons are of course even more obvious, and are the main commentary of the novel.

I enjoyed every page of Cat's Cradle, especially since I accidentally decided to read it at the same time I was taking a nuclear materials science course, and thus the references to the real science underlying the fictional ice-nine were especially relevant. More generally, I think most science fiction fans would appreciate this lively yet pointed novel (which I imagine is typical of the more Vonnegut I plan to read), and at 100-odd pages, it's hard to go wrong. Five stars.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on July 21, 2005
In Vonnegut's novel, a Manhattan novelist has decided to write a novel about what people were doing on the day that the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, which brings him into encounters with some quintissentially Vonnegutian characters- a bicycle store owner and his Hoosier wife, the children of the man who had the chief say in designing the atomic bomb (one of whom is a midget,) a refugee lounge-singer who has created his own religion (named "Bokonon,") the maniacal dictator who opposes him, and a whole host of colorful minor characters, each of whom fits into the same "karass" (the Bokonon term for a group of people that influence the outcomes of each other's fates.) Many of the twists of the story center around another creation, Ice-Nine, of the famed inventor of the atomic bomb (Felix Hoenekker,) which ultimately causes the destruction of the world (a.k.a. "The day the world went 'whoomp.'") giving itself a nice little niche in the genre of "Theater of the Absurd."
Vonnegut's novel satirizes everything about modern life, from the Cold War-era fear of the world ending with a doomsday weapon, to our scorn of avant-garde art, epitomized by the destruction and desecration of the narrator's Manhattan apartment by an up and coming artist. With the central theme that everything in life is interconnected- everyone is part of their "karass"- Vonnegut analyzes the relations between religion and government, sanity and insanity, life and death, and just about any two subjects that oppose each other. This book's wonderfully rich prose, biting criticism, and incisive black humor make this what is considered Vonnegut's best work. Cat's Cradle rules! Another book I want to recommend is The Losers' Club: Complete Restored Edition by Richard Perez -- not Vonnegut but very entertaining and FUNNY nonetheless.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on December 17, 2002
Cat's Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut is by far one of the greatest novels of the 20th century. Vonnegut brings this fictional story to life with great detail at every turn. From the creation of ice nine to Bokonism, Vonnegut weaves a complex but entirely believable story. The novel begins with the main character John who is writing a book on the day the bomb was dropped on Hiroshima called The Day the World Ended. His writing this book leads him to his destiny as he travels to the laboratory where the bomb was created and then to San Lorenzo where he becomes president. San Lorenzo's founder, Bokonon, created a religion for the people. This is an average idea except for the fact that Bokonism seems uncannily real, with it's own terms and practices all created by Vonnegut. This novel is a masterpiece.
Cat's Cradle is fast passed, deeply detailed, and very interesting. The novel is very ironic and a must read for everyone. Kurt Vonnegut weaves a great story that never lets you down. Through its outlandish turns and twists Vonnegut makes it seem so very real. This novel is definitely a 5 out of 5.
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on July 21, 2005
In Vonnegut's novel, a Manhattan novelist has decided to write a novel about what people were doing on the day that the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, which brings him into encounters with some quintissentially Vonnegutian characters- a bicycle store owner and his Hoosier wife, the children of the man who had the chief say in designing the atomic bomb (one of whom is a midget,) a refugee lounge-singer who has created his own religion (named "Bokonon,") the maniacal dictator who opposes him, and a whole host of colorful minor characters, each of whom fits into the same "karass" (the Bokonon term for a group of people that influence the outcomes of each other's fates.) Many of the twists of the story center around another creation, Ice-Nine, of the famed inventor of the atomic bomb (Felix Hoenekker,) which ultimately causes the destruction of the world (a.k.a. "The day the world went 'whoomp.'") giving itself a nice little niche in the genre of "Theater of the Absurd."
Vonnegut's novel satirizes everything about modern life, from the Cold War-era fear of the world ending with a doomsday weapon, to our scorn of avant-garde art, epitomized by the destruction and desecration of the narrator's Manhattan apartment by an up and coming artist. With the central theme that everything in life is interconnected- everyone is part of their "karass"- Vonnegut analyzes the relations between religion and government, sanity and insanity, life and death, and just about any two subjects that oppose each other. This book's wonderfully rich prose, biting criticism, and incisive black humor make this what is considered Vonnegut's best work. Cat's Cradle rules! Another book I want to recommend is The Losers' Club: Complete Restored Edition by Richard Perez -- not Vonnegut but very entertaining and FUNNY nonetheless.
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on July 19, 2004
This early classic was one of the books that made Vonnegut famous, and probably the first book where he really found successfully his particular style of black comedy. (He aimed for something similar in Sirens of Titan, but that book, with some fine moments, is uneven and significantly less successful.)
The first persom narrator is known only as Jonah, although his first sentence is the allusive, "Call me Ishmael." He is writing a book about the atomic bomb that leads him to research on the late Dr Felix Hoenneker, a brilliant scientist who viewed science with pure curiosity. Never caring about the practical implications of his work, Hoenneker made no distinction between working on the atom bomb and investigating how turtles retract their heads.
Seeking to learn more about Hoenneker from his surviving children, Jonah follows them to the impoverished island nation of San Lorenzo, loosely based on Haiti. There he is introduced to Bokononism, the dominant religion of the island which, among its many unusual features, openly proclaims that it is a fraud. A good part of this rather short novel is a detailed discussion of Bokononism, which is one of Vonnegut's most memorable creations.
While on the island, Jonah also learns more about ice 9, the final project that Hoenneker worked on. Ice 9 is ice with an entirely different crystalline structure from regular ice, which has the trait of freezing at normal temperatures. Thus, if you mixed ice 9 with any body of water, it would promptly freeze. Jonah soon finds reasons to doubt his assumption that ice 9 could not really exist.
Jonah's adventures come to a grim if strangely appropriate finale - I don't think Vonnegut has ever written a novel with a happy ending. The moral of the story is, it seems, that life is entirely without meaning or purpose. And yet, the humor and vitality of the novel give it an energy and even joy strangely at contrast with its depressing message.
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I read this book almost a year ago. So my memory is a little rusty, but at the same time, the really good parts and the really not so good parts stick out.
While I was reading this book, it kind of bored me. It takes a great amount of action to really keep me interested in stuff, though. I think I may have a light case of ADD. Anyway, the religious words that Vonnegut made up kind of jumbled together in my mind, and I just pretty much confused one for another. I don't know. I just felt kind of bored throughout the book.
It was good, though. I'm glad I read it. It's kind of like 1984, it kind of sucks as you're reading it because it's so damn boring, but when you get through it, you think to yourself, "Damn it, that was a good book! I'm really glad I read it! Everything was just great!" Cat's Cradle is kind of like this. 1984 was better, though. And then again, I like chemistry, and the whole ice-9 thing is chemistry related. Haha, I'm a dork.
Read Slaughter House Five first, if you've never read Vonnegut before. SHF rocked!
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on April 14, 2004
I know everyone tends to claim that Slaughterhouse-Five is Kurt Vonnegut's pinnacle work. I would suggest, however, that Cat's Cradle is instead his peak, quite possibly the best thing he has written to date. Being a huge Vonnegut fan, I believe there is some truth to this opinion. His main character begins by claiming he is writing his masterpiece, a book entitled "The Day the World Ended," a story about the atomic bomb being dropped on Japan. Instead, it is a whimsical foreshadowing of events to come and indeed events do unfold.
Vonnegut is even rather Tolkien-ish in his writings by creating a new culture along with its own language of sorts, really a dialect of extremely bastardized English. It really proves the intelligence and total command over the language that he possesses. Along with said culture comes a new religion, Bokononism, which emphasizes the pharsical and absurd. After reading the book, you might want to convert to Bokononism yourself! I know I was ready to.
Without giving away too much of the plot, let me summarize briefly. What if a scientist, say one who worked on the a-bomb, devised a way to make things different, namely a new way to freeze water? What kind of a man would do that? What could his family possibly be like? How about a midget, a model-builder, and a freakishly tall woman? Now imagine you are a writer trying to track down the mystery behind the man and the stories from his family. Follow then the trail of Jonah, the protaganist, through a wild chase that takes him to the heartland of America all the way to a remote island nation with a large hook as the punishment for any offense. Truly a tale of the mad and the absurd. Vonnegut fans eat this one up. Laugh, wonder, be amazed, and enjoy the tale as told as only the master himself could tell it. Worth every penny and on a personal note one of the few books I still find myself re-reading at regular intervals. I still can't put it down!
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on October 30, 2003
For those who haven't read Vonnegut, you must read this book! This short, simply written novel manages to reveal the latent absurdities in our most cherished institutions: politics, religion, and science.
The novel centers around ice-nine, developed by the idiot savant Dr. Hoenikker (sp?). Hoenikker invents it as something of a game, but its first use will cause the oceans to freeze and the devastation of the world. We see clear parallels to the nuclear bomb and the rationalizations of its creators: according to them, they are advancing "pure knowledge," and the consequences are not their concern, even if it results in worldwide devastation.
The novel also targets religion in the form of Bokononism, a religion whose own creator admits that it is "foma" (lies). Even so, the Books of Bokonon cited throughout the book are absurdly sweet and insightful. The Bokononist practice of "boko-maru," or merging of soles, also seems to be one of the rare ways to achieve genuine pleasure with one's fellow man. We see how religion, even where it may be technically false, may give great peace to its believers. When I first read this book in high school, I was tempted to become a devout Bokononist myself!
Vonnegut always emphasizes the importance of family and genuine interhuman relationships, rather than the abstract absurdities of "granfaloons": nations, parties, sports teams, etc. This short, spare novel tears apart such granfaloons, and through it, we may see a glimmer of what is genuinely important in our lives.
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on October 29, 2003
While "Slaughterhouse Five" is considered Vonnegut's masterpiece, I think "Cat's Cradle" shows the author at the height of his powers.
The crazy plot involves a new religion, Bokanonism and its xylophone-wielding prophetess Mona. There's an evil plot to destroy the world, and a hapless, slightly stupid hero.
What I enjoyed the most were the concepts introduced by Vonnegut; the "granfalloon" which is an association of people that is meaningless--being on a bus, joining the Shriners. My dad used to play bridge with Vonnegut in Indianapolis years ago--that pretty much defines it, a connection between people with no deeper meaning. For "deeper meaning" you need to look to your karass, a group of people you ARE related to in some meaningful fashion, but which is not revealed to you until after your death. And then there's the special karass, the "duprass" consisting of two and only two people. If a married couple, they will perish within minutes of each other, and even their children, if any, don't belong to their karass.
These and other concepts (Ice-Nine, a molecular arrangement of water that differs from the ice in your drink) show Vonnegut's incredible creativity and also his ironic sense of humor. If you haven't read any Vonnegut, this is a great novel to start with.
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