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A Man without a Country

Overview

NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER

“[This] may be as close as Vonnegut ever comes to a memoir.”
Los Angeles Times

“Like [that of] his literary ancestor Mark Twain, [Kurt Vonnegut’s] crankiness is good-humored and sharp-witted. . . . [Reading A Man Without a Country is] like sitting down on the couch for a long chat with an old friend.”
–The New ...

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Overview

NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER

“[This] may be as close as Vonnegut ever comes to a memoir.”
Los Angeles Times

“Like [that of] his literary ancestor Mark Twain, [Kurt Vonnegut’s] crankiness is good-humored and sharp-witted. . . . [Reading A Man Without a Country is] like sitting down on the couch for a long chat with an old friend.”
–The New York Times Book Review

In a volume that is penetrating, introspective, incisive, and laugh-out-loud funny, one of the great men of letters of this age–or any age–holds forth on life, art, sex, politics, and the state of America’s soul. From his coming of age in America, to his formative war experiences, to his life as an artist, this is Vonnegut doing what he does best: Being himself. Whimsically illustrated by the author, A Man Without a Country is intimate, tender, and brimming with the scope of Kurt Vonnegut’s passions.

“For all those who have lived with Vonnegut in their imaginations . . . this is what he is like in person.”
USA Today

“Filled with [Vonnegut’s] usual contradictory mix of joy and sorrow, hope and despair, humor and gravity.”
Chicago Tribune

“Fans will linger on every word . . . as once again [Vonnegut] captures the complexity of the human condition with stunning calligraphic simplicity.”
The Australian

“Thank God, Kurt Vonnegut has broken his promise that he will never write another book. In this wondrous assemblage of mini-memoirs, we discover his family’s legacy and his obstinate, unfashionable humanism.”
–Studs Terkel

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In his first book since 1999, it's just like old times as Vonnegut (now 82) makes with the deeply black humor in this collection of articles written over the last five years, many from the alternative magazine In These Times. But the pessimistic wisecracks may be wearing thin; the conversational tone of the pieces is like Garrison Keillor with a savage undercurrent. Still, the schtick works fine most of the time, underscored by hand-lettered aphorisms between chapters. Some essays suffer from authorial self-indulgence, however, like taking a dull story about mailing a manuscript and stretching it to interminable lengths. Vonnegut reserves special bile for the "psychopathic personalities" (i.e., "smart, personable people who have no consciences") in the Bush administration, which he accuses of invading Iraq so America can score more of the oil to which we have become addicted. People, he says, are just "chimpanzees who get crazy drunk on power." Of course, that's exactly the sort of misanthropy hardcore Vonnegut fans will lap up--the online versions of these pieces are already described as the most popular Web pages in the history of In These Times. (Sept.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Very brief essays, displaying the indignant humanism, pacifism and generosity of spirit that made Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five a touchstone of the Vietnam War era. Whether called essays, stories or "an autobiographical collage," this illustrated collection reflects the author's alarm and disgust at what he regards as the subversion of the democratic process by, and the manipulative deceptions of, the current presidential administration. He also denounces the corrupt profiteering of its cronies. As a polemicist, Vonnegut is unsubtle but often funny, as when he blames the unhappiness of the modern individual on the decline of the extended family, observing, "A few Americans, but very few, still have extended families. The Navahoes. The Kennedys." Occasionally, he is shrewd, as when he remarks that while "the most vocal Christians" want to post the Ten Commandments everywhere, no one is clamoring to put up The Beatitudes (Blessed are the meek . . . the peacemakers . . .) in courthouses. Unfortunately, there is a great deal of chaff that must be sifted away. In "Here is a lesson in creative writing," there is a slapdash reading of Hamlet, in which Vonnegut asserts of Polonius, "Shakespeare regards him as a fool and disposable." Vonnegut is at his best when he simply tells us about his enthusiasms: for socialist presidential candidate Eugene Debs; for the 19th-century Viennese obstetrician Ignaz Semmelweis, whose work saved the lives of countless mothers and infants; and for Abraham Lincoln. Vonnegut cites a speech Lincoln made while still a member of the House, denouncing the opportunism of then-president Polk in embarking on the Mexican war. "Trusting to escape scrutiny by fixing thepublic gaze upon the exceeding brightness of military glory-that attractive rainbow, that rises in showers of blood-that serpent's eye, that charms to destroy-he plunged into war."An invitation to survey our current circumstances as a nation.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780812977363
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 1/16/2007
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 145
  • Sales rank: 110,337
  • Product dimensions: 5.19 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.42 (d)

Meet the Author

Kurt Vonnegut
Kurt Vonnegut
Kurt Vonnegut was forever established in the literary pantheon and on the school syllabus with the publication of his brilliant antiwar novel Slaughterhouse-Five, but he endured as a purveyor of mind-warping, surreal fiction that just so happened to be funny.

Biography

Born in 1922, Vonnegut grew up in Indianapolis, Indiana. His architect father suffered great financial setbacks during the Depression and was unemployed for long stretches of time. His mother suffered from mental illness and eventually committed suicide in 1944, a trauma that haunted Vonnegut all his life. He attended Cornell in the early 1940s, but quit in order to enlist in the Army during WWII.

Vonnegut was shipped to Europe, fought in the Battle of the Bulge, and was captured behind enemy lines and incarcerated in a German prison camp. As a POW, he witnessed the firebombing of Dresden by Allied forces, an event of devastating magnitude that left an indelible impression on the young soldier.

After the war, Vonnegut returned home and married his high school sweetheart. In addition to two daughters and a son of their own, he and his first wife adopted three children orphaned in 1958 by the death of Vonnegut's sister Alice. (He and his second wife adopted another daughter.) The family lived in Chicago and Schenectady before settling in Cape Cod, where Vonnegut began to concentrate seriously on his writing. His first novel, the darkly dystopian Player Piano, was published in 1952 and met with moderate success. Three additional novels followed (including the critically acclaimed Cat's Cradle), but it was not until the publication of 1969's Slaughterhouse Five that Vonnegut achieved true literary stardom. Based on the author's wartime experiences in Dresden, the novel resonated powerfully in the social upheaval of the Vietnam era.

Although he is best known for his novels (a genre-blending mix of social satire, science fiction, surrealism, and black comedy), Vonnegut also wrote short fiction, essays, and plays (the best known of which was Happy Birthday, Wanda June). In addition, he was a talented graphic artist who illustrated many of his books and exhibited sporadically during his literary career. He died on April 11, 2007, after suffering irreversible brain injuries as a result of a fall.

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    1. Also Known As:
      Kurt Vonnegut
    1. Date of Birth:
      November 11, 1922
    2. Place of Birth:
      Indianapolis, Indiana
    1. Date of Death:
      April 11, 2007
    2. Place of Death:
      New York, New York

Read an Excerpt

1

As a kid I was the youngest member of my family, and the youngest child in any family is always a jokemaker, because a joke is the only way he can enter into an adult conversation. My sister was five years older than I was, my brother was nine years older than I was, and my parents were both talkers. So at the dinner table when I was very young, I was boring to all those other people. They did not want to hear about the dumb childish news of my days. They wanted to talk about really important stuff that happened in high school or maybe in college or at work. So the only way I could get into a conversation was to say something funny. I think I must have done it accidentally at first, just accidentally made a pun that stopped the conversation, something of that sort. And then I found out that a joke was a way to break into an adult conversation.

I grew up at a time when comedy in this country was superb—it was the Great Depression. There were large numbers of absolutely top comedians on radio. And without intending to, I really studied them. I would listen to comedy at least an hour a night all through my youth, and I got very interested in what jokes were and how they worked.

When I’m being funny, I try not to offend. I don’t think much of what I’ve done has been in really ghastly taste. I don’t think I have embarrassed many people, or distressed them. The only shocks I use are an occasional obscene word. Some things aren’t funny. I can’t imagine a humorous book or skit about Auschwitz, for instance. And it’s not possible for me to make a joke about the death of John F. Kennedy or Martin Luther King. Otherwise I can’t think of any subject that I would steer away from, that I could do nothing with. Total catastrophes are terribly amusing, as Voltaire demonstrated. You know, the Lisbon earthquake is funny.

I saw the destruction of Dresden. I saw the city before and then came out of an air-raid shelter and saw it afterward, and certainly one response was laughter. God knows, that’s the soul seeking some relief.

Any subject is subject to laughter, and I suppose there was laughter of a very ghastly kind by victims in Auschwitz.

Humor is an almost physiological response to fear. Freud said that humor is a response to frustration—one of several. A dog, he said, when he can’t get out a gate, will scratch and start digging and making meaningless gestures, perhaps growling or whatever, to deal with frustration or surprise or fear.

And a great deal of laughter is induced by fear. I was working on a funny television series years ago. We were trying to put a show together that, as a basic principle, mentioned death in every episode and that this ingredient would make any laughter deeper without the audience’s realizing how we were inducing belly laughs.

There is a superficial sort of laughter. Bob Hope, for example, was not really a humorist. He was a comedian with very thin stuff, never mentioning anything troubling. I used to laugh my head off at Laurel and Hardy. There is terrible tragedy there somehow. These men are too sweet to survive in this world and are in terrible danger all the time. They could be so easily killed.

Even the simplest jokes are based on tiny twinges of fear, such as the question, “What is the white stuff in bird poop?” The auditor, as though called upon to recite in school, is momentarily afraid of saying something stupid. When the auditor hears the answer, which is, “That’s bird poop, too,” he or she dispels the automatic fear with laughter. He or she has not been tested after all.

“Why do firemen wear red suspenders?” And “Why did they bury George Washington on the side of a hill?” And on and on.

True enough, there are such things as laughless jokes, what Freud called gallows humor. There are real-life situations so hopeless that no relief is imaginable.

While we were being bombed in Dresden, sitting in a cellar with our arms over our heads in case the ceiling fell, one soldier said as though he were a duchess in a mansion on a cold and rainy night, “I wonder what the poor people are doing tonight.” Nobody laughed, but we were still all glad he said it. At least we were still alive! He proved it.

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Table of Contents

1 As a kid I was the youngest 1
2 Do you know what a twerp is? 7
3 Here is a lesson in creative writing 23
4 I'm going to tell you some news 39
5 Okay, now let's have some fun 47
6 I have been called a Luddite 55
7 I turned eighty-two on November 11 65
8 Do you know what a humanist is? 79
9 Do unto others 95
10 A sappy woman from Ypsilanti 105
11 Now then, I have some good news 115
12 I used to be the owner and manager of an automobile dealership 125
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 33 Customer Reviews
  • Posted May 16, 2009

    A Man without a Country

    Probably one of my favorite books by Kurt Vonnegut. It's insightful, witty, intriguing, and hilarious. I couldn't put the book down at all. A perfect recommendation for those who love Kurt Vonnegut's humor.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 30, 2008

    Short sweet and to the point

    This book sums up all of Vonnegut's thoughts from politics to the planet earth. It is very funny but very true at the same time. It is a quick read but will keep you thinking for a long while. If you havent read anything by Vonnegut you should pick this one up to see who the man realy is.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 25, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Short stories

    I absolutely love Kurt Vonnegut,he is one of my favorite authors. Within his writings of dark subjects, he manages to slide in his sense of humor. This book has short stories about certain subjects of life, such as marriage, sex, war, and the environment. But within these subjects are morals. This is quick read with life meanings attached.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 26, 2011

    Classic

    Ended with a bang Mr. Vonnegut!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 30, 2010

    A Truism that lasts cover to cover

    Vonnegut's book is clear, concise, and critical of today. No subject is safe, as he writes about politics, religion, and war. This book would make the most incredible and enthralling documentary. Everything he writes about is real and relatable, and it also written with enthusiasm and Vonnegut's trademark humor.

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