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A Man without a Country

A Man without a Country

4.3 43
by Kurt Vonnegut, Dan Simon (Editor)

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The first major new book to appear from Kurt Vonnegut in nearly a decade


The first major new book to appear from Kurt Vonnegut in nearly a decade

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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Seven Stories Press
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Read an Excerpt

A Man Without a Country

By Kurt Vonnegut

Random House Trade Paperbacks

Copyright © 2007 Kurt Vonnegut
All right reserved.

ISBN: 081297736X


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 useare 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.


Excerpted from A Man Without a Country by Kurt Vonnegut Copyright © 2007 by Kurt Vonnegut. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author

Kurt Vonnegut’s black humor, satiric voice, and incomparable imagination first captured America’s attention in The Sirens of Titan in 1959 and established him as “a true artist” (The New York Times) with Cat’s Cradle in 1963. He was, as Graham Greene declared, “one of the best living American writers.” Mr. Vonnegut passed away in April 2007.

Brief Biography

Date of Birth:
November 11, 1922
Date of Death:
April 11, 2007
Place of Birth:
Indianapolis, Indiana
Place of Death:
New York, New York
Cornell University, 1940-42; Carnegie-Mellon University, 1943; University of Chicago, 1945-47; M.A., 1971

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A Man without a Country 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 43 reviews.
Kid_Dynamite More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
mandy560 More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
He already has a reputation for 'telling the truth' even in his fiction. But in this book of pseudo-memoirs, Vonnegut doesn't hold back. If you like the current Presidency or drive a large SUV, and can't laugh at yourself, then this book is NOT for you. Sense of humor and ability to think are mandatory.
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Ended with a bang Mr. Vonnegut!
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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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evergreensunrise More than 1 year ago
Ironic Humor with a twist of hopeful pessimism.