Slaughterhouse-Five, or The Children's Crusade: A Duty-Dance with Death

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Slaughterhous-Five is one of the world's great anti-war books. Centering on the infamous fire-bombing of Dresden, Billy Pilgrim's odyssey through time reflects the mythic journey of our own fractured lives as we search for meaning in what we are afraid to know.

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Slaughterhouse-Five, or The Children's Crusade: A Duty-Dance with Death

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Slaughterhous-Five is one of the world's great anti-war books. Centering on the infamous fire-bombing of Dresden, Billy Pilgrim's odyssey through time reflects the mythic journey of our own fractured lives as we search for meaning in what we are afraid to know.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“Poignant and hilarious, threaded with compassion and, behind everything, the cataract of a thundering moral statement.”—Boston Globe

Very tough and very funny . . . sad and delightful . . . very Vonnegut.”—New York Times

“Splendid art . . . a funny book at which you are not permitted to laugh, a sad book without tears.”—Life

From the Publisher
“Poignant and hilarious, threaded with compassion and, behind everything, the cataract of a thundering moral statement.”—Boston Globe

Very tough and very funny . . . sad and delightful . . . very Vonnegut.”—New York Times

“Splendid art . . . a funny book at which you are not permitted to laugh, a sad book without tears.”—Life

Christopher Lehmann-Haupt
I now, I know (as Kurt Vonnegut used to say when people told him that the Germans attacked first). It sounds crazy. It sounds like a fantastic last-ditch effort to make sense of a lunatic universe. But there is so much more to this book. It is very tough and very funny; it is sad and delightful; and it works. But is also very Vonnegut, which mean you'll either love it, or push it back in the science-fiction corner.
— The New York Times
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780440180296
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 12/1/1991
  • Format: Mass Market Paperback
  • Edition description: Reissue
  • Pages: 224
  • Sales rank: 10,363
  • Lexile: 850L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 4.18 (w) x 6.87 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author

Kurt Vonnegut

Kurt Vonnegut was a master of contemporary American literature. His 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" 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.


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

Chapter One

All this happened, more or less. The war parts, anyway, are pretty much true. One guy I knew really was shot in Dresden for taking a teapot that wasn't his. Another guy I knew really did threaten to have his personal enemies killed by hired gunmen after the war. And so on. I've changed all the names.

I really did go back to Dresden with Guggenheim money (God love it) in 1967. It looked a lot like Dayton, Ohio, more open spaces than Dayton has. There must be tons of human bone meal in the ground.

I went back there with an old war buddy, Bernard V. O'Hare, and we made friends with a cab driver, who took us to the slaughterhouse where we had been locked up at night as prisoners of war. His name was Gerhard Müller. He told us that he was a prisoner of the Americans for a while. We asked him how it was to live under Communism, and he said that it was terrible at first, because everybody had to work so hard, and because there wasn't much shelter or food or clothing. But things were much better now. He had a pleasant little apartment, and his daughter was getting an excellent education. His mother was incinerated in the Dresden fire-storm. So it goes.

He sent O'Hare a postcard at Christmastime, and here is what it said:

"I wish you and your family also as to your friend Merry Christmas and a happy New Year and I hope that we'll meet again in a world of peace and freedom in the taxi cab if the accident will."

I like that very much: "If the accident will."

I would hate to tell you what this lousy little book cost me in money and anxiety and time. When I got home from the Second World War twenty-three years ago, I thought it would be easy for me to write about the destruction of Dresden, since all I would have to do would be to report what I had seen. And I thought, too, that it would be a masterpiece or at least make me a lot of money, since the subject was so big.

But not many words about Dresden came from my mind then — not enough of them to make a book, anyway. And not many words come now, either, when I have become an old fart with his memories and his Pall Malls, with his sons full grown.

I think of how useless the Dresden part of my memory has been, and yet how tempting Dresden has been to write about, and I am reminded of the famous limerick:

There was a young man from Stamboul, Who soliloquized thus to his tool: "You took all my wealth And you ruined my health, And now you won't pee, you old fool."

And I'm reminded, too, of the song that goes:

My name is Yon Yonson, I work in Wisconsin, I work in a lumbermill there. The people I meet when I walk down the street, They say, "What's your name?" And I say, My name is Yon Yonson, I work in Wisconsin..."

And so on to infinity.

Over the years, people I've met have often asked me what I'm working on, and I've usually replied that the main thing was a book about Dresden.

I said that to Harrison Starr, the movie-maker, one time, and he raised his eyebrows and inquired, "Is it an anti-war book?"

"Yes," I said. "I guess."

"You know what I say to people when I hear they're writing anti-war books?"

"No. What do you say, Harrison Starr?"

"I say, 'Why don't you write an anti-glacier book instead?' "

What he meant, of course, was that there would always be wars, that they were as easy to stop as glaciers. I believe that, too.

And even if wars didn't keep coming like glaciers, there would still be plain old death.

When I was somewhat younger, working on my famous Dresden book, I asked an old war buddy named Bernard V. O'Hare if I could come to see him. He was a district attorney in Pennsylvania. I was a writer on Cape Cod. We had been privates in the war, infantry scouts. We had never expected to make any money after the war, but we were doing quite well.

I had the Bell Telephone Company find him for me. They are wonderful that way. I have this disease late at night sometimes, involving alcohol and the telephone. I get drunk, and I drive my wife away with a breath like mustard gas and roses. And then, speaking gravely and elegantly into the telephone, I ask the telephone operators to connect me with this friend or that one, from whom I have not heard in years.

I got O'Hare on the line in this way. He is short and I am tall. We were Mutt and Jeff in the war. We were captured together in the war. I told him who I was on the telephone. He had no trouble believing it. He was up. He was reading. Everybody else in his house was asleep.

"Listen—" I said, "I'm writing this book about Dresden. I'd like some help remembering stuff. I wonder if I could come down and see you, and we could drink and talk and remember."

He was unenthusiastic. He said he couldn't remember much. He told me, though, to come ahead.

"I think the climax of the book will be the execution of poor old Edgar Derby," I said. "The irony is so great. A whole city gets burned down, and thousands and thousands of people are killed. And then this one American foot soldier is arrested in the ruins for taking a teapot. And he's given a regular trial, and then he's shot by a firing squad."

"Um," said O'Hare.

"Don't you think that's really where the climax should come?"

"I don't know anything about it," he said. "That's your trade, not mine."

As a trafficker in climaxes and thrills and characterization and wonderful dialogue and suspense and confrontations, I had outlined the Dresden story many times. The best outline I ever made, or anyway the prettiest one, was on the back of a roll of wallpaper.

I used my daughter's crayons, a different color for each main character. One end of the wallpaper was the beginning of the story, and the other end was the end, and then there was all that middle part, which was the middle. And the blue line met the red line and then the yellow line, and the yellow line stopped because the character represented by the yellow line was dead. And so on. The destruction of Dresden was represented by a vertical band of orange cross-hatching, and all the lines that were still alive passed through it, came out the other side.

The end, where all the lines stopped, was a beetfield on the Elbe, outside of Halle. The rain was coming down. The war in Europe had been over for a couple of weeks. We were formed in ranks, with Russian soldiers guarding us — Englishmen, Americans, Dutchmen, Belgians, Frenchmen, Canadians, South Africans, New Zealanders, Australians, thousands of us about to stop being prisoners of war.

And on the other side of the field were thousands of Russians and Poles and Yugoslavians and so on guarded by American soldiers. An exchange was made there in the rain — one for one. O'Hare and I climbed into the back of an American truck with a lot of others. O'Hare didn't have any souvenirs. Almost everybody else did. I had a ceremonial Luftwaffe saber, still do. The rabid little American I call Paul Lazzaro in this book had about a quart of diamonds and emeralds and rubies and so on. He had taken these from dead people in the cellars of Dresden. So it goes.

An idiotic Englishman, who had lost all his teeth somewhere, had his souvenir in a canvas bag. The bag was resting on my insteps. He would peek into the bag every now and then, and he would roll his eyes and swivel his scrawny neck, trying to catch people looking covetously at his bag. And he would bounce the bag on my insteps.

I thought this bouncing was accidental. But I was mistaken. He had to show somebody what was in the bag, and he had decided he could trust me. He caught my eye, winked, opened the bag. There was a plaster model of the Eiffel Tower in there. It was painted gold. It had a clock in it.

"There's a smashin' thing," he said.

And we were flown to a rest camp in France, where we were fed chocolate malted milkshakes and other rich foods until we were all covered with baby fat. Then we were sent home, and I married a pretty girl who was covered with baby fat, too.

And we had babies.

And they're all grown up now, and I'm an old fart with his memories and his Pall Malls. My name is Yon Yonson, I work in Wisconsin, I work in a lumbermill there.

Sometimes I try to call up old girl friends on the telephone late at night, after my wife has gone to bed. "Operator, I wonder if you could give me the number of a Mrs. So-and-So. I think she lives at such-and-such."

"I'm sorry, sir. There is no such listing."

"Thanks, Operator. Thanks just the same."

And I let the dog out, or I let him in, and we talk some. I let him know I like him, and he lets me know he likes me. He doesn't mind the smell of mustard gas and roses.

"You're all right, Sandy," I'll say to the dog. "You know that, Sandy? You're O.K."

Sometimes I'll turn on the radio and listen to a talk program from Boston or New York. I can't stand recorded music if I've been drinking a good deal.

Sooner or later I go to bed, and my wife asks me what time it is. She always has to know the time. Sometimes I don't know, and I say, "Search me."

I think about my education sometimes. I went to the University of Chicago for a while after the Second World War. I was a student in the Department of Anthropology. At that time, they were teaching that there was absolutely no difference between anybody. They may be teaching that still.

Another thing they taught was that nobody was ridiculous or bad or disgusting. Shortly before my father died, he said to me, "You know — you never wrote a story with a villain in it."

I told him that was one of the things I learned in college after the war.

While I was studying to be an anthropologist, I was also working as a police reporter for the famous Chicago City News Bureau for twenty-eight dollars a week. One time they switched me from the night shift to the day shift, so I worked sixteen hours straight. We were supported by all the newspapers in town, and the AP and the UP and all that. And we would cover the courts and the police stations and the Fire Department and the Coast Guard out on Lake Michigan and all that. We were connected to the institutions that supported us by means of pneumatic tubes which ran under the streets of Chicago.

Reporters would telephone in stories to writers wearing headphones, and the writers would stencil the stories on mimeograph sheets. The stories were mimeographed and stuffed into the brass and velvet cartridges which the pneumatic tubes ate. The very toughest reporters and writers were women who had taken over the jobs of men who'd gone to war.

And the first story I covered I had to dictate over the telephone to one of those beastly girls. It was about a young veteran who had taken a job running an old-fashioned elevator in an office building. The elevator door on the first floor was ornamental iron lace. Iron ivy snaked in and out of the holes. There was an iron twig with two iron lovebirds perched upon it.

This veteran decided to take his car into the basement, and he closed the door and started down, but his wedding ring was caught in all the ornaments. So he was hoisted into the air and the floor of the car went down, dropped out from under him, and the top of the car squashed him. So it goes.

So I phoned this in, and the woman who was going to cut the stencil asked me, "What did his wife say?"

"She doesn't know yet," I said. "It just happened."

"Call her up and get a statement."


"Tell her you're Captain Finn of the Police Department. Say you have some sad news. Give her the news, and see what she says."

So I did. She said about what you would expect her to say. There was a baby. And so on.

When I got back to the office, the woman writer asked me, just for her own information, what the squashed guy had looked like when he was squashed.

I told her.

"Did it bother you?" she said. She was eating a Three Musketeers Candy Bar.

"Heck no, Nancy," I said. "I've seen lots worse than that in the war."

Even then I was supposedly writing a book about Dresden. It wasn't a famous air raid back then in America. Not many Americans knew how much worse it had been than Hiroshima, for instance. I didn't know that, either. There hadn't been much publicity.

I happened to tell a University of Chicago professor at a cocktail party about the raid as I had seen it, about the book I would write. He was a member of a thing called The Committee on Social Thought. And he told me about the concentration camps, and about how the Germans had made soap and candles out of the fat of dead Jews and so on.

All I could say was, "I know, I know. I know."

World War Two had certainly made everybody very tough. And I became a public relations man for General Electric in Schenectady, New York, and a volunteer fireman in the village of Alplaus, where I bought my first home. My boss there was one of the toughest guys I ever hope to meet. He had been a lieutenant colonel in public relations in Baltimore. While I was in Schenectady he joined the Dutch Reformed Church, which is a very tough church, indeed.

He used to ask me sneeringly sometimes why I hadn't been an officer, as though I'd done something wrong.

My wife and I had lost our baby fat. Those were our scrawny years. We had a lot of scrawny veterans and their scrawny wives for friends. The nicest veterans in Schenectady, I thought, the kindest and funniest ones, the ones who hated war the most, were the ones who'd really fought.

I wrote the Air Force back then, asking for details about the raid on Dresden, who ordered it, how many planes did it, why they did it, what desirable results there had been and so on. I was answered by a man who, like myself, was in public relations. He said that he was sorry, but that the information was top secret still.

I read the letter out loud to my wife, and I said, "Secret? My God — from whom?"

We were United World Federalists back then. I don't know what we are now. Telephoners, I guess. We telephone a lot — or I do, anyway, late at night.

A couple of weeks after I telephoned my old war buddy, Bernard V. O'Hare, I really did go to see him. That must have been in 1964 or so — whatever the last year was for the New York World's Fair. Eheu, fugaces labuntur anni. My name is Yon Yonson. There was a young man from Stamboul.

I took two little girls with me, my daughter, Nanny, and her best friend, Allison Mitchell. They had never been off Cape Cod before. When we saw a river, we had to stop so they could stand by it and think about it for a while. They had never seen water in that long and narrow, unsalted form before. The river was the Hudson. There were carp in there and we saw them. They were as big as atomic submarines.

We saw waterfalls, too, streams jumping off cliffs into the valley of the Delaware. There were lots of things to stop and see — and then it was time to go, always time to go. The little girls were wearing white party dresses and black party shoes, so strangers would know at once how nice they were. "Time to go, girls," I'd say. And we would go.

And the sun went down, and we had supper in an Italian place, and then I knocked on the front door of the beautiful stone house of Bernard V. O'Hare. I was carrying a bottle of Irish whiskey like a dinner bell.

I met his nice wife, Mary, to whom I dedicate this book. I dedicate it to Gerhard Müller, the Dresden taxi driver, too. Mary O'Hare is a trained nurse, which is a lovely thing for a woman to be.

Mary admired the two little girls I'd brought, mixed them in with her own children, sent them all upstairs to play games and watch television. It was only after the children were gone that I sensed that Mary didn't like me or didn't like something about the night. She was polite but chilly.

"It's a nice cozy house you have here," I said, and it really was.

"I've fixed up a place where you can talk and not be bothered," she said.

"Good," I said, and I imagined two leather chairs near a fire in a paneled room, where two old soldiers could drink and talk. But she took us into the kitchen. She had put two straight-backed chairs at a kitchen table with a white porcelain top. That table top was screaming with reflected light from a two-hundred-watt bulb overhead. Mary had prepared an operating room. She put only one glass on it, which was for me. She explained that O'Hare couldn't drink the hard stuff since the war.

So we sat down. O'Hare was embarrassed, but he wouldn't tell me what was wrong. I couldn't imagine what it was about me that could burn up Mary so. I was a family man. I'd been married only once. I wasn't a drunk. I hadn't done her husband any dirt in the war.

She fixed herself a Coca-Cola, made a lot of noise banging the ice-cube tray in the stainless steel sink. Then she went into another part of the house. But she wouldn't sit still. She was moving all over the house, opening and shutting doors, even moving furniture around to work off anger.

I asked O'Hare what I'd said or done to make her act that way.

"It's all right," he said. "Don't worry about it. It doesn't have anything to do with you." That was kind of him. He was lying. It had everything to do with me.

So we tried to ignore Mary and remember the war. I took a couple of belts of the booze I'd brought. We would chuckle or grin sometimes, as though war stories were coming back, but neither one of us could remember anything good. O'Hare remembered one guy who got into a lot of wine in Dresden, before it was bombed, and we had to take him home in a wheelbarrow. It wasn't much to write a book about. I remembered two Russian soldiers who had looted a clock factory. They had a horse-drawn wagon full of clocks. They were happy and drunk. They were smoking huge cigarettes they had rolled in newspaper.

was about it for memories, and Mary was still making noise. She finally came out in the kitchen again for another Coke. She took another tray of ice cubes from the refrigerator, banged it in the sink, even though there was already plenty of ice out.

Then she turned to me, let me see how angry she was, and that the anger was for me. She had been talking to herself, so what she said was a fragment of a much larger conversation. "You were just babies then!" she said.

"What?" I said.

"You were just babies in the war — like the ones upstairs!"

I nodded that this was true. We had been foolish virgins in the war, right at the end of childhood.

"But you're not going to write it that way, are you." This wasn't a question. It was an accusation.

"I — I don't know," I said.

"Well, I know," she said. "You'll pretend you were men instead of babies, and you'll be played in the movies by Frank Sinatra and John Wayne or some of those other glamorous, war-loving, dirty old men. And war will look just wonderful, so we'll have a lot more of them. And they'll be fought by babies like the babies upstairs."

So then I understood. It was war that made her so angry. She didn't want her babies or anybody else's babies killed in wars. And she thought wars were partly encouraged by books and movies.

So I held up my right hand and I made her a promise: "Mary," I said, "I don't think this book of mine is ever going to be finished. I must have written five thousand pages by now, and thrown them all away. If I ever do finish it, though, I give you my word of honor: there won't be a part for Frank Sinatra or John Wayne.

"I tell you what," I said, "I'll call it 'The Children's Crusade.' "

She was my friend after that.

O'Hare and I gave up on remembering, went into the living room, talked about other things. We became curious about the real Children's Crusade, so O'Hare looked it up in a book he had, Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds, by Charles Mackay, LL. D. It was first published in London in 1841.

Mackay had a low opinion of all Crusades. The Children's Crusade struck him as only slightly more sordid than the ten Crusades for grown-ups. O'Hare read this handsome passage out loud:

History in her solemn page informs us that the crusaders were but ignorant and savage men, that their motives were those of bigotry unmitigated, and that their pathway was one of blood and tears. Romance, on the other hand, dilates upon their piety and heroism, and portrays, in her most glowing and impassioned hues, their virtue and magnanimity, the imperishable honor they acquired for themselves, and the great services they rendered to Christianity.

And then O'Hare read this: Now what was the grand result of all these struggles? Europe expended millions of her treasures, and the blood of two million of her people; and a handful of quarrelsome knights retained possession of Palestine for about one hundred years!

Mackay told us that the Children's Crusade started in 1213, when two monks got the idea of raising armies of children in Germany and France, and selling them in North Africa as slaves. Thirty thousand children volunteered, thinking they were going to Palestine. They were no doubt idle and deserted children who generally swarm in great cities, nurtured on vice and daring, said Mackay, and ready for anything.

Pope Innocent the Third thought they were going to Palestine, too, and he was thrilled. "These children are awake while we are asleep!" he said.
Most of the children were shipped out of Marseilles, and about half of them drowned in shipwrecks. The other half got to North Africa where they were sold.

Through a misunderstanding, some children reported for duty at Genoa, where no slave ships were waiting. They were fed and sheltered and questioned kindly by good people there — then given a little money and a lot of advice and sent back home.

"Hooray for the good people of Genoa," said Mary O'Hare.

I slept that night in one of the children's bedrooms. O'Hare had put a book for me on the bedside table. It was Dresden, History, Stage and Gallery, by Mary Endell. It was published in 1908, and its introduction began:

It is hoped that this little book will make itself useful. It attempts to give to an English-reading public a bird's-eye view of how Dresden came to look as it does, architecturally; of how it expanded musically, through the genius of a few men, to its present bloom; and it calls attention to certain permanent landmarks in art that make its Gallery the resort of those seeking lasting impressions.

I read some history further on:

Now, in 1760, Dresden underwent siege by the Prussians. On the fifteenth of July began the cannonade. The Picture-Gallery took fire. Many of the paintings had been transported to the Königstein, but some were seriously injured by splinters of bombshells,
notably Francia's "Baptism of Christ." Furthermore, the stately Kreuzkirche tower, from which the enemy's movements had been watched day and night, stood in flames. It later succumbed. In sturdy contrast with the pitiful fate of the Kreuzkirche, stood the Frauenkirche, from the curves of whose stone dome the Prussian bombs rebounded like rain. Friederich was obliged finally to give up the siege, because he learned of the fall of Glatz, the critical point of his new conquests. "We must be off to Silesia, so that we do not lose everything."

The devastation of Dresden was boundless. When Goethe as a young student visited the city, he still found sad ruins: "Von der Kuppel der Frauenkirche sah ich diese leidigen Trümmer zwischen die schöne städtische Ordnung hineingesät; da rühmte mir der Küster die Kunst des Baumeisters, welcher Kirche und Kuppel auf einen so unerwünschten Fall schon eingerichtet und bombenfesterbaut hatte. Der gute Sakristan deutete mir alsdann auf Ruinene nach allen Seiten und sagte bedenklich lakonisch: Das hat der Feind gethan!"

The two little girls and I crossed the Delaware River where George Washington had crossed it, the next morning. We went to the New York World's Fair, saw what the past had been like, according to the Ford Motor Car Company and Walt Disney, saw what the future would be like, according to General Motors.

And I asked myself about the present: how wide it was, how deep it was, how much was mine to keep.

I taught creative writing in the famous Writers Workshop at the University of Iowa for a couple of years after that. I got into some perfectly beautiful trouble, got out of it again. I taught in the afternoons. In the mornings I wrote. I was not to be disturbed. I was working on my famous book about Dresden.

And somewhere in there a nice man named Seymour Lawrence gave me a three-book contract, and I said, "O.K., the first of the three will be my famous book about Dresden."

The friends of Seymour Lawrence call him "Sam." And I say to Sam now: "Sam — here's the book."

It is so short and jumbled and jangled, Sam, because there is nothing intelligent to say about a massacre. Everybody is supposed to be dead, to never say anything or want anything ever again. Everything is supposed to be very quiet after a massacre, and it always is, except for the birds.

And what do the birds say? All there is to say about a massacre, things like "Poo-tee-weet?"

I have told my sons that they are not under any circumstances to take part in massacres, and that the news of massacres of enemies is not to fill them with satisfaction or glee.

I have also told them not to work for companies which make massacre machinery, and to express contempt for people who think we need machinery like that.

As I've said: I recently went back to Dresden with my friend O'Hare. We had a million laughs in Hamburg and West Berlin and East Berlin and Vienna and Salzburg and Helsinki, and in Leningrad, too. It was very good for me, because I saw a lot of authentic backgrounds for made-up stories which I will write later on. One of them will be "Russian Baroque" and another will be "No Kissing" and another will be "Dollar Bar" and another will be "If the Accident Will," and so on.

And so on.

There was a Lufthansa plane that was supposed to fly from Philadelphia to Boston to Frankfurt. O'Hare was supposed to get on in Philadelphia and I was supposed to get on in Boston, and off we'd go. But Boston was socked in, so the plane flew straight to Frankfurt from Philadelphia. And I became a non-person in the Boston fog, and Lufthansa put me in a limousine with some other non-persons and sent us to a motel for a non-night.

The time would not pass. Somebody was playing with the clocks, and not only with the electric clocks, but the wind-up kind, too. The second hand on my watch would twitch once, and a year would pass, and then it would twitch again.

There was nothing I could do about it. As an Earthling, I had to believe whatever clocks said — and calendars.

I had two books with me, which I'd meant to read on the plane. One was Words for the Wind, by Theodore Roethke, and this is what I found in there:

I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow. I feel my fate in what I cannot fear. I learn by going where I have to go.

My other book was Erika Ostrovsky's Céline and His Vision. Céline was a brave French soldier in the First World War — until his skull was cracked. After that he couldn't sleep, and there were noises in his head. He became a doctor, and he treated poor people in the daytime, and he wrote grotesque novels all night. No art is possible without a dance with death, he wrote.

The truth is death, he wrote. I've fought nicely against it as long as I could... danced with it, festooned it, waltzed it around... decorated it with streamers, titillated it...

Time obsessed him. Miss Ostrovsky reminded me of the amazing scene in Death on the Installment Plan where Céline wants to stop the bustling of a street crowd. He screams on paper, Make them stop... don't let them move anymore at all... There, make them freeze... once and for all!... So that they won't disappear anymore!

I looked through the Gideon Bible in my motel room for tales of great destruction. The sun was risen upon the Earth when Lot entered into Zo-ar, I read. Then the Lord rained upon Sodom and upon Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the Lord out of Heaven; and He overthrew those cities, and all the plain, and all the inhabitants of the cities, and that which grew upon the ground.

So it goes.

Those were vile people in both those cities, as is well known. The world was better off without them.

And Lot's wife, of course, was told not to look back where all those people and their homes had been. But she did look back, and I love her for that, because it was so human.

So she was turned to a pillar of salt. So it goes.

People aren't supposed to look back. I'm certainly not going to do it anymore.

I've finished my war book now. The next one I write is going to be fun.

This one is a failure, and had to be, since it was written by a pillar of salt. It begins like this:


Billy Pilgrim has come unstuck in time.

It ends like this:


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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 853 Customer Reviews
  • Posted June 21, 2009

    more from this reviewer


    I'm going into my junior year of high school in the fall, I read this book during the 1st days of my summer vacation because:
    a) My English teacher told my class how amazing and absurb Vonnegut was and her plot synopsis captured my interest
    b) The same English teacher spent all semester telling my class how are brains were turning to mush from reading Twilight/Harry Potter and that we should read more classics. So I decided to start reading CollegeBoard's 100 books for incoming college freshmen.

    I was told from the get-go that this was a very very very eccentric novel and thats the kind of book I enjoy. I was very frustrated with myself up until about the last fifty pages because I did not understand the significance of the novel. However, the last fifty pages clicked all of the seemingly disconnected pieces together.

    Mrs. Weil, my beloved English teacher, told us that if you cannot see the point of a piece of literature, you didn't read it carefully enough. This especially goes towards this novel, you have to read extremely closely if you want to understand or get something out of it.

    In the end, the book was very insightful and I suggest that everyone read it.

    26 out of 28 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 2, 2008

    I Also Recommend:

    Anti-war message? Great Read!!

    Set during World War II, Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five is a humorous antiwar book. Billy Pilgrim is a war veteran who becomes "unstuck in time." He seems to be obsessed with the aliens, called the Tralfamadorians, that supposedly abducted him and could see in the fourth dimension. Right off the bat, Slaughterhouse-Five has caught our attention. As we read through the novel, the way we experience it is the same as Billy sees time, disconnected and random. The book keeps jumping from time period to time period, thoroughly confusing the reader. In some places, Vonnegut makes himself a character in his own novel. It is confusing to the point that the reader has no idea if Billy or Vonnegut is talking.<BR/>The novel makes us slightly disillusioned in the fact that we don't know the difference between real and fake. We are convinced (as is his family) that Billy is crazy and what he tells us about the Tralfamadorians is obviously untrue. But how are we to know if everything else he tells us of the war is true? The satire and irony in this book add comic relief to what would usually be a depressing scene, to our enjoyment.<BR/>The genius of Slaughterhouse-Five is that Vonnegut seems so apathetic about war in places that we wonder why this is even considered an antiwar book. But the reality is that his use of understatement and reverse psychology arouses feelings in us. When he says war cannot be stopped, we think (more passionately than if he was agreeing with us) that yes, it can. When he says there is no such thing as free will, we say yes, there is. All in all, Slaughterhouse-Five is an enjoyable read, I highly recommend.

    18 out of 22 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 31, 2014

    I Also Recommend:

    A quick, and absolutely imperative read. This was my first Kurt

    A quick, and absolutely imperative read. This was my first Kurt Vonnegut read several years ago and I've grown to love his work. This book is a great step for anybody interested in Sci-fi books. The manipulation of time in this book is brilliant.I liked the just have to remember that it is about one of the first accounts of a person sufferring from 'post traumatic stress syndrom'. I don't think ptss was even named at that time. You just keep thinking that someone should do something to help him...but at that time, WHAT?A thoughtful description of war in how indescribable it really is to experience. It claims there is war and always will be war. You'd have better luck at stopping a glacier. Also that hell is better than war. Since at least there would be no innocents suffering. Deals with things in a matter of fact tone. Anytime someone dies he will say, &quot;so it goes.&quot; He gets lost in his own timeline and wanders. Aliens take pity on him and show him that time is something that humans can't grasp. Everything that happens always will happen, always has happened and cannot be changed. A downer. Oh and &quot;war is fought by babies&quot;. It's thoroughly glamorized in movies and fiction. The reality is usually a bunch of teens straight out of high school fighting those battles.In my opinion this is the kind of book I should have studied when I was in school. There is so much to this little book that it deserves more thought than the poolside read that was my investment. Having said that, this is a really good book and I would fully recommend it. I just wish that I could have discussed this in English class in school, I would be interested in hearing other peoples opinion and in developing my own   

    8 out of 8 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 26, 1999

    One of the best books...

    I read this book on the advice of a friend. I couldn't put it down once I started it. It normally takes me 2-3 weeks to finish a book, but I finished Slaughterhouse-Five within 3 days. It sticks with you even when you're finished with it. It's a fantastic book.

    5 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 2, 2011


    I thought overall the book was fairly good. I had troubles during some scenes. For example, Vonnegut has an unique style which includes random flashbacks and flash forwards. Another reason why I believe I enjoyed this story is because of the history involved. It gives quite the accurate description of the Battle of the Bulge. Overall, I believe Vonnegut wrote a very good book. Out of ten, I'd give it a 9. I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys uniqueness.

    4 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 11, 2008

    Not Reality

    As a person who suffers from P.T.S.D., This book is ridiculous from that perspective. As is all Hollywood or written versions of it. As a science fiction book I think it is a good read, sometimes it is nice not to read to much into a book and just enjoy it. War is not something anyone wants especially the people who have to fight it. To read a book and think it can give you any understanding of what true violence is like is an insult. Read a book for the books sake

    4 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 1, 2011

    Slaughter House Five

    The author Kurt Vonnegut intends to inform the reader on the destructive qualities that war contains. In the prologue of the novel he describes through his confrontation with his old war buddy O'Hare's wife. She tells him "You two were just babies back then". She tries getting her point around that war is only for the ignorant and that they were too young for it to begin with. The Author making himself a character in this situation in his life tells the lady that he intends to only create a book that stresses anti-war qualities. During the actual story he includes the idea of being unstuck in time to stress his point dramatically that war exists everywhere. He includes extra-terrestrial creatures that are influenced by a broader futuristic technology in a society where war doesn't exist anymore. The author tries symbolizing this species as a hope for our world to be able to encounter war no more in a society where man prospers peacefully. Vonnegut even includes personification that brings out his belief on war such as "Po-tweet-tweet". Considering this isn't actually a word or phrase the author tells the reader that there's nothing intelligent to say about war. The casualties and situations where a man stole a vase and was shot and killed exemplify the wonder as to why the world goes to war.

    3 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 12, 2012

    I Also Recommend:

    Brilliant. Vonnegut's rye humor perfectly balances what is ultim

    Brilliant. Vonnegut's rye humor perfectly balances what is ultimately a rather dark view of life.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 1, 2011

    Mythic journey, Must read to find out!

    I believe Slaughterhouse five is a novel geared towards a older audience, with a better comprehension level that that of someone who has not yet entered high school. I think high school is the youngest a reader should be because the constant jumping text is hard to follow at times. Actually, the way it's written sometimes reminded me of flipping through the channels on the television, and watching each channel for one or two minutes at a time. I believe the title is poorly chosen based on the fact that the slaughterhouse plays a minor role in the story. If it were up to me I would probably name the book along the lines of The adventures of Huckleberry fin, but incorporate Billy Pilgrim. I believe this because the entire book is told about Billy's life, and not so much about a slaughterhouse. The book describes many of Billy's actions and adventures, so the title in fact does not accurately describe the novel. Id say its pretty clear on Vonnegut's distinct abnormal writing style by now in the novel. Nearly every post thus far somewhat dealt with his unique style.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 9, 2010

    The Slaughterhouse Called War

    Over the summer, I read Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut. The book itself is an anti-war book, and is supposed to illustrate the fact that humans are not designed for extreme combat. The story revolves around a character named Billy. Billy is one of the many veterans who returned from war with some sort of mental disorder. Although the book is fiction it gave an accurate portrayal of soldiers from war. I would recommend this book to anyone who doesn't think that war is a terrible thing, and that war doesn't take a toll on the human mind. War itself is wrong, and can have a huge long lasting impact on the minds of veterans as illustrated in the book with Billy.
    The first problem with Billy is that he keeps experiencing flashbacks to the war. Throughout the book, Billy keeps finding himself in Dresden, one of the worst locations he had ever fought at. The image of it had been permanently stuck into his mind. Now, this example is one problem with our real life veterans. They have flashbacks to the war they had previously fought in. For example, let's say there's a veteran named Alex who fought in the Korean War. During this time he was told to kill any Korean he saw. It sounds terrible, and it is. 30 or 40 years later, these directions given to Alex might give him hatred towards Koreans. This is a very real scenario and sometimes taken to the extremes. Every so often you hear of an old veteran on the news who experienced psychological problems and invaded a cultural neighborhood killing as many as they could. Being in a war so long is what has caused this to happen to every day soldiers. If it hasn't already happened, many years down the road, today's Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans could develop a dislike towards Muslims. There's nothing we can do to cure veterans of this, and there's little we can do to help them beyond medication and allowing them to talk.
    The second problem with Billy is that every so often he lives in a completely warped reality. He has claims of being abducted to another planet known as Tralfamador. He has very detailed descriptions of the place and even has accounts of seeing another human. I like how the context of the book talks about this. In the story, the author describes this as if it actually happened to Billy. The reader has to be smart enough to know that this couldn't possibly happen. And going to another planet is another example of why Billy had gone completely crazy. The shock that he had experienced after or during wartime was the cause of his warped idea of reality. The scenes of war did not affect the idea of Tralfamador (other than that it existed in his mind), but I rather think that the exclusion from society had forced him to make himself a second home.
    Although the psychological problems are covered in the book, something not covered but equally important is the mistreatment of veterans when they return. Based on what I read in Slaughterhouse-Five, Billy was lucky. In the real world, many of the veterans that come back are left with nothing. They don't have a home unless they stay with someone, and are left with little money now that they are left without a job particularly when suffering from an ailment. Finding a new job would be very hard for them. Would you want to hire a big tough looking veteran that has mental issues? I think not.
    So any war fought in will have its repercussions on the soldiers. Whether it's a fictional character like Billy, or a real person that you may know, th

    2 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 23, 2012

    One of the first true novels I read outside of school requiremen

    One of the first true novels I read outside of school requirements and probably the book that turned me into an avid reader. Witty, acerbic, irreverent, and an all around fun read. He truly sets the standard for contemporary fiction writers.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 1, 2012


    I had heard a lot about this book, and finally had it assigned for a literature class. I was expecting to dislike it, but in fact, it was fascinating and very, very well written. If you want something that is meta-fictional, perplexing and has a sprinkle of psychological thrill and science fiction, you should definitely read it.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 29, 2011


    oddly this book displayed a certain interest in bringing to mind odd images. it perpetuates a need to be read as if it cannot contain its massage, although after it has been read one would not say that it brought to mind any new ideas but simply forced opp on us again the stupidity of humans. like many of Vonnegut books it feels as if he really dose not care about much. Although it is fun to watch the main character be screwed it can eventually form a since unrealistic and becomes harder and harder to relate to. overall all pretty good book.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 21, 2011


    This book is excellent.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 2, 2011

    Remarkable Book

    This is the standard by which all other experimental writing must be judged. Of all of Vonnegut's work, only Mother Night is near to it's quality.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 24, 2011

    Favorite Book

    Just a quick note to the person who wrote this book should've been more about America's sacrifices because this book was about WWII - you're wrong.
    That's not at all the purpose of SH5, on the contrary, it's a satire of America. Just because a book is about WWII doesn't mean it has to glorify the US or be about America's contributions the war effort. This book was a way for Vonnegut to come to terms with his own involvement in the war and show how horrible war is in a very strange, but wonderful way.

    1 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 27, 2011

    An Intriguing Trip Through Time

    Kurt Vonnegut's "Slaughterhouse Five" is a witty, intriguing novel that should be read by all interested in historical fiction. The novel, written in third person, follows the story of Billy Pilgrim, a distressed WWII veteran and POW, who after the war, is committed to War Veteran's mental hospital and administered shock treatments. During this time, Billy finds that he is able to travel back through the events of his past, such as the fire bombings of Dresden,and his post war experiences, such as his marriage and birth of his daughter, and relive these moments. The novel is arranged in small vignettes according to each experience, and truly makes for an interesting pacing. Vonnegut has quite the sarcastic, yet endearing writing style, that puts you right in the action. His narratives are extremely memorable, as Billy Pilgrim is most likely one of the most unique antiheroes in American literature, only to matched by Holden Caulfield in Salinger's "Catcher in the Rye." If you are a reader interested in war stories, or extraterrestrial experiences, this novel will most definitely keep you intrigued, and glued to the pages until the very last sentence.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 6, 2011

    Amazing book with a powerful message

    I think a lot of people end up disappointed with this book because they buy it expecting something totally different that what they find. The plot can be a bit confusing at times and I think that turns some people off, but this book is amazing if you take the time to really read it and read between the lines as well. This book is so much more about the message it sends than it is about telling a story. Kurt Vonnegut is telling us all through this book that war is absolutely absurd, in fact, it's as absurd as the story in this book. He wants to show us that the world is a crazy place and that in every situation there is good and bad. While the firebombing of Dresden was a horrible thing, it's also what shaped Kurt's life, so there is positive amongst such a terrible event. To understand this book, you must not take the story seriously, but take the message that Kurt is communicating to us to heart. The message that life is absurd, crazy, nonsensical and filled with horrible things, but despite that, we must carry on and be good to others, or else, what's the point of being here?

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 2, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    A Tale told In a Slaughterhouse

    Part One: The Bombings
    It is Sunday, August 5, 1945. Hiroshima is a very important, heavily populated military base. One of the few cities in Japan untouched by bombs.
    It is Tuesday, August 7, 1945. Hiroshima is no longer the large city it once was. Seventy thousand people are dead, but one cannot locate the bodies. Irradiated water and beings with radiation sickness are all that can be found in this nuclear winter. It is a barren wasteland, a world in fallout.
    It is January 2010. The horrifying videos of the bombs exploding over Hiroshima and Nagasaki have become iconic. Video games have been created using the concept of nuclear fallout as their foundation, such as Fallout 3. Nuclear bombs have become a staple to Hollywood movies, such as The Sum of All Fears and Dr. Strangelove: or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. A "war" broke out because of the threat of nuclear war. Now, over fifty years after the bombings, everyone knows about these bombings. The media will never let us forget that humans could destroy earth with an object smaller than an airplane.
    It is February 1945. From 13 February 1945 to 15 February 1945, thirteen hundred bombers drop over 7.8 million pounds of bombs and incendiary devices on Dresden, Germany. The estimated death toll is between twenty-four thousand and two hundred-fifty thousand deaths. Hundreds of corpse mines will be established to clean up the bodies. They will be established to haul the thousands of bodies into piles on the streets and burn them.

    Part Two: The Survivor
    It is 16 February 1945. A man named Kurt Vonnegut Jr. survived the attack on Dresden. He survived by hiding in a slaughterhouse. He witnessed the bombing as a prisoner of war. He is a PoW no longer. He will later write a book about his experience during the Second World War. It will become one of the most well known books of the twentieth century. Many will know about the bombing of Dresden.

    Part Three: The Book
    The book is called Slaughterhouse Five, or The Children's Crusade: A Duty-Dance with Death. It follows the life of the fictional character Billy Pilgrim, who is "unstuck in time".
    The writing style is unlike any book before it, and its ideas are innovative. Its perspective is mostly third person omniscient, but changes occasionally. It is told as if the narrator could see in four dimensions. The scenes occur simultaneously, and told are told in a seemingly random order. The writing style has influenced the books "The Stand" and "Watchmen".
    Billy encounters the author a few times throughout the book. He first meets Vonnegut in the latrines in the PoW camp. Another time the author calls Billy by accident after he misdials a telephone number. The last is when he stumbles upon

    1 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 5, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Great Read!

    This book is and all around good book. It's strange and twists but ends with a moral.

    1 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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