A Man without a Country

A Man without a Country


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A Man Without a Country is Kurt Vonnegut’s hilariously funny and razor-sharp look at life ("If I die--God forbid--I would like to go to heaven to ask somebody in charge up there, ‘Hey, what was the good news and what was the bad news?"), art ("To practice any art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow. So do it."), politics ("I asked former Yankees pitcher Jim Bouton what he thought of our great victory over Iraq and he said, ‘Mohammed Ali versus Mr. Rogers.’"), and the condition of the soul of America today ("What has happened to us?").

Based on short essays and speeches composed over the last five years and plentifully illustrated with artwork by the author throughout, A Man Without a Country gives us Vonnegut both speaking out with indignation and writing tenderly to his fellow Americans, sometimes joking, at other times hopeless, always searching.

Kurt Vonnegut is among the very few grandmasters of contemporary American letters, without whom the very term "American literature" would mean less than it does. His novels include Cat’s Cradle and Slaughterhouse Five, among so many others. Projects with Seven Stories Press in recent years include God Bless You, Dr. Kevorkian and, with Lee Stringer, Like Shaking Hands with God, a book about writing. His most recent novel is Timequake (1997).

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780812977363
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 01/16/2007
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 145
Sales rank: 135,324
Product dimensions: 5.20(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.41(d)

About the Author

Born in 1922 in Indianapolis, Indiana, KURT VONNEGUT was one of the few grandmasters of modern American letters. Called by the New York Times “the counterculture’s novelist,” his works guided a generation through the miasma of war and greed that was life in the U.S. in second half of the 20th century. After a stints as a soldier, anthropology PhD candidate, technical writer for General Electric, and salesman at a Saab dealership, Vonnegut rose to prominence with the publication of Cat’s Cradle in 1963. Several modern classics, including Slaughterhouse-Five, soon followed. Never quite embraced by the stodgier arbiters of literary taste, Vonnegut was nonetheless beloved by millions of readers throughout the world. “Given who and what I am,” he once said, “it has been presumptuous of me to write so well.” Kurt Vonnegut died in New York in 2007.

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

Read an Excerpt


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.

Table of Contents

1As a kid I was the youngest1
2Do you know what a twerp is?7
3Here is a lesson in creative writing23
4I'm going to tell you some news39
5Okay, now let's have some fun47
6I have been called a Lddite55
7I turned eighty-two on November II65
8Do you know what a humanist is?79
9Do unto others95
10A sappy woman from Ypsilanti105
11Now then, I have some good news115
12I used to be the owner and manager of an automobile dealership125
Author's Note139

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A Man without a Country 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 67 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.
Anonymous 3 months ago
"We are on Earth to fart around. Don't let anyone tell you different." -Kurt Vonnegut Damn. Nothing truer to be found anywhere else.
midlevelbureaucrat on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Took less than a morning to read, and it's already one of my favorite books of the year! Full of opinion, rants, KV articulates my frustrations and passions of this era better than any other I've read recently.
TanyaTomato on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Author is certainly pessimistic about the outcome of the human race. But in the meantime appreciate happiness when you have it. Not a story but his own perspectives.
aznstarlette on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
My kind of humour. I read this book in three hours; the book is quite simple, really, but definitely a great read! Classic Vonnegut.
joeltallman on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I love Kurt Vonnegut, as my book collection will attest, but this collection of essays is way uneven in interest and quality.
urhockey22 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Not the greatest thing Vonnegut ever wrote, but it is concise, direct, and has some sharp sarcastic humor. You can hear the anger, sadness, and desperation. It is worth the couple of hours read and doe sa good job of condensing the feelings of many disgruntled Americans into an articulate plea to their fellow citizens.
disneypope on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Fun read. KV's swipe at the pluperfect mess our government, nation, and world is in all critiqued with KV style.
wortklauberlein on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
If he wasn't famous, this book would probably have no audience. Though perhaps my harshness is due to 1. listening to an over-emoted audio version dripping with a sardonic tone and/or 2. reading this too long after the world events he writes about. But really, meh.
AshRyan on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Really dreadful...it's sad that someone like Vonnegut, who wrote some truly brilliant short fiction, could be such a terrible non-fiction essayist. His political views are so simple-minded that they hardly deserve serious discussion...suffice it to say, he thinks Jesus Christ was the greatest moral thinker who ever lived, and we should base our political system on the Sermon on the Mount. As if Aristotle had never lived, and the Renaissance and the Enlightenment had never taken place. Except he actually mentions Aristotle, to whom he refers as "a good guesser"---as against Hitler, who was "a bad guesser" (Vonnegut sees no difference between their epistemological methodologies, or why the "guesses" of Aristotle happened to be rather better than those of Hitler).Vonnegut says near the end that he might be getting too grumpy to be funny anymore, but this is just ironic false humility, as he clearly still thinks very much of himself indeed...but the real irony is that he was right, he really wasn't funny anymore. Part of the problem is that, like so many old people, he keeps repeating the same stale stories...but he compounds the sin by doing so in print. And, as alluded to above, his views are so poorly conceived and argued that they're not even funny (talk about guessers...projection, anyone?).
wilsonknut on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Several of the blurbs for this book say it is as close as we will get to a memoir from Vonnegut. Honestly, if you have read Cat's Cradle, Slaughter-House Five, and his collections of lectures, speeches, etc. you have read everything in this book before. That doesn't mean it isn't worth reading. It is full of Vonnegut wit and misanthropy. It is fragmented, like his novels. It is funny, like his novels. The humor is to deal with the fear and hopelessness. He states that he has given up on mankind, and in particular, America. He strongly disliked the Bush administration, and he strongly believed that humans have destroyed the Earth. In typical Vonnegut fashion, he doesn't have any hope for us. To some degree it reads like a really depressed Al Gore- if Al Gore had a personality and was funny. I like Vonnegut's fiction. I liked it even more in my twenties when I was just as negative as he is, but I personally think you have to balance his cynicism with your own common sense and your own ability to think for yourself.
Mieux on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A quick read, but a treasure. Not a bad book for those who have never read anything by the author before. Very quickly, you get a sense of who Kurt is, what he believes in, and the humorous stance he has taken in order to get "through this thing, whatever it is."
Justjenniferreading on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I watched a PBS interview with Kurt Vonnegut and they were talking about this book. I found him to be a very interesting and satirical man. I had never heard of him before and was intrigued by watching him.There were many times throughout the book that I thought to myself "that is exactly what I was thinking." I liked that he was not afraid to say what he felt and I got the feeling that he didn't care who heard him.This book lead me into my quest for reading all Kurt Vonnegut I can get my hands on. I am looking forward to reading much more in the future.
Mike129 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
My rating might be a little high as I am a pretty big Vonnegut fan.
marysargent on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A short book of Vonnegut's musings on his life and life in general. After reading his first book, Player Piano, written 53 years ago, and not terribly good, it was a pleasure to read this and remember what he was like when he was good. Some really funny bits. And some dark despair. He gets a bit repetitive as the book goes on, but I feel such affection for him that I forgive.
defrog on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
As many have said, it¿s part essay collection, part ramblings of a grumpy old man. But as I¿ve also said in the past, Vonnegut¿s throwaways are more entertaining and full of more wisdom than the best achievements of others. Even when I don¿t agree with some of his points (such as KV¿s defense of Ludditism), he¿s still funny.
kvesser on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Excellent political commentary; autobiographical and humorous. Essential Vonnegut.
donlazaro on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
"A Man Without a Country" is not a novel, of course, but an update on Vonnegut thought, particularly about social issues and President G.W. Bush and others of his calling, like Jas. K. Polk and Abe Lincoln. Nor was it intended as a last will and testament; Kurt Vonnegut was only 82 with plenty of potential to finish "If God Were Alive Today" and anything else that came to this Nobel Laureate's agile and unique mind. He was ready for another Nobel. What? They don't award more than one to the same genius? Yet another first for this great, great man. If you've read "Mother Night," or "Cat's Cradle," or "Slaughterhouse Five," I know you'll agree that these tales make you laugh, weep, and even think. What more can you ask of Great Literature? OK, I was just kidding about his winning a Nobel Prize, as I'm sure the committee in Stockholm thought they were doing by holding it back for so long. "A Man Without a Country" reads like a series of Nobel acceptance speeches, and great ones at that. So I figured that with this book I was getting a preview of a major coming attraction. But the Swedes lost a chance to redeem themselves; they failed again to Ring the Nobel for Vonnegut in 2006. ¿A Man Without a Country¿ encapsulates his legacy: ¿Electronic communities build nothing. You wind up with nothing. We are dancing animals. How beautiful it is to get up and go do something. We are here on earth to fart around. Don¿t let anybody tell you any different.¿
Sandydog1 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The only criticism is that this work is much too short. Mark Twain lives
cithen on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Quite funny throughout. It's a short, but satisfying read, really only a few hours. Very curt, but poignant discussions on a variety of topics ranging from politics to the meaning of life. Some repetition occurs, but only a few times, that's the worst I have to say about it. I'm glad someone left it behind in the hotel courtyard.
MrCondron on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is a great book.
rores28 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Basically classic Vonnegut. Definitely some gems in there, but a little more overtly preachy than the other stuff I've read as there is no fictitious narrative to enshroud it. Not his best, but probably worth a read if you really like Vonnegut.