This fiftieth-anniversary edition commemorates Joseph Heller’s masterpiece with a new introduction; critical essays and reviews by Norman Mailer, Alfred Kazin, Anthony Burgess, and others; rare papers and photos; and much more.
Nominated as one of America’s best-loved novels by PBS’s The Great American Read.
Soon to be a Hulu limited series starring Christopher Abbott, George Clooney, Kyle Chandler, and Hugh Laurie.
Fifty years after its original publication, Catch-22 remains a cornerstone of American literature and one of the funniest—and most celebrated—books of all time. In recent years it has been named to “best novels” lists by Time, Newsweek, the Modern Library, and the London Observer.
Set in Italy during World War II, this is the story of the incomparable, malingering bombardier, Yossarian, a hero who is furious because thousands of people he has never met are trying to kill him. But his real problem is not the enemy—it is his own army, which keeps increasing the number of missions the men must fly to complete their service. Yet if Yossarian makes any attempt to excuse himself from the perilous missions he’s assigned, he’ll be in violation of Catch-22, a hilariously sinister bureaucratic rule: a man is considered insane if he willingly continues to fly dangerous combat missions, but if he makes a formal request to be removed from duty, he is proven sane and therefore ineligible to be relieved.
This fiftieth-anniversary edition commemorates Joseph Heller’s masterpiece with a new introduction by Christopher Buckley; a wealth of critical essays and reviews by Norman Mailer, Alfred Kazin, Anthony Burgess, and others; rare papers and photos from Joseph Heller’s personal archive; and much more. Here, at last, is the definitive edition of a classic of world literature.
|Publisher:||Simon & Schuster|
|Edition description:||50th Anniversary Edition|
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.40(d)|
About the Author
Joseph Heller was born in Brooklyn in 1923. In 1961, he published Catch-22, which became a bestseller and, in 1970, a film. He went on to write such novels as Good as Gold, God Knows, Picture This, Closing Time, and Portrait of an Artist, as an Old Man. Heller died in 1999.
Christopher Buckley is a novelist, essayist, humorist, critic, magazine editor, and memoirist. His books include Thank You for Smoking, The Judge Hunter, Make Russia Great Again, and The Relic Master. He worked as a merchant seaman and White House speechwriter. He has written for many newspapers and magazines and has lectured in over seventy cities around the world. He was awarded the Thurber Prize for American Humor and the Washington Irving Medal for Literary Excellence.
Date of Birth:May 1, 1923
Date of Death:December 12, 1999
Place of Birth:Brooklyn, New York
Place of Death:East Hampton, New York
Education:New York University, B.A. in English, Phi Beta Kappa, 1948<br> Columbia University, M.A., 1949
Read an Excerpt
by Jonathan R. Eller
It shouldn’t have survived the first printing. It was a first novel by a part-time writer who had published very little since the 1940s. It was a book that captured the feelings of helplessness and horror generated by the darker side of the American dream at a time when the general reading public still expected fiction to reflect a positive view of contemporary America and its hallowed institutions. The title was changed twice during presswork; as if that weren’t enough, someone who thought he was portrayed in the book threatened to sue, prompting a name change for one of the main characters after almost a year in print.
But for a number of editors, advertisers, writers, and critics, reading the book echoed the opening line of the novel: “It was love at first sight.” This core of avid supporters kept the novel alive in the East Coast book market until word-of-mouth praise (and overnight bestseller status in Great Britain) took it to international prominence. In time, the title Catch-22 became a part of the English language, and Joseph Heller’s novel became an enduring part of American culture.
Heller was not unknown in publishing circles prior to Catch-22. His first published work appeared in the fall 1945 issue of Story, an issue dedicated to short fiction by returning servicemen. For several years after the war, he wrote what he called “New Yorker–type” stories about Jewish life in Depression-era Brooklyn. Several of these formula pieces were published in Esquire and the Atlantic Monthly while Heller was completing undergraduate work in English at NYU. These publications gained him some attention as a promising new writer, but he published no new stories after 1948—partly because they weren’t selling anymore, but primarily because he was ready to move on to more universal material:
By the time I was a senior in college, I’d done a little more reading and I began to suspect that literature was more serious, more interesting than analyzing an endless string of Jewish families in the Depression. I could see that type of writing was going out of style. I wanted to write something that was very good and I had nothing good to write. So I wrote nothing.1
Instead, he began graduate studies in English at Columbia, which he would complete with an M.A. in 1949, followed by an additional year at Oxford on a Fulbright Scholarship. After two years teaching expository writing at Pennsylvania State University, Heller moved back to New York in 1952 and took a job writing for a small advertising agency, and later for Remington Rand. Graduate work provided the insight required to attempt serious literature, and Heller wanted to write a novel. The drive developed tentatively and without much outside inspiration. He was generally disappointed by the new novels of the early postwar years: “There was a terrible sameness about books being published and I almost stopped reading as well as writing.” He considered the war novels of Jones, Miller, Shaw, and others quite good, but he did not at first consider his own wartime experiences as subject for fiction. Nearly thirty typescripts accumulated by 1952, but only one—the never-published “Crippled Phoenix”—offered a hint of the wartime traumas that would surface in Catch-22.
In 1953, he began a series of notecards outlining characters and a military scenario for what would become Catch-22. Certainly his wartime experiences, and those of boyhood friends like George Mandel, formed a basis for the new project. Mandel, who had been seriously wounded as an infantryman in Europe, would eventually write The Wax Boom (1962), a tough war novel that also questioned traditional army chain-of-command responses to combat situations. Mandel remained a responsive and insightful reader for Heller during the seven years that Catch-22 evolved.
A photograph from Joseph Heller’s copy of the 488th Squadron’s unofficial scrapbook. Heller is on the right.
But in 1953, Heller was still searching for the right form and style of expression. In literature, he found himself attracted to the innovative work of Waugh, Nabokov, and Céline for their successes in achieving the kind of effect Heller wanted. In an early post-publication interview, Heller used Nabokov’s work to describe the effect he himself was searching for: “Nabokov in Laughter in the Dark takes an extremely flippant approach to situations deeply tragic and pathetic, and I began to try for a similar blending of the comic and the tragic so that everything that takes place seems to be grotesque yet plausible.”2
From a publishing perspective, however, it was Heller’s interest in Céline that finally sparked a marketable product. Heller had read Céline’s Journey to the End of the Night while teaching at Penn State; sometime later, probably in 1954, he read Céline’s Death on the Installment Plan. Céline’s experimentation with time, structure, and colloquial speech profoundly affected him, and triggered a crucial burst of creative energy. Heller recalled the event for his 1975 Playboy interview with Sam Merrill:
I was lying in bed, thinking about Céline, when suddenly the opening lines of Catch-22 came to me: “It was love at first sight. The first time he saw the chaplain, Blank fell madly in love with him.” I didn’t come up with the name Yossarian until later, and the chaplain wasn’t necessarily an Army chaplain. He could have been a prison chaplain. Ideas of plot, pace, character, style, and tone all tumbled out that night, pretty much the way they finally appeared in the book. The next morning, at work, I wrote out the whole first chapter and sent it to my agent, Candida Donadio, who sold it to New World Writing.
Donadio offered “Catch-18” to Arabel Porter at New American Library’s Mentor Books, and immediately found another enthusiastic fan; Porter wanted “Catch-18” for the Seventh Mentor Selection of New World Writing, an NAL series dedicated to publishing the best new literature and criticism. Other NAL editors concurred in superlative terms; Walter Freeman believed that “Of all the recommended pieces lately, this stands out. It seems like part of a really exciting, amusing novel.” Founding editor Victor Weybright was convinced that “Catch-18” was the “funniest thing we have ever had for NWW.”3
Although Heller was already referring to his initial experiment as a prospective novel, it would be a year before he completed the next chapter, and two years before he finished enough material to send out the story for further review. The main problem was time: between business and family responsibilities, Heller was only able to work on Catch-18 in the evenings, and never very late. He worked slowly and revised extensively at the kitchen table in his West End Avenue apartment, completing about three handwritten pages each night on yellow legal tablets. By day he continued in advertising, moving to successively better-paying positions at Time in 1955 and Look in 1956. In 1957 he moved into the Advertising-Promotion Department at McCall’s, where he would remain until Catch-22 changed his life forever.
By the summer of 1957, Heller had completed enough to make a seventy-five-page typescript. In August, Candida Donadio circulated the typescript and received offers from Bob Gottlieb at Simon and Schuster and Tom Ginsberg at Viking. Each offered options to draw a contract when the book was complete; author and agent passed on both, opting to develop more of the book and then ask for an immediate contract.
In February 1958, Donadio sent a longer typescript to Bob Gottlieb, who had shown a very strong interest the previous summer. By this time, Heller had finished seven handwritten chapters and revised them into a 259-page typescript. This typescript eventually became the first third of the book, evolving into the first sixteen chapters of the final novel. Gottlieb, at twenty-six the youngest editor at Simon and Schuster, loved what he saw of the book and arranged a contract for Heller, but not without a struggle.
Four members of the editorial board reported on the manuscript: Gottlieb, administrative editor Peter Schwed, Justin Kaplan (then an executive assistant to Henry Simon and Max Schuster), and Henry Simon, younger brother of founder Richard Simon and by 1958 a vice president. In his report, Gottlieb wrote:
I still love this crazy book and very much want to do it. It is a very rare approach to the war—humor that slowly turns to horror. The funny parts are wildly funny, the serious parts are excellent. The whole certainly suffers somewhat by the two attitudes, but this can be partly overcome by revisions. The central character, Yossarian, must be strengthened somewhat—his single-minded drive to survive is both the comic and the serious center of the story.4
A page from the early manuscript, with revisions by Heller.
Gottlieb was the strongest advocate, and both Schwed and Kaplan found it wildly funny but at times repetitive. Even Gottlieb conceded that the book would not be a big seller, although he felt that it was “bound to find real admirers in certain literary sets.” Henry Simon, however, found Yossarian’s escapades repetitive and at times offensive, and recommended against publication. In the end, Heller’s willingness to make revisions, and Gottlieb’s willingness to work with him, convinced the board to contract the book.
The 1955 appearance of chapter 1 in New World Writing had introduced the publishing world to Catch-18, and by the end of the decade news about the novel had spread by word of mouth from Heller’s agent, his publisher, and his own circle of friends and advertising associates. His contract had originally called for 1960 publication, but Heller needed all of 1960 to finish the manuscript and work it into shape for publication. By this time the 259-page typescript of 1958 had more than doubled in length; Heller had extended the existing episodes by interleaving handwritten pages of the familiar legal-sized yellow paper into the typescript, thus expanding it from seven to sixteen chapters (through “Luciana,” chapter 16 of the final work) without altering the order and basic structure of the earlier draft. But a major new manuscript section picked up where the original circulating typescript left off, adding another twenty-eight chapters to the increasingly complex narrative. Chapter 39, “The Eternal City,” had proven most troublesome; it took months to refine the dark tones of Yossarian’s final trip to Rome and create a smooth transition into the revelations of the novel’s concluding chapters.
During 1960, Heller prepared a new 758-page typescript from this conflation, and made revisions that included deletion of the original manuscript chapter 18, “Rosoff.” This chapter provided a chronological bridge between the “Soldier in White” chapter, set in the hospital on Pianosa, and “The Soldier Who Saw Everything Twice” chapter, a flashback into Yossarian’s earlier hospital episodes at Lowry Air Base in Denver, Colorado. The deleted chapter included an overlong but delightful digression into “PT” and team sports at Lowry, but Heller soon sensed that this interlude impeded the progress of the narrative. Other digressive episodes would have to be cut as well before the book would go to press.
With the newly revised typescript in hand, Heller and Gottlieb made further revisions in the text. After a series of editorial sessions, Heller shortened the typescript by about 150 pages. The typescript, now heavily revised and partially retyped, became printer’s copy for the Simon and Schuster galley proofs. Before the text was actually set, Heller worked with Gottlieb on some final cuts, including the original chapter 23 (“The Old Folks at Home”), a digressive flashback to conversations between Nately and his capitalist father.
A page from the submitted typescript, with revisions by Heller.
Heller’s working relationship with Gottlieb was the catalyst that finally reduced the complex narrative to a manageable scale; but the chemistry did not carry over to the copy editor assigned to Catch-18. For weeks, Heller found himself locked in a syntactic struggle of wills:
[Gottlieb] assigned the book to a copy editor who immediately began rearranging my sentences and paragraphs. . . . She apparently had an aversion to what I think might be called compound predicates. For example, if I wrote “He struck a match and lit a cigarette,” she would change it to “He struck a match and he lit a cigarette.” It was even worse when she got to sentences like “‘Get out,’ he said, foaming at the mouth.” This she would change to “‘Get out,’ he said, and he foamed at the mouth.”5
Re-editing the book back into Heller’s own conversational idiom took about six weeks in early 1961, and led to a delayed release date. Before the copyediting problem, Heller and Gottlieb had been on track for a late-summer release; after the delay, Heller was given his choice of mid-October 1961 or January 1962. He opted for October, putting the novel on the threshold of the holiday marketing season.
This delay led to even more unexpected trouble through a bizarre coincidence of titles. In January 1961, Leon Uris’s new novel, Mila 18, was announced for summer publication; given Uris’s best-selling reputation, a new title for Catch-18 was inevitable. For two weeks in January, Heller and Gottlieb tried a number of new titles. Catch-11 was promising—the vowel following the consonants in “Catch” had the right sound, but the title had an extra syllable; besides, it was too close to Frank Sinatra’s new movie title, Ocean’s Eleven (1960). Heller came up with Catch-14 next, and tried to convince Gottlieb that it was the right number in a letter dated January 29, 1961:
The name of the book is now CATCH-14. (Forty-eight hours after you resign yourself to the change, you’ll find yourself almost preferring this new number. It has the same bland and nondescript significance of the original. It is far enough away from Uris for the book to establish an identity of its own, I believe, yet close enough to the original title to still benefit from the word of mouth publicity we have been giving it.)
Gottlieb was not happy with 14—the central concept of the novel was “Catch-18,” and for everyone at Simon and Schuster, it had been “Catch-18” for more than three years. After a halfhearted attempt at accepting Catch-14, Gottlieb had a late-night flash of conviction and came up with the title which has long since passed into the language: “22, it’s 22! And I remember calling up Joe and saying, ‘It’s funnier than 18!’ But of course the fact is that no number is funnier than any other number, it’s complete self-delusion. But once we were convinced it was funnier, then it became funny.”6 Both Heller and Gottlieb soon realized just how well the new title represented the structure of events in the novel—the soldier who saw everything twice, Yossarian’s disastrous second target pass during the Bologna mission, and the chaplain’s déjà vu are key examples of the novel’s doubling structure. But all this came later—as Gottlieb observes, “We were just desperate publishers looking for a title.”
Catch-22 was published on October 10, 1961, but an aggressive marketing campaign was already reaching beyond reviewers to a wide circle of writers, literary critics, and even to competing publishers. The day after publication, advertising manager Nina Bourne and Bob Gottlieb published “What’s the Catch?” a full-page five-column ad in The New York Times recapping the intellectual fan mail that was streaming into Bourne’s office. A second, full-length two-column ad appeared in the November 3 Times, and after Christmas short, eye-catching bullets by Morris West, Kenneth Tynan, and Nelson Algren appeared every few days under the paper soldier logo designed for the dust jacket by Paul Bacon. Six months after release, a status report on the emerging “Catch Craze” appeared across an entire page and a facing column of the April 29, 1962, New York Times Book Review. But this ad was different—most of the columns documented a new wave of letters from grassroots American readers who discovered Catch-22 through the word-of-mouth endorsements that were beginning to create a long-term market for the novel.
In spite of praise from an ever-increasing number of critics, writers, and mainstream readers, Heller was about to face a Yossarian-like challenge that would soon force a major change in the text of his novel. He had relied on his own wartime experiences in a Mediterranean-based B-25 bomber squadron for plot elements, but his use of fictitious character names, unit designations, and base locations minimized the potential for lawsuit. In fact, none of the aviators who inspired the characters in Catch-22 ever voiced objection. But in the late spring of 1962 someone not portrayed in the novel threatened a lawsuit because he thought he was. He shared the name of Heller’s “Anabaptist” chaplain, Robert Oliver Shipman, referred to for the most part throughout the novel simply as R. O. Shipman.
The Shipman character had already developed a literary identity, and Heller did not want readers to be confused by different versions of the book. Heller had never known the real Shipman, but the coincidence of name and certain background similarities led to a name change to A. T. Tappman—another seven-letter name that avoided resetting the entire book. This significant change appears in the sixth and subsequent printings of the Simon and Schuster text, and in all printings of the Dell mass-market paperback edition released in the fall of 1962. Later printings of Jonathan Cape’s British first edition also picked up the change, but the Transworld mass-market British paperback has continued to use the original name for decades.
This controversy remained a private matter, and the Simon and Schuster staff soon turned to more public marketing milestones. The house advertising effort culminated a year after release with a full-page eight-column “Happy Birthday Catch-22” ad in the daily New York Times. As with the other ads, it had the unique style that Nina Bourne had learned from Richard Simon himself—the idea of bringing the reader inside the publishing house to learn the story of the novel. It was a personal approach, like writing a letter to a friend, or, as Bob Gottlieb observed, like “bringing the public—bringing the reader in on it. You were talking to people instead of inventing things, coming out with real feelings about a particular book.” The ads—an impossible undertaking at today’s costs—were more heartfelt than calculated, but in the end, the Catch caught on.
And as the word spread, public and academic interest in the novel continued to grow. The postmodern experimental structure was worthy of critical investigation, and the satire engaged students (and professors) who were skeptical of the postwar military establishment. But the chance for Catch-22 to become a contemporary classic, and for the “Catch” phrase to pass into our culture, grew from universal aspects of the plot. As Nelson Algren noted in his June 23, 1962, Chicago Daily News review, Heller’s burlesque of the military leader is also a burlesque of the business leader, or the leader of any bureaucratic machine. Syndicated columnists beyond the book world also came on board for Catch-22, including Richard Starnes, Murray Kempton, and Ralph Gleason. Starnes—a conservative political columnist writing for the conservative New York World Telegram—offered proof enough that the novel’s universal relevance could break through ideological biases. In fact, by overcoming the odds of the publishing business, Heller fulfilled Starnes’s early prognosis for literary immortality: “Yossarian will, I think, live a very long time.”
JONATHAN R. ELLER is professor of English and senior textual editor in the Institute for American Thought, Indiana University School of Liberal Arts (IUPUI). Portions of this essay appeared in his article “Catching a Market: The Publishing History of Catch-22,” Prospects 17 (1992), 475–525.
1 Sam Merrill, “Playboy Interview: Joseph Heller,” Playboy (June 1975): 59ff.
2 W. J. Weatherby, “The Joy Catcher,” Manchester Guardian, Nov. 20, 1962.
3 Kenneth C. Davis, Two-Bit Culture: The Paperbacking of America (Boston: Houghton-Mifflin, 1984), 200.
4 A copy of Gottlieb’s editorial report, dated Feb. 12, 1958, is in the Catch-22 Papers, Brandeis University.
5 Richard Greeman, “Joseph Heller Lionized by Critics for His Novel of War and Mankind,” Fire Island News, July 14, 1962.
6 Robert Gottlieb, interview with the author, New York, June 12, 1991. Heller’s slightly different version appears in Josh Greenfield, “22 Was Funnier Than 14,” New York Times Book Review, Mar. 3, 1968. Subsequent quotations by Gottlieb are from the same interview.
Table of Contents
Reading Group Guide
This reading group guide has been provided by Simon & Schuster for classroom, library, and reading group use. It may be reproduced in its entirety or excerpted for these purposes.
About the Book
Yossarian is a paranoid American bombardier stationed off the Italian coast during World War II who believes that everyone is out to kill him. Fearing he will be killed during a bombing run, Yossarian takes desperate measures to avoid flying, such as checking himself into a hospital with a fake liver condition and moving the bomb line on the map of Italy, which postpones the bombing mission to Bologna. Yossarian and his comrades are in a Catch-22: They can be grounded on the basis of insanity; however, if they ask to be grounded because of insanity, their concern for their safety proves their sanity. While Yossarian’s desire to get out of the war is the story’s focal point, Heller’s satirical narrative also relays the antics of Yossarian’s comrades—the men of the 256th Squadron—and positions those antics amid such themes as war, hypocrisy, justice, death, government bureaucracy, and greed. Teeming with Catch-22 situations, the ultimate “catch” for Yossarian is a test of his own integrity. Should he stand by truth and face court-martial or should he turn his back on his comrades and become a hero?
About the Author
Joseph Heller, an American satirical novelist, was born in Brooklyn, New York, to Russian Jewish immigrants, in 1923. After graduating from a Coney Island high school, Heller worked momentarily in an insurance office and then enlisted in the Army Air Corps, where he was trained as a bombardier during World War II. Heller flew sixty missions in Corsica, a Mediterranean island, and earned a Presidential Unit Citation before leaving the military in 1945. He earned a bachelor’s degree in English from New York University and later earned a master’s from Columbia University. Heller attended Oxford University as a Fulbright Scholar and then assumed a position as an English instructor at Pennsylvania State University for a brief time. Heller went on to hold various other jobs while pursing his writing career. Catch-22 became an American classic in the latter half of the twentieth century and elevated Heller as one of the most widely regarded post–World War II satirists. Heller went on to publish Something Happened (1974), Good as Gold (1979), and Closing Time (1994), a sequel to Catch-22, as well as short stories, plays, screenplays, and the 1998 memoir Now and Then.
How does a phrase like “Catch-22” work its way into the fabric of a culture?
1. A complex, chaotic structure makes the novel difficult to follow. How might this structure parallel, represent, and/or elevate themes in the story? How does Heller piece together the chronology of events?
2. Heller’s dialogue style is reminiscent of Abbott and Costello’s “Who’s on First?” comic routine of the 1940s. How does Heller use this back-and-forth disorderly logic to develop character?
3. Chapters tend to be named for individuals in the story; however, titles are deceptive because they tend to be about other characters. Why might Heller have named chapters after one character but have written them about another?
4. Yossarian shares a tent with a “dead man.” What role does this mysterious character play?
5. Chief White Halfoat is illiterate, yet he is assigned to military intelligence. Identify and discuss other examples of Heller’s cynicism toward the government and/or other institutions.
6. Choose a poignant passage/scene. How does Heller make this passage/scene work (e.g., how does he evoke emotion in the reader)?
7. Of the multiple characters in the story, which are you drawn to the most? Why? Are there any completely moral characters in the story? Explain.
8. Major Major is described as “the most mediocre of men.” What do the events in his past and present life tell us about humanity and destiny?
9. Both Captain Wren and Captain Piltchard are described as “mild” and “soft-spoken” officers, and they love the war. Why might their personalities be fitting for someone who loves the war?
10. Yossarian returns to the hospital several times. What role do the hospital settings play in the story? In what way might the hospital settings foil the bombing/war scenes? In what way might they be reflective times for Yossarian? For other characters?
11. Compare and contrast Colonel Cathcart and Colonel Korn. Are they both hypocrites? Why or why not?
12. Circumstances surrounding Snowden’s death are revealed slowly. What does his death mean to Yossarian? To others?
13. Discuss the significance of déjà vu in the story and how it relates to religious faith.
14. While much of the novel is military satire, the story does delve into the private sector. How might Mrs. Daneeka be a satirical character?
15. One of the ironies of the story occurs at the end in which Yossarian has an opportunity to go home a hero. In essence, he has the system in a Catch-22. Explain.
16. Discuss whether the ending of Catch-22 is uplifting or downbeat. Is it a victory or a defeat?
17. Most of the characters in Catch-22 are over-the-top in the sense that, in many ways, they are caricatures of themselves. What must Heller have known about humanity to make them all so recognizable?
18. What do you believe is Heller’s view of a capitalistic society?
19. Is Catch-22 a comic novel or a story of morality? Explain.
20. What does Catch-22 say about war?
21. Discuss the literary significance of Catch-22 and its relevance in the twenty-first century.
22. How does Catch-22 compare to other war stories you have read? How does it compare to other satires
23. How might Catch-22 be described as an allegory?
24. Discuss how the novel can be described as a struggle between the individual and an institution.
25. Discuss the meaning of sanity as it applies to the story.
Guide prepared by Pam B. Cole, Professor of English Education & Literacy, Kennesaw State University, Kennesaw, GA.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I'm not going to talk about the content of the book. People have covered that. The NookBook of Catch-22 was generated from a scanned manuscript and then insufficiently copyedited. To pick one example, words that begin with "Li" are frequently rendered with a "U" instead; so, say, "Lip" becomes "Up." It happened often enough to be distracting. Considering we're asked to pay MORE than the paperback price for the NookBook, and we can't return the NookBook for being shoddy, this is unacceptable.
When I think of the term "war story," I tend to think of the long grueling battles, the wounded dying in the mud, or the sounds of guns blasting in the distance. However, in Joseph Heller's great novel, Catch-22, the most significant and my favorite scenes are ones not on the battlefield; they are the ones at camp. The ingenious (yet sometimes confusing) plot is centered around the main character in this novel, Yossarian, who has seen the inhumane and thoughtless actions of his superiors during the second half of WWII. He is an air force pilot stationed in the Mediterranean Sea conducting bombing raids that seem to never end. After enduring one mission after another, he stumbles on a way to be discharged from service if he is deemed insane. His never-ending search to get out of the military and his conversations with his friend Nately are humorous and entertaining. However, when Yossarian first claims to be "insane," he proves to the doctors that he truly IS sane because anyone who is really sane would want to be discharged. This confusing paradox, or circular reasoning, is Catch-22. Catch-22 is described in many other ways, mostly in other nearly incomprehensible paradoxes that "catches" its subject in its illogic, and always allows the government complete control over the pilots' lives. The theme of total power to the government can also be found in some other side stories (and flashbacks that happen at unspecified times) throughout the novel, such as when Officer Minderbinder can make himself immense amounts of cash just by trading amongst the companies he himself owns. You find yourself rooting for the soldiers, and wonder why they must die. I thought Yossarian's struggles with the law Catch-22 as amusing as no matter where you went, or which way, the government always ended up on top. And as the war goes on, Yossarian witnesses more tragedies among his men- murder, death, rape, and disease. When he is arrested in the streets of Rome, he is given a choice; Stay in the Air Force, or be honorably discharged. But there's a cache, if he is discharged, his men in his squadron must fly another eighty missions. Will Yossarian be tempted to regain a life of his own, and yet endanger the lives of his own men? Or will he continue to fly under the rule of Catch-22? Although the plot is hard to comprehend at first, is you persevere through the confusing flashbacks and characters whose names you forget, it will all make sense in the end.
Catch 22 is a classic novel that comes around every ten years or so that delivers a story so out of the ordinary and yet so real that everyone who loves to read should pick this title up.
Not only did this book create a phrase that has lasted the ages it makes you think what could have been if...Even though thinking this way will only get you in trouble because of the Catch 22 you find yourself in.
Joseph Heller brings to the table a dainty group of soldiers who believe someone is trying to kill them and that they are going to die, even though they don't want to. The dialog back and forth is outrageous and hilarious, making one wonder how would I react if I was stuck in the same situation.
I found this classic easy to read and understand, rooting for the soldiers to come back home asking myself "Why do they have to die?", even if they don't.
You'll love Heller's creation of a wayside group of individuals vying to survive in a outfit of misfits who can't seem to get along. He delivers solid dialog and great storytelling, running the reader through the muck of unmotivated soldiers all trying their hardest to survive.
This story had an incredible affect on me. It is incredibly funny, yet very sad in parts. Especially when you do finally find out what happened to the gunner, Snowden, in the mission to Avignon or when Yossarian walks through Rome.
The ideas concerning the ridiculuous nature of war are as topical now as they were in the 1960s. Actually, of course, Joseph Heller's presentation of the insanity around him predated the Vietnam War, and I wasn't around at that time to truly judge the feeling then.
The dialogue is laugh-out-loud funny at times, as is the juxtapostion of events, as for example when Clevinger complains of confusing cause-and-effect in staring at the bomb-line on the map south of Bologna, willing the line to move itself and for the squadron to not have to fly the mission. In fact, the whole chapter in which this incident occurs, "Bologna" was the funniest in the book for me, with the rain beating down, and the mission continually cancelled, Chief Whitehalfoat stealing a jeep to drive home, and Yossarian telling his pilot to turn around. And then, of course, Bologna was a milk-run; no glue gun there.
Anyone who has not read this book and is mystified by what is going on at the moment and since 2003 should read this book. It's not going to change the world, As K S Michaels has for me, but it is food for thought.
I'm putting this on my bookshelf right next to "Atlas Shrugged." This book falls under the category of a book everyone should read, everyone should understand, and certainly not a book you want anyone to know you read or understood. This book is painfully applicable to today. It is a classic example of how government and companies are run. Sadly.
What do you think of when you hear "war story"? Is it Guns! Giant Battles! War Hero's! Victory!? That wasn't what Joseph Heller was thinking when was writing the classic Catch-22. Instead of the focus of the book being on battles, some of the best (and funniest) parts of the entire book happen when everybody is in camp thinking about going into battle. One of the topics that keeps on being brought up is Catch-22. This is a rule that states a pilot can be grounded if he tells a doctor that he is mentally unstable. But here's the catch: if a pilot asks to get out of combat duty, he is clearly sane. Only a sane person would want to avoid danger, (if a doctor grounds a "sane person" he will be court marshaled). This leads to several humorous circular arguments. One of the best parts of the book is how Heller tells the story. The story isn't only told through the eyes of the main character. Most of the chapters talk about different characters. Even some of the most minor characters are very well developed because of this. Out of all of the characters, my favorite is Major Major Major Major. His first middle and last name is Major, and he just happens to be a major. I also feel like Major Major (how his name is abbreviated in the book) is the most well developed secondary character. He has a long chapter dedicated to his entire life. This is the funniest part of the book. His dad is paid not to grow alfalfa, because there was a surplus of it at the time. Major Major's father calculated how much he got paid not to grow alfalfa, so he bought more land to get more money by not growing anything. My favorite part of the book is that it feels like all the characters are real people in an actual war, and not stereotypical war heroes. Another unique aspect of this book is Heller's writing style. Heller is very astute, It felt like he never had a hard time saying exactly what he wanted to say. Also, it seemed like Heller was telling a true story, like when your grandfather tells you a war story, and you know a lot of it is exaggerated. Catch-22 is also nonlinear. About halfway through the book it goes back to explain how the protagonist (Yossarian) got to be where he was. Yossarian seems like he's his own worst enemy. He works himself up until he seems like a crazy paranoid person, but that might just be because he is in the middle of a war, and every mission might be his last. Another reason why I love this book is that it feels like Yossarian's troubles are never going to end. The commander keeps on increasing the number of missions a pilot has to fly before he can go home. Say a pilot finishes his missions, he doesn't get sent home, he has to wait at camp until the number of missions increases. Whenever a character nicknamed Hungry Joe finishes all of the missions, he screams in his sleep and is very edgy when he is awake. When he still has missions to fly he is fine. So everyone can tell if they have to fly more missions depending on Hungry Joe's mood. In the end, Catch-22 is one of the best books ever written, It even added a new phrase to the English dictionary, and you should read it no matter how old you are.
This is by far my favorite book of all time. I have read it 4 times already and am reading it again. Catch-22 is not a book for the casual reader, but more for a reader that will look beneath the surface to see what the writer is actually trying to say. The brilliance with which Heller writes is beyond words. Through his many different scenarios, Heller conveys to the reader the insanity that is present within war situations. Yossarian is often referred to as the crazy one and in a normal social structure he may be...but in the world of Catch-22 where everything seems to be upside down and backwards, he is the only sane one there. The very definition of Catch-22 is insanity, as the men can only be sent home if they are deemed too crazy to fly, but can't be sent home for being too crazy, because they would HAVE to be crazy to want to fly missions. Once you pick up on the theme(s) of the novel, you will be able to see the humor in the many different situations, even within the characters names themselves. (My favorite being Col. Sheiskopf) I definitely would recommend this book, but take your time reading it...
This is a great book detailing the absurdity of the bureaucracy that large institutions such as the military. This absurdity often leads to many funny moments in the novel, but at the same time, it the book is realistic. It depicts something that we see in everyday life, something that we experience quite often. If you are looking to find a book that is both entertaining and pertinent, you should look into Catch 22.
Managing to retain reason in insanity, Catch-22 made me both grin and sadden. A work of art that has to be enjoyed slowly and savoringly.
This is such a funny book. Great for those who like dark humor and satires.
Catch 22 is widely known as an American classic, and there is good reason for that. Catch 22 by Joseph Heller offers everything that you have ever wanted in a book and does it in a very unique and interesting style. This is a prime example of a historical satire. The book was written non-chronologically, and events are often referenced and though about by many different characters at many different times. As a satirical writer, Heller uses Catch 22 to point of what's wrong with the world. Heller uses situations and characters to make a statement on things such as death, love, sex, war, and bureaucracy. Joseph Heller was part of the U.S. Army Air Corps and he was shipped to Italy where he served as a bombardier. He flew 60 combat missions. After the war he studied English at USC and NYU. He started writing it in 1953, but did not finish it until 1961. Heller uses his experiences in the army to help craft his story. Catch 22 follows John Yossarian who is also a bombardier in the army. Yossarian is absolutely frightened of death, and will do anything to avoid flying the required amount of missions, which keep going up every time he reaches the required amount. The book follows Yossarian's fight against flying his missions, but there's a catch. Catch 22, of course. Catch 22 is a damned if you do, damned if you don't situation. It's when the only way you can get out of a situation is by never being in the situation in the first place. Catch 22 is a fantastic book for people who enjoy humor and logic. It is funny but you really have to pay attention or you might miss Heller's genius. I found that lots of the small things in the book end up playing a really big role in the end. I found the book incredibly interesting and I really related and felt for some of the characters. It really made a big impact with me. I was so eager to get to the end because I knew it would be brilliant (and it was) but once I got there, I was wished there was more. I highly recommend Catch 22 to anyone.
Hidden underneath the parades and utterances of manipulative politicians there's always a real war with real people that get killed or have their lives and the lives of those who love them altered by the war. Heller in this novel portrayed war as satire. No flag waving just a good look at how war can sometimes become dysfunctional because wars are fought by bureaucracies. And sometimes,especially in this novel, bureauracies develop objectives that are different from the people who commisioned the war. Catch 22 is a law with perverted logic and is displayed in various parts of the novel: "There was only one catch and that was Catch-22, which specified that a concern for one's safety in the face of dangers that were real and immediate was the process of a rational mind. Orr was crazy and could be grounded. All he had to do was ask; and as soon as he did, he would no longer be crazy and would have to fly more missions. Orr would be crazy to fly more missions and sane if he didn't, but if he were sane he had to fly them. If he flew them he was crazy and didn't have to; but if he didn't want to he was sane and had to. Yossarian was moved very deeply by the absolute simplicity of this clause of Catch-22 and let out a respectful whistle." During World War II, Heller was a member of the Army-Air Corps and flew 60 combat missions in Italy. I would make a guess that had he not flown those missions, he might have written a different novel where the airmen were more heroic - more ra ra. Heller is not the type of writer who churns out clever novels that look like a book by the numbers but sell well because people like the comfort of the same old thing. He said what he had to say and that was pretty much it. He continued writing throughout his life but he never duplicated or exceeded what he did with Catch 22. I would recommend that every young person read Catch 22. It certainly helped to me rethink my previous support of the Vietnam War.
I have read hundreds of books but this is the only one that had me physically laughing out loud. Pure enjoyment!
When people think of America in World War II, they think of a brave nation defending us from the evils of the Axis powers. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller takes a far different approach. It is a historical fiction book told in third person limited that has a certain flare that will pull the reader right into the story. Yossarian is an American bombardier stationed in Pianosa, Italy during World War II a colorful character whose main goal in life is to stay alive. Yossarian and his friends Milo, Orr, Nately, Dunbar, McWatt and several other colorful beings are involved in many adventures, some comical and edgy, others tragic and horrifying. Throughout the course of the book the horrors of war reveal themselves to Yossarian leading to his refusal to fly any more missions. This rebelian carries to his conflict with Colonel Carthcart who forces Yossarian to make the decision: go home alive and promote the war, or get a court marshal. This novel brought out a wide array of emotions in me. I laughed, cried, and had to think about the meaning and purpose of the story. The point of a historical fiction is to bring the reader into the time, place, and mindset as if he or she was actually there. Although I was not born and have nothing to compare it with, I feel that this novel did its duty as a historical fiction in an exceptional way. There is something for everyone in Catch-22: humor, history, well developed characters, a complex story line, and heartbreaking, thoughtful moments as well. As with most books there are dead spots, moments that you want to skip through to get to the main point. I also felt that the rising action and climax came too late in the novel but when they came they came with a bang. This book will continue to be read in ages to come.
Joseph Heller was a genius in delivering such a masterpiece to his fellow countrymen. The style, and proses are evocative. Heller keeps the plot, and storyline right above the surface of the pages. He has you learning of one character make reference to one you will learn of later in the book, or one you just passed. The satire is fulsome, and majestically original. The book refreshes the reader in a way very few books can. It is disconcerting when one realizes this is one of a kind. Authors should take a stab at further developing Mr. Heller's gift.
Darkly comic, with some of the funniest lines ever put on paper. Chapters of note: 'The Soldier Who Saw Everything Twice' and 'Nurse Ducket.' A must read. One of the greatest books ever written.
A novel by turns gut-wrenchingly horrific and laugh out loud funny. It walks a fine line and does it beautifully, with wit, memorable characters, and style. It's high up on my Reread list.
I read this so long ago that I honestly couldn't tell you much about it if it wasn't for having watched the movie so many times. Very amusing in parts.
Catch-22 is a modern classic set during World War II. The narrative is non-linear and the situations are often absurd. If you enjoy films such as Pulp Fiction or Memento, then you should give this book a read. If you are a fan of Kurt Vonnegut, then you will love Joseph Heller.I first read Catch-22 when I was on Active Duty in 2002 and I loved every word. It made me laugh out loud on a regular basis - something that is out of character for me. There is a lot of truth behind the insanity presented by Joseph Heller.Highly recommended. This book is a classic for a reason!
Great book; easy read, gripping. At times horrifying, hilarious, and confusing. Seems like every single person in the book is crazy, then again, I guess war makes people crazy...
A lot of people did not quite get the humor, but I am one of those who found this book hilarious. Heller's full sense of humor is epitomized in his most popular work. The story, the characters, and the dialogue had me laughing a lot throughout.
Too tell you the truth I didnt get it. I dont get why Harper Lee said it was the only war book to make any sense. Maybe he was joking. As a portrayl of World War Two I thought it strolled into the realms of fantasy. As a comment on the wars that were taking place at the time it works better, but still it seems highly cynical.
Catch-22 is an insane book. It is 20th century absurdist to the max. I imagine it has remained popular mostly because Catch-22 is more descriptive of the American soldier experience than many of the non-fiction war books covering the same material. It's influence on shows like MASH is obvious. I did find the book disjointed at times. And I did find myself speed reading through some of the material. But at times I found myself laughing out laud. Overall I am glad I read this highly influential book.
I loved this book! This story talks of the blind leading the blind in WW2, the dialogue was fantastic and the characters were very well developed.
I guess it's all been said before Catch 22 being such an iconic book. But it was the first time I have read it and like everyone else that has reviewed it, I found it very funny, but also quite sad,as it really did bring home the futility of war and how the ordinary soldiers were really just used to boost the ego's of the upper echelons. And I could empathise with Yossarien wanting to escape from the people that wanted to kill him, or get him killed I should say!!It read like a farse in many places and that is indeed what war is in many ways.Not what I expected but I enjoyed it all the same, and now know that Catch 22 means that you will never ever win!! No matter what you try to do!!