Format: Trade Paperback
Pub. Date: 11/8/2011
Publisher: Holt, Henry & Company, Inc.
Type: Non-Fiction, Biography ~ ARC
Challenge: No
Read: 12/26/2011

Kurt Vonnegut: A Life

The first authoritative biography of Kurt Vonnegut Jr., a writer who changed the conversation of American literature.

In 2006, Charles Shields reached out to Kurt Vonnegut in a letter, asking for his endorsement for a planned biography. The first response was no (“A most respectful demurring by me for the excellent writer Charles J. Shields, who offered to be my biographer”). Unwilling to take no for an answer, propelled by a passion for his subject, and already deep into his research, Shields wrote again and this time, to his delight, the answer came back: “O.K.” For the next year—a year that ended up being Vonnegut’s last—Shields had access to Vonnegut and his letters.

When I agreed to read this book and write this review, the only thing I knew about Kurt Vonnegut Jr. was he had written “Slaughterhouse-Five”. After reading this biography, I know feel I know everything about him. Of course that’s not really true.

Mr. Shields covers Mr. Vonnegut’s life from beginning to end, cradle to grave, at the end is an appendix with more family history. In detailing what happens in his life, we also get an understanding of why he felt the way he did, his experience in life affecting his personality, as it does with all of us.

“I was a victim of a series of accidents, as are we all,” says his protagonist Malachi Constant in ‘Sirens of Titans.

This was how Vonnegut felt about his life, his family and society in general, a society that he felt had rejected him. Society that didn’t take him seriously as a writer, his life’s work.

As big as this book is, it cover’s 85 years after all, it is not boring. Mr. Shields coverage of Mr. Vonnegut is complete but not wordy and while bringing to us all the important details does not get bogged down in them, making for a very readable biography. A biography written the way a biography should be written.

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