And so it goes Kurt Vonnegut, a life

Charles J. Shields, 1951-

Book - 2011

An authorized portrait of the influential twentieth-century American writer draws on first-person accounts and Vonnegut's private letters while offering insight into his youth, the inspirations for his work, and his enduring literary impact.

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BIOGRAPHY/Vonnegut, Kurt
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New York, N.Y. : Henry Holt and Co 2011.
1st ed
Physical Description
xii, 513 p., [16] p. of plates : ill. ; 25 cm
Includes bibliographical references (p. [425]-492) and index.
Main Author
Charles J. Shields, 1951- (-)
  • Out of print and scared to death
  • You were an accident, 1922-1940
  • One of the biggest fools on the hill, 1940-1943
  • To war in the bridal suite, 1943-1945
  • Folk Society and the House of Magic, 1945-1947
  • Stop being such a hardheaded realist, 1948-1951
  • The dead engineer, 1951-1958
  • Cooped up with all these kids, 1958-1965
  • A community of writers, 1965-1967
  • The big Ka-BOOM, 1967-1969
  • Goodbye and goodbye and goodbye, 1969-1971
  • Cultural bureaucrat, 1971-1974
  • Ripped off, 1975-1979
  • Looking for Mr. Vonnegut, 1980-1984
  • Dear celebrity, 1984-1991
  • Waiting to die, 1992-2007
  • Appendix. Vonnegut-Lieber family history.
Review by Booklist Reviews

*Starred Review* After the Depression blasted his wealthy Indianapolis family, Kurt Vonnegut goofed his way out of college and into the WWII infantry. Captured in the Battle of the Bulge, he became a POW survivor of the 1945 firebombing of Dresden, which he thought would be his great subject as a writer. He married, had a three-kid family to which his sister's death (two days after her husband's) added four more, made a precarious living writing short stories, and produced four novels through which his genuine big theme—the senselessness of violence and humanity's persistent inability to quit indulging in it—became clear to him. His fifth novel, his Dresden book, Slaughterhouse-Five (1969), became a huge best-seller, hoisted its predecessors out of the red, ensured its successors' success, and made a celebrity out of him. Shields, whose Mockingbird (2006) limned Harper Lee, traces Vonnegut's literary trajectory and his less-than-idyllic early family life, tempestuous marriages, and Janus-faced character—half hopefully fatalistic evangelist for kindness; half selfish, emotionally distant friend, father, and lover. Shields doesn't much critique Vonnegut's work but, thanks to access to his subject and those who knew him best (not including his second wife, certainly the villain of the book), offers a full extraliterary portrait. Copyright 2011 Booklist Reviews.

Review by Library Journal Reviews

Shields (Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee) presents a semiauthorized biography: Vonnegut agreed to cooperate but then died within a year, four years before this publication. However, the book demonstrates thorough research, based on interviews, letters, emails, and critical evaluations of Vonnegut's writings, all cited extensively. While many are familiar with some of Vonnegut's novels, fewer know his personal history. Shields takes us from cradle to grave, an interesting journey to say the least, stressing that his role is to look for patterns of behavior. One pattern he frequently notes is the difference between Vonnegut's authorial voice and ideas and the person himself. While Shields is clearly a fan, he does not shy away from discussing the more difficult aspects of Vonnegut's personality or from criticizing the novels. His device of starting the biography right in the midst of things, only to return to the early years, seems a bit forced, but, that aside, he keeps readers engrossed in the unfolding. VERDICT An excellent choice particularly for those who have read Vonnegut and will now understand the sources of the ideas he espouses in his novels and be able to contrast them with the actual person. [See Prepub Alert, 5/9/11.]—Gina Kaiser, Univ. of the Sciences, Philadelphia [Page 110]. (c) Copyright 2011. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Review by Publishers Weekly Reviews

Vonnegut initially refused to grant an interview to Shields (author of the bestselling Mockingbird), but then relented, enabling Shields to meet him during the last months of his life. This first authorized biography probes both Vonnegut's creative struggles and family life, detailing his transition from "the bowery of the book world" to counterculture icon. Shields delivers a vivid recreation of Vonnegut's ghastly WWII experiences as a POW during the Dresden firebombing that became the basis for Slaughterhouse-Five; the novel brought him overnight fame when it was serialized in Ramparts magazine and then published in a month when 453 Americans were killed in Vietnam. Tragedies and triumphs are contrasted throughout, along with an adroit literary analysis that highlights obscure or overlooked influences on Vonnegut: Ambrose Bierce, Céline, Robert Coover's metafiction, and Paul Rhymer, who scripted radio's Vic and Sade. With access to more than 1,500 letters, Shields conducted hundreds of interviews to produce this engrossing, definitive biography. It arrives during a year of renewed interest in Vonnegut, such as this year's Library of America's Kurt Vonnegut: Novels & Stories 1963–1973, and Gregory D. Sumner's Unstuck in Time: A Journey Through Kurt Vonnegut's Life and Novels, also due in Nov. (Nov.) [Page ]. Copyright 2011 PWxyz LLC

Review by Publisher Summary 1

An authorized portrait of the influential 20th-century American writer, written throughout the last year of his life, draws on first-person accounts and Vonnegut's private letters while offering insight into his youth, the inspirations for his work and his enduring literary impact. By the author of Mockingbird.

Review by Publisher Summary 2

An authorized portrait of the influential twentieth-century American writer draws on first-person accounts and Vonnegut's private letters while offering insight into his youth, the inspirations for his work, and his enduring literary impact.

Review by Publisher Summary 3

A New York Times Notable Book for 2011A Washington Post Notable Nonfiction Book for 2011 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.And So It Goes is the culmination of five years of research and writing—the first-ever biography of the life of Kurt Vonnegut. Vonnegut resonates with readers of all generations from the baby boomers who grew up with him to high-school and college students who are discovering his work for the first time. Vonnegut's concise collection of personal essays, Man Without a Country, published in 2006, spent fifteen weeks on the New York Times bestseller list and has sold more than 300,000 copies to date. The twenty-first century has seen interest in and scholarship about Vonnegut's works grow even stronger, and this is the first book to examine in full the life of one of the most influential iconoclasts of his time.