Or, The Children's Crusade, A Duty-dance With Death

Book - 1999
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A special fiftieth anniversary edition of Kurt Vonnegut's masterpiece, "a desperate, painfully honest attempt to confront the monstrous crimes of the twentieth century" ( Time ), featuring a new introduction by Kevin Powers, author of the National Book Award finalist The Yellow Birds

Selected by the Modern Library as one of the 100 best novels of all time

Slaughterhouse-Five , an American classic, is one of the world's great antiwar books. Centering on the infamous World War II firebombing of Dresden, the novel is the result of what Kurt Vonnegut described as a twenty-three-year struggle to write a book about what he had witnessed as an American prisoner of war. It combines historical fiction, science fiction, autobiography, and satire in an account of the life of Billy Pilgrim, a barber's son turned draftee turned optometrist turned alien abductee. As Vonnegut had, Billy experiences the destruction of Dresden as a POW. Unlike Vonnegut, he experiences time travel, or coming "unstuck in time."

An instant bestseller, Slaughterhouse-Five made Kurt Vonnegut a cult hero in American literature, a reputation that only strengthened over time, despite his being banned and censored by some libraries and schools for content and language. But it was precisely those elements of Vonnegut's writing--the political edginess, the genre-bending inventiveness, the frank violence, the transgressive wit--that have inspired generations of readers not just to look differently at the world around them but to find the confidence to say something about it. Authors as wide-ranging as Norman Mailer, John Irving, Michael Crichton, Tim O'Brien, Margaret Atwood, Elizabeth Strout, David Sedaris, Jennifer Egan, and J. K. Rowling have all found inspiration in Vonnegut's words. Jonathan Safran Foer has described Vonnegut as "the kind of writer who made people--young people especially--want to write." George Saunders has declared Vonnegut to be "the great, urgent, passionate American writer of our century, who offers us . . . a model of the kind of compassionate thinking that might yet save us from ourselves."

Fifty years after its initial publication at the height of the Vietnam War, Vonnegut's portrayal of political disillusionment, PTSD, and postwar anxiety feels as relevant, darkly humorous, and profoundly affecting as ever, an enduring beacon through our own era's uncertainties.

"Poignant and hilarious, threaded with compassion and, behind everything, the cataract of a thundering moral statement." --The Boston Globe
Publisher: New York : Dell Publishing, 1999, c1969.
ISBN: 9780385333849
Branch Call Number: TEEN FICTION Vonnegut Kurt 02/1969
Characteristics: 275 p.;,21 cm.


From Library Staff

Selected by the Modern Library as one of the 100 best novels of all time Slaughterhouse-Five, an American classic, is one of the world's great antiwar books. Centering on the infamous firebombing of Dresden, Billy Pilgrim's odyssey through time reflects the mythic journey of our own fractured liv... Read More »

Billy Pilgrim is a World War II soldier with what we would today call post-traumatic stress disorder. He has flashbacks to his time as a prisoner of war during the fire-bombing of Dresden. He loses his grip on reality, believing he has become unstuck in time and has been abducted by aliens. Based... Read More »

List - Favorite First Lines
JCLMattC Nov 09, 2018

"All this happened, more or less."

An insightful high school English teacher handed non-reader Joshua Mohr this book, which he devoured rapidly and asked for more like it.

JCLBeckyC May 17, 2014

Billy Pilgrim is a World War II soldier with what we would today call post-traumatic stress disorder. He has flashbacks to his time as a prisoner of war during the fire-bombing of Dresden. He loses his grip on reality, believing he has become unstuck in time and has been abducted by aliens. Base... Read More »

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IndyPL_SteveB Oct 11, 2019

Indianapolis-born Kurt Vonnegut’s most well-known novel.

Some writers emphasize characters or plot or philosophy. In *Slaughterhouse Five*, at least, Vonnegut appears to be using ideas pulled out of a hat, or maybe just the bag of his own war-inflicted PTSD. Vonnegut’s novels have very little structure and tend to bounce around, although even the bouncing around serves to tie elements of the books together in surprising ways. So stick with it, because it all adds up to something bigger.

*Slaughterhouse Five* is the name and number of a building in Dresden, Germany where Kurt Vonnegut was taken as an American prisoner of war in 1945, just a few days before part of the city was destroyed by an intense Allied Fire-bombing. The bombing is the centerpiece of the life of his central character, Billy Pilgrim, trapped in the slaughterhouse basement while the bombs fell. Perhaps because of the bombing, Billy becomes “unstuck in time.” In his mind, he jumps back and forward in time from his birth and school days through his military service, marriage, fatherhood, airplane crash, and eventual death. He also is (or believes he has been) kidnapped by aliens from the plane Tralfamadore, who place him in a zoo and teach him the truths of the universe. Aside from the bombing of Dresden, which Vonnegut obviously thought was unnecessary and inhumane, even for war, the plot doesn’t matter as much as Vonnegut’s wry observations on life, death, and the silliness of human beings.

Aug 13, 2019

This is a book that has an acid trip in the middle of it. The switch from war to peace to an alien world keeps you attached. It also makes it a very fast 200+ page book. I finished it in just a few hours. Final judgement: It's a page turner.

onehalfofyouth Jan 16, 2019

SH-5 is the book I go back to the most. A favorite line from this story; "People would be surprised if they knew how much in this world were due to prayers."

Jul 10, 2018

This book is smart and complex and has a big impact but I can't say I loved reading it. I found it quite difficult at times to absorb. There is so much delivery in these simply worded sentences. Add that to the constant time shifts and I became frustrated because I felt I was missing the point at times. It was like the concepts were too big for me to take in in the rapid fire form he uses where every sentence is a worthy or meaningful statement. It was bleak and tragic in a way that sometimes pulled at my heart and other times left me feeling numb and hopeless. He would suck the joy out of me in one paragraph and then throw in such a witty, dry one liner that you couldn't help but smile. It is a book about war and death and the concept of time and the questionable idea of humanity. Too much to take in with just one reading. I'll have to try it again one day but until then I can say I greatly admire Vonnegut.

SPPL_Kristen Mar 20, 2018

17 year old me was really into Vonnegut. 23 year old me is, too, but in a less obnoxious way (I hope).

May 09, 2017

A tale of impossibilities, outrageous ironies, and tragic comedies of angst. I enjoyed the dark version of existentialism as a theme. There is also a dark take on humanity that provokes a sad sort of laughter (which is the only type of humor in this book): a serious message is followed by a meaningless, mundane observation (reminds me of the movie Ordinary People, which I recommend). Further, after a death, Vonnegut recognizes the deceased with the anticlimactic "And so it goes." Despite the good of the novel, I feel that either some of the messages of the novel were not effectively conveyed or they simply weren't there at all: there were several repeated phrases that had no meaning to me, as did the majority of the novel. If you like this book, I would recommend 1984 by George Orwell.

Vonnegut uses that neat trick so often employed by David Letterman; he repeats the same phrase over and over in different contexts until you find it uncontrollably funny. Aside from his insightful wit, he also manages to convey the absurdity of human conflict. So it goes.

ArapahoeJeremiah Aug 09, 2016

Not a typical sci-fi novel at all, but more of a literary-historical-memoir with sci-fi used as a rhetorical tool to enhance the main message/narrative. The story is partially autobiographical, of Vonnegut’s experience as a POW in WW2 in the German town of Dresden, and of the fire-bombing of this city by the Allies. The novel follows Billy Pilgrim as he experiences this same incident, and goes on to tell of his life afterwards, including his abduction by aliens from the planet Tralfamadore, and his time on their world. The narrative moves back and forth in time, now that Billy has ability to time-travel to any moment of his life, and makes for very interesting reading. Written in Vonnegut’s very clever, laid back style, extremely sharp and sardonic, and full of humor. A very pleasurable and profound reading experience, dealing with very un-pleasurable topics. A modern classic.

Mar 03, 2016

The beginning of the movie with Billy stumbling through the snow and music is unforgettable. It is my favorite part of the movie. The images stuck with me as I read the book. Great book and the movie was just as good, which is unusual. Only other movie that I enjoyed as much as the book was John Steinbeck's "East of Eden" with James Dean.

Feb 22, 2016

Hmmm. I loved Vonnegut's voice when I was a teenager and young adult, and thought I'd revisit that by starting to reread his books. His writing is still powerful and deceptively simple, and he plays with language like almost no other American writer. However, if I was reading this for the first time, I might not be moved to seek out more. His voice comes across to me now as a bit jaded and cynical, in the "cool kid" way. So it goes, indeed.

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jenniferzilm May 02, 2018

“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 into a pillar of salt. So it goes.”

SPL_STARR Jun 16, 2015

"All this happened, more or less."

Jun 16, 2013

"Everything was beautiful, and nothing hurt."

May 22, 2013

"So it goes."


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May 31, 2015

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May 09, 2017

Sexual Content: About a dozen innuendos and there is sex, but it is not described.

May 09, 2017

Coarse Language: A few cuss words.


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