15 Best Kurt Vonnegut Books

With so many great books under his belt, finding a place to start can be overwhelming. We’ve rounded up the best Kurt Vonnegut books to help you get started.

Kurt Vonnegut’s novels are beloved for their dark humor and satire, often set against themes and elements commonly found in science fiction novels. With a writing career spanning five decades, Kurt Vonnegut Jr. produced a huge amount of work during his lifetime, including novels, both fiction and non-fiction, short story collections, and, even plays.

Several releases were also published posthumously, and in 2021, the film Unstuck In Time detailed the late American writer’s extraordinary life. As he famously wrote in Cat’s Cradle: “Of all the words of mice and men, the saddest are, ‘It might have been,’” and it’s fair to say the science-fiction writer made his mark.

He was best known for Slaughterhouse-Five. The semi-autobiographical novel was a harrowing anti-war tale that catapulted him to popularity, but there are many more works to discover. You might also be interested in our round-up of the best satire authors.

Best Kurt Vonnegut Books Ranked

Kurt Vonnegut
Kurt Vonnegut’s novels are beloved for their dark humor and satire

1. Slaughterhouse-Five, 1969

As mentioned earlier, Slaughterhouse-Five, or The Children’s Crusade: A Duty-Dance with Death, is one of the best Kurt Vonnegut books and his most famous work.

The novel follows Billy Pilgrim, a soldier who is captured by the German army during World War II and held in Dresden; the story is eerily similar to Vonnegut’s experiences during the war. During his incarceration, Pilgrim witnesses the firebombing of Dresden, just like the author did, and the story jumps between different periods of Pilgrim’s life. While the inclusion of time travel and aliens may seem silly, it’s still a deeply harrowing anti-war tale.

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02/09/2024 10:47 am GMT

2. Cat’s Cradle, 1963

Although Cat’s Cradle is a short book, it leaves an impact on readers. Set during the Cold War, the protagonist, John, learns that Dr. Felix Hoenikker, a scientist who played a role in the development of the atomic bombs used during World War II, discovered ice-nine which has the potential to destroy the world.

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02/09/2024 04:46 pm GMT

3. The Sirens Of Titan, 1959

While the plot of The Sirens Of Titan sounds a bit kooky, the story explores free will and organized religion. After losing his physical form and transforming into pure energy in space, Winston Niles Rumfoord can only return home for one hour every 59 days. The richest man on Earth, Malachi Constant, witnesses one of Rumfoord’s returns and is disturbed when his future is revealed to him.

The Sirens Of Titan is also the first time readers are introduced to the alien race from Tralfamadore, and not the last we see of them.

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02/08/2024 01:34 am GMT

4. Breakfast Of Champions, 1973

The Breakfast Of Champions, or Blue Monday Goodbye, centers upon one of Vonnegut’s most beloved characters; Kilgore Trout. Trout is a writer whose work is published in mature magazines. His life changes forever after a car dealer, Dwayne Hoover, thinks the stories are true and does something awful. Vonnegut wrote the book as a 50th birthday present to himself, and he uses the novel to criticize capitalism and the United States. You might also be interested in our guide on authors like Wilbur Smith.

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02/08/2024 01:35 am GMT

5. Player Piano, 1952

Vonnegut’s first novel, Player Piano, is a dystopian tale where Paul Proteus, an engineer, struggles with living in a world run by a supercomputer. Vonnegut was reportedly inspired to write the tale after working at General Electric, and the experience left him feeling pessimistic about technology and automation. More relevant than ever, it warns of the potential consequences of the increasing reliance on technology.

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02/08/2024 01:35 am GMT

6. Mother Night, 1961

Mother Night is the fictional memoir of Howard W. Campbell Jr., an American spy who became a prominent Nazi propagandist in Germany during World War II. After the war, he finds himself facing trial in Israel for the war crimes he committed.

The story begs the question, does acting evil for a greater cause make you so, and who are we when we pretend to be someone else?

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02/08/2024 01:40 am GMT

7. God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater, 1965

God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater, also known as Pearls Before Swine, is the first novel where Vonnegut’s iconic character, Kilgore Trout appears. In it, Eliot Rosewater tries his hand at philanthropy by using the Rosewater Foundation as a crisis center for those who are suicidal.

Meanwhile, lawyer Norman Mushari wants to prove Rosewater is incompetent, to ensure a distant relative gains access to his fortune. It’s a scathing critique of generational wealth and greed.

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02/08/2024 01:41 am GMT

8. Bluebeard, 1987

Bluebeard, the Autobiography of Rabo Karabekian could be considered a sequel to Breakfast of Champions as it features the titular character. In it, the painter tells of his life, but readers can’t help but feel he’s hiding something. The novel has themes of escapism, community, the horrors of war, and why art matters.

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02/08/2024 02:03 am GMT

9. Jailbird, 1979

Jailbird is the life story of the fictional character, Walter F. Starbuck, who was arrested for his part in the Watergate Scandal. The timeline of the book shifts, from his time in prison, before, and after he was released. However, it becomes clear to the readers that Starbuck isn’t a reliable narrator. Kilgore Trout makes another appearance in this novel. We also see RAMJAC, a suspicious megacorporation that appears in other stories.

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02/08/2024 02:20 am GMT

10. Galápagos, 1985

Galápagos is one of Vonnegut’s more unique works; the narrator is a ghost who has watched humans evolve over millions of years. It focuses on a group of people stranded on the fictional Santa Rosalia island after the collapse of society and humankind. The group on the island becomes the only ones who can reproduce, and over the generations, they begin to evolve into fish-like creatures. 

The novel explores the concept of nature vs. nurture, and evolution, and poses the idea that perhaps moving backward is for the best.

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02/08/2024 02:04 am GMT

11. A Man Without A Country, 2005

Different from much of Vonnegut’s work, A Man Without A Country is a collection of essays that was released two years before his death. Vonnegut used fiction to share his critiques of capitalism, war, and technology, but the essay collection does so in a more direct way.

It’s best described as an unstructured memoir. You might also be interested in our guide on the best sci-fi books.

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02/08/2024 02:05 am GMT

12. Welcome To The Monkey House, 1968

Welcome To The Monkey House is a collection of short stories, Vonnegut wrote during the 1950s and 1960s. Although each tale is different from the next, it wouldn’t be Vonnegut, if he didn’t use his work to share his thoughts on society. Stories in the collection include; Harrison Bergeron, The Foster Portfolio, The Kid Nobody Could Handle, and Miss Temptation.

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02/08/2024 02:14 am GMT

13. Slapstick, 1976

Slapstick, or Lonesome No More! is the autobiography of Wilbur Daffodil-11 Swain. Wilbur and his twin sister, Eliza, grew up isolated from society due to their appearance. Although people believe the twins to lack intelligence, Wilbur goes on to become a pediatrician after graduating from Harvard Medical School and later President of the United States.

As President, he introduces a motion conceived by him and his sister to eradicate loneliness; declaring that everyone will be given a new middle name, and will be related to those with the same one.

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02/08/2024 02:21 am GMT

14. Deadeye Dick, 1982

Deadeye Dick takes place in the same world Breakfast Of Champions does and is a harrowing tale about a loss of innocence.

Well into adulthood, Rudy Waltz continues to search for peace after being traumatized as a child by an accident that killed a pregnant woman. In true Vonnegut fashion, the society Waltz lives in is far from perfect and is soon destroyed.

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02/08/2024 02:24 am GMT

15. Hocus Pocus, 1990

Hocus Pocus, or What’s the Hurry, Son?, follows Eugene Debs Hartke, a veteran of the Vietnam War, as his life seems to fall apart. Once a college professor, he begins teaching in a prison after losing his job but eventually ends up a prisoner himself. Like other works, Vonnegut uses the text to criticize war, capitalism, and greed.

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02/08/2024 02:35 am GMT

Kurt Vonnegut’s Rules For Writing

1. Don’t Rely On Semicolons

Vonnegut expressed his distaste for semicolons in A Man Without a Country, believing they don’t serve a purpose. Semicolons are typically used to connect two independent clauses without the need for a coordinating conjunction (or, yet, and, but, etc.) or a comma, but in Vonnegut’s mind, you can do without.

2. Write For Your Ideal Reader

According to Vonnegut, you must find an ideal reader, be able to talk to them and take note of what they expect from books like yours

Vonnegut’s work isn’t for everyone, but his ideal readers love it. Do you know who your ideal reader is, what they read or even dream of?

If you don’t, find an ideal reader and talk to them. They could be in your creative writing group, a blog reader, a colleague, or even a close friend.

Interview them. Show them early drafts of your chapters. Crawl inside their head, and take notes until you understand what they expect from books like yours.

3. Every Sentence Must Reveal Character Or Advance The Action

I hate it when writers push toward their big idea with the speed of a tortoise on valium. They ask the reader to wade through pages of obscure, bland writing like:

  • In this chapter, I will show you…
  • There are serious issues that must be carefully and closely addressed in great detail…
  • After careful consideration of all the facts…
  • It’s become painfully apparent to me that…
  • In summary, I draw your attention to…

Vonnegut would tell you not to be a barbarian about it. By all means, lay out your pitch in your book’s introduction, but then get to it. We don’t want an instruction manual or a legalese document that takes a Ph.D. to decipher.

4. Make Your Characters Struggle

No matter how sweet and innocent your characters are, to make a book your readers can’t put down, you need to make them struggle. Vonnegut was no stranger to putting his characters through hell. The readers need to see what they’re made of and how they overcome adversity. We love it when things are simple in real life, but a book needs to have some stakes.

Author

  • Aisling is an Irish journalist and content creator with a BA in Journalism & New Media. She has bylines in OK! Magazine, Metro, The Inquistr, and the Irish Examiner. She loves to read horror and YA. Find Aisling on LinkedIn.