Book review by Roy E. Perry: Kurt Vonnegut’s “Cat’s Cradle”

Editor’s Note: Published in 1963, Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle is a powerful, satirical indictment of the Vietnam war, of wars in general, and of the nuclear arms race. In the following review, Roy E. Perry—who wrote book reviews for The Tennessean and Nashville Banner for 30 years—continues our effort against the devaluing of literature in America, and our special mid-July showcase of literary works you may want to explore.

Cat’s Cradle
by Kurt Vonnegut
Review by Roy E. Perry

The English political philosopher Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) wrote in his seminal work Leviathan (1651), “The life of man [is] solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” Kurt Vonnegut must have read Leviathan, for in Cat’s Cradle he writes: “The history of all mankind is the history of ignorance, viciousness, and stupidity.”

The unnamed narrator of Cat’s Cradle sets out to write a book entitled The Day the World Ended, in which he plans to chronicle the life and work of Dr. Felix Hoenikker, one of the inventors of the atomic bomb. Hoenikker has created an even more deadly device, ice-nine, which can transform all the world’s water—its wells, ponds, lakes, rivers, and oceans—into solid ice, an apocalypse of chilling proportions.

Shortly before Hoenikker’s death, the (mad?) doctor gives vials of ice-nine to his three children. The fate of the Earth trembles in the (necessary) balance of good and evil.

Traveling to the Republic of San Lorenzo, a little island in the Caribbean, the narrator (who says “I was a Christian then. I am a Bokononist now.”) becomes a disciple of an elderly black man called Bokonon. The island’s outlawed “holy man,” Bokonon is the author of the banned Books of Bokonon, which states “All religions are lies.”

Bokonon realizes that truth (especially the truth of science) has failed and has made possible the end of mankind. The first sentence in The Book of Bokonon asserts: “All of the true things I am about to tell you are shameless lies.” The title page of The First Book of Bokonon issues this warning: “Don’t be a fool! Close this book at once! It is nothing but foma [lies].” Thus, “The cruel paradox of Bokononist thought [is] the necessity of lying about reality, and the heartbreaking impossibility of lying about it.”

Kurt Vonnegut (1922-2007 has been described by critics as “America’s greatest satirist,” “our finest black humorist,” and “a laughing prophet of doom.” He admitted to being a pessimist, but denied being a nihilist. He certainly is pessimistic in Cat’s Cradle, implying our lives and the universe are like the child’s string figure: “No cat and no cradle.”

Vonnegut once graded his own novels. He stated that “the grades do not place me in literary history” and that he was comparing “myself with myself.” He gave an A-plus to only two of them: Slaughterhouse Five and Cat’s Cradle. Cat’s Cradle is a sad and disturbing book, but the A-plus rating is not exaggerated.

Robert Frost wrote: “Some say the world will end in fire, / Some say in ice. / From what I’ve tasted of desire, / I hold with those who favor fire. / But if I had to perish twice, / I think I know enough of hate / To say that for destruction ice / Is also great / And would suffice.”

For other book reviews by Roy E. Perry, please visit:

David M. (Dave) Carew is writer/editor of “Underground Nashville” and the author of the novels “Everything Means Nothing to Me: A Novel of Underground Nashville” and “Voice from the Gutter,” both now available at and Dave is also a freelance book editor, publicist, seminar and workshop leader, journalist, and advertising / marketing / public relations writer.

Everything Means Nothing to Me: A Novel of Underground Nashville by Dave Carew—which was praised by The Tennessean as “beautiful, haunting, powerful”—is now available in an all-new paperback edition. For more information, please visit and/or the page on Facebook:

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Editor’s Note: “Underground Nashville” covers artists, authors, musicians, poets, political figures, and other compelling people and happenings not typically covered by the mainstream Nashville media. It also presents reflections and commentary from an underground/indie perspective, offering “thoughts from the shadows of a great American city.”

Dave Carew


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