Cat's Cradle

Cat's Cradle

by Kurt Vonnegut


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“A free-wheeling vehicle . . . an unforgettable ride!”—The New York Times 

Cat’s Cradle
is Kurt Vonnegut’s satirical commentary on modern man and his madness. An apocalyptic tale of this planet’s ultimate fate, it features a midget as the protagonist, a complete, original theology created by a calypso singer, and a vision of the future that is at once blackly fatalistic and hilariously funny. A book that left an indelible mark on an entire generation of readers, Cat’s Cradle is one of the twentieth century’s most important works—and Vonnegut at his very best.

“[Vonnegut is] an unimitative and inimitable social satirist.”—Harper’s Magazine

“Our finest black-humorist . . . We laugh in self-defense.”—Atlantic Monthly

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780385333481
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 09/08/1998
Series: Henry Holt Classics Library
Pages: 304
Sales rank: 19,233
Product dimensions: 5.20(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.90(d)
Lexile: 790L (what's this?)

About the Author

Kurt Vonnegut’s black humor, satiric voice, and incomparable imagination first captured America’s attention in The Sirens of Titan in 1959 and established him as “a true artist” (The New York Times) with Cat’s Cradle in 1963. He was, as Graham Greene declared, “one of the best living American writers.” Mr. Vonnegut passed away in April 2007.

Date of Birth:

November 11, 1922

Date of Death:

April 11, 2007

Place of Birth:

Indianapolis, Indiana

Place of Death:

New York, New York


Cornell University, 1940-42; Carnegie-Mellon University, 1943; University of Chicago, 1945-47; M.A., 1971

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

The Day the World Ended

Call me Jonah. My parents did, or nearly did. They called me John.

Jonah—John—if I had been a Sam, I would have been Jonah still—not because I have been unlucky for others, but because somebody or something has compelled me to be certain places at certain times, without fail. Conveyances and motives, both conventional and bizarre, have been provided. And, according to plan, at each appointed second, at each appointed place this Jonah was there.


When I was a younger man—two wives ago, 250,000 cigarettes ago, 3,000 quarts of booze ago . . .

When I was a much younger man, I began to collect material for a book to be called The Day the World Ended.

The book was to be factual.

The book was to be an account of what important Americans had done on the day when the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, Japan.

It was to be a Christian book. I was a Christian then.

I am a Bokononist now.

I would have been a Bokononist then, if there had been anyone to teach me the bittersweet lies of Bokonon. But Bokononism was unknown beyond the gravel beaches and coral knives that ring this little island in the Caribbean Sea, the Republic of San Lorenzo.

We Bokononists believe that humanity is organized into teams, teams that do God's Will without ever discovering what they are doing. Such a team is called a karass by Bokonon, and the instrument, the kan-kan, that bought me into my own particular karass was the book I never finished, the book to be called The Day the World Ended.

Chapter Two

Nice, Nice, Very Nice

"If you find your life tangled up with somebody else's life for no very logical reasons," writes Bokonon, "that person may be a member of your karass."

At another point in The Books of Bokonon he tells us, "Man created the checkerboard; God created the karass." By that he means that a karass ignores national, institutional, occupational, familial, and class boundaries.

It is as free-form as an amoeba.

In his "Fifty-third Calypso," Bokonon invites us to sing along with him:

Oh, a sleeping drunkard
Up in Central Park,
And a lion-hunter
In the jungle dark,
And a Chinese dentist,
And a British queen—
All fit together
In the same machine.
Nice, nice, very nice;
Nice, nice, very nice;
Nice, nice very nice—
So many different people
In the same device.

Chapter Three


Nowhere does Bokonon warn against a person's trying to discover the limits of his karass and the nature of the work God Almighty has had it do. Bokonon simply observes that such investigations are bound to be incomplete.

In the autobiographical section of The Books of Bokonon he writes a parable on the folly of pretending to discover, to understand:

I once knew an Episcopalian lady in Newport, Rhode Island, who asked me to design and build a doghouse for her Great Dane. The lady claimed to understand God and His Ways of Working perfectly. She could not understand why anyone should be puzzled about what had been or about what was going to be.

And yet, when I showed her a blueprint of the doghouse I proposed to build, she said to me, "I'm sorry, but I never could read one of those things."

"Give it to your husband or your ministers to pass on to God," I said, "and, when God finds a minute, I'm sure he'll explain this doghouse of mine in a way that even you can understand."

She fired me. I shall never forget her. She believed that God liked people in sailboats much better than He liked people in motorboats. She could not bear to look at a worm. When she saw a worm, she screamed.

She was a fool, and so am I, and so is anyone who thinks he sees what God is Doing, [writes Bokonon].

Chapter Four

A Tentative Tangling

Of Tendrils

Be that as it may, I intend in this book to include as many members of my karass as possible, and I mean to examine all strong hints as to what on Earth we, collectively, have been up to.

I do not intend that this book be a tract on behalf of Bokononism. I should like to offer a Bokononist warning about it, however. The first sentence in The Books of Bokonon is this:

"All of the true things I am about to tell you are shameless lies."

My Bokononist warning in this:

Anyone unable to understand how a useful religion can be founded on lies will not understand this book either.

So be it.

. . .

About my karass, then.

It surely includes the three children of Dr. Felix Hoenikker, one of the so-called "Fathers" of the first atomic bomb. Dr. Hoenikker himself was no doubt a member of my karass, though he was dead before my sinookas, the tendrils of my life, began to tangle with those of his children.

The first of his heirs to be touched by my sinookas was Newton Hoenikker, the youngest of his three children, the younger of his two sons. I learned from the publication of my fraternity, The Delta Upsilon Quarterly, that Newton Hoenikker, son of the Noel Prize physicist, Felix Hoenikker, had been pledged by my chapter, the Cornell Chapter.

So I wrote this letter to Newt:

"Dear Mr. Hoenikker:

"Or should I say, Dear Brother Hoenikker?

"I am a Cornell DU now making my living as a free-lance writer. I am gathering material for a book relating to the first atomic bomb. Its contents will be limited to events that took place on August 6, 1945, the day the bomb was dropped on Hiroshima.

"Since your late father is generally recognized as having been one of the chief creators of the bomb, I would very much appreciate any anecdotes you might care to give me of life in your father's house on the day the bomb was dropped.

"I am sorry to say that I don't know as much about your illustrious family as I should, and so don't know whether you have brothers and sisters. If you do have brothers and sisters, I should like very much to have their addresses so that I can send similar requests to them.

"I realize that you were very young when the bomb was dropped, which is all to the good, My book is going to emphasize the human rather than the technical side of the bomb, so recollections of the day through the eyes of a 'baby, if you'll pardon the expression, would fit in perfectly.

"You don't have to worry about style and form. Leave all that to me. Just give me the bare bones of your story.

"I will, of course, submit the final version to you for your approval prior to publication.

"Fraternally yours—"

Chapter Five

Letter from

a pre med

To which Newt replied:

"I am sorry to be so long about answering your letter. That sounds like a very interesting book you are doing. I was so young when the bomb was dropped that I don't think I'm going to be much help. You should really ask my brother and sister, who are both older than I am. My sister is Mrs. Harrison C. Conners, 4918 North Meridian Street, Indianapolis, Indiana. That is my home address, too, now. I think she will be glad to help you. Nobody knows where my brother Frank is. He disappeared right after Father's funeral two years ago, and nobody has heard from him since. For all we know, he may be dead now.

"I was only six years old when they dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, so anything I remember about that day other people have helped me to remember.

"I remember I was playing on the living-room carpet outside my father's study door in Ilium, New York. The door was open, and I could see my father. He was wearing pajamas and a bathrobe. He was smoking a cigar. He was playing with a loop of string. Father was staying home from the laboratory in his pajamas all day that day. He stayed home whenever he wanted to.

"Father, as you probably know, spent practically his whole professional life working for the Research Laboratory of the General Forge and Foundry Company in Ilium. When the Manhattan Project came along, the bomb project, Father wouldn't leave Ilium to work on it. He said he wouldn't work on it at all unless they let him work where he wanted to work. A lot of the time that meant at home. The only place he liked to go, outside of Ilium, was our cottage on Cape Cod. Cape Cod was where he died. He died on a Christmas Eve. You probably know that, too.

"Anyway, I was playing on the carpet outside his study on the day of the bomb. My sister Angela tells me I used to play with little toy trucks for hours, making motor sounds, going 'burton, burton, burton' all the time. So I guess I was going 'burton, burton, burton' on the day of the bomb; and Father was in his study, playing with a loop of string.

"It so happens I know where the string he was playing with came from. Maybe you can use it somewhere in your book. Father took the string from around the manuscript of a novel that a man in prison had sent him. The novel was about the end of the world in the year 2000, and the name of the book was 2000 A.D. It told about how mad scientists made a terrific bomb that wiped out the whole world. There was a big sex orgy when everybody knew that the world was going to end, and then Jesus Christ Himself appeared ten seconds before the bomb went off. The name of the author was Marvin Sharpe Holderness, and he told Father in a covering letter the he was in prison for killing his own brother. He sent the manuscript to Father because he couldn't figure out what kind of explosives to put in the bomb. He thought maybe Father could make suggestions.

"I don't mean to tell you I read the book when I was six. We had it around the house for years. My brother Frank made it his personal property, on account of the dirty parts. Frank kept it hidden in what he called his 'wall safe' in his bedroom. Actually, it wasn't a safe but just an old stove flue with a tin lid. Frank and I must have read the orgy part a thousand times when we were kids. We had it for years, and then my sister Angela found it. She read it and said it was nothing but a piece of dirty rotten filth. She burned it up, and the string with it. She was a mother to Frank and me, because our real mother died when I was born.

"My father never read the book, I'm pretty sure. I don't think he ever read a novel or even a short story in his whole life, or at least not since he was a little boy. He didn't read his mail or magazines or newspapers, either. I suppose he read a lot of technical journals, but to tell you the truth, I can't remember my father reading anything.

"As I say, all he wanted from that manuscript was the string. That was the way he was. Nobody could predict what he was going to be interested in next. On the day of the bomb it was string.

"Have you ever read the speech he made when he accepted the Nobel Prize? This is the whole speech: 'Ladies and Gentlemen. I stand before you now because I never stopped dawdling like an eight-year-old on a spring morning on his way to school. Anything can make me stop and look and wonder, and sometimes learn. I am a very happy man. Thank you.'

"Anyway, Father looked at that loop of string for a while, and then his fingers started playing with it. His fingers made the string figure called a 'cat's cradle.' I don't know where Father learned how to do that. From his father, maybe. His father was a tailor, you know, so there must have been thread and string around all the time when Father was a boy.

"Making that cat's cradle was the closest I ever saw my father come to playing what anybody else would call a game. He had no use at all for tricks and games and rules that other people made up. In a scrapbook my sister Angela used to keep up, there was a clipping from Time magazine where somebody asked Father what games he played for relaxation, and he said, 'Why should I bother with made-up games when there are so many real ones going on?'

"He must have surprised himself when he made a cat's cradle out of the string, and maybe it reminded him of his own childhood. He all of a sudden came out of his study and did something he'd never done before. He tried to play with me. Not only had he never played with me before; he had hardly ever even spoken to me.

"But he went down on his knees on the carpet next to me, and he showed me his teeth, and he waved that tangle of string in my face. 'See? See? See?' he asked. 'Cat's cradle. See the cat's cradle? See where the nice pussycat sleeps? Meow. Meow.'

"His pores looked as big as craters on the moon. His ears and nostrils were stuffed with hair. Cigar smoke made him smell like the mouth of Hell. So close up, my father was the ugliest thing I had ever seen. I dream about it all the time.

"And then he sang. 'Rockabye catsy, in the tree top'; he sang, 'when the wind blows, the cray-dull will rock. If the bough breaks, the cray-dull will fall. Down will come cray-dull, catsy and all.'

"I burst into tears. I jumped up and I ran out of the house as fast as I could go.

"I have to sign off here. It's after two in the morning. My roommate just woke up and complained about the noise from the typewriter."

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

“A free-wheeling vehicle . . . an unforgettable ride!”—New York Times 
“[Vonnegut is] an unimitative and inimitable social satirist.”—Harper’s Magazine

“Our finest black-humorist . . . We laugh in self-defense.”—Atlantic Monthly

Customer Reviews

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Cat's Cradle 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 513 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I'd never had the priveledge of reading any of Vonnegut's work and this book blew me away! It was unlike anything I'd read previously and I absolutely loved the writing style and story! Vonnegut's wit and talent are on full display in this novel and I found myself unable to put the book down! Simply a fantastic book that I cannot recommend enough.
paperrhino More than 1 year ago
This is one of the best books I've read in a long time. Even more so than Slaughterhouse Five, Cat's Cradle exhibits Vonnegut's biting writing style and wonderfully odd ways of telling a story. The entire novel can be taken as a cynical review of humanity and its absurdity. Cat's Cradle has to be the best treatment of the end of the world I've yet read, ranking up there with Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy in humor but with a great deal more cynicism. If you enjoyed the movie Doctor Strangelove you will enjoy this novel. I highly recommend it for all readers.
Hannah_Sandle More than 1 year ago
Cat's cradle is a biting and witty satire based on Vonnegut's own experiences working in public relations for GE. The story centers around a young narrator, John (or Jonah) who is doing research for a book he plans to write focusing on what Americans were doing the day the atomic bomb was dropped on hiroshima. His journey for research takes an interesting turn when he learnes that one of the primary developers of the atomic bomb, Dr. Felix Hoenikker, invented a deadly substance called ice-9. His interest in the substance leads him to the destitute island of San Lorenzo, where romance and danger await him. I found this book to be a fun and easy read. I loved the incorporation of Bokonism throughout the novel as foreshadowing, and I thought it added an extra level of satire as a commentary on religion. I reccomend this book to those interested in adventure, humor, science fiction, and well, just good literature!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I expected this to be a bittersweet journey. I am, after all, a much different reader at 60 than I was as an innocent, small town Oklahoma Junior High School Student. But, it wasn't. It was as much thought provoking fun as it was the first time. Vonnegut endures. I am so glad I visited the characters and the Island again.
Felonious More than 1 year ago
Cat’s Cradle is another example of Vonnegut’s mastery of using satire and dark humor to get the reader to take a closer look at themselves and the world around them. The characters and the protagonist in many of Vonnegut’s books are not your typical run of the mill characters, yet you can always relate to them and Cat’s Cradle is no exception. The heart of the story takes place on the island of San Lorenzo. The main character John, a writer, finds himself on the island along with the rest of the characters – a dictator, an ambassador, the three (adult) children of a scientist that invented a doomsday device, an old religious leader/outlaw and a few other characters. But the real star of the book, for me anyways, was the religion that Vonnegut invented call Bokononism. The first page of the Bokononist book warns reader to not read the book because it is full of lies. The motto of the Bokononist’s religion is “Live by the foma (harmless untruths) that make you brave and kind and healthy and happy.” Cat’s Cradle takes a look at science, religion, technology and human nature in classic Vonnegut form. In my opinion, reading Vonnegut can lead one to a higher level of enlightenment quicker than any so called spiritual or religious book ever could. I have read several books by Vonnegut and even though I didn’t love them all, all of them has given me something to think about. I highly recommend Cat’s Cradle to everyone. The truth be told I recommend reading all of Vonnegut’s books to everyone.
Jackie Beckner More than 1 year ago
One of my favorite books, not just by this author, but ever!
Maybs More than 1 year ago
Cat's Cradle is by far the best Vonnegut book written. The novel is based on the premise that everything is unimportant, which grounds the reader in an ironic, paradoxical tumult that makes way too much sense. While reading the first half of the book I kept asking myself 'What is this novel even about?', then I realized I need not worry because it was simply about nothing. However simple the message may be it is certainly not easy to understand because of the paradox underlying the premise of the novel. Cat's Cradle is deeply thought provoking and mesmerizing; it will leave the reader thinking about life long after the novel is finished. Truly, I have never before read a book which I can relate to more than Cat's Cradle. An interesting philosophy is presented in a fake religion called "bokononism." Completely and admittedly a foma, Bokononism is grounded on the belief that all religion, all religious texts, and all religious beliefs are lies which will make us happy in the end. Brilliant satire strikes the realms of truth we hold so dear to us; religion, politics, and human nature to name a few. Aside from laugh out loud hilarity, Cat's Cradle is interesting, fun, and exciting. Adding to Vonnegut's hysterical voice is an intricate, and equally funny plot line. Almost as a cherry on top Vonnegut adds a deep and meaningful message one might even call life changing.
Jonathan_Stewart More than 1 year ago
Thought-provoking and fun read. Huge fan of Vonnegut. This author endures. Cat's Cradle is the tale of a writer, a scientist, a religious leader, a midget, and a clarinet player that takes the reader on a madcap adventure leading up to the end of the world. In this work, Vonnegut comments on religion, relationships, philosophy, and the woes of scientific discovery. One of the best books ever written.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is my third Vonnegut book I have read. I absolutely adored Breakfast of Champions and Slaughterhouse Five. With each book I have read, my love for Vonnegut's insane stories, mind-blowing wisdom, and hysterical black comedy have grown and grown. This book is no exception. I stayed up late into the night finishing this book, and when I finally closed it, I punched my fist into the air and exclaimed "Oh my gosh!" This was not because I was excited to have finally finished the book. Rather, I was simply overwhelmed by the sheer awesomeness of it. Vonnegut's storyline never failed to grab my attention and keep me wondering. As always, it was full of controversial and revolutionary ideas that contradict the thinking of modern society. Furthermore, ideas always lead to that feeling of wonder that make you question everything when you read Vonnegut. After I had finished the book that night, I couldn't go to sleep for hours simply pondering over the many mysteries of life. I would highly recommend this book to anyone considering reading it and I will be looking forward to my next Vonnegut book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This was my first book by the author so perhapes I am not use to his style. It was funny at times and had a interesting story, but for the most part not what I expected to read. The further I read in the book the stranger it became all leading up to a questionable ending. Ironically, it is almsot humorous that this strangness is what kept me from putting the book down. Overall I would recommend it to anybody interested in reading a book that pokes some fun at society but not to anybody looking for a great story.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Short chapters and a quick, easy read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Undeniably funny, but frightening, sad, & weird, as well.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
classic vonnegut; clever, witty and expertly written. one of the best books I've ever read.
Chris078 More than 1 year ago
Cat's Cradle is one of my favorite books. Wild, inventive, and as fun as it is heavy. Read this.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
One of his best books and a fine place to start for the uninitiated.
ImagineNation76 More than 1 year ago
This is quite possibly my favorite of the Vonnegut novels.  I rank it as one of the best American novels ever written.
Fourthjoviancoin More than 1 year ago
Vonnegut's best work I think. I read most of it in a single afternoon because I simply could not put it down. This book is like sushi, delicious bit sized pieces of story. The story looks a people from the weirdest and most vulnerable parts of their lives and deals the threat of a bizarre apocalypse. You can find it in free box somewhere or you can buy it here. Worth getting however you get it.
johnny_nyc More than 1 year ago
The metaphor of a cat's cradle and the aforementioned conclusion sums up Vonnegut's philisopy better than 1,000 words can. This book is brilliant!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Great book!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
love love love anything Kurt Vonnegut!
Yunchi Hsaio More than 1 year ago
One of Vonnegut's classics.
Xandy24 More than 1 year ago
Cat's Cradle, by Kurt Vonnegut, is a story based on accounts of what certain interested Americans were doing at the precise moment the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. Through correspondence with the three children of Felix Hoenikker, Nobel Prize winner and so-called ''father of the atomic bomb,'' he emits a portrait of the man in relation to his family and the community. The characters in Cat's Cradle represent Vonnegut's pacifist view, each possessing a different perspective but all seeking the sensation of power. The characters portray humankind, by revealing their different views on controversial subjects that are all wrapped around the main controversy at the time, atomic weapons. This work of fiction displays Vonnegut's satirical style of writing. Cat's Cradle is an irreverent and highly entertaining fantasy concerning the playful irresponsibility of nuclear scientists. I recommend this book to all readers that seek a entertaining "black humorist" novel that will always have your brain turning gears.
Sarah Fletcher More than 1 year ago
this book is on of my favorites. it reads very nicely on the nook.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Throughout the reading of Cat's Cradle I enjoyed the novel. I felt that the novel provided an excellent plot line with an appropriate ending. The ending to this novel is excellent as well but I won't spoil for you. This novel is science fiction but it is one of the more realistic and plausible novels. There are not any plot holes and the plot makes sense creating a greater sense of realism than other novels. Although this novel is science fiction it contains a message applicable to the real world. Through this novel Vonnegut shows us just how dangerous science can be if it gets into the wrong hands Such as in the case of the atom bomb where all of the research was for the sake of truth until they dropped truth on Hiroshima. At some moments it is a little dull and some key details are well hidden it the text but it is near impossible to loose interest. This novel has many aspects to it but from every aspect it is an amazing novel.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I feel that this book displayed true human nature in its truest form. I think that this book deserves a noble prise for discouraging people to create stupid independent countries which will inevitably be attacked and destroyed bye larger nations thus saving countless lives. Also he discuses how twisted military achievements can be celebrated bye the people who know nothing about the destructive power that they contain and unleash on the world. For such a weird lookin' man he has incredible incite, thus proving that when you see strange people you should give them more credit than they deserve. He displays the strange side of midgets. And most importantly he shows the worthinesses of boats. All in all his book is nice nice very nice so many things in the same device!