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Seven Quotes That Will Make You Love Kurt Vonnegut

The late, great Kurt Vonnegut Jr. was my favorite author. He is my favorite author and always will be. He could say things in a way that nobody else could. He could also say the same old thing in a way that nobody else ever had, leading some people (like me) to actually hear the Same Old Thing for the first time.

Kurt Vonnegut

Kurt Vonnegut

The day Kurt died, I took half the day off work, came home, and read Cat’s Cradle again. As is usually the case when I pick up a Vonnegut book, over the next two week I read six more of his books before going back to anything else.

If you’re just starting, I would recommend you read these three books first, but trying to list the best Kurt Vonnegut books turns into a very long list. They’re all wonderful. However, these three will give you what I consider the best introduction and overview of Vonnegut’s work and views.

If you like these, you’ll like the rest.  Some are definitely better than others–Vonnegut himself rated Slapstick and Timequake poorly.  This doesn’t mean that his worst efforts aren’t better than just about everyone else’s best.

Seven of my favorite Vonnegut quotes – from his books and speeches

“Beware of the man who works hard to learn something, learns it, and finds himself no wiser than before… He is full of murderous resentment of people who are ignorant without having come by their ignorance the hard way.

“We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.”

“We are healthy only to the extent that our ideas are humane.”

“What is flirtatiousness but an argument that life must go on and on and on?”

“Tiger got to hunt, bird got to fly;
Man got to sit and wonder ‘why, why, why?’
Tiger got to sleep, bird got to land;
Man got to tell himself he understand.”

“There is no order in the world around us, we must adapt ourselves to the requirements of chaos instead. It is hard to adapt to chaos, but it can be done. I am living proof of that: It can be done.”

“A purpose of human life, no matter who is controlling it, is to love whoever is around to be loved.”

All right: which of you have read any Kurt Vonnegut, which books are your favorites, and if you haven’t, when are you going to start?  Let’s talk in the comments section.


PS: If you’re looking for a complete Vonnegut Bibliography, there it is!

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  • Casey July 29, 2009, 8:18 am

    Whoa Josh, whenever you start talking about books and literature I always feel so I out of my league.

    Honestly I haven’t read any of Vonnegut, I’ve heard of a few of his books and seen a few of those quotes.

    … I think it’s time I dusted off my library card.

    • Josh Hanagarne July 29, 2009, 8:36 am

      Casey, do you live in Ogden or Salt Lake? I’ll find you a great one when we get together. I’ll give you my books if the library doesn’t have them. Just look at this as a discussion of life–that’s how I look at Vonnegut, just someone who observed in the form of weird, great books. And some of them are full of pictures! Nobody’s out of their league with picture books!

  • Dave Currie July 29, 2009, 8:28 am

    Deadeye Dick was always a favourite of mine. In fact, I must go and find a copy to re-read 🙂

    “That is my principal objection to life, I think: It’s too easy, when alive, to make perfectly horrible mistakes.”

    • Josh Hanagarne July 29, 2009, 8:34 am

      @Dave. Deadeye Dick is underrated. I know some people who just hate it, but I’ve never understood why.

  • Jim July 29, 2009, 9:59 am

    I read SLAUGHTERHOUSE FIVE last year for the first time. Even now I’m not sure what I think about it. Vonnegut isn’t particularly difficult to read but I found it hard to get into the rhythm of the story. At the time, I thought, “Okay, I’ve now Vonnegut. Next!” But perhaps I should give him another shot. Thanks for the post and the recommendations.

    • Josh Hanagarne July 29, 2009, 10:03 am

      Jim, SH 5 is a hard book to read, meaning it’s got a weird style and jumps all over the place (and in time). I know Vonnegut fans who hate this book. I know plenty of people who start here and never try Vonnegut again, so you wouldn’t be alone if you happened to fall into that category.

      It’s representative of his worldview, but SH 5 is very, very different from many of his other books. I’d definitely give Cat’s Cradle or Breakfast of Champions a try before final judgment. Good luck!

  • Casey July 29, 2009, 10:10 am

    I’m up here in Ogden. We have a small library just a few blocks north of me… Maybe I should try hitting it up on my way home from work.

    It’s funny, when I was younger, I was considered very-well read, but I guess I let it slip. Now I feel like I haven’t read anything at all. (Or that I’m swimming in the shallow end of the literary pool).

    • Josh Hanagarne July 29, 2009, 10:30 am

      Casey, that’s ok. You’re still in the deep, elite end of the gene pool.

  • Larissa July 29, 2009, 10:27 am

    I’ve always wanted to read Cat’s Cradle. . . now I am really intriqued and want to head off to the library! Oh, but Anna Karenina is still sitting here next to me. . . well maybe now I will be more motivated to finish it so that I can read some Vonnegut. 🙂

    • Josh Hanagarne July 29, 2009, 10:31 am

      Larissa, just put the audio of AK on in the background while you read the print version of Cat’s Cradle:)

  • Larissa July 29, 2009, 10:37 am

    hahahaha! I like that idea, Josh!

  • Ren July 29, 2009, 10:55 am

    My top 3:

    –I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, “If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.”

    –We’re terrible animals. I think that the Earth’s immune system is trying to get rid of us, as well it should.

    –Hello, babies. Welcome to Earth. It’s hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It’s round and wet and crowded. At the outside, babies, you’ve got about a hundred years here. There’s only one rule that I know of, babies — “God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.”

    Jeez, I need a Kurt fix now! Poo-tee-weet?

  • Tim July 29, 2009, 11:04 am

    Hi Josh:

    I like those quotes! I’ve only read part of Slaughterohouse Five and enjoyed much of it. Like you said in your comment, it had a weird style and I wasn’t sure if this was typical Vonnegut or not. I feel motivated to give him another try…this time with Breakfast of Champions. Thank you for sharing this post!


    • Josh Hanagarne July 29, 2009, 11:44 am

      Tim, you’re welcome. My favorite thing about Breakfast of Champions is the pictures. Kurt illustrated the book as a “50th birthday present to myself.”

  • We Fly Spitfires July 29, 2009, 1:57 pm

    Never heard of the guy but those quotes are Grade-A Awesome 🙂

    • Josh Hanagarne July 29, 2009, 2:21 pm

      @WF Spitfires. Never heard of the guy? Really? Quit hanging out with Mr. Inutu and go to your library, friend.

  • TheWordWire July 29, 2009, 4:49 pm

    I’m with you — Vonnegut is my absolute favorite author. I was so sad when he died. But as he would say: So it goes. He had the ability to boil the most complex ideas down to a sentence or two that can make you laugh. Brilliant. Favorites: Jailbird, Palm Sunday, Man Without a Country.

    • Josh Hanagarne July 29, 2009, 5:28 pm

      @TheWordWire. Right right right. And nobody would be more amused by us lamenting an author’s death that Kurt. And he didn’t pronounce judgments. Rather than say “racism is bad,” he could tell a story that negated any arguments for racism that could ever come up, with ever mentioning the word. You’re the first Palm Sunday reader here. Bravo!

  • Chris Hadley July 31, 2009, 6:42 am

    Ren’s quote #3 is also my favorite, which comes from my favorite Vonnegut book: God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater.

    Thanks, Josh, for the early morning Vonnegut. It’s amazing how many people here haven’t read him (haven’t heard of him??).

    • Josh Hanagarne July 31, 2009, 7:14 am

      Hi Chris. What makes Mr. Rosewater your favorite Vonnegut. As for people not reading him–I think too many people start with Slaughterhouse 5. It is a turnoff for certain people. “People with good taste,” my friend would say, for instance. As for people who haven’t heard of him, We Fly Spitfires who posts here lives in Finland, so he gets a pass…for now.

  • Laura July 31, 2009, 6:55 am

    My favorite – from Timequake, I think:

    “A plausible mission of artists is to make people appreciate being alive at least a little bit.”

    • Josh Hanagarne July 31, 2009, 7:12 am

      @Laura. What about that quote makes it your favorite? I think you’re right that it’s from Timequake. Are you an artist?

  • Andrew July 31, 2009, 7:04 am

    Mother Night is the one I’ve given to people over and over.

    • Josh Hanagarne July 31, 2009, 7:12 am

      @Andrew. I’ve heard from a lot of people about Mother Night. What’s the appeal for you personally? have you seen the movie?

  • Chester July 31, 2009, 11:53 am


    Personally, I’ve always thought of Breakfast of Champions as one of Vonnegut’s weaker efforts. If I were to recommend one book to any reader new to Vonnegut, I would say it’s got to be Welcome to the Monkey House. Seems to me that everything that will hook a reader onto Vonnegut is in there. I have probably owned and given away more copies of that book than any other. Overall, Cat’s Cradle is probably my favorite, but I also love loved The Sirens of Titan, Galapagos, and Hocus Pocus.

    • Josh Hanagarne July 31, 2009, 12:40 pm

      @Chester. You’re the first Hocus Pocus person, I think. I’m not sure why I love BOC as much as I do. I know a lot of people who look at it like you do. It just makes me smile in a way not many things do. End of non-defense.

      I’m with you on Monkey House. The story Welcome To The Monkey House is my favorite in the book.

  • Lukas July 31, 2009, 12:44 pm

    Great post; Vonnegut was an inspiring author and person. My favorite is probably “Slaughterhouse-Five”, but “God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater” is a close second. His exploration of the defeated, disillusioned Christ figure was thought-provoking (like all his work) to say the least. I’ve read six of his novels, “A Man Without A Country”, and “Welcome to the Monkey House”, none of which have been disappointing.

    • Josh Hanagarne July 31, 2009, 12:47 pm

      Lukas, thanks. There are a lot of Mr. Rosewater fans coming through. I’m thrilled to see it. It doesn’t get as much attention as it deserves, in my opinion.

  • Jeff Dalton August 3, 2009, 1:16 pm

    One of my Favorite Vonnegut’s is the short story, “Harrison Bergeron.” For those who don’t want to gamble on a novel to get to know the author, you are able to know if you like him in a matter of 10 minutes. I’m not really a fan of sci-fi, but the message Vonnegut delivers is undeniable. I hold Bradbury a little higher, but Vonnegut will do. Loved the radio interview…..Proud Cousin!

    • Josh Hanagarne August 3, 2009, 2:19 pm

      Hey Jeff, glad you made it. Do you have a favorite Bradbury? I’m not sure I could pick one. Love them all. I think Harrison Bergeron is underrated. Glad you brought it up. How are you guys all doing?

  • Jeff Dalton August 3, 2009, 2:41 pm

    We’re great. Our son started walking yesterday!! My favorite Bradbury is not one of his novels, but a “How to” called _Zen in the art of Writing_. Amazing advice for aspiring writers.

    • Josh Hanagarne August 3, 2009, 3:02 pm

      Jeff, I’ve read that and totally agree. One of my top 2 writing books. The other was Bird by Bird by Anne Lamotte.

  • Andrew August 4, 2009, 10:27 pm

    Mother Night just hit me in all the right ways. It was funny and smart just as all his other works, but it was also intensely sad. The increasingly complex odds the main character has to overcome and the apparent futility of the whole situation got to me. It was a different side to something that could be considered heroic.

    I got into Vonnegut by choosing Galapagos off a list for a book report in high school. I thought it was about nature and had no idea who he was. I couldn’t have made a better choice. Mind blowing going into it blind like that. So it goes.

  • Andrew August 4, 2009, 10:32 pm

    P.S. I did not know there was a movie.

  • NorthandClark August 11, 2009, 9:20 am

    “Hello, babies. Welcome to Earth. It’s hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It’s round and wet and crowded. At the outside, babies, you’ve got about a hundred years here. There’s only one rule that I know of, babies—God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.”

    It was true then and its true now.

    You’re dead right about Vonnegut.

    • Josh Hanagarne August 11, 2009, 9:33 am

      Northandclark: That’s what I’m talking about! I wondered when that quote would show up here. Bravo.

  • bigwood September 18, 2009, 6:43 am

    I read a lot of Vonnegut when I was in HS and college – probably missed the point most of the time. But still, after all these years some of his charactors and concepts stick in my mind – the guy in the hospitabl in SH5 who was intent on revenge, ice-9.

    Great blog.
    Spell check would be useful for those of us who can’t spell.

  • Melissa October 12, 2009, 7:26 pm

    You forgot my fav. Quote by him,
    “Everything was beautiful and nothing hurt”

    • Josh Hanagarne October 12, 2009, 7:37 pm

      Melissa: beautiful stuff. I’m a disgrace:)

  • Melissa October 12, 2009, 8:14 pm

    I remember that quote all the time, Its written on my wall, well taped with letters
    and In my Signature… It makes Happy :] is that bad?

    And why exactly are you calling yourself a disgrace?

    • Josh Hanagarne October 12, 2009, 8:28 pm

      Melissa, only because I forgot that quote. It is actually one of my favorites and when I wrote this post it didn’t even cross my mind. That’s why I have you geniuses as my safety net!

  • Melissa October 12, 2009, 8:30 pm

    Well your welcome …..

    Just remember
    At one time
    “Everything was beautiful and nothing hurt”-Kurt Vonnegut Jr.


  • Marc Wyzykowski January 20, 2010, 6:31 pm

    Vonnegut is in my top 3. Everyone of his books that I have read have all been done so in one sitting each. While I read them with vigor, I also don’t strain to find the deep meaning. To me, his novels just make sense in a whimsical way and I find comfort in that.

    “Everything was beautiful and nothing hurt.” is one of those lines that has always stuck with me for whatever reason. It is so simple and poignant.

  • Kathryn February 18, 2010, 12:30 pm

    Favorite Vonnegut book? I am a disciple of that man. It’s so hard to choose. I’ll give you my top.

    Man Without a Country
    Breakfast of Champions
    Cat’s Cradle
    Slaughterhouse Five

    I also enjoyed reading his book with Lee Stringer “Like Shaking Hands with God,” which is a book written in paragraph form of an interview that the pair had together. Flawless.

    The man was a genius. Also, my favorite author.

    • Josh Hanagarne February 18, 2010, 1:07 pm

      I’ve never heard of the Stinger collaboration. thank you!

  • Kathryn February 18, 2010, 1:13 pm

    You’re very welcome. It’s short..probably an hour read, but so completely worth it. Hey, I’m looking into reading Mark Vonnegut’s “The Eden Express.” By any chance have you read it?

  • catherine June 18, 2010, 8:27 am

    is anyone familiar with the Vonnegut’s quote which was something like; “we all thought someone at the top knew what they were doing but…?

  • Randi July 16, 2010, 11:43 am

    Cat’s Cradle is the absolute best Vonnegut book but I really love them all. I need to go on a Vonnegut binge myself. It’s been far too long and I’ve been far too serious. That’s probably why.

    • Josh Hanagarne July 18, 2010, 2:38 pm

      It’s hard to stay serious when you’re on a Kurt kick. I just grabbed a book of previously unpublished shorts by Vonnegut yesterday called “Look at the birdie.” I’ll have a report soon.

  • Joey Fish September 2, 2010, 11:00 am

    I have to agree with your list.
    Breakfast of Champions was my first real introduction. It’s a fun read.

    Jailbird is good, Cat’s Cradle of course, I still love Player Piano, and DeadEye Dick too.

    Last one I read was Sirens of Titan. When he died I told myself I would re-read everything in order of publication. But then I lost my copy of Player Piano (I think that was the first novel published) But I’m looking to start doing it now. Hence me googling vonnegut quotes.

    What I really want to know tho. I thought Vonnegut coined the phrase “It takes all kinds of people to make up a world” But now I see it’s actually a Roy Orbinson song… Who said it first? Anyone?

    • Josh Hanagarne September 2, 2010, 11:50 am

      Good question Joey, and one I do not know the answer to. Sirens of Titan was the first book of Kurt’s that I read. I’m currently reading Look at the Birdie, which is (another) work of unpublished short fiction. Kurt’s unpublished stuff is still better for me than just about everything currently on the new arrivals at the bookstores and the libraries.

  • N Alagoz December 22, 2010, 2:03 pm

    Be sure to read 2BRO2B, it’s a great piece by Vonnegut.

  • Robert Mott March 10, 2011, 7:50 pm

    I’m doing my junior research paper on Vonnegut’s satire and he is making it so easy I love his topics. I’ve only read Cat’s Cradle and his collection Welcome to the Monkey House but I’ll read more soon

  • Rune March 28, 2011, 2:30 am

    I had never heard of Vonnegut when, at age 13, I received Cat’s Cradle as a gift from a friend. Next was Slaughter House 5 at age 15, just found it laying around in someone’s house. Stumbling upon his books by accident made the experience even better. It was such a pleasant surprise, I didn’t know people could write that way. Could say those things. Since then I’ve read many more, but not all. (trying not to run the tap dry too quick)
    Reading Cat’s Cradle again at an older age (recently actually) was a thrilling experience; to compare the experience now, to that of reading it the first time so many years ago. My fiiiirst Vonneguuut book. ::satisfied sigh::

    His short stories are great. Recently got that new collection called “Look at the Birdie” published after his deadness. Palm Sunday, and (in agreement with Andrew) Mother Night was a favorite. I try to forget books after I read them so I may read them again, thus I can’t clarify for you what it is about Mother Night I enjoyed. Have read it twice and can’t remember what its about, so I must be doing something right.

    Is it so its been made a movie? Do it any justice?
    I’d hope everyone reads the book first.

    Thanks for this blog, I really like reading these comments.

    • Josh Hanagarne March 28, 2011, 10:20 am

      You’re welcome, and I agree, his short fiction is wonderful.

  • Rune March 28, 2011, 2:34 am

    Oh and your selection of quotes is superb.

    Breakfast of Champions I read after a long gap, and it was a fun and fun and fun way to return to a Vonnegut binge.

    By the way, Sirens of Titan didn’t really jive with me. I don’t remember it. So I’ll read it again and report back here with the results.


    • Josh Hanagarne March 28, 2011, 10:20 am

      I actually don’t think I’ve read Sirens more than once. I think that might be the only one of his books that’s true of, except for the most recent two or three.

  • Rune March 28, 2011, 2:39 am

    Can I write one more thing? Is this too many things?

    Favorite quote:
    “Lucky me, lucky mud”

    That entire poem was on point (laughs laughs) but that those four words were the kicker for me. .. . for some reason.

    “What interesting other kinds of sitting-up mud I met!”

    Ok that’s all bye.

  • LT May 24, 2011, 9:09 pm

    While I loved and love Slaughterhouse Five and Cat’s Cradle, my most recent love is Bluebeard. I read it and reread it and recommend it.

  • doubleB May 24, 2011, 10:35 pm

    Sirens was also the first I read. I came upon ancient paperback editions of Sirens, Slaughterhouse Five and Welcome to the Monkey House at a garage sale. The guy there practically gave them to me – I was 12 or 13 at the time and the books were practically falling apart. But I loved them anyway – and loved Kurt Vonnegut since then.

    I still have these (except for Monkey House, another instance of borrowed and never returned), but had to buy newer copies because the paper really is disintegrating.

    I write for a living and here’s the Vonnegut quote I have hanging in my office: “Given who and what I am, it has been presum^ptuous of me to write so well.”

    How I wish I could say the same of my work.

  • Bob Hoff May 25, 2011, 12:59 am

    Picked up “Welcome to the Monkey House” in 1972 and loved it. I consider him as one of my favorite writers and speech-makers because I identify with his humane philosophy. His writing kept my attention and still does when I reread his works occasionally. I found his writing style refreshing and still do.

  • Huzy June 16, 2011, 12:51 am

    I only discovered Vonnegut a few years ago, and when I discovered shortly after that that he has passed on, I was quite depressed. But even with all that, I never picked up any of his book until recently. I’ve got Bagombo Snuff Box in my bag now.

  • Jason August 25, 2011, 7:15 pm

    “He looked like a frightened, aging Jesus, whose sentence to crucifixition had ben commuted to imprisonment for life.”
    From God Bless You Mr. Rosewater

  • Rebecca September 15, 2011, 11:14 am

    Hey Josh,
    I’ve read all of Vonnegut’s work and, as much as I do appricate the list, because I do, it is amazing, you left off a couple of my favorite quotes. Namely; “In this isn’t nice I don’t know what is” and “and the language was speechless” which is in Palm Sunday I believe.

  • Jordan September 17, 2011, 7:30 pm

    God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater is definitely my favorite Vonnegut book. Although I love many of the others, Eliott Rosewater and his ‘isanity’ will forever have a place in my heart. That book simply describes the human condition, er, american condition, in a way that can’t be outdone.

  • Manuel November 2, 2011, 6:19 am

    I just absolutely love this part of Galapagos:

    ‎”And after supper one night, he amused Akiko (…) with a science-fiction fantasy whose premise was that the Maine lobsters had made it to the islands, and that a million years had passed, (…) and lobsters had become the dominant species on the planet, and had built cities and theaters and hospitals and public transportation and so on. He had lobsters playing violins and solving murders and performing microsurgery and subscribing to book clubs and so on.

    The moral of the story was that the lobsters were doing exactly what human beings had done, which was to make a mess of everything. They all wished that they could just be ordinary lobsters, particularly since there were no longer human beings around who wanted to boil them alive.

    That was all they had had to complain about in the first place: being boiled alive. Now, just because they hadn’t wanted to be boiled alive anymore, they had to support symphony orchestras, and on and on. The viewpoint character in the Captain’s story was the underpaid second chair French horn player in the Lobsterville Symphony Orchestra who had just lost his wife to a professional ice hockey player.”

  • Geralyn November 7, 2011, 10:42 am

    I’m impressed by your writing. Are you a profesnsiaol or just very knowledgeable?

    • Josh Hanagarne November 7, 2011, 1:51 pm

      I’m not a professional yet, and I don’t think I’m very knowledgeable, but thank you. I do practice a lot.

  • Meagan November 29, 2011, 12:47 am

    I’m in an Apocalyptic Theory with Kurt Vonnegut class and we just attended a birthday celebration for Vonnegut in Indianapolis. It was gorgeous, if you haven’t heard his music you should get a copy of his cd when it is released in January. It’s very moving. I, personally, love Sirens of Titan. The imagery of the cave and the creatures in it is absolutely beautiful.

  • Erin February 14, 2012, 10:00 am

    My favorite:

    *“You hate America don’t you?”
    “That would be as silly as loving it … It’s impossible for me to get emotional about it, because real estate doesn’t interest me. It’s no doubt a great flaw in my personality, but I can’t think in terms of boundaries. Those imaginary lines are as unreal to me as elves and pixies. I can’t believe that they mark the end or the beginning of anything of real concern to the human soul. Virtues and vices, pleasures and pains cross boundaries at will”*

    from Mother Night.

  • Evan August 27, 2012, 3:07 pm

    Galapagos is my favorite. I like how the entire book is just a vehicle for KV to go on and on about how human beings’ brains are way to big to be practical anymore. One of those things that you’ve thought a million times but when he says it you think about it in a different way.