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Player Piano Kurt Vonnegut – book review

As you may be able to tell by now, I am quite a Kurt Vonnegut fan. I believe this is my third book review from Kurt Vonnegut. This was Kurt’s first novel published in 1952 and didn’t get much notice, which is a bit odd considering it is an excellent read or in my case listen on Audible. The narration is performed by Christian Rummel and it is incredible considering all the different characters that are included in this book. If you have read my book reviews before you know that I try not to spoil it for you focusing more on the themes and my own opinion of the work. If you want to know more about Kurt Vonnegut see the excerpt from Wikipedia below.

I swear Kurt Vonnegut could see into the future as the themes from this book have many parallels to what is happening today in terms of technology replacing many jobs that were formerly done by humans. The primary character is Dr. Paul Proteus the head of Engineering at the Ilium, New York plant. The premise of this novel shows the divide between the rich and the poor as machines take over the work formerly done by those they have displaced. There is also a lot of emphasis on blind corporate loyalty and competition for jobs by the elite who are paid 10 to 100’s times the salary of the common man, who by the way lives across the river over the bridge. I won’t go into how it all unfolds, but it all becomes very interesting. Some themes for me included:

  • Man vs. Machine
  • Rich vs. Poor
  • Educated vs. not Educated
  • Collective vs. Individualism
  • Blind Faith in Technology vs. Individual Expression
  • Planned Society vs. Capitalism / Free Enterprise
  • Relative comfort vs. Struggle


I flat out loved this book, the parallels with today are uncanny and the characters are incredibly complex in some ways and at the same time simply symbols of the themes mentioned above. You become emotionally attached to some of the characters such as Dr. Paul Proteus and appalled by others such as his wife Anita. While the battles expressed by the themes provide the opportunity for the author to provide a decisive conclusion to the questions posed in this book, the ending leaves the door open to debate, much like is the case today. If you like Kurt Vonnegut’s writing you will love this book, and if you haven’t had the chance to read or listen to his work, this is a great opportunity to begin where it all started.

A picture of a middle age Kurt Vonnegut


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Wikipedia Excerpt

Kurt Vonnegut Jr. November 11, 1922 – April 11, 2007) was an American writer. In a career spanning over 50 years, Vonnegut published 14 novels, three short story collections, five plays, and five works of non-fiction, with further collections being published after his death. He is most famous for his darkly satirical, best-selling novel Slaughterhouse-Five (1969).

Born and raised in Indianapolis, Indiana, Vonnegut attended Cornell University but dropped out in January 1943 and enlisted in the United States Army. As part of his training, he studied mechanical engineering at Carnegie Institute of Technology (now Carnegie Mellon University) and the University of Tennessee. He was then deployed to Europe to fight in World War II and was captured by the Germans during the Battle of the Bulge. He was interned in Dresden and survived the Allied bombing of the city by taking refuge in a meat locker of the slaughterhouse where he was imprisoned. After the war, Vonnegut married Jane Marie Cox, with whom he had three children. He later adopted his sister’s three sons, after she died of cancer and her husband was killed in a train accident.

Vonnegut published his first novel, Player Piano, in 1952. The novel was reviewed positively but was not commercially successful. In the nearly 20 years that followed, Vonnegut published several novels that were only marginally successful, such as Cat’s Cradle (1963) and God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater (1964). Vonnegut’s breakthrough was his commercially and critically successful sixth novel, Slaughterhouse-Five. The book’s anti-war sentiment resonated with its readers amidst the ongoing Vietnam War and its reviews were generally positive. After its release, Slaughterhouse-Five went to the top of The New York Times Best Seller list, thrusting Vonnegut into fame. He was invited to give speeches, lectures and commencement addresses around the country and received many awards and honors.

Later in his career, Vonnegut published several autobiographical essays and short-story collections, including Fates Worse Than Death(1991), and A Man Without a Country (2005). After his death, he was hailed as a morbidly comical commentator on the society in which he lived and as one of the most important contemporary writers. Vonnegut’s son Mark published a compilation of his father’s unpublished compositions, titled Armageddon in Retrospect. In 2017, Seven Stories Press published Complete Stories, a collection of Vonnegut’s short fiction including 5 previously unpublished stories. Complete Stories was collected and introduced by Vonnegut friends and scholars Jerome Klinkowitz and Dan Wakefield. Numerous scholarly works have examined Vonnegut’s writing and humor.



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