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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Flawed man; fascinating biography
It's easy to confuse criticism of a biography with criticism of its subject. And Kurt Vonnegut doesn't come over as the kind hearted socialist that was often his persona. But didn't he himself say that he was a work of fiction? He does, however, come over as a flawed but talented, complex, rather melancholic and lonely man. He was often well-intentioned - not many people...
Published on 8 Nov 2012 by Archy

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15 of 19 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars And So It Goes...Into The Rubbish Bin
Someone had to be first out of the gate and publish a semi-full-length biography upon the heels of Vonnegut's death, no? And so it cannot be helped that this book feels under-researched. Details about someone like Vonnegut take many years after death to creep out of the woodwork and become satisfactorily added to the overall puzzle that is anyone's mortal life. Family...
Published on 10 Jan 2012 by Alexander T. Newport


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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Flawed man; fascinating biography, 8 Nov 2012
By 
Archy (ALTRINCHAM, Cheshire United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: And So It Goes (Hardcover)
It's easy to confuse criticism of a biography with criticism of its subject. And Kurt Vonnegut doesn't come over as the kind hearted socialist that was often his persona. But didn't he himself say that he was a work of fiction? He does, however, come over as a flawed but talented, complex, rather melancholic and lonely man. He was often well-intentioned - not many people with three children and struggling financially would take in four more in the circumstances Vonnegut did - but equally often unable to meet the requirements of a real family life, and this contradiction is at the heart of the book.

I found it a thoroughly enjoyable and entertaining read, even if some of the revelations about the man were eye-openers. But he was a flawed human being, not the wise guru he was often painted - by fans probably too young to know better. In his place, I too would have got frustrated, trying to write for a living in a house with seven children. It's a shame that Vonnegut's second wife did not contribute to the book, and it's true that - as another reviewer has pointed out - she seems to suffer an awful lot of put-downs. (But maybe she was really like that??) I'm also surprised at the way Timequake is disparaged - like the other reviewer, I really liked this book!

It's obviously a must for Vonnegut fans, but bear in mind that you're reading about a real individual who suffered traumas most readers are not likely to experience; the 1960s/70s counterculture icon was not the real person.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Essential Background for Kurt Vonnegut fans, 20 Feb 2013
By 
Stephen J. Gagen (Melbourne, Australia) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: And So It Goes (Hardcover)
I have loved Kurt's writing since I first read Cat's Cradle and the Sirens of Titan in the early 60s, when I was a teenager. Like others, I bought this book because I wanted to know more about Kurt himself. I have admired his writing, recommended it to others, and quoted from it for the past 50 years. And So It Goes - one of my favourite quotations from Kurt's books (along with Poo-tee-weet) does not disappoint me. It is a well-crafted autobiography - Charles Shields got his subject's permission and cooperation, but was thwarted by his untimely death and the intransigence of his family. He has researched his subject well, and produced an ejnoyable and authoritative biography. Of course, the book saddens me: while I was falling in love with Kurt's wrtings, he was despising himself and busily alienating those who tried to love him. So many creative people have a streak of self-loathing running through them, it seems. For those who are interested, reading this book will be as close to Kurt Vonnegut's soul as you're likely to get.
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15 of 19 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars And So It Goes...Into The Rubbish Bin, 10 Jan 2012
This review is from: And So It Goes (Hardcover)
Someone had to be first out of the gate and publish a semi-full-length biography upon the heels of Vonnegut's death, no? And so it cannot be helped that this book feels under-researched. Details about someone like Vonnegut take many years after death to creep out of the woodwork and become satisfactorily added to the overall puzzle that is anyone's mortal life. Family members, business cohorts, friends and friends of friends have yet to pen their memoirs of Kurt, or at the very least be thoroughly interviewed.

The ickiest aspect of this book is the glaring emotional fact that the biographer does not "get" Vonnegut's books. He doesn't understand them nor has he ever been truly moved by them. He doesn't recognize them as soul-affirming, heart-opening, mind medicines. He doesn't celebrate the humour of any of them nor does he even hint at being sympathetic or in agreement with their overall philosophical conclusions and prescriptions. This biography contains no enthusiasm or love for the work---and even less for the man.

The biographer seems to have slanted the overall picture of Vonnegut so that he appears as a mostly insecure, womanising, sad, old, grouchy worrywart who didn't hug his children all that much.

I don't believe that picture.

There's also this very silly idea that there was some sort of crowd in this world who presumed he was some sort of saint or guru expected to be a dream-daddy-husband who never lost his temper or worried or felt overwhelmed or got depressed. That impression was just a load of turds perpetuated by magazine articles and preamble interview-related descriptions of who Kurt Vonnegut supposedly was to the "youth" of America. But the fact is nobody expected the Kurt Vonnegut they loved to be anything more than an old fart smoking his fool head off and writing books that amuse and touch the heart. Honestly!

He was a man whose mum killed herself on friggin' Mothers Day whilst he was there visiting as an adult soldier, not long before he was due to go to Dresden. He was a man who saw and touched countless dead human beings in various states of destruction and decay---human beings intentionally killed with malice aforethought by other human beings...

I'd much rather have a flippant, Absurdist, hi-ho attitude and humour towards such horrors than be emotionally crushed by them into a thousand mile stare.

Vonnegut's best books are pure philosophy in the form of humorous narratives. Vonnegut was an American philosopher. His main question was: What are people for? This is the same as asking: Why do I exist? Am I supposed to measure up to some sort of grade? Is this life a punishment? Is it a school? Can I kill myself without an after-death punishment? How did I get here? Is there a singular conscious entity called God responsible for my existence? If not, can living things still exist? What happens when I die?

Vonnegut lived during a time in human history when it would have been considered pretentious of him to refer to himself (or even think of himself) as a philosopher given that he did not posses a university degree in Philosophy and did not write about his philosophical quests, conclusions and prescriptions in a scholarly format. But in writing the way he did, he reached a wider audience. Academia would have forbade his humour and irreverence and thank goodness they didn't get a chance to.

To his credit, the biographer announces at the start of the book that he did not receive any cooperation from Vonnegut's 2nd wife.

The two results of this are:

---#1---Zero information from a person who lived with him and knew him for over 30 years---a spouse no less. She's a primary colour in the finished painting and her perspective and memories are sorely missing.

---#2---The biographer seems to convey snide undertones virtually anytime he refers to her. She comes off as little more than a one dimensional villain---a nasty thorn in Kurt's side.

For an authorized biography I am shocked by the lame, uninteresting quality of most of the photos.

I am disappointed that there is no list of every radio and tv show he appeared on.
There is no list of every interview he gave.
There are no photocopies of manuscript pages.
A biographer who truly loves his subject would have provided these things.

The bibliography for Kurt's appearances in magazines and newspapers is quite user unfriendly. It's not an easy-to-read list of one appearance per line but instead the info is all crammed together in paragraphs---one entry after another. I clear my throat and spit.

All in all, after reading this book from cover to cover, I hardly know more about Kurt Vonnegut than what I gleaned from his Prologues, interviews, and non fiction books.

I can only logically and generously assume that this biography was rushed. I doubt it began that way, but when Kurt kicked the bucket there must've been pressure from the publisher to pull the cake out of the oven even though it was only half baked. But then I sincerely wonder if Mr Shields would have ever been able to write a 1st class biography on Vonnegut given that he didn't really "get" Vonnegut to begin with. You can just feel it.

Sorry, dude. Write what you bloody well know or don't bother.
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4.0 out of 5 stars This will have the scales fall from your eyes, 11 Jan 2014
By 
Mr. S. Miller "Page Turner" (Glasgow, UK) - See all my reviews
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As I had hoped, this biography contained an anecdote conforming exactly to the image I had of KV having been a fan for 25 years. So far so good. But on page 375 of a 415 page book? And only one? Yep, that's the problem - KV was not very nice after all.

Charles Shields is a brilliant writer and researcher, and he rightly does not spare us his discoveries, not so much "warts and all", more just the "warts".

So, while I admire Shields' dedication to accuracy and truth as well as his own engaging style, I have found myself wondering if I might have been better not reading this at all. I still admire KV's work but the affection has gone.

Th 4-stars are for the quality of the biography, not this reader's experience!
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4.0 out of 5 stars 'It's not what you see that is Art. Art is the gap.', 15 Aug 2013
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A fine book which manages to get under the skin of it's subject's preoccupations. One of the best biographies I've read in a long while.
P.S. Chapter 19 - wasn't Vonnegut's second wife, Jill Krementz, a real b*tch?
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A satisfying, engaging and balanced portrait, 25 Jun 2012
By 
Jeremy Williams (Luton) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: And So It Goes (Hardcover)
As a fan of Kurt Vonnegut, it's always been something of a mystery to me that nobody had written a biography. Lesser authors have them, and it was high time somebody wrote Vonnegut's. As it happens, Shields took up the challenge just in time to do it with Vonnegut's blessing, though not fast enough for Vonnegut to ever read it himself.

That's perhaps just as well, as it's not a particularly flattering portrait. Vonnegut was a flawed character and the book doesn't flinch in describing his various infidelities, his mixed motives and the darker sides to his personality. The book doesn't delight in the gossip, nor does it make excuses for a literary icon. It feels honest and balanced, and if you've read Vonnegut, you ought to expect a complex character.

What I wanted to know was the genesis of Vonnegut's ideas, where his philosophy came from, the psychology of a man who so perfectly blended comedy and tragedy. And on that front, the book delivers. It's a rich and detailed account, full of anecdotes and asides, telling his story from childhood and university days to his long struggle to make a living as a writer, to his sudden fame and place in American literary history.

There are some remarkable incidents along the way. He famously survived the fire-bombing of Dresden in the Second World War. Later in life, he and his wife adopted four children after Vonnegut's sister and her husband both died within 24 hours of each other. Like any life, the dramatic incidents are exceptions and much of it is a grind. For Vonnegut, that was the endless trials of the short story market, or working in PR for General Electric. Shields handles the contrast well, avoiding the temptation to sensationalise the drama and communicating the drudgery of the lean years without getting bogged down.

Readers appear to be divided over And So it Goes as a biography. If I had any gripes, it would be that my favourite Vonnegut book, Timequake, is considered a poor and unimportant book and barely gets a mention. That, and there could be more photos. Overall however, I thought it was a great read, engaging for the whole of its 450 pages, which is an accomplishment in itself.
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And So It Goes
And So It Goes by J., Charles Shields (Hardcover - 12 Dec 2011)
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