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The Player Piano Mass Market Paperback – 1 May 2000

4.3 out of 5 stars 16 customer reviews

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Mass Market Paperback, 1 May 2000
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Product details

  • Mass Market Paperback: 295 pages
  • Publisher: Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group; Reissue edition (1 May 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0440170370
  • ISBN-13: 978-0440170372
  • Product Dimensions: 2.5 x 11.4 x 17.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,250,557 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product description

Review

A funny, savage appraisal of a totally automated American society of the future. San Francisco Chronicle

An exuberant, crackling style . . . Vonnegut is a black humorist, fantasist and satirist, a man disposed to deep and comic reflection on the human dilemma. Life
His black logic . . . gives us something to laugh about and much to fear. The New York Times Book Review"

"A funny, savage appraisal of a totally automated American society of the future."--San Francisco Chronicle

"An exuberant, crackling style . . . Vonnegut is a black humorist, fantasist and satirist, a man disposed to deep and comic reflection on the human dilemma."--Life
"His black logic . . . gives us something to laugh about and much to fear."--The New York Times Book Review

-A funny, savage appraisal of a totally automated American society of the future.---San Francisco Chronicle

-An exuberant, crackling style . . . Vonnegut is a black humorist, fantasist and satirist, a man disposed to deep and comic reflection on the human dilemma.---Life
-His black logic . . . gives us something to laugh about and much to fear.---The New York Times Book Review --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From the Back Cover

World War Three is over, and llium, New York, is divided into three parts. In the north-west are the scientists, engineers and technocrats who struggle to run society, victims of an insane system of bureaucratised tyranny; in the north-east are the machines and computers which perform all routine manufacturing tasks; and in the south is the area known locally as Homestead, where almost all of the people live. Those with redundant or non-existent skills are forced into the Army or the Reconstruction and Reclamation Corps – known bitterly as the ‘Reeks and Wrecks’. Robbed of their work, they are deprived of everything that makes them dignified and human. But, underneath the surface, the impulse to rebellion seethes…

‘One of the best living American writers.’
GRAHAM GREENE

‘George Orwell, Dr Caligari and Flash Gordon compounded into one writer.’
TIME

‘One of the master alchemists of modern American fiction.’
SUNDAY TIMES

‘Kurt Vonnegut is the most unusual and attractive of contemporary satirists.’
FINANCIAL TIMES

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

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Kurt Vonnegut's first novel is set in a dystopian America of the future, where technology has made manual work obsolete. This society divides into the few technocrats and managers who devise and control the machines, and the masses. A semi-utopian ideal removes the need for work and provides the masses with all they physically need, but provides no hope - what service can they provide? For those outside the elite, their only work is the army or the "Reeks and Wrecks" (Reconstruction & Reclamation Corps), and even the army is not trusted with guns in an age where wars are fought by machines in foreign lands. Even the legal system has been automated, with machines that analyse data and precedent to pronounce judgement.

The book is centred on one character's struggle to find meaning within this society. Dr Paul Proteus is one of the elite, an engineer who manages one of the vast automated factories. But his state-controlled life provides material wealth and little satisfaction. The book follows his journey from elite to subversive in his search for meaning.

Written around the same time as 1984, the book offers a similar view of the future with total state control of society, work and media. While lighter in tone than 1984, the messages are strikingly similar and the outcome similar. This book ends pessimistically, challenging the goals of constant development but highlighting the needs that drive them.
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Player Piano is in my opinion Kurt Vonnegut's finest novel and it beggars belief that it has been out of print for such a considerable length of time. I was lucky enough to find a second hand copy of it on Amazon and breezed through it in a couple of sittings; I hope you too can find a copy available.
Set in the aftermath of World War Three it depicts brilliantly a world in which men are becoming obsolete, replaced by the machines they themselves have built, hence the title. The story follows Dr Paul Proteus, one of the scientific elite, as he becomes increasingly disillusioned with his life in a society which robs men of their dignity and any pride previously enjoyed by work.
Despite enjoying the luxuries that come with being a member of the scientific elite, Proteus finds himself growing sympathetic towards the un-skilled and redundant masses that are forced into either military service or soul destroying works of reconstruction. This sympathy, along with the frustration he experiences as part of the corporate system which leads contradictorily to competition amongst its workers whilst attempting to foster a false co-operative spirit causes him to rebel against the system. Anyone who has been subjected to ‘team-building’ exercises in the work place will cringe at the horrors of ‘the Meadows’, a kind of corporate summer camp that Proteus has to endure, as well as many other episodes that remind one constantly of the situation many currently face in the workplace.
Written in 1952, I find this to be one of the most prophetic novels I have come across. Do whatever you have to do to get a hold of a copy of Player Piano.
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I first read PLAYER PIANO in college, although I had been introduced to the world of Kurt Vonnegut in high school, courtesy of his hilarious sci-fi novel THE SIRENS OF TITAN. PLAYER PIANO was actually Vonnegut’s first novel, published in 1952 after he’d spent some three years working for GE in Public Relations. Apparently, it was there he learned how managers and engineers were held in such high regard, changing the world one machine at a time.

Vonnegut’s cautionary tale, filled with the dark comedy of a wise, plain-speaking jester from Indianapolis, was perfect for a postwar American audience moving inexorably toward an automated society. But reading it again now, I see a new relevance. We are in the midst of another transformation led by the Internet of Things and pricey wearables. And if you can believe the predictions of Ray Kurzweil, soon we will become the machines—a perfect blending of flesh and titanium.

PLAYER PIANO is brilliant and still relevant. If you haven’t read this book, I encourage you to give it a try. Sure, you’ll laugh, but watch out. The next time you are chatting up Siri, you’ll shudder. Long live the Ghost Shirt Society!
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Back in the 1960s we thought that machines would do everything. We would now be living the life of luxury while robots do all the hard work. Player Piano was written even earlier than that and shows the approaching second transition from Labour to automation. That is when machines and algorithms take over from human thinking and not just from human action. The main protagonist is Dr Paul Proteus, the son of the man who had lead the first transition during the war by bringing automation and quality control to industrial production. Now Paul is finding that the role of humans in this automated world is getting less and less and so he feels the need to rebel.

It was a novel of its time and the methods of automation and computing have been replaced by silicon and not valves but the message is as important today as it was then. If we turn everything into an algorithm then we lose our humanity. Today the threat is from protocols, check lists and standard operating procedures. Once you have these machine like devices then you take away human thought. In theory this is there to improve quality control, but in reality when it becomes ossified like in the book then quality declines. So for anyone who wants to think about the future, this book should be on your reading list.
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