Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut (Reread)

Read the old Review here

★★★★☆ (4/5)

A selection of my favourite passages from the book


  • “Live by the foma* that make you brave and kind and healthy and happy.” The Books of Bokonon. I: 5 * Harmless untruths
  • By that he means that a karass ignores national, institutional, occupational, familial, and class boundaries.
  • At any given time a karass actually has two wampeters—one waxing in importance, one waning.
  • Busy, busy, busy, is what we Bokononists whisper whenever we think of how complicated and unpredictable the machinery of life really is.

  • A wrang-wrang, according to Bokonon, is a person who steers people away from a line of speculation by reducing that line, with the example of the wrang-wrang’s own life, to an absurdity.
  • “But the drama demanded that the pirate half of Bokonon and the angel half of McCabe wither away. And McCabe and Bokonon paid a terrible price in agony for the happiness of the people—McCabe knowing the agony of the tyrant and Bokonon knowing the agony of the saint. They both became, for all practical purposes, insane.”
  • Duffle, in the Bokononist sense, is the destiny of thousands upon thousands of persons when placed in the hands of a stuppa. A stuppa is a fogbound child.
  • “Beware of the man who works hard to learn something, learns it, and finds himself no wiser than before,” Bokonon tells us. “He is full of murderous resentment of people who are ignorant without having come by their ignorance the hard way.”

  • The quotation captured in a couplet the cruel paradox of Bokononist thought, the heartbreaking necessity of lying about reality, and the heartbreaking impossibility of lying about it.


  • Nobody could predict what he was going to be interested in next. On the day of the bomb it was string.
  • A scientist turned to Father and said, ‘Science has now known sin.’ And do you know what Father said? He said, ‘What is sin?’
  • Another guy came in, and he said he was quitting his job at the Research Laboratory; said anything a scientist worked on was sure to wind up as a weapon
  • New knowledge is the most valuable commodity on earth. The more truth we have to work with, the richer we become.
  • “I was fired for pessimism. Communism had nothing to do with it.”

To Contemplate

  • “Dr. Hoenikker used to say that any scientist who couldn’t explain to an eight-year-old what he was doing was a charlatan.”
  • “We all missed a lot,” Dr. Breed agreed. “We’d all do well to start over again, preferably with kindergarten.”
  • Back in Chicago, we don’t make bicycles any more. It’s all human relations now. The eggheads sit around trying to figure out new ways for everybody to be happy.
  • “ ‘Americans,’” he said, quoting his wife’s letter to the Times, “ ‘are forever searching for love in forms it never takes, in places it can never be. It must have something to do with the vanished frontier.’”

  • “No wonder kids grow up crazy. A cat’s cradle is nothing but a bunch of X’s between somebody’s hands, and little kids look and look and look at all those X’s…” “And?” “No damn cat, and no damn cradle.”
  • “Maturity, the way I understand it,” he told me, “is knowing what your limitations are.”
  • I turned to Castle the elder. “Sir, how does a man die when he’s deprived of the consolations of literature?” “In one of two ways,” he said, “petrescence of the heart or atrophy of the nervous system.”

  • ‘Of all the words of mice and men, the saddest are, “It might have been.”

Beautifully Constructed Sentences

  • The old man pulled his head indoors again, and never even asked later what all the fuss had been about. People weren’t his specialty.
  • They were lovebirds. They entertained each other endlessly with little gifts: sights worth seeing out the plane window, amusing or instructive bits from things they read, random recollections of times gone by. They were, I think, a flawless example of what Bokonon calls a duprass, which is a karass composed of only two persons.
  • He had had a dazzling talent for spending millions without increasing mankind’s stores of anything but chagrin.
  • The people of San Lorenzo had nothing but diseases, which they were at a loss to treat or even name. By contrast, Johnson and McCabe had the glittering treasures of literacy, ambition, curiosity, gall, irreverence, health, humor, and considerable information about the outside world.

  • I could not take my eyes off Mona. I was thrilled, heartbroken, hilarious, insane. Every greedy, unreasonable dream I’d ever had about what a woman should be came true in Mona. There, God love her warm and creamy soul, was peace and plenty forever.
  • What awakened little Newt was an explosion far away below. It caromed up the valley and went to God.
  • I expected something pathological, but I did not expect the depth, the violence, and the almost intolerable beauty of the disease.
  • “You’re the boss, sir.” Each time he said those words they seemed to come from farther away, as though Frank were descending the rungs of a ladder into a deep shaft, while I was obliged to remain above.

  • The conversation went very fast, and new voices entered in. They were the voices of the castle’s timbers lamenting that their burdens were becoming too great.

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