Allan Van Vliet, August 4, 2012 (view all comments by Allan Van Vliet)
Catch 22 is one of the most bizarre and unique novels I've ever read. Start to finish, it rejects in full the standard model of storytelling. Joseph Heller is, I can now safely say, a bit of a genius. I won't lie, this is a book that requires you to think, and if you aren't interested in doing that, you won't enjoy this at all. If you're willing to tackle it, it's well worth the effort. The commentary on capitalism, the military, government, bureaucracy, and more is legendary, and it's voice is darkly hilarious. The seamless weaving between timelines and locales makes the book wonderfully surreal, and adds to the impression that nothing in the world is quite as it should be. I want to go on, but I would hate to spoil the fun. Read Catch 22, it rocks.
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Beverly Nelson, January 15, 2012 (view all comments by Beverly Nelson)
This isn't a review of the book but about how much I appreicated your review of Catch 22 Chris. I have not read the book but it's been on my shelves for years knowing it was a classic and worth my time. I haven't come across anything that inspired me to delve into it and there's always something I feel I need to be reading so it constantly gets relegated farther down the priority list. The details you shared in your review have me chaffing at the bit to get at it�"-hopefully today! Your review was a refreshing encounter from the usual literary esoteric jargon of other publications. Thank you!
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Ricky Messmann, January 12, 2012 (view all comments by Ricky Messmann)
This might be my favorite book I've read ever. I found myself laughing out loud throughout. Some parts made me uncomfortable but were simultaneously hilarious. It's quite powerful as well. There are characters like a Major named Major Major Major who decides he is never going to see anyone again, and Colonel Cathcart who simply cares about being on the cover of Lifetime Magazine and raises the number of missions for his soldiers to more than twice the required amount, and a soldier named Dunbar who thinks that time goes slower when you are bored, so seeks out boring situations in the attempt to lengthen his life. Breathtakingly brilliant and impossibly hilarious stuff.
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Arthur Strauss, September 1, 2011 (view all comments by Arthur Strauss)
Joseph Heller's classic anti-war novel stands the test of time. This re-issue is complemented by Christopher Buckley's forward and his very laudatory comments. Re-reading this masterpiece 30 years later is still an enjoyable experience. Yossarian and his fellow soldiers are relevent as ever. May Catch-22 live on in the annals of history.
Meghan A, May 4, 2010 (view all comments by Meghan A)
Joseph Heller’s classic bestseller Catch-22 is at once a hilarious, witty war story and a dark, biting commentary on the absurdity of war. The novel follows Yossarian, an American bombardier in World War II, in his struggle to stay alive when everyone around him is trying to kill him. He has a difficult task, since at his camp “the enemy is anybody who’s going to get you killed” (124). That seems to encompass quite a few people, including Colonel Cathcart and the other officers in the American army. The officers continually sign up Yossarian’s unit for dangerous bombing missions meant to enhance the prestige of the unit, without regard for the American lives lost in the process. Throughout the book, we meet characters such as Milo Minderbinder, the epitome of capitalism and greed who runs a worldwide produce monopoly in the black market. We also follow the group chaplain, whose soft and gentle nature is not suited for the harsh realities of war. The antagonist in this story is not the German army. In fact, we never see the Germans. Yossarian’s opposing forces are the numerous colonels and generals who exemplify the absolute power and absolute inadequacy of the bureaucracy. Yossarian must overcome a system that is stacked against him, including the bureaucracy’s favorite catch-22, which is defined as any rule that applies only when it cannot be used.
While Catch-22 was written during after World War II, it did not gain true popularity until the Vietnam War. Vietnam protesters found their war sentiments already expressed in Catch-22. They could sympathize with Yossarian’s struggle to stay alive in a war he did not agree with or care about, and his need to return home. The novel comments that “it does not make a damned bit of difference who wins the war to someone who’s dead” (123). Catch-22 shoots down the view that war is a condition meant to promote the collective good of the nation, instead arguing that war is a very personal battle. Catch-22 places the idea of the soldier above the idea of the army in a way that would feel very close to the hearts of Vietnam opponents.
A main idea of Catch-22 is the absurdity of war. Catch-22 portrays that war is absurd through the ridiculousness and ineptitude of the bureaucracy.
The absurdity of war is exemplified by the use of the titular catch-22. The catch-22 stops one of Yossarian’s war escape schemes from success. Yossarian asks his friend and camp doctor, Doc Daneeka, to help him go home. Yossarian simply needs Doc to officially write up that he is insane and he will be sent back home immediately. However, Doc reminds him of catch-22. Yossarian can only be deemed insane if he asks Doc to observe his mental state. As soon as Yossarian asks to be checked for insanity, he is automatically considered sane because “a concern for one’s own safety was the process of a rational mind” (46).This ridiculous rule ensures that nobody, either sane or insane, can leave the war for insanity. The manipulative and conniving bureaucracy simply makes rules to benefit themselves, rather than for the soldiers fighting in the war.
The backwards logic of the bureaucracy when questioning the chaplain also demonstrates this absurdity. The chaplain is taken into custody by the army for forging a fake name on documents. He did no such thing, of course, but the army has many witnesses who will swear he did. To prove that he wrote the name, the investigators ask him to write his name in his own handwriting. When it does not match the forged document’s signature, they call the chaplain guilty and are disgusted because “a person who’ll lie about his own handwriting will lie about anything” (381). The investigators continue questioning him and, when the chaplain asks if he is found guilty, they ask, “Why would we be questioning you if you’re not guilty?” (384). The bureaucracy is shown to be all-powerful and cannot be questioned in their illogic. The whole situation proves their closed-mindedness to rationality and facts. However, there is nothing holding them accountable to the true facts. “Witnesses” offer up false information in order to get on the good side of the army leaders and increase their chances of promotion. War is absurd in Catch-22 because, rather than serving the original purpose of protecting one’s nation, members of the bureaucracy uses the war for personal gain at the expense of others.
I would recommend this book to anyone with patience. While the entire book is entertaining, the middle section does tend to get very long and confusing. With only partial flashbacks to see how Yossarian became so disillusioned with the war, readers will become confused and feel they only know half of what is going on. I think this confusion is intentional and symbolic. Heller causes the reader’s emotions to mirror how the soldiers feel towards the war: confused and impatient. Because of this tactic, the reader is able to better sympathize with Yossarian and the other soldiers. While the middle pages do tend to get long, if you stick it out until the end, you will find that the moving and exciting ending is definitely worth the wait.
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Scribner Book Company -
by Chris Bolton,
If your only experience with Catch-22 was reading it for a class in high school — or if you haven't even read it at all — you owe it to yourself to revisit this book. It's a comic masterpiece, yes, but more than that: Catch-22 is a blast of anarchic mayhem that flies in the face of the accepted madness that is society, especially in a time of war — which makes the book that much more relevant today.
by Chris Bolton
Biting, black, bitter, and very, very funny, Catch-22 is the greatest war satire in the language and one of the greatest satires of the 20th century, period. If you haven't read it, lay in a case of bourbon and get reading.
"Review A Day"
by Robert Brustein, The New Republic, 1961,
"Like all superlative works of comedy — and I am ready to argue that this is one of the most bitterly funny works in the language — Catch-22 is based on an unconventional but utterly convincing internal logic. In the very opening pages, when we come upon a number of Air Force officers malingering in a hospital — one censoring all the modifiers out of enlisted men's letters and signing the censor's name 'Washington Irving,' another pursuing tedious conversations with boring Texans in order to increase his life span by making time pass slowly, still another storing horse chestnuts in his cheeks to give himself a look of innocence — it seems obvious that an inordinate number of Joseph Heller's characters are, by all conventional standards, mad. It is a triumph of Mr. Heller's skill that he is so quickly able to persuade us 1) that the most lunatic are the most logical, and 2) that it is our conventional standards which lack any logical consistency. The sanest looney of them all is the apparently harebrained central character, an American bombardier of..." (read The New Republic's entire review)
by Chicago Sun-Times,
"An apocalyptic masterpiece."
by John W. Aldridge, The New York Times Book Review,
"A monumental artifact of contemporary American literature, almost as assured of longevity as the statues on Easter Island....Catch-22 is a novel that reminds us once again of all that we have taken for granted in our world and should not, the madness we try not to bother and notice, the deceptions and falsehoods we lack the will to try to distinguish from truth."
by Nelson Algren, The Nation,
"Below its hilarity, so wild that it hurts, Catch-22 is the strongest repudiation of our civilization, in fiction, to come out of World War II....To compare Catch-22 favorably with The Good Soldier Schweik would be an injustice, because this novel is not merely the best American novel to come out of World War II; it is the best American novel that has come out of anywhere in years."
Joseph Heller's manic, bleak, blackly humorous, and brilliant novel has become a classic of American literature, and Catch-22 has entered the language as a term describing a no-win situation. Set during the last months of World War II, Heller's novel tells the story of a bombardier, the hapless Yossarian, who is convinced — quite rightly, of course — that people are trying to kill him.
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