Synopses & Reviews
A New York Times Notable Book for 2011
A Washington Post Notable Nonfiction Book for 2011
The first authoritative biography of Kurt Vonnegut Jr., a writer who changed the conversation of American literature.
In 2006, Charles Shields reached out to Kurt Vonnegut in a letter, asking for his endorsement for a planned biography. The first response was no ("A most respectful demurring by me for the excellent writer Charles J. Shields, who offered to be my biographer"). Unwilling to take no for an answer, propelled by a passion for his subject, and already deep into his research, Shields wrote again and this time, to his delight, the answer came back: "O.K." For the next year—a year that ended up being Vonnegut's last—Shields had access to Vonnegut and his letters.
And So It Goes is the culmination of five years of research and writing—the first-ever biography of the life of Kurt Vonnegut. Vonnegut resonates with readers of all generations from the baby boomers who grew up with him to high-school and college students who are discovering his work for the first time. Vonnegut's concise collection of personal essays, Man Without a Country, published in 2006, spent fifteen weeks on the New York Times bestseller list and has sold more than 300,000 copies to date. The twenty-first century has seen interest in and scholarship about Vonnegut's works grow even stronger, and this is the first book to examine in full the life of one of the most influential iconoclasts of his time.
"Vonnegut initially refused to grant an interview to Shields (author of the bestselling Mockingbird), but then relented, enabling Shields to meet him during the last months of his life. This first authorized biography probes both Vonnegut's creative struggles and family life, detailing his transition from 'the bowery of the book world' to counterculture icon. Shields delivers a vivid recreation of Vonnegut's ghastly WWII experiences as a POW during the Dresden firebombing that became the basis for Slaughterhouse-Five; the novel brought him overnight fame when it was serialized in Ramparts magazine and then published in a month when 453 Americans were killed in Vietnam. Tragedies and triumphs are contrasted throughout, along with an adroit literary analysis that highlights obscure or overlooked influences on Vonnegut: Ambrose Bierce, CÃ©line, Robert Coover's metafiction, and Paul Rhymer, who scripted radio's Vic and Sade. With access to more than 1,500 letters, Shields conducted hundreds of interviews to produce this engrossing, definitive biography. It arrives during a year of renewed interest in Vonnegut, such as this year's Library of America's Kurt Vonnegut: Novels & Stories 1963 1973, and Gregory D. Sumner's Unstuck in Time: A Journey Through Kurt Vonnegut's Life and Novels, also due in Nov. (Nov.)" Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
From the author of Mockingbird—the first authoritative biography of Kurt Vonnegut Jr., a writer who forever altered American literature
In 2006, Charles Shields reached out to Kurt Vonnegut in a letter asking for his endorsement for a planned biography. The first response was no ("A most respectful demurring by me for the excellent writer Charles J. Shields, who offered to be my biographer"). Unwilling to take no for an answer, propelled by a passion for his subject, and already deep into his research, Shields wrote again and this time, to his delight, the answer came back: "O.K." For the next year—a year that ended up being Vonnegut's last—Shields had unprecedented access to Vonnegut and his letters.
While millions know Vonnegut as a counterculture guru, antiwar activist, and satirist of American culture, few outside his closest friends and family knew the full arc of his extraordinary life. And So It Goes changes that, painting the portrait of a man who made friends easily but always felt lonely, sold millions of books but never felt appreciated, and described himself as a humanist but fought with humanity at large. As a former public relations man, Vonnegut crafted his image carefully—the avuncular, curly-haired humorist—though he admitted, "I myself am a work of fiction."
The extremely wide and overwhelmingly positive review coverage for And So It Goes has been nothing less than extraordinary and confirm it as the definitive biography of Kurt Vonnegut.
About the Author
Charles J. Shields is the author of And So It Goes: Kurt Vonnegut: A Life, Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee, the highly acclaimed, bestselling biography of Harper Lee, and I Am Scout: The Biography of Harper Lee (Henry Holt Books for Young Readers). He grew up in the Midwest and taught in a rural school in central Illinois for several years. He has been a reporter for public radio, a journalist, and the author of nonfiction books for young people. He and his wife live near Charlottesville, Virginia.