by Joseph Heller

Paperback, 1996

Call number




Simon & Schuster (1996), Edition: 1967 printing, 464 pages


Set in the closing months of World War II in an American bomber squadron on a small island off Italy, a bombadier named Yossarian is frantic and furious because thousands of people he hasn't even met keep trying to kill him. He has decided to live fo.

User reviews

LibraryThing member aethercowboy
What's the catch? Catch-22.

If you've ever heard something described as being a "catch-22," congratulations, you've been alive some time between now and 1961!

For those of you reading this in the future, however (hi future!), after the overlords make dictionaries illegal, a "catch-22" is essentially
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a no-win situation. In your future life, you might refer to this as "every day."

Captain John Yossarian, a bombadier stationed in Italy during World War II, has desires that most of us have, such as not wanting to die. His desire to not want to die drives him to get sent home. He tries to fly as many missions as are required by him, but the powers that be continue to increase this number, seemingly in analog to his almost attaining enough missions to get sent home. So, he tries another tactic: he tries to get sent home because he's crazy.

You're crazy if you want to fly more missions, and if you're crazy, you should be grounded, and quite possibly sent home, but if you ask to be grounded, because you're crazy, well, then, you're trying to save your life, and quite possibly the lives of others, because, let's be honest, who wants to fly in a plane with a crazy guy, especially while dropping bombs all over the Italian front? The problem with that, is since you're doing something rational by asking to be grounded, well, then you're sane. And that circular logic is, effectively, Catch-22.

The book itself is an amazing work of fiction that is otherwise spoiled by vivisectionist English teachers everywhere. But if you read this, provided you get to that last page, you'll have a better appreciation for how the government really runs things (I believe that this book, or maybe a technical rewriting of it is the core rulebook for all government agencies).

It's particularly more enjoyable if you do in fact work for the government.
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LibraryThing member bookworm12
Before I read Catch-22 I thought it would be a serious book about war. I imagined scenes like those from For Whom the Bell Tolls, tragic heroes sacrificing their lives for the cause and such. Then I actually read it and it was beyond hilarious.

The World War II book is a satire and unlike any other
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"war" book I've read. The sense of humor is dry and sarcastic, think Monty Python. There are a few Abbott and Costello style bits that left me in stitches. The main character, Yossarian, is desperately trying to find a way to leave the service and go home. This is much more difficult than it sounds and he runs into more than one ridiculous obstacle.

Constant contradictions run through the whole book, intentionally infusing it with a sense of insanity, but the reader is in on the joke. Characters like Major Major Major Major (both his rank and his first, middle and last name) fuel the confusion.

Though the book is full of side-splitting laughs, it also makes an important point about the absurdity of war. Somehow it manages to do this with humor instead of heartbreak. Don't get me wrong, there is a tragic element when you think about how desperate some of the soldiers are to get home. It's also horrible to think about what they see when they are at war and how that affects them.

In my opinion, this is a must read for anyone, especially if you love a good laugh.
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LibraryThing member OscarWilde87
"There was, of course, a catch." "I don't want lots of things I want."
Yossarian is caught in a trap. On the one hand he tries everything to get out of the war, on the other hand he doesn't want to get out of it for the wrong reasons. In a very postmodern style, Heller tells his readership about the
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struggle of the protagonist, Captain Yossarian. Yossarian doesn't see any sense in killing and has a hard time understanding the reasons his superiors give him for killing and the need of getting killed for ones own country. Yossarian isn't afraid to argue with them, which produces a not very small amount of satire. The novel is told in a very fragmented way, the plot is revealed in bits and pieces and through lively and magnificent storytelling; Heller at times almost creates a play-like, dramatic atmosphere. Perfectly crafted characters contribute their share to an overall overwhelming novel. The great sense of humor in the depiction of the apparent necessity and actual nonsense of war makes Catch-22 an exciting read. 4 stars.
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LibraryThing member yarb
No subsequent read will match the hyperactive high of inhaling Catch-22 as a teenager, but on this third time round I was surprised how well it held up. I dug more then ever Heller's glitched, fragmentary plotting, the way incidents sprout from each other unpredictably, the timeline all cracked and
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distorted. The late Eternal City chapter hit just as hard as before with its Danteesque catalogue of manmade horrors, as did the succession of deaths and "disappearances" that wrench the novel from comic mode to tragic. And at their best, Heller's absurdist ack-ack dialogues still crack me up, though I've less patience now when they don't ignite, which is pretty often.

I still love the satire of capitalism in the form of the monstrous Milo — even 17 year-old me picked up on that — but this time a couple of other characters caught my attention. One was Aarfy, the most grotesque and disturbing person in the story, "like something inhuman", his pudginess and myopia marking him as impervious to reason, some kind of embodiment of the banality of evil as we see in a shocking incident late on. And the other was Orr, who comes to symbolize hope. Orr with his blue oar, his name also like "or", indicating an elusive but real alternative; implying that the parade of paradoxes, the book's endlessly escalating paranoia, might, in fact, have an out.

I think what makes Catch-22 a classic is just how hard it wants, like its hero (Orr, but Yossarian too), to live. It reminds me of Rabelais in its lust for life. Many of my favourite stories have this quality — I think it's why I like the picaresque — and it's why I can forgive Catch-22 its excess chapters and egregious zaniness. Even the reduction of every female character to tits and ass. "He thirsted for life and reached out ravenously to grasp and hold Nurse Duckett's flesh" — and in the next sentence, Kid Sampson is chopped in half.
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LibraryThing member rrriles
I was almost named Yossarian.Instead, I ended up writing my thesis about him.
LibraryThing member jayne_charles
I really enjoyed Catch-22, it's one of the funniest, quirkiest books I have ever read. The somewhat circular time-line can be confusing (was it me or did they always seem to be heading somewhere to look for Nateley's whore?), but in the end I gave up trying to straighten it out and just enjoyed the
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LibraryThing member sally86
Laugh out loud funny at one moment, poignant and touching the next, it reads like an extended episode of M*A*S*H: cheery and fun, but with bursts of incredibly dark humour which get the message across better than any preaching or melodrama could. Catch-22 is filled with colourful (and possibly
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insane) characters and situations that somehow make you laugh at the horror of it all.
While I was obviously familiar with the term Catch-22, the book is nothing like what I expected from the little I'd heard about it before I read it. One of my absolute favourites, one of those books that just changes your whole outlook on things.
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LibraryThing member danconsiglio
Sweet Zombie Jesus! This book is incredible. Well worth reading if you like a challenging narrative structure. Read it slowly.
LibraryThing member jyasinchuk
"Catch 22" is unlike any other book I've ever read. It is hilarious, absurd, shocking, disturbing, and one hell of a ride; and it holds a place of high esteem in the canon of twentieth century literature. The story revolves around John Yossarian, an American bombardier stationed on the island of
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Pianosa, in the Mediterranean, during World War II. Yossarian no longer wants to fly missions, and attempts to find a way to get out of further bombing runs. The problem is catch-22, the unwritten, unofficial rule that states that an insane crewman can be grounded from missions, and a man who willingly continues to fly combat missions must be insane. However, if he makes the necessary formal request to stop flying such missions, the very act of filing the request proves that he is sane and, therefore, is ineligible to be grounded. Caught on this bureaucratic hook, Yossarian keeps flying missions while Colonel Cathcart, the squadron commander, keeps raising the number of missions the men must fly before they can go home. Recommended for Grades 11 and up--I have found that young males resonant and enjoy the book to a greater extent that young women. The curricular links the book possess in limitless--peace, war, bureaucracy, insanity, and hatred--just to name a few starting points. A personal all-time favourite.
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LibraryThing member mrsdwilliams
Joseph Heller was an American bombardier in WWII and the novel's main character, John Yossarian, finds himself in the same situation. Catch-22 is masterful satire. Yossarian wants to stop flying missions, but the fact that he questions the wisdom of flying more missions assures his commanders that
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he is sane enough to continue flying.

The author's style can make the story hard to follow--the different points of view and events described out of sequence can be confusing. Hang in there--you'll be glad you did.

Catch-22 is a hilarious, tragic, and insightful anti-war novel.
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LibraryThing member AuntieClio
I am absolutely blown away by the careful use of language Heller used to depict the absurdities of war, in general, and life, specifically. Although published in 1961, Heller’s observations about the absolute absurdities that surround us all ring just as true now, in 2010, as they did then. We
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are all surrounded by circular reasoning and people who shout non sequiturs with the full force of a logic which only makes sense to them. Yossarian’s pickle is ours, and we continue to try to make sense of it even as the Milo Mindbenders of the world corner the market on overpriced cotton and then try to tell us we are harming the “cause” by not wanting to eat the chocolate covered cotton. I know I’ll be reading this one repeatedly.
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LibraryThing member AngieN
This is neck-and-neck with Pride and Prejudice as #1--first read it in high school, and time stood still--contains my favorite book line ever (Chief White Halfoat): "Racial prejudice is a terrible thing, Yossarian. It really is. It's a terrible thing to treat a decent, loyal Indian like a n, kike,
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wop or spic." I still remember sitting there in my drill team uniform, howling with laughter...
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LibraryThing member Othemts
At first I couldn’t get into this book - I thought it was just going to be satire up the wazoo, ridiculous people having absurd conversations. And heaven help anyone who ever tries to put the narrative in some type of timeline order. But as I read, I began to notice patterns. All the major themes
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are introduced early on, and as the book unfolds, each of the themes is returned to and developed more and more. And things never turn out quite like I expected. I really ended up in awe of this book for being a great bit of writing. Frightening too that the narrow-minded thinking and patriotic platitudes parodied in this book seem all too familiar today.

“It was miraculous. It was almost no trick at all, he saw, to turn vice into virtue and slander into truth, impotence into abstinence, arrogance into humility, plunder into philanthropy, thievery into honor, blasphemy into wisdom, brutality into patriotism, and sadism into justice. Anybody could do it; it required no brains at all. It merely required no character.” (p.372)

“The country was in peril; he was jeopardizing his traditional rights of freedom and independence by daring to exercise them.” (p. 414)
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LibraryThing member briandarvell
Catch-22 is a good novel of the satirical genre which rings true on most of its main themes today just as easily had it been written 300 years ago.

After getting just a few pages into this book one realizes that it's going to be a read unlike any other. It was one of the few books where I found
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myself actually laughing out-loud and, except for a small drawn-out section about two-thirds the way through the novel, I quickly read through it at a very fast pace.

The main theme of the novel is the basic uselessness of war but hidden underneath that rang a sound of how Heller believes devoted faith and blind following of any cause only brings about more tragedy and harm - even if that is what the original cause is against. A sense of self-preservation exists in this novel quite extensively in the main character as well.

The comedy is utterly brilliant and there is a wide array of completely different, yet well-defined, characters which adds all the more to the story.

This novel is readable by most age-groups but would be best for those with a somewhat satiric sense of humor. For those whom have read and enjoyed Douglas Adams then this would definitely be worth your time.
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LibraryThing member myfanwy
This book is quite simply brilliant. That really sums it up. It is hilarious. It is satirical. It is moving. The characters are detailed and distinct and change over the course of the story. And it contains one of my new favorite quotes. Paraphrasing: "Live forever, or die trying!"

In following the
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history of Yossarian in the war you watch the patently absurd but utterly believable situations that result when certain attitudes are taken to their logical conclusion. The soldiers are simply caught in the midst of ambitious rivalries. Everyone from the general down to the lowest private has their motivations. And what seems perfectly believable, that so-and-so is blinded by ambition, that another is blinded by profit, that a third simply loves the thrill of a firefight, leads to a gradual escalation of absurdity until you are no longer rolling on the floor laughing but staring aghast at the page. The boundary between reality and the absurd is so blurred, it's difficult to tell where the book changes from funny to horrifying. I think the line is probably different for everyone.

And the way it's written -- Heller wanders, one story leading to another, the timelines intertwined and referenced in as easy a manner as someone would when talking at a bar. "You don't say? Remember that time...." Somehow all of these snippets of stories end up collecting so that by the end you understand all that has gone on.

As I said before, this book is just brilliant. I can't say anything more.
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LibraryThing member 5hrdrive
Funny, I'm sure that once upon a time this seemed like absurd farce. Nowadays, it's just how the world works. Sublime satire. Makes me want to start rowing to Sweden.
LibraryThing member Beatniq
Intelligent Design

Heller’s lush and elaborate revolving novel 'Catch-22' is genius. The counter-culture classic, that spins around unconventional hero Captain Joseph Yossarian, and has become a by-word for institutionalised irony.

Yossarian is an American bombardier flying combat missions in the
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Mediterranean during the Second World war. When Snowden, another member of the flightcrew reveals his dark and terrible secret, Yossarian quickly becomes disillusioned and decides to live forever forever, or die in the attempt. Unfortunately, as Yossarian discovers, war is a conspiracy against ones life and everyone is trying to kill you.

Heller describes Yossarian’s conundrum and his various attempts to avoid combat, and the result is a piercing yet humorous condemnation of war and military machinery as an horrific insanity. A psychosis, a sick joke on humanity.

“Yossarian saw it clearly in all it’s spinning reasonableness. There was an elliptical precision about its perfect pairs of parts that was graceful and shocking…” Although referring to the war, this could be interpreted as a moment of sublime self-reflection. The comment describes a design and movement not unlike ‘Catch-22’s’ beautiful churning, disjointed plot. A plot which meshes one contradiction to another, and subtly releases answers in the midst of an unconnected conversation or storyline.

The style is suitably ironic, often confusing literal and figurative worlds. It’s ironic in its descriptions – “A true prince, one of the finest, last dedicated men in the whole world’; “Nately had a bad start, he came from a good family”. Its perspective – normalcy, like bureaucratic processes and the profit motive, are portrayed as madness, and madness, such as the naked man at the parade or Major Major’s, explained with calm reason. Every day the characters “opened his eyes upon a world boiling in chaos in which everything was in proper order.”

Both the chaplain and Yossarian both come to realise that brains aren’t needed to commit injustice or to brutalise others. It just requires no scruples, no character, and cowardice. People cowardly betray the moral responsibilities to their own consciences when they rationalise and accept the morally wrong duties imposed upon them by others.

A rich book, both hilarious and tragic.
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LibraryThing member MeditationesMartini
M.A.S.H., by Franz Kafka.

(I know, I know, it's pilots, not medics, but still.)
LibraryThing member tymfos
Youssarian looked at him soberly and tried another approach. "Is Orr crazy?"
"He sure is," Doc Daneeka said.
"Can you ground him?"
"I sure can. But first he has to ask me to. That's part of the rule."
"Then why doesn't he ask you to?"
"Because he's crazy," Doc Daneeka said. "He has to be crazy to keep
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flying combat missions after all the close calls he's had. Sure, I can ground Orr. But first he has to ask me to."
"That's all he has to do to be grounded?"
That's all. Let him ask me."
"And then you can ground him?" Youssarian asked.
"No. Then I can't ground him."
"You mean there's a catch?"
"Sure there's a catch," Doc Daneeka replied. "Catch-22. Anyone who wants to get out of combat duty isn't really crazy."

There was only one catch and that was Catch-22, which specified that a concern for one's own safety in the face of dangers that were real and immediate was the process of a rational mind. Orr was crazy and could be grounded. All he had to do was ask; and as soon as he did, he would no longer be crazy and would have to fly more missions. Orr would be crazy to fly more missions and sane if he didn't, but if he was sane he had to fly them. If he flew them he was crazy and didn't have to; but if he didn't want to he was sane and had to. (excerpt from Catch-22)

This is the essential nature of Catch-22, a term originating with this novel that has entered the common lexicon referring to a bureaucratic no-win situation. (It's even in Webster's dictionary!)

[Catch-22] is the story of a fictional US air squadron on the Mediterranean island of Pianosa during WWII. As a note at the front of the book comments, the actual island is too small for all the activity described in this book; but, then, the characters of Catch-22 are larger than life, so it's not so odd that their abode would be larger than in reality.

Among the oddballs populating the strike force on the island are Youssarian, who is determined to avoid danger at all costs; Milo, the commissary genius and king of the black market; Major Major Major Major, promoted so that his rank matches his name; Chief White Halfoat, who drives out his roommate with death threats and is waiting to die of pnumonia; the enigmatic Major -- de Coverly, of whom everyone is terrified, but whose exact identity and responsibility no one seems to know; and a host of other military misfits.

I can recognize the genius of the biting satire and dark humor Heller employs in this book. And there were times when it was laugh-out-loud funny, and other times when it really made me think about the insanity that passes for normalcy during times of war. But there were also some portions I found it tediously over-the-top. The sections about Milo and his black market dealings especially left me cold. But just when I was considering giving up, it got more interesting when Youssarian got new tent mates and they evicted the dead man who lived in the tent but had never reached the squadron. (OK, you just have to read it to understand it!)

What's perhaps most notable for me is the way he approaches certain pivotal incidents (and some small oddities, too) from multiple angles and viewpoints. He hints at an event at one point, mentions it at another, remembers it somewhere else from another character's POV, and eventually you get the full impact.
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LibraryThing member sjstuckey
My favorite book of all time. For anyone that has missed this classic, run, don't walk, to the nearest bookstore and pick it up. This Heller classic portrays the horror and absurdity of war, politics and love.
LibraryThing member albertgoldfain
Entertaining and thought-provoking at times, but also boring and uneven at other points. There is no real camaraderie to serve as a rationale for such a large number of characters and many of the spin-off stories could have been folded into a smaller more humane cast. I also got tired of those
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catch-22 paradoxes that didn't provide kafkaesque absurdity or illuminate the irrationality of war. A good book, but not the timeless classic it is billed as.
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LibraryThing member JurviZ
The jokes were not funny and the story stood still.
LibraryThing member weakley
What...the hell...was that?! Five hundred and ninety pages of badly done Groucho Marx as far as I can tell. I can not believe I actually made it to the end of this spaghetti sandwich. The story is disjointed. He tells the same events over and over. There is zero flow to the book. Someone please
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explain to me how this is regarded as one of the top 100 of the last century?

Horrendous! Save yourselves now.
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LibraryThing member shieldsk1
One of the best books I ever read.
LibraryThing member EmScape
The rambling stream of consciousness that didn't make sense coupled with characters I couldn't care less about lead me to put down this "classic" and go read something else.




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