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Vonnegut was in his early sixties and his career, still successful, drawing toward a kind of bitter summation when Galapagos (1985) was published. His early work with its unequivocal statement of absurdity and hopelessness was now almost four decades behind when he completed this meditation on Darwinism, fate and the essential irrelevance of the human condition.

Humanity has in the millions of years after inevitable holocaust and exile transmogrified into a race of not-quite-human seals on Darwin’s Galapagos Islands. Leon Trotsky Trout, the son of Vonnegut’s wretched familiar character Kilgore Trout, watches and broods over his no-longer-human descendants who have made natural selection a matter of debased survivalism.

Using a device common in his novels after Slaughterhouse-Five, the material is presented in the form of a transcript or memoir; Trout unhappily witnesses a sad outcome which may nonetheless represent the best of all human possibilities. Trout’s father Kilgore, in ghostly form, remains in communication, urging his son to cease observing and exit, but Leon will not take the opportunity, feeling linked to the pathetic, morphed shards of humanity who remain on the Islands. Whether the survival of the seals constitutes human survival, whether Kilgore and his son are imaginary fragments of evolutionary decay lurk as questions beneath a sequence of events which show Vonnegut trapped in the Age of Reagan.

Vonnegut is trying to see through (rather than to shape) his material; the theme of the novel represents a kind of apotheosis and never has Vonnegut’s ambiguous despair been more clearly revealed or more clearly made the engine of his narrative.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kurt Vonnegut (1922-2007) is one of the most beloved American writers of the twentieth century. Vonnegut’s audience increased steadily since his first five pieces in the 1950s and grew from there. His 1968 novel Slaughterhouse-Five has become a canonic war novel with Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 to form the truest and darkest of what came from World War II.

Vonnegut began his career as a science fiction writer, and his early novels--Player Piano and The Sirens of Titan--were categorized as such even as they appealed to an audience far beyond the reach of the category. In the 1960s, Vonnegut became closely associated with the Baby Boomer generation, a writer on that side, so to speak.

Now that Vonnegut’s work has been studied as a large body of work, it has been more deeply understood and unified. There is a consistency to his satirical insight, humor and anger which makes his work so synergistic. It seems clear that the more of Vonnegut’s work you read, the more it resonates and the more you wish to read. Scholars believe that Vonnegut’s reputation (like Mark Twain’s) will grow steadily through the decades as his work continues to increase in relevance and new connections are formed, new insights made.

ABOUT THE SERIES

Author Kurt Vonnegut is considered by most to be one of the most important writers of the twentieth century. His books Slaughterhouse-Five (named after Vonnegut’s World War II POW experience) and Cat’s Cradle are considered among his top works. RosettaBooks offers here a complete range of Vonnegut’s work, including his first novel (Player Piano, 1952) for readers familiar with Vonnegut’s work as well as newcomers.

Topics: Island, Ecuador, Speculative Fiction, Black Humor, Adventurous, Dark, Funny, Futuristic, Evolution, Apocalypse, Dystopia, Animals, Ghosts, Humanism, Postmodern, and 20th Century

Published: RosettaBooks on
ISBN: 9780795318986
List price: $8.99
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I've seen some well deserved ratings for many of Vonnegut's other books but oddly enough not this one and it's definitely one of my favorites.

I hadn't read this book since 2003 and this was my third time, after the last of the giant tortoises on Galapagos died so recently I felt I needed to have this re0visit with Vonnegut, who was much like the giant tortoise at the end I think..strange wonderful and one of a kind and when Vonnegut became extinct, it was just as much a loss to the world. A re-occurring theme in Galapagos (instead of the So it Goes saying that frequently invades the writing style of many of his others) is a yet similar sentiment when a human being dies that well this human being wasn't going to compose Beethoven's Ninth Symphony anyways. But Vonnegut did far greater things than Beethoven did for people like me. He was a philosopher who forever sensed the tragicomedy of the past, present, and future, and even more wondrous was able to share all his notions and ideas with the rest of the planet. Vonnegut gave us many gifts. They are gifts to enrich and pass along to others just as they are gifts to help increase our sense of insight into the world and to humanity.

Vonnegut, if you are a ghost who, like our storyteller of Galapagos, has chosen to exist for a million years before venturing into the blue afterlife tunnel, I hope you sense your value on this planet and how much you are missed by people like me.

Getting more specific to the novel, there is a clear sense of Vonnegut exploring ideas of evolution and possibilities of war and nuclear radiation factoring into all that...and, for most of the novel the ghost of the protagonist (who is also the son of Kilgore Trout, an often appearing character in some of Vonnegut's other novels), seems to think it's just fine that human beings evolved into furry seal like creatures with fins instead of hands, smaller brains, and much shorter lifespans (and therefore able to avoid all of the pain of so many genetic diseases such as Huntington's and also diseases of aging such as Alzheimer's.) Yet, it's obvious Vonnegut sees avoiding all this pain and agony also leads to the sacrifice of great art, music, and literature. It's just too bad humans typically prefer to build weapons to kill each other instead of all that, of course.


It's always a delight to see some reappearing characters like Kilgore Trout mentioned as well, even though he's not the center of the story by any means. In many ways, I've always thought one must re-read all of Vonnegut's novels again and again throughout life because they all make sense as one grand intersecting story in a way that enhances them. In other words, one cannot sense the same kind of greatness reading them singularly. They are all like great friends on Vonnegut's journey through life and understanding the adventures of all of his characters simultaneously seems key to fully comprehending Vonnegut's meaning and perhaps his own rich journey.

Truly, though this book takes place in 1986, Vonnegut's ideas about humans as they are having the capacity to act on destroying each other and what that would lead to as well as looking at the trends then now that still exist today such as food scarcity and extreme classism are very relevant. Take heed! Because, as Vonnegut talks about all of the easiness of humans evolving into smaller brained creatures who care more about their own survival than any other high concepts, he is simultaneously revisiting all of humanity's best words on all sorts of topics. It is so clear there is a loss to be had even if our big brains are diabolocal.


As in many Vonnegut novels, this will make you question, search, laugh, and cry quite a bit. It's written in more of a matter of fact kind of narrative-like it or not, this is how humans died and how others evolved but I believe Vonnegut was a deep feeling person and for as many times that he wrote the words "So it Goes" throughout his life, he was able to despair in humanity's pitfalls because he was able to sense them so deeply within his own life's experiences. I do believe Vonnegut also took joy in the idea of random luck, too, and the utter absurdity of luck sometimes. Thank goodness Vonnegut didn't perish in war. Thankfully, he led a very long life. He was no Beethoven...he was something better, something richer, something fully evolved.


Favorite quotes:

pg. 25 "To the credit of humanity as it used to be: More and more people were saying that their brains were irresponsible, unreliably, hideously dangerous, wholly unrealistic,-were simply no damn good."

pg. 29 "If I may insert a personal note at this point: When I was alive, I often received advice from my own big brain which, in terms of m own survival, or the survival of the human race, for that matter, can be charitably described as questionable. Example: It had me join the United States Marines and go fight in Vietnam.

Thanks a lot, big brain."

pg. 98 "In the era of big brains, life stories could end up any which way. Look at mine."

pg. 129 "This was a particularly tragic flaw a million years ago, since the people who were best informed about the state of the planet, like *Andrew MacIntosh, for example, and rich and powerful enough to slow down all the waste and destruction going on, were by definition well fed.

So everything was always just fine as far as they were concerned.

For all the computers and measuring instruments and news gatherers and evaluators and memory banks and libraries and experts on this and that at their disposal, their deaf and blind bellies remained the final judges of how urgent this or that problem, such as the destruction of North America's and Europe's forests by acid rain, say might really be."


pg. 187 "His name was Guillermo Reyes, and he was able to survive at such an altitude because his suit and helmet were inflated with an artificial atmosphere. People use to be so marvelous, making impossible dreams they made come true."


pg. 233 "Human beings were so prolific back then that conventional explosions like that had few if any long term biological consequences. Even at the end of protracted wars, there still seemed to be plenty of people around. Babies were always so plentiful that serious efforts to reduce the population by means of violence were doomed to failure. They no more left permanent injuries except for the nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, then did Bahia de Darwin as it slit and roiled the trackless sea.

It was humanity's ability to heal so quickly. by means of babies, which encouraged so many people to think of explosions as show business, as highly theatrical forms of self expression, and little more.

What humanity was about to lose, though, except for one tiny colony on Santa Roaslia, was what the trackless sea could never lose, so long as it was made of water: the ability to heal itself.

As far as humanity was concerned, all wounds were about to become very permanent. And high explosives weren't going to be a branch of show business anymore."

pg. 259 "Nothing ever happens here anymore that I haven't seen or heard so many times before. Nobody, surely, is going to write Beethoven's Ninth Symphony-or tell a lie, or start a Third World War.

Mother was right: Even in the darkest times, there really was still hope for humankind."

pg. 266 "That, in my opinion, was the most diabolical aspect of those old-time big brains: They would tell their owners, in effect, 'Here is a crazy thing we could actually do, probably, but we would never do it, of course. It's just there to think about.'

And then, as though in trances, the people would really do it-have slaves fight each other to the death in the Colosseum, or burn people alive in the public square for holding opinions which were locally unpopular, or build factories whose only purpose was to kill people in industrial quantities, or to blue up whole cities, and on and on."

pg. 270 "And why was quiet desperation such a widespread malady back then, and especially among men? Yet again I trot onstage the only real villain in my story: the oversize human brain.

Nobody leads a life of quiet desperation nowadays. The mass of men was quietly desperate a million years ago because the infernal computers inside their skills were incapable of restraint or idleness; were forever demanding more challenging problems which life could not provide."

pg. 289 "This animal had its eyes on the ends of stalks, a design perfected by the Law of Natural Selection many, many millions of years ago. It was a flawless part in the clockwork of the universe. There was no defect in it which might yet need to be modified. One thing it surely did not need was a bigger brain.

What was it going to do with a bigger brain? Compose Beethoven's Ninth Symphony?

Or perhaps write these lines:

All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players/
They have their exists and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many
parts.....?

(William Shakespeare (1564-1616)



pg. 292 "Do people still know they are going to die sooner or later? No. Fortunately, in my humble opinion, they have forgotten that."

pg. 294-295 "But that Swede foud something to say which made me cry like a baby-at last, at last. He was as surprised as I was when I cried and cried.

Here is what he said: 'I notice your name is Trout. Is there any chance you are related to the wonderful science fiction writer, Kilgore Trout?'



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What should I say? Not my favorite Vonnegut, but Vonnegut is one of my favorite authors. A fascinating premise -- that we are not finished evolving and that we may be in for a redo in the next millennium due to the inability of our big brains to protect our bodies from killing ourselves off. In fact, our big brains may be the biggest problem for the entire earth. Darwinian to the core but taking a longer view. Humorous, ironic, twisted, as always.more
I suppose that I should start by saying that this is among the saddest reviews that I have ever written. Throughout my high school and college years, Kurt Vonnegut was one of my literary heroes. I voraciously consumed everything he wrote and spent countless hours discussing his clever wordplay and the intricacies of his ideas (or at least my perceptions of those ideas) with all of my friends who were similarly smitten. However, like most love affairs from that time in one’s life, the ardor soon cooled and I had stopped reading the author’s work altogether before he published Galapagos. Indeed, it was only when I was on the verge of my own trip to the Galapagos Islands some 25 years later that I decided to read the novel. Whether driven by nostalgia for the past or a simple attempt to pair my passions for travel and literature, it was a decision that did not end as well as I had hoped.I suspect that Vonnegut intended this to be work of meta-fiction: a straightforward science fiction story wrapped inside of an Important Message about the foibles of human nature. However, Galapagos fails badly in both respects. The plot involves a ghost from a million years in the future—the son of Kilgore Trout, for fans of the author—who observes the ill-fated outcome of a much-ballyhooed “Nature Cruise of the Century” from the Ecuadorian port city of Guayaquil to the Galapagos Islands where Charles Darwin first began his ruminations on what would become the theory of Natural Selection. This is truly thin stuff that is simply uninteresting and, worse, poorly conceived. In fact, the only purpose the narrative seems to serve is to promote the author’s main argument that the “big brains” humans possessed in the late-20th century were the source of all of the world’s problems and that mankind could not survive until it evolved into a simpler life form. However, such a tired argument holds little substance, which does not stop the author from repeating it scores of times throughout the book.I wish that I had read this novel when it was first published in 1985 for two reasons. First, reading it more than a quarter-century later, the book felt hopelessly dated with its integral references to celebrities such as Jackie Kennedy Onassis and Johnny Carson whose stars have long since faded. Of course, as Jane Austen and Gustave Flaubert have proven, it is possible to write stories that still seem fresh today despite the words on the page being centuries old; unfortunately, Vonnegut’s work does not stand the test of time in that way. Second, I really wonder if I would have found Galapagos to be compelling—or even liked it at all—if I had read it back when it may have seemed new and insightful. Sadly, given its simplistic, heavy-handed message and repetitive use of foreshadowing, I suspect that the answer to that question is “no”. Reading this novel, then, was ultimately just a reminder that the ship of fiction that Vonnegut guided sailed away for me a long time ago.more
Vonnegut at the top of his game. All the humor, satire and scathing social commentary that we've come to expect is here - along with a great story. And the narrator is a ghost from one million years in the future... who else could come up with an idea like that?more
In this cautionary tale, Kurt Vonnegut tries to point out that a lot of mankind's problems would be solved if we didn't have such excessively large brains. Apparently, animals have the right idea, just eating and screwing and surviving their way through life. I disagree with this premise, because my large brain is essentially what allows me to read books by Kurt Vonnegut.In order to hammer home his theory, Vonnegut has the ghost of Kilgore Trout's son Leon tell us about "The Nature Cruise of the Century" upon which many celebrities are supposed to travel to the Galapagos Islands. He does not tell the tale in a linear format, rather mentioning extremely important bits of information (what one might call spoilers if I were to mention them in this review) right at the very beginning, and then sort of filling in the details as we go along. His narrator is also very conversational in his first-person account of the events. He frequently divulges things in an aside that one might think are completely irrelevant, but turn out to be quite germane later on. Vonnegut is the inventor of the puzzle-book format, paving the way for those like Danielewski and Eichner, and he proves it with this work.more
i feel like its just a lesser version of Breakfast Of Champions, but i loved B.O.C., so i can still give this one a 3.5more
KV at his best. All the world infertile, a fictional island in the Galapagos one million years in the past (1986 of course), and the ghost of the son of Kilgore Trout.more
In this wondrously funny and enlightening book Vonnegut gives a simple explanation for all the troubles of humanity: our brains are too big to be practical. The solution? Evolve smaller, more "streamline" brains. Read this book; it is one of the best books of one of the best authors that this overcrowded, sick, dying planet has to offer. I would also like to note that although Vonnegut does have a sense of dark humor and his satirical novels often poke fun at the direction of humanity, he also gives us a hopeful message for the future of human kind, although these messages are often delivered in a backhanded, disguised manner.Simply wonderful, thought-provoking, and inspiring.more
People still get the hiccups, incidentally. They still have no control over whether they do it or not. I often hear them hiccupping, involuntarily closing their glottises and inhaling spasmodically, as they lie on the broad white beaches or paddle around the blue lagoons. If anything, people hiccup more now than they did a million years ago. This has less to do with evolution, I think, than with the fact that so many of them gulp down raw fish without chewing them up sufficiently.(PEOPLE)And people still laugh about as much as they ever did, despite their shrunken brains. If a bunch of them are lying around on a beach, and one of them farts, everybody else laughs and laughs, just as people would have done a million years ago.The Nature Cruise of the Century is the over-hyped maiden voyage of a new cruse ship to the Galapagos Islands, which has attracted celebrities from Jackie Onassis to Mick Jagger, but a world economic and political crisis means that only six passengers have made it to the port of Guayaquil in Ecuador and they expect the cruise to be cancelled at any moment. There was still plenty of food and fuel and so on for all the human beings on the planet, as numerous as they had become, but millions upon millions of them were starting to starve to death now. The healthiest of them could go without food for only about forty days, and then death would come.And this famine was as purely a product of oversize brains as Beethoven's Ninth Symphony.It was all in people's heads. People had simply changed their opinions of paper wealth, but, for all practical purposes, the planet might as well have been knocked out of orbit by a meteor the size of Luxembourg.When a small group of people end up marooned on an uninhabited island in the north of the Galapagos, they expect to be rescued, but humanity is in melt-down, and the islanders end up as the sole fertile representatives of the human race. Over the next million years, they evolve into creatures rather like seals and their brains shrink to allow their heads to be more stream-lined. According to Leon Trout, the ghost of a ship worker killed during the construction of the cruise ship, all mankind's problems were caused by our big brain. Apparently our descendants are much happier, lying round on the beach, with plenty of fish to eat and sharks to keep their numbers down so the population doesn't outgrow the Galapagos Islands (since the bacteria that causes human infertility is still extant everywhere else).more
I really enjoy the sarcasm of Vonnegut. Maybe others don't, but If you like it it's the best stuff. In Galapagos, Vonnegut narrates as a ghost recapping events in 1986 AD from the vantage point of one million years in the future. Of course, there is a World War III and the only remnants of humanity are the descendants of a small group of survivors of an ill-fated 'Nature Cruise of the Century' to the Galapagos. Vonnegut cuts to the core of human frailty and that of his institutions as the world finances fall apart, leading to food riots and war. Those damn big brains humans used to have! So easy to be befuddled by mysteries... Evolution theory plays a minor role here as humankind has become more streamlined and smaller brained, the better for catching fish, with nothing for tools but teeth and flippers after a million years on the Galapagos Islands, but the bulk of the story is about 1986 AD, one million years ago, and it is told in the author's classic time-is-irrelevant-to-the-narrative style, doing things like putting an asterisk before names of people who will not survive the day, moving way ahead of the story-time by jumping ahead and inserting lines like, 'She would live to the ripe old age of 85, when she was eaten by a great white shark', while describing a scene when the character is in her 40's. If you've read Vonnegut then you know what I mean.more
Vonnegut is well known for his wit and humor. I think I didn't agree with that fame until I read Galapagos. Vonnegut's habit of giving away the story before he actually gets around to telling parts of it actually was brilliant in this case. Overall, very funny and a bit of a trip.more
I read this right after Cat's Cradle, and I think I liked Galapagos better. Vonnegut has a very strange sense of chronology. He tells the end in the beginning and waits until the end to tell the beginning. It was good though for someone like me who is always rushing through to find out what happens in the end. There was no need to rush because I already knew who would die and what would become of the survivors. I could just enjoy the story. I thought the last few pages were kind of odd and the story could have been complete without them. Its like he has to throw a Vietnam reference in every book to prove a point or something, but I thought it took attention away from the story at hand.more
Kurt Vonnegut, author of "Cat's Cradle" and "Breakfast of Champions," among others, is one of my favorite authors.When I picked up this one at my local used book-store, I began reading it immediately. This book is a satire, revolving around themes of evolution and humans. In "Galapagos," a group of varied people are heading to the Galapagos Islands on a vacation cruise, but are stranded there and left as the only remaining humans on earth, due to a natural disaster which exterminates everyone else.Like all of Vonnegut's works, this one jumps from topic to topic, person to person, and setting to setting. It can be a bit confusing, but Vonnegut's concise and clear wording catch up to the story, and keep the reader informed.The plot focuses almost entirely on how people got to the island from which all human life evolved (into seals), not on humans after evolving into another species. The back cover of my edition suggested differently, so this book wasn't exactly what I was expecting.If you would like to be picky, you could say that this book is just a bunch of talking, without actually going anywhere. And this is not entirely false... Any other writer would never have been able to pull this off, but Vonnegut seems to marvelously hover on the edge of utter boredom and destruction of his plot, all the while spinning it around into entertaining, quite enjoyable reading. It is almost baffling. After finishing this book, I had to think for a moment to figure out exactly why I liked it. There wasn't even a plot!But, let this only serve as a testimony to the author's brilliance.This book is very clever, and humorous, and written in a simple, stating-the-obvious, entertaining sort of way.Underneath the light-hearted wording, however, lies a much deeper message. What is humanity? Is the world better off without humans? Do our "big brains," as Vonnegut here calls them, do us more harm than good?Vonnegut has constructed yet another sharply insightful book.more
As a fan of sarcasm, cynicism, pessimism, and nihilism (yup, I'm fun at parties), as well as an absurdist plot, I'm a smitten-kitten when it comes to Vonnegut. However, I'm not in love with Galapagos. In deep like? Yes, but, for me, the gold standard when it comes to Vonnegut is Cat's Cradle, followed by Mother Night. I did, however, like Galapagos better than Slaughterhouse-Five. Galapagos is set one million years after 1986, when the world as we know it ended and, through a series of fluke events, one man and several women are stranded on the island of Santa Rosalia in the Galapagos. The end of civilization was brought about by mankind's "big brains" (although not necessarily by man himself, as man is fundamentally good--just led astray by his inability to control his thoughts and his imagination), along with the help of a bacteria that leaves all the women of the world sterile. However, on the secluded island of Santa Rosalia, the female castaways still young enough to produce are spared and, with an unwilling sire and a little help from a high school biology teacher, they are all impregnated. Thus, life continues to flourish on Santa Rosalia. Not only that, but after millions of years, mankind has evolved so that they have smaller brains, flippers for hands, and a lifespan of 30 years (at which point we're easy prey for sharks and killer whales). Welcome to utopia! With our Darwinian advancements, we no longer have the ability to lie, cheat, steal, etc. We also lack the capacity for simple thought or creativity of any kind. (Admittedly, it's a shit utopia, as far as utopias go, and I would gladly swim out to meet the sharks myself.) If you think I've just divulged several plot spoilers, I haven't. You learn all this at the beginning of the novel and the rest of the novel circles itself like a dog chasing its tail as these events are told over and over again, but with additional details added with each retelling. This structure could become somewhat repetitive for some readers, but didn't really bother me. As with most Vonnegut novels, fragmented and nonlinear narrative is to be expected, as is the theme of "people are dumbasses." However, there is hope in the novel as it serves as a cautionary tale--if we learn to rein in our big brains, then maybe we'll be spared the evolutionary chain of events that leads to the utopian existence of lounging around on a beach somewhere, clapping our flippers together while while chewing seaweed cud and hoping for some seal-like lovin' before the sharks come for us. And I think that's a lesson we can all learn from, don't you?more
One of the greatest books ever written!more
Awesomely weird and a little creepy and definitely competing with Cat's Cradle for my favorite slot out of Kurt Vonnegut's novels. At this point in time this novel is winning because of its out of this world crazy ideas about humankind and the direction we are going in. I think the reason I like this book so much is because of the seal people, but Vonnegut obviously never thought of test tube babies.more
Like the best science fiction it has so many interesting ideas explored and tantalised through a compelling story line. I wonder about Vonnegut's mental state while writing this, it is just so black and dark, did he try to take the black view of humanity to such an extreme to show it's folly or it's fact? I'm not sure which. Just so right to see the birthplace of evolutionary theory as the deathplace of humanity by that very action.more
This was a fun read. Vonnegut's creativity surprises me over and over again.Galapagos feels more in the vein of Cat's Cradle (sci-fi-y) than Breakfast of Champions, for example, though the usual Midland City suspects definitely make cameos.more
I don't particularly care for Vonnegut's writing, but I find myself continually dragged back to his works. There is something so refreshing and irritating about his style that I just cannot help myself. This novel was no different. In a flash-back, -around, -upside down, and then back to the present, a story is told from an omniscient narrator, who died well over a million years before. He details how the last survivors of the human race, came together in Ecuador, ended up on a boat, and finally landed on an island in the Galapagos. In a very Darwinian fashion, in the very place Darwin pieced together what would later become 'Origin of Species', humankind evolves itself into something that finally lives up to Anne Frank's immortal words in the epigraph, "good at heart."more
This is a peppy science fiction book of sorts by Vonnegut. His narrator, a ghost, discusses the history, antecedents, trials and travails of the last seven humans to escape dying on earth, as they travel to the Galapagos Islands. As the ghost has been forced to live one million years into the 'future', he tells the tale at the end of this time, with the knowledge of the outcome of the 'end of the world' that wasn't, one million years before.Using a metaphor of humans having much bigger brains than the 1 million year later inhabitants, Vonnegut provides a social critique of everything from alcohol to lying to many other human behaviors causing misery and pain in our contemporary world. The book is a fast read, and while fantastical, doesn't go overboard.more
Vonnegut asks us if having such "big brains" is is an evolutionary benefit or a hindrance.more
Interesting, madcap comic take on the hubris of our species. All about the "end of the world" as brought upon ourselves by our "big-brained-ness", and the patient, ever-present forces of evolution inexorably driving our species to a different conclusion than we could ever have anticipated. A great satirical work, and the only one I've read to make a great case for losing that ever-popular opposable thumb as a means to perpetuate the species.Vonnegut has really familiarized himself well with the principles of natural selection and so humbles us in the face of this overpowering principle. Wacky scientific insight, and his usual mordant wit make for a strange ride.......more
I just recently read this book and I loved it. I read this as an attack on Darwinism. The story takes place in 1986, but it is being told by a million-year old ghost. I found a lot of religious undertones to the novel, including a pretty obvious reference to Noah's Ark. I liked the book because I am somewhat religious, and the book seemed to say that just because The Theory of Evolution and Natural Selection are legitimate theories, that does not mean it is right and it does not rule out the possibility of God existing.more
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Reviews

I've seen some well deserved ratings for many of Vonnegut's other books but oddly enough not this one and it's definitely one of my favorites.

I hadn't read this book since 2003 and this was my third time, after the last of the giant tortoises on Galapagos died so recently I felt I needed to have this re0visit with Vonnegut, who was much like the giant tortoise at the end I think..strange wonderful and one of a kind and when Vonnegut became extinct, it was just as much a loss to the world. A re-occurring theme in Galapagos (instead of the So it Goes saying that frequently invades the writing style of many of his others) is a yet similar sentiment when a human being dies that well this human being wasn't going to compose Beethoven's Ninth Symphony anyways. But Vonnegut did far greater things than Beethoven did for people like me. He was a philosopher who forever sensed the tragicomedy of the past, present, and future, and even more wondrous was able to share all his notions and ideas with the rest of the planet. Vonnegut gave us many gifts. They are gifts to enrich and pass along to others just as they are gifts to help increase our sense of insight into the world and to humanity.

Vonnegut, if you are a ghost who, like our storyteller of Galapagos, has chosen to exist for a million years before venturing into the blue afterlife tunnel, I hope you sense your value on this planet and how much you are missed by people like me.

Getting more specific to the novel, there is a clear sense of Vonnegut exploring ideas of evolution and possibilities of war and nuclear radiation factoring into all that...and, for most of the novel the ghost of the protagonist (who is also the son of Kilgore Trout, an often appearing character in some of Vonnegut's other novels), seems to think it's just fine that human beings evolved into furry seal like creatures with fins instead of hands, smaller brains, and much shorter lifespans (and therefore able to avoid all of the pain of so many genetic diseases such as Huntington's and also diseases of aging such as Alzheimer's.) Yet, it's obvious Vonnegut sees avoiding all this pain and agony also leads to the sacrifice of great art, music, and literature. It's just too bad humans typically prefer to build weapons to kill each other instead of all that, of course.


It's always a delight to see some reappearing characters like Kilgore Trout mentioned as well, even though he's not the center of the story by any means. In many ways, I've always thought one must re-read all of Vonnegut's novels again and again throughout life because they all make sense as one grand intersecting story in a way that enhances them. In other words, one cannot sense the same kind of greatness reading them singularly. They are all like great friends on Vonnegut's journey through life and understanding the adventures of all of his characters simultaneously seems key to fully comprehending Vonnegut's meaning and perhaps his own rich journey.

Truly, though this book takes place in 1986, Vonnegut's ideas about humans as they are having the capacity to act on destroying each other and what that would lead to as well as looking at the trends then now that still exist today such as food scarcity and extreme classism are very relevant. Take heed! Because, as Vonnegut talks about all of the easiness of humans evolving into smaller brained creatures who care more about their own survival than any other high concepts, he is simultaneously revisiting all of humanity's best words on all sorts of topics. It is so clear there is a loss to be had even if our big brains are diabolocal.


As in many Vonnegut novels, this will make you question, search, laugh, and cry quite a bit. It's written in more of a matter of fact kind of narrative-like it or not, this is how humans died and how others evolved but I believe Vonnegut was a deep feeling person and for as many times that he wrote the words "So it Goes" throughout his life, he was able to despair in humanity's pitfalls because he was able to sense them so deeply within his own life's experiences. I do believe Vonnegut also took joy in the idea of random luck, too, and the utter absurdity of luck sometimes. Thank goodness Vonnegut didn't perish in war. Thankfully, he led a very long life. He was no Beethoven...he was something better, something richer, something fully evolved.


Favorite quotes:

pg. 25 "To the credit of humanity as it used to be: More and more people were saying that their brains were irresponsible, unreliably, hideously dangerous, wholly unrealistic,-were simply no damn good."

pg. 29 "If I may insert a personal note at this point: When I was alive, I often received advice from my own big brain which, in terms of m own survival, or the survival of the human race, for that matter, can be charitably described as questionable. Example: It had me join the United States Marines and go fight in Vietnam.

Thanks a lot, big brain."

pg. 98 "In the era of big brains, life stories could end up any which way. Look at mine."

pg. 129 "This was a particularly tragic flaw a million years ago, since the people who were best informed about the state of the planet, like *Andrew MacIntosh, for example, and rich and powerful enough to slow down all the waste and destruction going on, were by definition well fed.

So everything was always just fine as far as they were concerned.

For all the computers and measuring instruments and news gatherers and evaluators and memory banks and libraries and experts on this and that at their disposal, their deaf and blind bellies remained the final judges of how urgent this or that problem, such as the destruction of North America's and Europe's forests by acid rain, say might really be."


pg. 187 "His name was Guillermo Reyes, and he was able to survive at such an altitude because his suit and helmet were inflated with an artificial atmosphere. People use to be so marvelous, making impossible dreams they made come true."


pg. 233 "Human beings were so prolific back then that conventional explosions like that had few if any long term biological consequences. Even at the end of protracted wars, there still seemed to be plenty of people around. Babies were always so plentiful that serious efforts to reduce the population by means of violence were doomed to failure. They no more left permanent injuries except for the nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, then did Bahia de Darwin as it slit and roiled the trackless sea.

It was humanity's ability to heal so quickly. by means of babies, which encouraged so many people to think of explosions as show business, as highly theatrical forms of self expression, and little more.

What humanity was about to lose, though, except for one tiny colony on Santa Roaslia, was what the trackless sea could never lose, so long as it was made of water: the ability to heal itself.

As far as humanity was concerned, all wounds were about to become very permanent. And high explosives weren't going to be a branch of show business anymore."

pg. 259 "Nothing ever happens here anymore that I haven't seen or heard so many times before. Nobody, surely, is going to write Beethoven's Ninth Symphony-or tell a lie, or start a Third World War.

Mother was right: Even in the darkest times, there really was still hope for humankind."

pg. 266 "That, in my opinion, was the most diabolical aspect of those old-time big brains: They would tell their owners, in effect, 'Here is a crazy thing we could actually do, probably, but we would never do it, of course. It's just there to think about.'

And then, as though in trances, the people would really do it-have slaves fight each other to the death in the Colosseum, or burn people alive in the public square for holding opinions which were locally unpopular, or build factories whose only purpose was to kill people in industrial quantities, or to blue up whole cities, and on and on."

pg. 270 "And why was quiet desperation such a widespread malady back then, and especially among men? Yet again I trot onstage the only real villain in my story: the oversize human brain.

Nobody leads a life of quiet desperation nowadays. The mass of men was quietly desperate a million years ago because the infernal computers inside their skills were incapable of restraint or idleness; were forever demanding more challenging problems which life could not provide."

pg. 289 "This animal had its eyes on the ends of stalks, a design perfected by the Law of Natural Selection many, many millions of years ago. It was a flawless part in the clockwork of the universe. There was no defect in it which might yet need to be modified. One thing it surely did not need was a bigger brain.

What was it going to do with a bigger brain? Compose Beethoven's Ninth Symphony?

Or perhaps write these lines:

All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players/
They have their exists and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many
parts.....?

(William Shakespeare (1564-1616)



pg. 292 "Do people still know they are going to die sooner or later? No. Fortunately, in my humble opinion, they have forgotten that."

pg. 294-295 "But that Swede foud something to say which made me cry like a baby-at last, at last. He was as surprised as I was when I cried and cried.

Here is what he said: 'I notice your name is Trout. Is there any chance you are related to the wonderful science fiction writer, Kilgore Trout?'



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What should I say? Not my favorite Vonnegut, but Vonnegut is one of my favorite authors. A fascinating premise -- that we are not finished evolving and that we may be in for a redo in the next millennium due to the inability of our big brains to protect our bodies from killing ourselves off. In fact, our big brains may be the biggest problem for the entire earth. Darwinian to the core but taking a longer view. Humorous, ironic, twisted, as always.more
I suppose that I should start by saying that this is among the saddest reviews that I have ever written. Throughout my high school and college years, Kurt Vonnegut was one of my literary heroes. I voraciously consumed everything he wrote and spent countless hours discussing his clever wordplay and the intricacies of his ideas (or at least my perceptions of those ideas) with all of my friends who were similarly smitten. However, like most love affairs from that time in one’s life, the ardor soon cooled and I had stopped reading the author’s work altogether before he published Galapagos. Indeed, it was only when I was on the verge of my own trip to the Galapagos Islands some 25 years later that I decided to read the novel. Whether driven by nostalgia for the past or a simple attempt to pair my passions for travel and literature, it was a decision that did not end as well as I had hoped.I suspect that Vonnegut intended this to be work of meta-fiction: a straightforward science fiction story wrapped inside of an Important Message about the foibles of human nature. However, Galapagos fails badly in both respects. The plot involves a ghost from a million years in the future—the son of Kilgore Trout, for fans of the author—who observes the ill-fated outcome of a much-ballyhooed “Nature Cruise of the Century” from the Ecuadorian port city of Guayaquil to the Galapagos Islands where Charles Darwin first began his ruminations on what would become the theory of Natural Selection. This is truly thin stuff that is simply uninteresting and, worse, poorly conceived. In fact, the only purpose the narrative seems to serve is to promote the author’s main argument that the “big brains” humans possessed in the late-20th century were the source of all of the world’s problems and that mankind could not survive until it evolved into a simpler life form. However, such a tired argument holds little substance, which does not stop the author from repeating it scores of times throughout the book.I wish that I had read this novel when it was first published in 1985 for two reasons. First, reading it more than a quarter-century later, the book felt hopelessly dated with its integral references to celebrities such as Jackie Kennedy Onassis and Johnny Carson whose stars have long since faded. Of course, as Jane Austen and Gustave Flaubert have proven, it is possible to write stories that still seem fresh today despite the words on the page being centuries old; unfortunately, Vonnegut’s work does not stand the test of time in that way. Second, I really wonder if I would have found Galapagos to be compelling—or even liked it at all—if I had read it back when it may have seemed new and insightful. Sadly, given its simplistic, heavy-handed message and repetitive use of foreshadowing, I suspect that the answer to that question is “no”. Reading this novel, then, was ultimately just a reminder that the ship of fiction that Vonnegut guided sailed away for me a long time ago.more
Vonnegut at the top of his game. All the humor, satire and scathing social commentary that we've come to expect is here - along with a great story. And the narrator is a ghost from one million years in the future... who else could come up with an idea like that?more
In this cautionary tale, Kurt Vonnegut tries to point out that a lot of mankind's problems would be solved if we didn't have such excessively large brains. Apparently, animals have the right idea, just eating and screwing and surviving their way through life. I disagree with this premise, because my large brain is essentially what allows me to read books by Kurt Vonnegut.In order to hammer home his theory, Vonnegut has the ghost of Kilgore Trout's son Leon tell us about "The Nature Cruise of the Century" upon which many celebrities are supposed to travel to the Galapagos Islands. He does not tell the tale in a linear format, rather mentioning extremely important bits of information (what one might call spoilers if I were to mention them in this review) right at the very beginning, and then sort of filling in the details as we go along. His narrator is also very conversational in his first-person account of the events. He frequently divulges things in an aside that one might think are completely irrelevant, but turn out to be quite germane later on. Vonnegut is the inventor of the puzzle-book format, paving the way for those like Danielewski and Eichner, and he proves it with this work.more
i feel like its just a lesser version of Breakfast Of Champions, but i loved B.O.C., so i can still give this one a 3.5more
KV at his best. All the world infertile, a fictional island in the Galapagos one million years in the past (1986 of course), and the ghost of the son of Kilgore Trout.more
In this wondrously funny and enlightening book Vonnegut gives a simple explanation for all the troubles of humanity: our brains are too big to be practical. The solution? Evolve smaller, more "streamline" brains. Read this book; it is one of the best books of one of the best authors that this overcrowded, sick, dying planet has to offer. I would also like to note that although Vonnegut does have a sense of dark humor and his satirical novels often poke fun at the direction of humanity, he also gives us a hopeful message for the future of human kind, although these messages are often delivered in a backhanded, disguised manner.Simply wonderful, thought-provoking, and inspiring.more
People still get the hiccups, incidentally. They still have no control over whether they do it or not. I often hear them hiccupping, involuntarily closing their glottises and inhaling spasmodically, as they lie on the broad white beaches or paddle around the blue lagoons. If anything, people hiccup more now than they did a million years ago. This has less to do with evolution, I think, than with the fact that so many of them gulp down raw fish without chewing them up sufficiently.(PEOPLE)And people still laugh about as much as they ever did, despite their shrunken brains. If a bunch of them are lying around on a beach, and one of them farts, everybody else laughs and laughs, just as people would have done a million years ago.The Nature Cruise of the Century is the over-hyped maiden voyage of a new cruse ship to the Galapagos Islands, which has attracted celebrities from Jackie Onassis to Mick Jagger, but a world economic and political crisis means that only six passengers have made it to the port of Guayaquil in Ecuador and they expect the cruise to be cancelled at any moment. There was still plenty of food and fuel and so on for all the human beings on the planet, as numerous as they had become, but millions upon millions of them were starting to starve to death now. The healthiest of them could go without food for only about forty days, and then death would come.And this famine was as purely a product of oversize brains as Beethoven's Ninth Symphony.It was all in people's heads. People had simply changed their opinions of paper wealth, but, for all practical purposes, the planet might as well have been knocked out of orbit by a meteor the size of Luxembourg.When a small group of people end up marooned on an uninhabited island in the north of the Galapagos, they expect to be rescued, but humanity is in melt-down, and the islanders end up as the sole fertile representatives of the human race. Over the next million years, they evolve into creatures rather like seals and their brains shrink to allow their heads to be more stream-lined. According to Leon Trout, the ghost of a ship worker killed during the construction of the cruise ship, all mankind's problems were caused by our big brain. Apparently our descendants are much happier, lying round on the beach, with plenty of fish to eat and sharks to keep their numbers down so the population doesn't outgrow the Galapagos Islands (since the bacteria that causes human infertility is still extant everywhere else).more
I really enjoy the sarcasm of Vonnegut. Maybe others don't, but If you like it it's the best stuff. In Galapagos, Vonnegut narrates as a ghost recapping events in 1986 AD from the vantage point of one million years in the future. Of course, there is a World War III and the only remnants of humanity are the descendants of a small group of survivors of an ill-fated 'Nature Cruise of the Century' to the Galapagos. Vonnegut cuts to the core of human frailty and that of his institutions as the world finances fall apart, leading to food riots and war. Those damn big brains humans used to have! So easy to be befuddled by mysteries... Evolution theory plays a minor role here as humankind has become more streamlined and smaller brained, the better for catching fish, with nothing for tools but teeth and flippers after a million years on the Galapagos Islands, but the bulk of the story is about 1986 AD, one million years ago, and it is told in the author's classic time-is-irrelevant-to-the-narrative style, doing things like putting an asterisk before names of people who will not survive the day, moving way ahead of the story-time by jumping ahead and inserting lines like, 'She would live to the ripe old age of 85, when she was eaten by a great white shark', while describing a scene when the character is in her 40's. If you've read Vonnegut then you know what I mean.more
Vonnegut is well known for his wit and humor. I think I didn't agree with that fame until I read Galapagos. Vonnegut's habit of giving away the story before he actually gets around to telling parts of it actually was brilliant in this case. Overall, very funny and a bit of a trip.more
I read this right after Cat's Cradle, and I think I liked Galapagos better. Vonnegut has a very strange sense of chronology. He tells the end in the beginning and waits until the end to tell the beginning. It was good though for someone like me who is always rushing through to find out what happens in the end. There was no need to rush because I already knew who would die and what would become of the survivors. I could just enjoy the story. I thought the last few pages were kind of odd and the story could have been complete without them. Its like he has to throw a Vietnam reference in every book to prove a point or something, but I thought it took attention away from the story at hand.more
Kurt Vonnegut, author of "Cat's Cradle" and "Breakfast of Champions," among others, is one of my favorite authors.When I picked up this one at my local used book-store, I began reading it immediately. This book is a satire, revolving around themes of evolution and humans. In "Galapagos," a group of varied people are heading to the Galapagos Islands on a vacation cruise, but are stranded there and left as the only remaining humans on earth, due to a natural disaster which exterminates everyone else.Like all of Vonnegut's works, this one jumps from topic to topic, person to person, and setting to setting. It can be a bit confusing, but Vonnegut's concise and clear wording catch up to the story, and keep the reader informed.The plot focuses almost entirely on how people got to the island from which all human life evolved (into seals), not on humans after evolving into another species. The back cover of my edition suggested differently, so this book wasn't exactly what I was expecting.If you would like to be picky, you could say that this book is just a bunch of talking, without actually going anywhere. And this is not entirely false... Any other writer would never have been able to pull this off, but Vonnegut seems to marvelously hover on the edge of utter boredom and destruction of his plot, all the while spinning it around into entertaining, quite enjoyable reading. It is almost baffling. After finishing this book, I had to think for a moment to figure out exactly why I liked it. There wasn't even a plot!But, let this only serve as a testimony to the author's brilliance.This book is very clever, and humorous, and written in a simple, stating-the-obvious, entertaining sort of way.Underneath the light-hearted wording, however, lies a much deeper message. What is humanity? Is the world better off without humans? Do our "big brains," as Vonnegut here calls them, do us more harm than good?Vonnegut has constructed yet another sharply insightful book.more
As a fan of sarcasm, cynicism, pessimism, and nihilism (yup, I'm fun at parties), as well as an absurdist plot, I'm a smitten-kitten when it comes to Vonnegut. However, I'm not in love with Galapagos. In deep like? Yes, but, for me, the gold standard when it comes to Vonnegut is Cat's Cradle, followed by Mother Night. I did, however, like Galapagos better than Slaughterhouse-Five. Galapagos is set one million years after 1986, when the world as we know it ended and, through a series of fluke events, one man and several women are stranded on the island of Santa Rosalia in the Galapagos. The end of civilization was brought about by mankind's "big brains" (although not necessarily by man himself, as man is fundamentally good--just led astray by his inability to control his thoughts and his imagination), along with the help of a bacteria that leaves all the women of the world sterile. However, on the secluded island of Santa Rosalia, the female castaways still young enough to produce are spared and, with an unwilling sire and a little help from a high school biology teacher, they are all impregnated. Thus, life continues to flourish on Santa Rosalia. Not only that, but after millions of years, mankind has evolved so that they have smaller brains, flippers for hands, and a lifespan of 30 years (at which point we're easy prey for sharks and killer whales). Welcome to utopia! With our Darwinian advancements, we no longer have the ability to lie, cheat, steal, etc. We also lack the capacity for simple thought or creativity of any kind. (Admittedly, it's a shit utopia, as far as utopias go, and I would gladly swim out to meet the sharks myself.) If you think I've just divulged several plot spoilers, I haven't. You learn all this at the beginning of the novel and the rest of the novel circles itself like a dog chasing its tail as these events are told over and over again, but with additional details added with each retelling. This structure could become somewhat repetitive for some readers, but didn't really bother me. As with most Vonnegut novels, fragmented and nonlinear narrative is to be expected, as is the theme of "people are dumbasses." However, there is hope in the novel as it serves as a cautionary tale--if we learn to rein in our big brains, then maybe we'll be spared the evolutionary chain of events that leads to the utopian existence of lounging around on a beach somewhere, clapping our flippers together while while chewing seaweed cud and hoping for some seal-like lovin' before the sharks come for us. And I think that's a lesson we can all learn from, don't you?more
One of the greatest books ever written!more
Awesomely weird and a little creepy and definitely competing with Cat's Cradle for my favorite slot out of Kurt Vonnegut's novels. At this point in time this novel is winning because of its out of this world crazy ideas about humankind and the direction we are going in. I think the reason I like this book so much is because of the seal people, but Vonnegut obviously never thought of test tube babies.more
Like the best science fiction it has so many interesting ideas explored and tantalised through a compelling story line. I wonder about Vonnegut's mental state while writing this, it is just so black and dark, did he try to take the black view of humanity to such an extreme to show it's folly or it's fact? I'm not sure which. Just so right to see the birthplace of evolutionary theory as the deathplace of humanity by that very action.more
This was a fun read. Vonnegut's creativity surprises me over and over again.Galapagos feels more in the vein of Cat's Cradle (sci-fi-y) than Breakfast of Champions, for example, though the usual Midland City suspects definitely make cameos.more
I don't particularly care for Vonnegut's writing, but I find myself continually dragged back to his works. There is something so refreshing and irritating about his style that I just cannot help myself. This novel was no different. In a flash-back, -around, -upside down, and then back to the present, a story is told from an omniscient narrator, who died well over a million years before. He details how the last survivors of the human race, came together in Ecuador, ended up on a boat, and finally landed on an island in the Galapagos. In a very Darwinian fashion, in the very place Darwin pieced together what would later become 'Origin of Species', humankind evolves itself into something that finally lives up to Anne Frank's immortal words in the epigraph, "good at heart."more
This is a peppy science fiction book of sorts by Vonnegut. His narrator, a ghost, discusses the history, antecedents, trials and travails of the last seven humans to escape dying on earth, as they travel to the Galapagos Islands. As the ghost has been forced to live one million years into the 'future', he tells the tale at the end of this time, with the knowledge of the outcome of the 'end of the world' that wasn't, one million years before.Using a metaphor of humans having much bigger brains than the 1 million year later inhabitants, Vonnegut provides a social critique of everything from alcohol to lying to many other human behaviors causing misery and pain in our contemporary world. The book is a fast read, and while fantastical, doesn't go overboard.more
Vonnegut asks us if having such "big brains" is is an evolutionary benefit or a hindrance.more
Interesting, madcap comic take on the hubris of our species. All about the "end of the world" as brought upon ourselves by our "big-brained-ness", and the patient, ever-present forces of evolution inexorably driving our species to a different conclusion than we could ever have anticipated. A great satirical work, and the only one I've read to make a great case for losing that ever-popular opposable thumb as a means to perpetuate the species.Vonnegut has really familiarized himself well with the principles of natural selection and so humbles us in the face of this overpowering principle. Wacky scientific insight, and his usual mordant wit make for a strange ride.......more
I just recently read this book and I loved it. I read this as an attack on Darwinism. The story takes place in 1986, but it is being told by a million-year old ghost. I found a lot of religious undertones to the novel, including a pretty obvious reference to Noah's Ark. I liked the book because I am somewhat religious, and the book seemed to say that just because The Theory of Evolution and Natural Selection are legitimate theories, that does not mean it is right and it does not rule out the possibility of God existing.more
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