Wednesday 30 September 2020


Finished September 28
Catch-22 by Joseph Heller

I've owned this book for years, but picked it up for the Classic Challenge. I'm glad to get it crossed off the list and portions of it hit home, but overall I can't say that I enjoyed it. My version of it had a new preface by the author, where he talked about his intentions compared to things some critics have said about the book.
The main character in the book is Yossarian, who is a bombardier in the American military during World War II, now stationed in Italy. He has legitimate worries about his survival, and is frustrated with his superior officer's habit of continually raising the number of missions the crews have to do before getting leave back home.
There is a lot here around the bureaucracy of the military, and of governments in general. Whether it is someone who was on a flight manifest for a flight that crashed, and is therefore declared dead, even though he tries to argue that he is right there, or a man who had barely arrived in camp, just dropping off his stuff in his tent before going out on a mission, never to return, and therefore is in limbo. Never formally arrived, so can't be formally declared dead. There are many instances of this sort of thing happening that show the frustration felt by those controlled by the bureaucracy.
There is also a theme around the image of the senior officers, competing for approval from their superiors, for promotion, or for favourable media coverage. Their decisions aren't made for the benefit of the men, or even the strategic military goals, but for personal reasons.
Another theme that really got me angry, as I'm sure it was meant to, was the theme around financial gain. One man, starting out as the chef in the canteen, kept advancing his activity around procurement, making money off trading goods of various types. The situation kept escalating and got to a point where the collateral damage of men's lives, civilian lives, and even battles with the enemy didn't matter at all, as long as money was being made.
The catch-22 of the title alludes to the idea that if you are able to claim to be unfit due to being crazy, then you aren't actually crazy.
As Yossarian watches more and more of the original group of men he works with get killed or injured, or simply disappear, he becomes more and more mired in his hopelessness and fear for his own survival, acting out however he can to protest the situation.


  1. I read this in high school (not on the curriculum) and I remember thinking it was great. I tried to reread it a couple of years ago and quit after the first dozen pages.

    Not sure where that puts me on weighing in on this, but it's amazing to me how time has changed my opinion of so many books - and has still left me with some few to delight in all over again.

  2. I tried and failed at reading this last year.