28 April 2019

Vonnegut on Wealth Inequality

God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater
Kurt Vonnegut
Dial Press, 1965
275 pages

Another book read for #1965Club. Thanks to Kaggsy and Simon for hosting! I read some Vonnegut back in the 60s and 70s, during and after college, and I remember liking his offbeat vision of the world, especially in light of the large anti-war protests going on then at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. Recently I started thinking about reading more of his novels and was pleased to find one from 1965 for the club reading week.


The story centers around Eliot Rosewater, a very wealthy man, and how he handles the funds of his family's tax-sheltering foundation. There's not much to the plot. The book is more about the various characters in the Rosewater family, past and present, plus the impoverished citizens of Rosewater County, Indiana, which is pretty much owned by the family, lock, stock, and barrel.

Eliot, who may or may not be insane for most of the book, gives a lot of philosophical musings/speeches about wealth in America and the plight of the poor. The whole story is farcical, satiric, a bit slapstick, take your pick of adjectives. I found it overblown and too snarky for my taste, and therefore more tedious than funny. It's not that I don't agree with Eliot, I just don't like the tone.

I think it's terrible the way people don't share things in this country. I think it's a heartless government that will let one baby be born owning a big piece of the country, the way I was born, and let another baby be born without owning anything. The least a government could do, it seems to me, is to divide things up fairly among the babies - Eliot Rosewater, page 121

Fifty-four years after Vonnegut wrote it, the book seems extremely relevant to today's world, where wealth inequality is a hot topic for the country. A publisher should re-issue it with a foreword by some current politician, scholar, or activist.

This is my entry for the Back to the Classics 2019 Challenge, in the Twentieth Century Classic category.

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