Cat's Cradle

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Cat's Cradle is a 1963 novel by Kurt Vonnegut. It explores issues of science, technology, and religion, satirizing the arms race and many other targets along the way. After turning down his original thesis, the University of Chicago, in 1971, awarded Vonnegut his Master's degree in anthropology for Cat's Cradle.[1][2]

The title of the book derives from the string game "cat's cradle". Early in the book we learn that Felix Hoenikker (a fictional co-inventor of the atom bomb) was playing cat's cradle when the bomb was dropped, and the game is later referenced by his son, Newton Hoenikker.

Contents

Background

After World War II, Kurt Vonnegut worked in the public relations department for the General Electric research company. GE hired scientists and let them do pure research, and his job was to interview these scientists and find good stories about their research. Vonnegut felt that the older scientists were indifferent about the ways in which their discoveries might be used. Nobel Prize winner Irving Langmuir, who worked with Vonnegut's older brother Bernard at GE, became the model for Dr. Felix Hoenikker. Vonnegut said in an interview with The Nation that "Langmuir was absolutely indifferent to the uses that might be made of the truths he dug out of the rock and handed out to whoever was around. But any truth he found was beautiful in its own right, and he didn’t give a damn who got it next".[3]

Plot

At the opening of the book, the narrator, an everyman named John (a.k.a. "Jonah"), describes a time when he was planning to write a book about what important Americans did on the day Hiroshima was bombed. While researching this topic, John becomes involved with the children of Felix Hoenikker, a fictional Nobel laureate physicist who helped develop the atomic bomb. John travels to Illium, New York to interview the Hoenikker children and others for his book. In Illium John meets, among others, Dr. Asa Breed, who was the supervisor "on paper"[4] of Felix Hoenikker. As the novel progresses, John learns of a substance called ice-nine, created by the late Hoenikker and now secretly in the possession of his children. Ice-nine is an alternative structure of water that is solid at room temperature. When a crystal of ice-nine is brought into contact with liquid water, it becomes a seed crystal that makes the molecules of liquid water arrange themselves into the solid form, ice-nine.

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