Review: Breakfast of Champions by Kurt Vonnegut (1973)


My Rating: 5 stars          Read: 2/24/2017


  • My Lifetime Challenge
  • 1001 Books to Read Before You Die Challenge


In Breakfast of Champions, one of Kurt Vonnegut’s  most beloved characters, the aging writer Kilgore Trout, finds to his horror that a Midwest car dealer is taking his fiction as truth. What follows is murderously funny satire, as Vonnegut looks at war, sex, racism, success, politics, and pollution in America and reminds us how to see the truth.


I read this for my lifetime challenge (1973). I listened to the audiobook read by Stanley Tucci.

This is such an odd book that it’s hard to know what to say in a review. First, it’s very entertaining. It kept my attention throughout and it felt short. I believe the audio book is around five and a half hours and I listened to it in one evening and, when I couldn’t keep my eyes open anymore, the next morning.

There’s no such thing as the 4th wall in this book. The book’s narrator is the writer-God and he talks directly to the reader at times, as well as to his own characters. The main thread of the story is about a man, Dwayne, who owns a car dealership in Ohio and who goes mad after reading a book. The book was written by the other main character, Kilgore Trout, who is a really awful sci-fi writer. In this book, everyone in creation is a robot that exists solely to see what the one “free will” person in all of creation will do. Dwayne, who is already unbalanced due to “chemicals”, believes he is that “free will” person and as a result he hurts a number of people/robots.

Though this story is the common thread that holds the narrative together, mostly the book is a satirical ramble. There’s a lot of discussion of marketing, brand-names, and slogans. There’s a lot of mysterious “chemicals” (“Silent Spring” was published in ’62 and seemed to have influenced Vonnegut.) There’re some funny sexual references–for example, the author is always giving the exact length and circumference of various character’s penises in a dry way, as if that was part of a normal description of a person. There’s a whole ton of racism in the book, which is disturbing despite being, one assumes, satirical and critical.

The main theme seems to be that of free will. To what extent are we all “characters” written and programmed to behave certain ways, think certain things?

Reading this book is a bit like listening to a brilliant and fascinating man go off on various subjects at a cocktail party. Hella entertaining and envy producing. Damn. I wish I had a mind like Kurt Vonnegut’s.

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