In compiling a list of the best Kurt Vonnegut books, the best resource exists: A snapshot of what Vonnegut himself thought, which doesn’t hold back. That’s because in 1981, in the introduction to the short story collection Palm Sunday, Vonnegut ranked all of his works up until that point.
Of course, since he continued to write after that, it is not all encompassing. However, it is a fascinating perspective into how Vonnegut viewed his writing.
We’ve collected the best Kurt Vonnegut books according to Goodreads data and compared the opinion of the masses to what Vonnegut himself thought. The Goodreads data takes both the average rating and the number of ratings into account to determine the popularity of a book, which we’ve used to compliment Vonnegut’s own report card of his works.
Best Kurt Vonnegut Books
Since Vonnegut’s report card only had grades for 13 titles, we’ve pulled the 13 best Kurt Vonnegut books from Goodreads to create our list. We’ll compare where each book lands as we countdown to the best book according to public opinion with what Vonnegut thought.
However, the top 13 books from Goodreads doesn’t perfectly match the books Vonnegut graded. So, we’ll go through the additional books Vonnegut gave grades at the end of this article for some bonus recommendations.
If you would like to learn more about this literary idol, you can read our article about everything he wrote throughout his lifetime here.
Beginning our list counting down the best Kurt Vonnegut books is Timequake. On Goodreads it has an average rating of 3.72 from more than 36,000 ratings. As Timequake came out after the publication of Palm Sunday, there is not a grade of it available from Vonnegut himself.
According to science-fiction writer Kilgore Trout, a global timequake will occur in New York City on 13th February 2001. It is the moment when the universe suffers a crisis of conscience. Should it expand or make a great big bang? It decides to wind the clock back a decade to 1991, making everyone in the world endure ten years of déja-vu and a total loss of free will — not to mention the torture of reliving every nanosecond of one of the tawdiest and most hollow decades.
With his trademark wicked wit, Vonnegut addresses memory, suicide, the Great Depression, the loss of American eloquence, and the obsolescent thrill of reading books.
12. Slapstick, or Lonesome No More!
The second book on our list counting down the best Kurt Vonnegut books is one that Vonnegut did not regard very favorably. Vonnegut gave Slapstick a dismal grade of a D. However, popular opinion is slightly more favorable with an average rating of 3.86 from more than 39,000 ratings.
Slapstick presents an apocalyptic vision as seen through the eyes of the current King of Manhattan, and last President of the United States. It is a wickedly irreverent look at the all-too-possible results of today’s follies.
But even the end of life-as-we-know-it is transformed by Kurt Vonnegut’s pen into hilarious farce. It is a final slapstick that may be the Almighty’s joke on us all.
Just shy of the top ten best Kurt Vonnegut books is Bluebeard. It has an average rating of 4.05 on Goodreads from more than 39,000 ratings. The publication of Bluebeard was after the publication of Palm Sunday. So, that means there is no available record of what grade Vonnegut gave this book.
Broad humor and bitter irony collide in this fictional autobiography of Rabo Karabekian. He, at age seventy-one, wants to be left alone on his Long Island estate with the secret he has locked inside his potato barn. But then a voluptuous young widow badgers Rabo into telling his life story. Vonnegut in turn tells us the plain, heart-hammering truth about man’s careless fancy to create or destroy what he loves.
10. A Man Without a Country
However, what does come in as the tenth best Kurt Vonnegut book is a slim read that is very reminiscent of a memoir. If you’re a fan of Vonnegut than you will want to read this book and hear him recount to you the passage of his life through his own voice, with accompanying illustrations.
It has an average rating of 4.09 on Goodreads with more than 43,000 ratings. Unfortunately, it is not known what grade Vonnegut gave this work.
It is a volume that is penetrating, introspective, incisive, and laugh-out-loud funny. From his coming of age in America, to his formative war experiences, to his life as an artist, this is Vonnegut doing what he does best: Being himself. Whimsically illustrated by the author, A Man Without a Country is intimate, tender, and brimming with the scope of Kurt Vonnegut’s passions.
9. Player Piano
The next best Kurt Vonnegut book according to Goodreads data is Player Piano, which is Vonnegut’s debut. It has an average rating of 3.89 from more than 53,000 ratings. Vonnegut gave this a middling grade with a B.
Vonnegut’s first novel spins the chilling tale of engineer Paul Proteus, who must find a way to live in a world dominated by a supercomputer and run completely by machines. Paul’s rebellion is vintage Vonnegut — wildly funny, deadly serious, and terrifyingly close to reality.
This book was also published under the title Utopia 14.
8. Welcome to the Monkey House
Slightly different from the other titles on our list of the best Kurt Vonnegut books is Welcome to the Monkey House. That’s because this work of Vonnegut’s is a collection of short stories. It has more than 58,000 ratings on Goodreads and an average rating of 4.13.
Vonnegut gave Welcome to the Monkey House a B- grade.
The stories in this collection were originally printed in publications such as The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction and The Atlantic Monthly. These superb stories share Vonnegut’s audacious sense of humor and extraordinary range of creative vision.
7. God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater
This next recommendation comes in near the middle of the pack according to Goodreads users. It has an average rating of 3.96 from more than 64,000 ratings. However, Vonnegut gave this book a grade of A.
It follows Eliot Rosewater. He is a drunk, volunteer fireman, and President of the fabulously rich Rosewater Foundation. And he is about to attempt a noble experiment with human nature…with a little help from writer Kilgore Trout.
God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater is Kurt Vonnegut’s funniest satire, an etched-in-acid portrayal of the greed, hypocrisy, and follies of the flesh we are all heir to.
The sixth best Kurt Vonnegut book is Galápagos with an average rating of 3.87 from more than 77,000 ratings. Unfortunately, this is another book that was published after Palm Sunday so it is not clear what grade Vonnegut would have given this book.
Galápagos takes the reader back one million years, to A.D. 1986. A simple vacation cruise suddenly becomes an evolutionary journey. Thanks to an apocalypse, a small group of survivors stranded on the Galápagos Islands are about to become the progenitors of a brave, new, and totally different human race.
In this inimitable novel, America’s master satirist looks at our world and shows us all that is sadly, madly awry. But that it is all worth saving.
5. Mother Night
Coming into the top five best Kurt Vonnegut books is Mother Night, which actually has the highest rating of all Vonnegut books on Goodreads. It has an average rating of 4.22 from more than 89,000 ratings. Vonnegut himself also thought this was one of his best works with a grade of A.
Mother Night is a daring challenge to our moral sense. American Howard W. Campbell, Jr., a spy during World War II, is now on trial in Israel as a Nazi war criminal. But is he really guilty?
In this brilliant book rife with true gallows humor, Vonnegut turns black and white into a chilling shade of gray with a verdict that will haunt us all.
4. The Sirens of Titan
The next book features double the number of ratings as the previous recommendation with more than 132,000 ratings. It has an average rating of 4.15 and its placement on the list of best Kurt Vonnegut book matches what the author himself thought. That’s because Vonnegut gave this book a grade of A.
The Sirens of Titan is an outrageous romp through space, time, and morality. The richest, most depraved man on Earth, Malachi Constant, is offered a chance to take a space journey to distant worlds with a beautiful woman at his side. Of course, there’s a catch to the invitation and a prophetic vision about the purpose of human life that only Vonnegut has the courage to tell.
3. Breakfast of Champions
Once again the number of ratings nearly doubles with the third title on our list of the best Kurt Vonnegut books, but the opinion of the masses doesn’t match what Vonnegut thought. Breakfast of Champions has an average rating of 4.07 with more than 249,000 ratings on Goodreads. However, Vonnegut gave this book a C.
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.
2. Cat’s Cradle
The second best Kurt Vonnegut book according to Goodreads data is also one of the best books according to Vonnegut too. According to more than 383,000 Goodreads users, Cat’s Cradle has an average rating of 4.16 and Vonnegut gave this novel an A+.
Cat’s Cradle is Vonnegut’s satirical commentary on modern man and his madness. An apocalyptic tale of this planet’s ultimate fate, it features a little person as the protagonist; a complete, original theology created by a calypso singer; and a vision of the future that is at once blackly fatalistic and hilariously funny.
Finally, it will likely come as no surprise that topping our list of the best Kurt Vonnegut books is Slaughterhouse-Five. This is an opinion that is widely regarded, as proven by thousands of Goodreads users and also Vonnegut himself. It has nearly 1.3 million ratings, an average rating of 4.09, and Vonnegut gave it a gave of A+.
Slaughterhouse-Five is an American classic and also one of the world’s greatest antiwar books. Centering on the infamous firebombing of Dresden, Billy Pilgrim’s odyssey through time reflects the mythic journey of our own fractured lives as we search for meaning in what we fear most.
Final thoughts on best Kurt Vonnegut books
Here are the 13 best Kurt Vonnegut books according to Goodreads data once more. The picks from popular opinion are strikingly similar to what Vonnegut thought of his books, with one or two notable exceptions.
- Slaughterhouse-Five (1969)
- Cat’s Cradle (1963)
- Breakfast of Champions (1973)
- The Sirens of Titan (1959)
- Mother Night (1961)
- Galápagos (1985)
- God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater (1965)
- Welcome to the Monkey House (1968)
- Player Piano (1952)
- A Man Without a Country (2005)
- Bluebeard (1987)
- Slapstick, or Lonesome No More! (1976)
- Timequake (1997)
Bonus Kurt Vonnegut Books
However, as we said before, there are a few titles that Vonnegut graded that are missing from this list of the best Kurt Vonnegut books according to Goodreads data. We’ve included those titles here in descending grade order.
Jailbird takes us into a fractured and comic, pure Vonnegut world of high crimes and misdemeanors in government — and also in the heart. This wry tale follows bumbling bureaucrat Walter F. Starbuck from Harvard to the Nixon White House to the penitentiary as Watergate’s least known co-conspirator.
But the humor turns dark when Vonnegut shines his spotlight on the cold hearts and calculated greed of the mighty, giving a razor-sharp edge to an unforgettable portrait of power and politics in our times.
Of the four books that Vonnegut gave grades for that are missing from the list of the best Kurt Vonnegut books based on the Goodreads data, Jailbird is the only book Vonnegut held in high regard. He gave Jailbird an A.
2. Wampeters, Foma & Granfalloons
Next is Wampeters, Foma & Granfalloons which is a collection of essays, reviews, and short stories that were written between 1966 and 1974. This is a work that is relatively much lesser known than Vonnegut’s other books, but it is still positively reviewed online in the present day. However, Vonnegut gave this nonfiction collection a C in 1981.
3. Palm Sunday
This is the short story collection from which we pull Kurt Vonnegut’s self-marked report card. Palm Sunday is described as an autobiographical collage and features a wide variety of works that come together to create a glimpse into Vonnegut’s life.
4. Happy Birthday, Wanda June
Finally, the last title from Vonnegut’s report card is his first play, which was written after Vonnegut briefly, and unsuccessfully, swore off writing novels. It is a darkly humorous and searing examination of the excesses of capitalism, patriotism, toxic masculinity, and American culture in the post-Vietnam War era. However, Vonnegut gave this play a D.
Kurt Vonnegut’s Own Report Card
If you would like to view it more closely, here is Kurt Vonnegut’s self-ranking guide, which he listed in order of publication.
It is important to note that Vonnegut included a disclaimer when he published this ranking guide. Vonnegut made clear that he was only comparing his work with himself. It is not placed within the much larger scale of literary history.
- Player Piano: B
- The Sirens of Titan: A
- Mother Night: A
- Cat’s Cradle: A+
- God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater: A
- Slaughterhouse-Five: A+
- Welcome to the Monkey House: B-
- Happy Birthday, Wanda June: D
- Breakfast of Champions: C
- Wampeters, Foma & Granfalloons: C
- Slapstick, or Lonesome No More!: D
- Jailbird: A
- Palm Sunday: C