And people still laugh about as much as they ever did…. If a bunch of them are lying around the beach, and one of them farts, everybody else laughs and laughs, just as people would have done a million years ago.

Vonnegut wrote his best novels in the 1960s; his work started to founder in the 1970s. Critics often called his 1985 novel, Galápagos a comeback. Uneven but often brilliant, it would prove one of his last really good books.

In short: the future of humanity falls in the hands of the people who most likely would have been voted first off the island.

General Information

Title: Galápagos

Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

Original Publication Date: 1985

ISBN: 0440127793

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The dead son of an unsuccessful science-fiction writer chronicles the future of the human race, from the end of the world as we know it in 1986 to a very different era, one million years later.

High Points

(1) The chain of events that lead the central group of characters to become the ancestors of the future human race.

(2)The mind-softening plausibility of Vonnegut’s central argument—which, as I note next, he unfortunately explicates too often.

Low Point:

Satire, by definition, is didactic. The writer has a point to make. However, this book overplays its didactic elements and, far too often, it feels as though Vonnegut, through the (perhaps not entirely reliable) mask of Leon Trout, harangues us. The “big brains” business was clear enough; the regular, explicit references to it start to grate like a one-note orchestra.

The Scores

Originality: 5/6. Vonnegut has addressed the end of the world before, and so have many others, but not quite like this.

Story: 4/6. The story contains several memorable moments in its brutal, twisted, and often darkly funny chain of events. Still, I couldn’t help thinking that Vonnegut misses several opportunities for suspense and character development inherent in his plot.

Characterization: 4/6 The characterization reflects the book’s unevenness. The second half handles the characters better than the first.

Imagery: 4/6 Vonnegut’s usual visual imagination, while not absent, is notably lacking.

Emotional Response: 5/6. This ranks among Vonnegut’s most misanthropic novels. I don’t recommend this novel to anyone who might be suicidal. At the same time, the more annoyed you are with your fellow humans when you read this book, the funnier it is.

Editing: 4/6. With some revision and expansion, I expect that the second half could have been the entire novel, though the first half contains some excellent moments.

Overall Score: 5/6 The late Stephen Jay Gould used to recommend this book to his undergraduate students, because it presents the role of contingency in evolution so clearly and amusingly.

In total, Galápagos receives 31/42