Book Review: Catch-22 by Joseph Heller

Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
Vintage, 2011



Set in Italy during World War II, this is the story of the incomparable, malingering bombardier, Yossarian, a hero who is furious because thousands of people he has never met are trying to kill him. But his real problem is not the enemy—it is his own army, which keeps increasing the number of missions the men must fly to complete their service. Yet if Yossarian makes any attempt to excuse himself from the perilous missions he’s assigned, he’ll be in violation of Catch-22, a hilariously sinister bureaucratic rule: a man is considered insane if he willingly continues to fly dangerous combat missions, but if he makes a formal request to be removed from duty, he is proven sane and therefore ineligible to be relieved.”

This book reminds me of:

The television series M*A*S*H (1972-1983)

What I liked best about this book:

  • Its complexity. It’s so much more than any summary has led me to believe. Yes, this book is about a bombardier named Yossarian. But it’s also about Orr, Milo, Colonel Cathcart, Hungry Joe, Nately, General Peckhem, the Chaplain, and Major Major. It’s about the insanity of war. The mindlessness of bureaucracy. It’s really about how all of these people . . . ordinary, mediocre, ambitious, unsure, eager to please, eager to get ahead, in love, in lust, people. The sheer number of characters and subplots was overwhelming at first, but rewarding in the end. And it was this complexity that I liked the most.
  • The characters. My favorites were Nately, the Chaplain, Major Major and sometimes even Yossarian. They all seem to behave erratically, until you realize that there’s no normal in this world. In fact, the more insane things get, the more normal they seem to become.
  • The writing. This is one of a handful of books (The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy, The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway, for instance) where I was truly impressed by the writing while I was reading it. Seriously, the writing is amazing. I think I need to re-read with a dictionary. 

What I liked least about this book:

  • The first 60 or so pages are really hard to wrap your head around. In fact, I read the first 60 pages about a year and a half ago, got completely confused and frustrated by the nonsensical descriptions and non-linear plot that I put it aside. Like a lot of reviews I’ve read over at Goodreads for this book, I got the “point” of it. In the beginning I felt like the complete ridiculousness of the situation was being shoved down my throat, again and again. It paid off in the end, but I say the beginning was one of my least favorite parts. I don’t know if I’ll feel the same when I reread it (probably not), but let it be a warning to anyone attempting to read it. You have to push through the first 60-100 pages to fully appreciate the whole thing.
  • The injustice of it all! Some characters I really liked end up dying and it’s really frustrating. But my guess is that’s the point. People die in war and for no good reason. So, I guess it’s not really a fault of the book, just something I was upset about.

Final thoughts:

  • Don’t give up on this. Read it. Finish it. It has beautifully-crafted sentences, a host of interesting characters, and is certainly worth it in the end.
  • Also, my tip for reading it is to not try and figure the sequence of events out too much. Just let it wash over you and enjoy the ride.




What should I read & review next?


2 thoughts on “Book Review: Catch-22 by Joseph Heller

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