Best Book Ever: Cat’s Cradle vs. American Gods

Book covers for Cat's Cradle and American Gods.

Tales of Americana from two very different fronts. In the first corner, Vonnegut muses over our country’s obsession of war and looks at the ones that bring it. In the other, Gaiman explores the gods of the New World and their place alongside the Old Gods we brought here. While they’re at it, what does America or God expect of us anyway? The creators of this face off might give you the answer.

Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut

Book cover for Cat's Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut.

Despite having been to the location of Slaughterhouse-Five, I prefer Cat’s Cradle as the stronger book. Both discuss the impacts of war on the human psyche, but Cat’s Cradle seems to stretch further into understanding how people process horrific circumstances. Not to mention, it tries to understand the roles and motives of scientists in pursuit of truth even when they’re designing things which could decimate the species.

Cat’s Cradle begins wondering what prominent people in the world were doing the moment the US dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan. In the case of the bomb’s creator, Dr. Felix Hoenikker, he was playing the string game cat’s cradle. The novel follows journalist John as he interviews the children of Dr. Hoenikker to learn more about the infamous scientist. Full of critiques towards religion and war, Cat’s Cradle imagines the worst that can happen when scientific discoveries are left to run amok without ethical constraints.

  • Goodreads Score: 4.16
  • Length: 4 – Vonnegut’s seems to have perfected finishing a novel at predictable lengths. Like most of his other works, Cat’s Cradle comes in at a comfortable page count.
  • Readability: 3 – With all the discordant narrators and bending of time, it’s sometime’s hard to pick up on where you are an what you’re talking about in the novel.
  • Language: 4.5 -.No one does despondent quite like Vonnegut I could spend all day going through the quotables I have from this book, but I’ll limit it for now.
  • Characters/Plot: 3.5 -Endlessly creative and clever, at times I lose Vonnegut to the cookie cutter characters he builds.

Overall Score: 19.16

American Gods by Neil Gaiman

American Gods is a portrait of belief -and you must have belief to to exist. In America, the old gods are dying as their stories are forgotten, misplaced in lieu of the fascination with new gods, Media and Tech. In between is Shadow, an ex-con recently released from prison. Reeling from the death and betrayal of his wife, Shadow doesn’t believe in much of anything anymore. Until one of the old gods, Mr. Wednesday, takes him up as a bodyguard and starts to introduce him to a world of supposed myths.

Book cover for American Gods by Neil Gaiman.

At the heart of American Gods is the struggle to find the American soul. With so many people from so many places and so many beliefs swirling around, how is it any wonder we can’t get along? But what man really needs all that if he can just believe in himself? Ask Shadow because he finds out.

“I think I would rather be a man than a god. We don’t need anyone to believe in us. We just keep going anyhow. It’s what we do.”

-American Gods
  • Goodreads Score: 3.93
  • Length: 3.5 – American Gods is slightly weighty but well worth it, even for its tangents.
  • Readability: 3.5 – At times, American Gods wanders. Side plots that aren’t necessary, diatribes about belief beyond that needed for the story.
  • Language: 3 – Gaiman is a crafty storyteller which is his strength. Language, less so unless it’s one of the passages where he’s making his point.
  • Characters/Plot: 3.75 -When I reread American Gods, I found the plot and characters less engaging than I originally obsessed over. But still, how provoking a thought to allow gods to die as their reputations do?

Overall Score: 17.86

The Verdict

In the beginning, God created the earth, and he looked upon it in his cosmic loneliness.
And God said, “Let us make living creature out of mud so the mud can see what we have done.” And God created every living creature that now moveth, and one was man. Mud as man sat up, looked around, and spoke. Man blinked. “What is the purpose of all of this?” he asked politely.
“Everything must have a purpose?” asked God.
“Certainly,” said man.
“”Then I leave it to you to think of one for all this,” said God. 
And He went away.”

Cat’s Cradle, Kurt Vonnegut

I love both of these books for their ideas of belief. Do you believe in God or Gods? If so, what do they give you? Maybe their only purpose is to leave you with the understanding that you, even as a mortal, are the center of belief, the center of meaning, and it is only through you that the universe exists. Possibly, even, you are the reason that the universe will come not to exist. It’s your right and your choice, but you should take care with your decision.

Cat’s Cradle wins this round, but American Gods gave it a good fight.

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