Many thanks to Audiobook Jukebox for sending a copy of The Brothers Vonnegut: Science and Fiction in the House of Magic. I originally chose this book because I was curious to know more about the acclaimed author Kurt Vonnegut. Soon after I started, however, I was quite taken by Kurt’s older brother Bernard, the Atmospheric Scientist. Here I had ventured into the Vonneguts’ world wanting more detail about what inspired Kurt Vonnegut’s literary career, and I wound up desperate to know what was to become of Bernard’s cloud seeding program. Who knew?
I didn’t. I had no idea what cloud seeding was (is), and after finishing this book, I’m almost ashamed to admit it. If you’re like me and are unfamiliar with the scientific breakthrough that was (in part) developed by the brilliant Bernard Vonnegut, let me quickly share that cloud seeding is a form of weather modification, wherein crystals (the program began with dry ice and wound up using silver iodide) are dropped into clouds in order to generate rain. That’s right – this Hoarder just discovered that there was a program that began in the late 40s that would have the power to control weather. I’m late to the party. It’s a process that was hailed, debunked, and hailed again. Today, cloud seeding is considered a mainstream tool that is used to improve precipitation. While the effectiveness of this practice continues to be debated among academics, cloud seeding is still practiced around the world today.
Ok – that’s it for my attempt at Science 101. Back to Ginger Strand’s novel.
The depth of research into the lives of the Vonnegut brothers and their careers is exemplary in this book. Many congratulations to Strand for taking on such a fascinating and different pair. While the human piece could get lost in such a chronological set of events, Strand somehow managed to entwine the brothers’ emotions with every trial and tribulation. If Bernard’s experiments went awry, the reader felt it. If Kurt received another rejection letter, the reader felt it. If anything, the tale of these two wonderfully determined brothers is a testament to the fact that failing is just as powerful as succeeding.
I was surprised to learn how many times Kurt Vonnegut’s writings were turned down. He was not an overnight success, but rather worked tirelessly to achieve his dream. Starting in the PR department at GE helped him to realize that his misgivings toward the establishment could be expressed on paper quite effectively. Corporate America didn’t sit well with him. So, he wrote about it. Some tales were direct, some were subtle. Today, his observations are relished and dissected, and appropriately so. His words are wise and foreshadowing. Similarly, Bernard’s scientific accomplishments were sharp and life changing. What struck me more than once was the fact that both of their careers would impact generations to come. One with words, and one with science. Both were powerful in their own right.
There’s a little bit of everything in this book. There’s scientific detail. There’s the path to publishing. There’s sibling rivalry. No, these brothers were not immune to such a dynamic, and as Kurt’s older brother became a pioneer in science, Kurt’s writings became more pointed. I’m not suggesting for a moment that the brothers were not devoted to one another, but what’s a family without a little competition now and then? As evidenced by the accomplishments of the brothers Vonnegut, it’s downright necessary.
This book was narrated by Sean Runnette, and he read the passages with terrific conviction. He encapsulated each brother beautifully, and communicated just the right amount of gravity when it was necessary.
4 stars for The Brothers Vonnegut.