Player Piano (Book Review)

I just finished reading an amazing book and I thought to tell you about it.

I don’t read as often as I would like or as I should, but I finally got around to finishing something I started a few weeks ago — Player Piano by Kurt Vonnegut. This was my first time reading Vonnegut, and as chance would have it, Vonnegut’s first novel as well.

The story takes place in New York, ten years after World War III. It’s a dystopian future where machine has outranked man in social and functional hierarchy. After the men left for war, leaving the homes and factories deserted, machines were built to substitute the lack of manpower. When the war ended, the technology was further expanded to allow the mechanization of any and all possible functions. If a human could do it, a machine could do it better.

As such, civilization was split into two main groups – (1) the managers and engineers and (2) the “Reeks and Wrecks” and the Army. The second group is comprised of disenfranchised people that have been abandoned by society for being less capable and efficient than machines. The first group are the people that build and maintain the machines. The class lines are determined by IQ and a fair bit of nepotism.

Those of higher IQ are sent to college to become managers and engineers – they are formally titled “Doctor”, while the lower IQs are discarded on the other side of town to make a living for themselves. The machines decide IQ and rank and all rendered decisions are permanent.

The story follows Doctor Paul Proteus, a well-known and wealthy engineer, as he struggles with his place in society against the ugly backdrop of misplaced opportunity. As he begins to evaluate his life, the pieces start to fall on both sides.

The writing in this book is phenomenal and the story is well worth exploring. If you’ve ever read Hemingway, you’ll find Vonnegut has a similar penchant for dialogue and narrative description. I randomly bought this book for $3.50 at a local bookstore in Baltimore 3 years ago and the payoff was immense. Read it!

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