Catch-22 by Joseph Heller Book Review

Fvck this, my stomach hurt the whole time I read this book for stifling my laughter at night.

Catch-22 Book Review
Genre: Humor, War
Authors: Joseph Heller
Series: Catch-22 #1
Date Published: October 26, 2010 (first published 1961)
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Edition: ebook
ISBN-13: 9781451632965
Size: 492

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At the heart of Catch-22 resides the incomparable, malingering bombardier, Yossarian, a hero endlessly inventive in his schemes to save his skin from the horrible chances of war.

His problem is Colonel Cathcart, who keeps raising the number of missions the men must fly to complete their service. Yet if Yossarian makes any attempts to excuse himself from the perilous missions that he's committed to flying, he's trapped by the Great Loyalty Oath Crusade, the bureaucratic rule from which the book takes its title: a man is considered insane if he willingly continues to fly dangerous combat missions, but if he makes the necessary formal request to be relieved of such missions, the very act of making the request proves that he's sane and therefore ineligible to be relieved.


I've been hearing a lot about Catch-22 catchphrases for 7 years and it's only until recently that I got hold of this book and read about where it all began. According to Wordweb, Catch-22 means a situation in which an action has consequences which make it impossible to pursue that action.

An example would be an experience in a hospital. When you think something is wrong with your health and you go to the hospital, the doctor will tell you,
There's nothing wrong with you! Stop wasting our time, plenty of people need it. You're just PARANOID.

When you feel that you had gotten worse and you go back to the hospital and get checked, the doctor will say,
Why get yourself checked up when things had gotten worse already? Why not address it early on?

You see, when you get yourself checked early on, the doctors would reprimand you for wasting their time for something so trivial and accuse you of being so paranoid. When something does go horribly wrong because there really is something, the next time you show yourself they'll accuse you of neglect. There's no way for you to be right nor be able to ease your suffering. At early on, you couldn't get medication because they'd say there's nothing wrong with you. Later, even though you finally get to be treated, the thing is, you already suffered for quite a time and this time, it's more painful.

There's one theme that is evident in this book, and that is Yossarian's pursuit of survival. The setting is at a fictional small island of Pianosa in Italy. It's World War II and young American men are drafted to defend their country from aggressors. Initially, everyone has to fly only 35 missions before being sent home. But as one goes near the required number, it is raised. Soon, everyone's flying more than twice the initial required number of missions because the Colonel who does the raising thinks that doing so will appeal to his superiors.

The Nazis are the enemies of WWII but the enemies of this book are within the fence of where Yossarian stood because all of his superiors have their own self-interest. He had this strong will to live and the only way he could save himself from immenent death is not to fly more missions and so, he decided to go crazy.

“You’re wasting your time,” Doc Daneeka was forced to tell him.
“Can’t you ground someone who’s crazy?”
“Oh, sure. I have to. There’s a rule saying I have to ground anyone who’s crazy.”
“Then why don’t you ground me? I’m crazy. Ask Clevinger.”
“Clevinger? Where is Clevinger? You find Clevinger and I’ll ask him.”
“Then ask any of the others. They’ll tell you how crazy I am.”
“They’re crazy.”
“Then why don’t you ground them?”
“Why don’t they ask me to ground them?”
“Because they’re crazy, that’s why.”
“Of course they’re crazy,” Doc Daneeka replied. “I just told you they’re crazy, didn’t I? And you can’t let crazy people decide whether you’re crazy or not, can you?”
Yossarian looked at him soberly and tried another approach. “Is Orr crazy?”
“He sure is,” Doc Daneeka said.
“Can you ground him?”
“I sure can. But first he has to ask me to. That’s part of the rule.”
“Then why doesn’t he ask you to?”
“Because he’s crazy,” Doc Daneeka said. “He has to be crazy to keep flying combat missions after all the close calls he’s had. Sure, I can ground Orr. But first he has to ask me to.”
“That’s all he has to do to be grounded?”
“That’s all. Let him ask me.”
“And then you can ground him?” Yossarian asked.
“No. Then I can’t ground him.”
“You mean there’s a catch?”
“Sure there’s a catch,” Doc Daneeka replied. “Catch-22. Anyone who wants to get out of combat duty isn’t really crazy.”

There was only one catch and that was Catch-22, which specified that a concern for one’s own safety in the face of dangers that were real and immediate was the process of a rational mind. Orr was crazy and could be grounded. All he had to do was ask; and as soon as he did, he would no longer be crazy and would have to fly more missions. Orr would be crazy to fly more missions and sane if he didn’t, but if he was sane he had to fly them. If he flew them he was crazy and didn’t have to; but if he didn’t want to he was sane and had to. Yossarian was moved very deeply by the absolute simplicity of this clause of Catch-22 and let out a respectful whistle.

The word Catch-22 has been so ingrained into the cultures of english-speaking countries because the idea it represents is something that everyone could relate or experience. Having the title of your book being added to the english dictionary is something so grand that Joseph Heller is quite fortunate to have that experienced. He might have been dead but his work is immortalized and only a few could achieve that.

The characters involved here have really funny names like: Major —— de Coverley (his name's like this the entire book since no one knew his first name), Major Major Major Major (he was initially named by his father as Major Major Major out of sheer joke and he was promoted straight to Major from being a private by an IBM machine), Aarfy, Captain Aardvaark, Milo Minderbinder (the mess hall officer turned worldwide capitalist), Miniver Cheevy, ex-P.F.C. Wintergreen (who has quite more power than a general).

Other things:
  • Scenarios are absurdly comical in this book but they tackle on something serious about human nature.
  • Major Major had been bullied all throughout his life because of his striking similarity to Henry Fonda (not to mention his weird name) that I had to look up this Henry Fonda.
  • I discovered that Joseph Heller originally invented "Tee-hee". It's Orr's laughing mannerism.
  • The book is so funny but my heart also gets to be gripped with grief. Lots of people die or go missing.
  • The book is also morbid enough to have soldiers lost their wits about, or lost control of their engine, kill someone and eventually, kill themselves. Damn!
  • Yossarian in his boredom wrote Washington Irving (or Irving Washington when he's more bored) instead of his own name as an officer at censoring letters. Soon, Major Major picked up the habit that set 3 CID men to go looking for this Washington Irving that got the chaplain indicted.
  • What goes around comes around... Doc Daneeka, by cheating his flight time by making McWatt write his name in the pilot's manifest as a passenger made everyone thought he died when McWatt's plane crashed in the mountain even though he's obviously standing before everybody.

Damn, Joseph Heller was so handsome in his time (he's on the right)! *Swoons*

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