Player Piano

By Kurt Vonnegut,

Book cover of Player Piano

Book description

Player Piano is the debut novel from one of history's most innovative authors, published on Vonnegut's 100th birthday.

In Player Piano, the first of Vonnegut's wildly funny and deadly serious novels, automata have dramatically reduced the need for America's work force. Ten years after the introduction of these robot labourers,…


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Why read it?

3 authors picked Player Piano as one of their favorite books. Why do they recommend it?

Player Piano, Kurt Vonnegut’s first novel, was not, he said, “a book about what is, but a book about what could be.” Further, “it is mostly about managers and engineers” and more precisely, about automation and what American society could become if machines took over work, and labor, as we have known it, was made redundant. His imagined city of Illium was socially and physically split between the managers and engineers of its industrial plant and the former workers had been displaced by automation and now led meaningless lives of busy work provided by the government. The engineer Paul…

Like many people, I went through a Vonnegut reading fest in my late teens or early twenties. The ending of Player Piano stuck with me. I’m sure it wasn’t my first exposure to the cycle of people creating their own messes, but it was blunt and solid and memorable. Tempered optimism is key to a good dystopian novel.

Also, science fiction stories of past eras are an opportunity for a glimpse into the psyche of their times. I like that sort of thing.

From David's list on dystopian novels about the underdog.

We’ve rapidly been thrown into a world of AI population tracking of everything from your movements to maybe your body’s antibody status. If that feels like science fiction then a useful guide is one of the original greats. Vonnegut’s Player Piano may have been written in a time of punch-card machines, but it is set in what seems like a future utopia, where computers have turned America into a society that runs without conflict or want. But the new system has a catch: machines decide what you can do and where you can go. “Machines were doing America’s work far…

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