The Brothers Vonnegut: Science and Fiction in the House of Magic (Paperback)
Worlds collide in this true story of weather control in the Cold War era and the making of Kurt Vonnegut
In the mid-1950s, Kurt Vonnegut takes a job in the PR department at General Electric in Schenectady, where his older brother, Bernard, is a leading scientist in its research lab--or "House of Magic." Kurt has ambitions as a novelist, and Bernard is working on a series of cutting-edge weather-control experiments meant to make deserts bloom and farmers flourish.
While Kurt writes zippy press releases, Bernard builds silver-iodide generators and attacks clouds with dry ice. His experiments attract the attention of the government; weather proved a decisive factor in World War II, and if the military can control the clouds, fog, and snow, they can fly more bombing missions. Maybe weather will even be the "New Super Weapon." But when the army takes charge of his cloud-seeding project (dubbed Project Cirrus), Bernard begins to have misgivings about the harmful uses of his inventions, not to mention the evidence that they are causing alarming changes in the atmosphere.
In a fascinating cultural history, Ginger Strand chronicles the intersection of these brothers' lives at a time when the possibilities of science seemed infinite. As the Cold War looms, Bernard's struggle for integrity plays out in Kurt's evolving writing style. The Brothers Vonnegut reveals how science's ability to influence the natural world also influenced one of our most inventive novelists.
About the Author
Ginger Strand is the author of three previous books, including Killer on the Road: Violence and the American Interstate. She has written for a wide variety of publications, including Harper's Magazine, This Land, The Believer,Tin House, The New York Times, and Orion, where she is a contributing editor.
"The Brothers Vonnegut is a gem. Strand has unearthed a little-known, complex story about science and politics that touches on big questions about ethics and progress, and she delivers it with an infectious and unabashed exuberance. Her writing crackles on the page . . . But what’s most memorable about The Brothers Vonnegut is how strongly it articulates a message about the importance of making intentional decisions about the work each of us does and not blindly pursuing vocations out of convenience or for money, ego or fame.” —John Wilwol, The San Francisco Chronicle
"[An] enjoyable double biography . . .The Brothers Vonnegut . . . sings with [Kurt Vonnegut]’s gift for frank and snappy expression . . . Strand knows how to mount a quote with just the right details." —Katy Waldman, Slate
"[A] fascinating dual biography . . . The Brothers Vonnegut is the result of meticulous scholarship." —Jeremy Bernstein, The Wall Street Journal
"An exercise in biographical literary criticism, [The Brothers Vonnegut] is convincing and enjoyable, and fans and scholars of Vonnegut will be glad to have the specifics of this formative era filled in." —Evan Kindley, The New Republic
"Though many readers will be familiar with the story of a science-damaged postwar American writer and his relation to the military-industrial complex, few will have known this fascinating story of the Brothers Vonnegut. And few works of nonfiction on literary writers are as clear-eyed about the material connections between science, fiction, and war." —Jonathon Sturgeon, Flavorwire
“Fascinating . . . a superb, provocative, and crystal-clear narrative nonfiction.” —Mark Levine, Booklist (starred review)
“Strand's thoughtful history, drawn from abundant archival sources, recounts the brothers' repeated frustrations and disillusion as they confronted, in their own ways, the unsettling ethical questions of their time. An engaging yet disquieting portrait of postwar America through the eyes of a pair of brothers who accomplished great things in different fields.” —Kirkus Reviews