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Galápagos takes the reader back one million years, to A.D. 1986. A simple vacation cruise suddenly becomes an evolutionary journey. Thanks to an apocalypse, a small group of survivors stranded on the Galápagos Islands are about to become the progenitors of a brave, new, and totally different human race. In this inimitable novel, America’s master satirist looks at our world and shows us all that is sadly, madly awry—and all that is worth saving.

324 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1985

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About the author

Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

510 books32.6k followers
Kurt Vonnegut, Junior was an American novelist, satirist, and most recently, graphic artist. He was recognized as New York State Author for 2001-2003.

He was born in Indianapolis, later the setting for many of his novels. He attended Cornell University from 1941 to 1943, where he wrote a column for the student newspaper, the Cornell Daily Sun. Vonnegut trained as a chemist and worked as a journalist before joining the U.S. Army and serving in World War II.

After the war, he attended University of Chicago as a graduate student in anthropology and also worked as a police reporter at the City News Bureau of Chicago. He left Chicago to work in Schenectady, New York in public relations for General Electric. He attributed his unadorned writing style to his reporting work.

His experiences as an advance scout in the Battle of the Bulge, and in particular his witnessing of the bombing of Dresden, Germany whilst a prisoner of war, would inform much of his work. This event would also form the core of his most famous work, Slaughterhouse-Five, the book which would make him a millionaire. This acerbic 200-page book is what most people mean when they describe a work as "Vonnegutian" in scope.

Vonnegut was a self-proclaimed humanist and socialist (influenced by the style of Indiana's own Eugene V. Debs) and a lifelong supporter of the American Civil Liberties Union.

The novelist is known for works blending satire, black comedy and science fiction, such as Slaughterhouse-Five (1969), Cat's Cradle (1963), and Breakfast of Champions (1973)

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5 stars
21,925 (27%)
4 stars
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3 stars
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 3,654 reviews
Profile Image for Vit Babenco.
1,468 reviews3,645 followers
January 16, 2023
Galápagos is Kurt Vonnegut’s satirical tribute to Charles Darwin. The narrator of the tale is a ghost existing for a million years and witnessing everything from the beginning to the end.
“Nothing could be less inviting than the first appearance. A broken field of black basaltic lava, thrown into the most rugged waves, and crossed by great fissures, is everywhere covered by stunted, sun-burnt brushwood, which shows little signs of life. The dry and parched surface, being heated by the noon-day sun, gave to the air a close and sultry feeling, like that from a stove: we fancied even that the bushes smelt unpleasantly.” Charles DarwinThe Voyage of the Beagle
The story is also a spoof of Noah’s Ark but instead of landing on Mount Ararat the ship lands on one of the islands in the Galápagos archipelago. And instead of evolution Kurt Vonnegut depicts a devolution.
Back when childhoods were often so protracted, it is unsurprising that so many people got into the lifelong habit of believing, even after their parents were gone, that somebody was always watching over them – God or a saint or a guardian angel or the stars or whatever.
People have no such illusions today. They learn very early what kind of a world this really is, and it is a rare adult indeed who hasn’t seen a careless sibling or parent eaten alive by a killer whale or shark.

Nowadays, with all the consumerism, conformism and hypocrisy surrounding us, individuals just lose their true identity and the devolution has probably already begun.
Profile Image for Lyn.
1,883 reviews16.6k followers
September 30, 2019
Kurt Vonnegut, Isaac Asimov, Theodore Sturgeon and St. Peter sit in a bar in the Great Hereafter discussing, among other things, Vonnegut’s 1985 novel Galapagos.

Isaac: [Looking at Peter] What are you laughing about?

Peter: You know. [laughing]

Isaac: It’s still funny, after all these centuries, that me, a self described atheist and humanist, finds himself here in the Great Hereafter?

Peter: Yep, still funny.

Theodore: Well, it’s like Kurt’s book Galapagos, where Kilgore Trout’s son Leon is a ghost and views a million years of evolution. Kurt succinctly put together evolution and theism, tying the two together as if there was no metaphysical conflict.

Kurt: Well, there IS NO metaphysical conflict.

Peter: Ha! You know that NOW, but when you were writing, were you trying to make that point or were you being ironic?

Kurt: Irony is a big concept for a smelly fisherman!

Peter: I washed my hands, a******! [all laugh] and you are obfuscating the issue. Big enough word for you, army scout?

Kurt: Touché, Peter, and I think I was making the point that it is POSSIBLE, theoretically and rhetorically, that the two seemingly incongruent paths can arrive at the same destination.

Isaac: So back on Earth, you did not believe that you would end up here, smoking cigarettes and drinking cocktails with St. Peter and me?

Theodore: What am I, chopped liver?

Kurt: I didn’t know, and that was another point I was making, I didn’t know and no one else really knew, but there was a great amount of discussion, from both sides of the aisles that EVERYONE just KNEW what the answer was, but no one really did.

Isaac: Well, that was the scientific method describing the lack of a viable observation, it was crystal clear to me then.

Kurt: Was it, Isaac? By failing to make an observation that was sufficient for you to make an empirical statement?

Isaac: Well, hindsight being 20/20 –

Peter: You’re still full of s***.

[all laugh]

Kurt: The other point I was making was the idea about big brains. Me and Isaac, and most definitely Theodore, were often caught up in the idea that greater intelligence brought forth greater happiness, which almost always brings about less happiness. My slogan in the novel was - Stupidity May Save Us - Suppose human beings were shipwrecked on those islands? What would happen? Because all those animals out there have no business being there, you know. So I was thinking, how would human beings adapt?

Theodore: So that is how you got to the idea about reverse evolution? De-evolution?

Kurt: Of course there were no things to make tools out of out there. Just twigs, maybe some lava for hand axes. We would have to become very different sorts of animals.

Peter: But humanity would continue to live and love and marry and have kids and grow old and die even without tools, without plastic, and without big brains.

Kurt: That’s it in a nutshell, and I liked the idea that Theodore here, aka Kilgore, would be watching the whole show from the Great Hereafter.

Theodore: Turns out big brains aren’t as necessary as we thought.

[Charles Darwin approaches]

Darwin: Who wants to bowl?

**** 2019 re-read

There is an anecdote about Isaac Asimov’s wake where Vonnegut, delivering a eulogy, began with the comment about Asimov, who was a very public and outspoken atheist, “well, he’s in heaven now”. Vonnegut, ever the humorous humanist, got plenty of laughs among Asimov’s mourners. In doing so, he demonstrating his own playful irreverence towards both theism and propriety.

This novel about evolution (or de-evolution?) contains multiple Biblical references, as well as the biological references to Darwin and to his many theories which has made such an impact on our culture and thus on this story. The mainstay of this work is the premise that our “big brains” were an evolutionary experiment gone awry and that a sleeker design with a smaller brain and no hands works much better.

Much of this book is set in and around Guayaquil Ecuador and coincidentally, I’ve been to Guayaquil, in 1994, just a few years after the events of this story and so I saw the great disparity between the economic fortunate and unfortunate in that city described by Vonnegut. Strangely enough, I’ve also been to another city synonymous with Kurt Vonnegut and that is Dresden, Germany, where he spent some hellish time first as a prisoner of war and then as a survivor of the allied bombing of that once and now again beautiful city. And – I’ve been to Indianapolis and to Cape Cod, so it’s almost like I’m stalking Kurt.

The story is narrated by the ghost of Leon Trout, the son of none other than Kilgore Trout, who speaks to us from the other end of the blue tunnel that leads to the afterlife. The elder Trout admonished his late son that if he does not walk through the tunnel and join him in the hereafter, that he will not return again for a million years. The ghost of Leon Trout, then gets to narrate this brilliant work and observe humanity’s great evolutionary journey over this extended time and to see how big brains really just fouled things up.

And so it goes.

Profile Image for Ahmad Sharabiani.
9,564 reviews50 followers
January 23, 2022
Galápagos, Kurt Vonnegut

Galápagos is the eleventh novel written by American author Kurt Vonnegut. The novel questions the merit of the human brain from an evolutionary perspective. The title is both a reference to the islands on which part of the story plays out, and a tribute to Charles Darwin on whose theory Vonnegut relies to reach his own conclusions. It was first published in 1985 by Delacorte Press.

Main characters:
Leon Trout, dead narrator and son of Kilgore Trout
Hernando Cruz, first mate of the Bahía de Darwin
Mary Hepburn, an American widow who teaches at Ilium High School
Roy Hepburn, Mary's husband who died in 1985 from a brain tumor
Akiko Hiroguchi, the daughter of Hisako that will be born with fur covering her entire body
Hisako Hiroguchi, a teacher of ikebana and Zenji's pregnant wife
Zenji Hiroguchi, a Japanese computer genius who invented the voice translator Gokubi and its successor Mandarax
Bobby King, publicity man and organizer of the "Nature Cruise of the Century"
Andrew MacIntosh, an American financier and adventurer of great inherited wealth
Selena MacIntosh, Andrew's blind daughter, eighteen years old
Jesús Ortiz, a talented Inca waiter who looks up to wealthy and powerful people
Adolf von Kleist, captain of Bahía de Darwin who doesn't really know how to steer the ship
Siegfried von Kleist, brother of Adolf and carrier of Huntington's chorea who temporarily takes care of the reception at hotel El Dorado
James Wait, a 35-year-old American swindler
Pvt. Geraldo Delgado, an Ecuadorian soldier

تاریخ نخستین خوانش: ماه فوریه سال1994میلادی

عنوان: گالاپاگوس؛ نویسنده: کرت ونه گات؛ مترجم: علی اصغر بهرامی؛ تهران، مروارید، سال1382؛ در341ص؛ شابک9645881412؛ عنوان دیگر مجمع الجزایر گالاپاگوس؛ موضوع: داستانهای نویسندگان ایالات متحده آمریکا - سده 20م

طنز تلخ، روایت نابودی نسل انسان امروزی؛ عنوان کتاب از نام «مجمع‌ الجزایر گالاپاگوس»، که بخشی از داستان در آنجا می‌گذرد، برگرفته شده؛ داستان گروه کوچکی از افرادی است، که پس از یک بحران بزرگ اقتصادی، به سفری دریایی رفته، و کشتی‌شان در جزیره ی خیالی «سانتا روزالیا» در «مجمع‌ الجزایر گالاپاگوس»، خراب می‌شود؛ سپس یک بیماری مسری، تمامی انسان‌های روی کره زمین را نابارور می‌کند، البته به‌ جز افرادی که در جزیره ی «سانتا روزالیا» گرفتار شده‌ اند؛ در چندین میلیون سال، بازماندگان این افراد، که تنها نمونه‌ های انسان‌های باقی‌مانده در زمین هستند، به گونه‌ ای خزدار شبیه به فک‌های دریایی، که قادر به راه رفتن بر روی دو پا نیز هست، تبدیل می‌شوند؛ آنها پوزه‌ ای با دندان، برای شکار ماهی، جمجمه‌ ای دگرگون‌ شده و دستانی شبیه به باله، به همراه انگشت پیدا می‌کنند

راوی داستان، روح سرگردان «لئون تروتسکی تراوت» فرزند «کیلگور تراوت» (نویسنده علمی-تخیلی‌نویسی که «ونه‌ گات» خود آنرا آفریده و در کتاب‌هایش از او و داستان‌هایش نام می‌برد) است؛ که چند سال آخر زندگی انسان‌ها را تماشا می‌کند؛ لئون یک سرباز جنگ ویتنام بوده، که به خاطر کشتارها ناراحت شده، و از خدمت فرار می‌کند و به سوئد پناهنده می‌شود. او به کارگر کشتی‌ سازی تبدیل می‌شود، و در هنگام ساخت کشتی به یاد «داروین»، بر اثر حادثه‌ ای می‌میرد؛ این کشتی همانی است که بعدها در سفر طبیعی سده بکار گرفته می‌شود؛ سفری که در هنگام بحران اقتصادی، برای برخی افراد مشهور برگزار شده‌ بود، تا از «جزایر گالاپاگوس» دیدن کنند، و سرانجام همین کشتی بود که نسل انسان‌ها را از خطر انقراض نجات داد؛ «کیلگور تراوت» چهار بار بر پسرش حاضر، و از او می‌خواهد که به تونل آبی‌رنگ، که او را به جهان دیگر وارد می‌کند، بیاید اما «لئون» نمی‌پذیرد؛ در بار آخر او هشدار می‌دهد که اگر وارد نشود، او و تونل، تا یک میلیون سال دیگر نمی‌آیند، که همین باعث می‌شود که برای یک میلیون سال به مشاهده ی تغییر آهسته ی انسان‌های باقی‌مانده، به پستانداران آبزی بپردازد؛ این پروسه ی تغییر، از یک زن ژاپنی آغاز می‌شود، که دختر بزرگ یکی از بازماندگان واقعه ی بمباران اتمی هیروشیما بوده‌؛ او در جزیره، دختری با بدنی پوشیده از خز بدنیا می‌آورد؛ «لئون تراوت» می‌گوید که تمام مصیبت‌های انسان از «تنها تبهکار داستان من: مغز بیش‌ از اندازه بزرگ انسان» است؛ خوشبختانه، انتخاب طبیعی این مشکل را حل می‌کند، چون در آن جزایر کسی موفق است که بتواند به خوبی، و با سرعت در آب شنا کند، و این با داشتن سَرِ کوچک‌تر میسر است، برای اینکه با جریان آب کمتر برابری کند

شخصیت ها: «لئون تروت - راوی داستان که خیلی پیشتر مرده‌ است؛ او فرزند کیلگور تراوت، نویسنده داستان‌های علمی‌ تخیلی است که از کاراکترهای تقریباً ثابت بیشتر کتاب‌های ونه‌ گات اس»؛ «هرناندو کروز»؛ «ماری هپبورن - بیوه‌ ای آمریکایی که در دبیرستانی در شهر ایلیوم درس می‌دهد»؛ «روی هپبورن - شوهر ماری هپبورن که در سال1985میلادی بر اثر تومور مغزی درگذشت»؛ «آکیکو هیروگوچی - دختر هیساکو که با بدنی پوشیده از خز به دنیا آمد»؛ «هیساکو هیروگوچی - معلم ایکبانا و همسر باردار زنجی»؛ «زنجی هیروگوچی - نابغه کامپیوتر ژاپنی که دستگاه سخنگوی ترجمه همزمان را با نام گوکوبی اختراع کرده‌ است، نسل بعدی آنرا نیز با نام مانداراکس ساخته‌ است»؛ «بابی کینگ - سازمان‌ دهنده سفر طبیعی قرن»؛ «اندرو مکینتاش - یک سرمایه‌ گذار آمریکایی و ماجراجویی پولدار»؛ «سلنا مکینتاش - دختر هجده ساله نابینای اندرو»؛ «آدولف ون کلیست - کاپیتان کشتی به یاد داروین که در واقع اصلاً نمی‌داند که کشتی را چطور هدایت کند»؛ «زیگفرید ون کلیست - برادر آدولف که بطور موقت در پذیرش هتل الدوررا��و کار می‌کند»؛ «جیمز ویت - یک کلاهبردار سی و پنجساله آمریکایی»؛ «سرباز جرالدو دلگادو - یک سرباز اکوادوری»؛

تاریخ بهنگام رسانی 24/11/1399هجری خورشیدی؛ 02/11/1400هجری خورشیدی؛ ا. شربیا��ی
Profile Image for J.L.   Sutton.
666 reviews928 followers
February 19, 2020
“In the era of big brains, life stories could end up any which way. Look at mine.”

When I finish novels by Haruki Murakami or Kurt Vonnegut, I'm not always sure what I've read. That was definitely the case with Vonnegut's Galapagos. It was thought-provoking and I laughed a number of times. Did I understand it, though? For Vonnegut, nothing is serious. At the same time, these not serious parts are what most of us view as supremely important. When Vonnegut writes about the solution to overpopulation, for instance, it is really funny, but just how we adapt to a changing world is something we need to grapple with.

For Vonnegut, our big/oversized brains are the problem. Vonnegut has a hilarious solution! I tried to imagine the evolutionary changes a million years in the future Vonnegut was describing. I even tried to figure out what was happening on the nature cruise of the century (circa 1986 AD). So I enjoyed reading Galapagos, but I can't say just what happened. When I read it again (sometime in the future), I might or might not understand more. 4.5 stars
Profile Image for Kevin Ansbro.
Author 5 books1,477 followers
August 20, 2022
"When all was said and done, the creatures of the Galápagos Islands were a pretty listless bunch compared with rhinos and hippos and lions and elephants and so on."

Leon Trotsky Trout is as dead as a dodo but is nevertheless the incorporeal narrator of a story that is told a million years into our future.
Trout recounts a sequence of evolutionary events that begin in 1986, as a bunch of bipedal misfits gather in Ecuador for 'The Nature Cruise of the Century.'
Looking back at humankind, from a 'million-years-in-the-future' perspective, we are a freakish bunch; we possess oversized brains that we don't make the best use of, and we even give names to dogs.
Also, because our brains were the size of fat mangoes and not yet atrophied by evolution, a discussion between a husband and wife under stress could end up like a fight between two blindfolded people on roller skates.

Captain Adolf von Kleist, who doesn't know shit from Shinola, is somehow left in charge of this ill-fated, over-hyped maiden voyage to the Galápagos Islands.
(I can assure you that the story is better read than explained).

I'm a latecomer to Vonnegut and fell in love with his writing quicker than you could say "woolly mammoth." He elucidates with the conviction of a mad prophet; his prose is cheerily unfussy and he is at all times wickedly provocative.
And, in keeping with the 'circle of life' theme, there are fish metaphors aplenty.
For no reason other than authorial whimsy, he anoints any character who is about to die with an asterisk (so we know in advance that they are going to pop their clogs), and he mischievously over-explains things that are blindingly obvious to anyone bar our tiny-brained human descendants, one million years into the future.

Vonnegut has a droll sense of humour that I found immediately enjoyable and fans of Monty Python are sure to like his style. But of course, there is a great deal of sagacity to be found in his eccentricity.
It should come as no surprise to anyone that we humans prove to be the architects of our own downfall. Despite our hefty brains, we are somehow ignorant of the perils of war, financial crashes, global viruses, world overpopulation, climate change and meteorites hitting our planet.
Ain't that the truth?

The only carp I have with Vonnegut is that he has a scattergun approach to plot lines. The story staggers backwards and forwards like a drunken sailor in a hall of mirrors and I felt that the philosophical quotes interrupted, rather than enhanced, the narrative.

In truth, I really didn't know what to expect from Vonnegut's Galápagos (it was recommended to me by @Cecily), but I was pleasantly surprised and absolutely loved every daft, dizzy, witty moment of this prescient read!
Profile Image for Cecily.
1,137 reviews4,186 followers
October 7, 2015

Rewritten after rereading in July 2012.

This darkly humorous satire starts with a world financial crisis in 1986 (hopefully that’s where the similarity with current times ends), leading to WW3 – though it’s not really about either: it’s fundamentally about adaptation.

A million years in the future, the only “humans” left on Earth are the descendants of a small but diverse group of survivors of a Galapagos islands cruise, and they are more like seals than 20th century humans. Most of the story is set between the run up to the cruise and the passengers’ first few years on the island, but it is certainly not a Robinson Crusoe type story; it is far more provocative than that, raising issues of fate/independence, the meaning and importance of intelligence and ultimately, what makes us human.

Like all good dystopias (if that's not an oxymoron), the individual steps to it don't really stretch credulity (few of them are very original), but the final destination is more startling - and even somewhat positive.


The story arc is fundamentally chronological, but with an enormous number of tiny jumps ahead: right from the start, Vonnegut sprinkles the story with so many snippets about what will happen to everyone, why and how, that you don’t know if there will be anything left by the time the main narrative catches up. He even prefixes the names of those about to die with an asterisk, at which point I went with the flow and stopped worrying about "spoilers" (on rereading, this aspect became pure comedy). The final chapter, which I would have deleted, fills in a few random gaps that didn’t really need filling.

The narrator is Leon Trout, a long-dead man who helped build the cruise ship. He reminded me a little of Snowman in "Oryx and Crake" (http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/...), so if you liked that, consider this. (Kilgore Trout, the father of Leon, is a recurring character in Vonnegut: a prolific but not very successful writer of sci fi. This book mentions his “The Era of Hopeful Monsters”, with a plot that echoes this.)

The book also has random quotes from Mandarax, a hand-held computer and translator that is a little like the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. They are either bizarrely obscure, like the Oracle at Delphi, or comically inappropriate.


The main premise is that humans have evolved badly, though the reasons for this are never explained, which is odd, given how much weight is given to subsequent natural selection in the story.

Most significantly, our “big brains” are the cause of all our troubles: they lie (so we don’t trust them or other people), we can’t switch them off, they confuse us with too much information, distract us from the important matters of life and death (though often causing death, e.g. by fighting or suicide), and ultimately cause global financial collapse because the value of so many assets is only maintained by belief in virtual money whizzing around. Accepting the idea that our big brains are a handicap is a bit of a challenge, which Vonnegut backs up with typical bathos by suggesting alcohol is just a way to relax with a (temporarily) smaller brain.

Our long, protected childhoods accustom us to the idea of an omniscient carer and hence account for belief in god, whilst wealth makes us blasé about our doom.

Full stomachs are part of the problem, too: a full belly puts people off-guard and all the powerful people are well-fed, so don’t worry about impending disaster.

Outsourcing our skills and knowledge by developing machines to take over many brain tasks reduces the need for big brains, and indeed, for people.

No wonder humans, in their twenty-first century form, are doomed – even at a comical level: a million years hence, “evolution hasn’t made teeth more durable. It has simply cut the average human lifespan down to about thirty years”!

By contrast, animals are happy to survive, feed and reproduce, and once stranded on an island, natural selection leads to humanity being reduced and enhanced to such basics, “everybody is exactly what he or she seems to be” and “everyone is so innocent and relaxed now". No more lies or deceit, and no hands to use for evil – it sounds positively Utopian.

In addition to the above, it also touches on the nature of intelligence, eugenics (voluntary and not), consent, disability, incest, contraception, mate selection, truth, marriage and alternatives to it, and all sorts of other things. You could make a whole PSHE curriculum from this!


Amongst all the big issues and ideas the book explicitly raises, there is one that is always assumed, but never questioned or defended: in what sense are the "humans" on Santa Rosalia in a million years’ time actually human (and by extension, what does it mean to BE human)? And if they are human, then surely we should call ourselves apes, or even fish.

And fish and fishing, literal and metaphorical, are recurring themes: many of the characters are "fishers of men", albeit not in a good way, and we’re reminded that “so much depends on fish”; even the narrator’s surname is Trout.

I would hesitate to impose a New Testament analogy on a secular novel by a secular writer, but there are many Biblical allusions: creation, flood, an ark, Adam and Eve, the danger of knowledge, the power of belief, the existence of God, David and Goliath, souls, redemption, and… fish.

Vonnegut toys with why we are as we are and clearly doesn't think it's brain size or capacity that makes us human (which is surely good, as otherwise, what would be the implication for those with learning difficulties and brain damage etc?), but he leaves the reader to decide what “human” means.


Throughout the book, Vonnegut keeps reminding us of the significance of random and apparently trivial events, whilst at the same time implying the apparent opposite: the inevitability of the outcome for humanity (the butterfly effect versus fate). There is a clear message that most people are irrelevant; we can't know who the few important ones are, but they're probably the ones we least expect. Trout admits his prolonged observation was pointless: he was addicted to the soap opera qualities of the story, but accumulated knowledge rather than understanding.


The world ends up a happier place, because of the power of natural selection, echoing the very upbeat quote from Anne Frank on the title page, “In spite of everything, I still believe people are really good at heart.”

Yet, given his ideas about fate, is Vonnegut suggesting the book is pointless too (not that I would agree with that), is he actually trying to make a point (if so, what?) or just entertaining us? Mostly the latter, I think

If Leon Trout is reading this, or any other discussion of the book, he is doubtless chuckling at how seriously people are taking it. Mind you, as a pretentious late teen/early twentysomething, I would have had a field day of profundity!

Overall, not a long book, but one to savour, ponder, chuckle over and reread.


• “Mere opinions… were as likely to govern people’s actions as hard evidence, and were subject to sudden reversals as hard evidence could never be.”
• “It was all in people’s heads. People had simply changed their opinion of paper wealth.”
• Big brains make marriage hard because “That cumbersome computer could hold so many contradictory opinions” and switch between them so quickly “that a discussion between a husband and wife under stress could end up light a fight between blindfolded people wearing roller skates”.
• “Typical of the management of so many organisations one million years ago, with the nominal leader specialising in social balderdash, and with the supposed second in command burdened with the responsibility of understanding how things really worked.”
Profile Image for Henry Avila.
469 reviews3,258 followers
November 15, 2019
The serene Galapagos Islands, named after the famous giant turtles, discovered there, almost 600 miles west of impoverished Ecuador, ( in a remote part of the vast Pacific) the small nation, that owns them, was made famous by scientist Charles Darwin, when the " HMS Beagle," a British Royal Navy, surveying ship, visited these bleak, isles, encompassing 21, in number, not counting more than 100, minuscule peaks, breaking the surface, of the sometimes cold, deep blue waters, in 1835, strange animals were observed, by the soon to be renowned, perpetually seasick, young naturalist and geologist. A century and a half, later, things have drastically changed... noisy tourists... no longer at the end of the world, access by ships and airplanes, these exotic Galapagos, now have airports and sea docks, there, and even people residing in the formerly pristine lands, welcome to 1986 ... Big troubles, occur, an economic crisis engulfs the Earth, the inhabitants in many parts are starving, a virus is making them sterile too, and the long planned, "The Nature Cruise of the Century", to the Ecuadorian ocean province, from the Guayas River port of Guayaquil, threatened with cancellation. The few who do arrive, at the guarded hotel, are the new widow, American, Mary Hepburn, despondent, with suicidal impulses, James Wait, an alias, he says he's Canadian, a con man, in reality, who takes money, you guessed it, from grieving women, Japanese Hisako Hiroguchi, pregnant wife of computer genius, Zenji, incompetent Captain Adolf von Kleist, of the ship, "Bahia de Darwin", that's right, the same one that will take them to the islands, if he can find the archipelago, billionaire Andrew Macintosh, he wants more, and his blind, loyal daughter, Selena, the ghost of Leon Trotsky Trout, is our narrator, son of the late, not so great, writer, Kilgore Trout, and six hungry little girls, unexpected passengers, natives of the nearby rain forest . Still a war breaks out with a fierce neighboring nation, bombs falling, bullets flying, food riots erupting, the survivors of this group, must get away, quickly, to the cruise ship, there is safety only in the Galapagos, just forty hours from the lawless city. Captain Adolf von Kleist, is constantly amusing, a good looking, well spoken gentleman, a notable storyteller , who doesn't know how to steer a boat , without any nautical knowledge, whatsoever, his crew has deserted him, he must pretend...skillfully. A fun read by the always entertaining Mr. Kurt Vonnegut, those who like his style, which can seem rather childish, to some, the uninformed , he knows his targets, though, they, ( his fans) will greatly enjoy this satire, about the stupidity of the human race, not realizing there are consequences for every action, life is not only for them, they must share the planet with other living creatures, who deserve to be unharmed, and able to prosper, too...P.S. there will be surprises
Profile Image for Steven  Godin.
2,497 reviews2,383 followers
August 22, 2022

I can imagine Kurt Vonnegut Jr. had a really good time writing this—humans evolving into seal-like creatures with flippers and beaks and small brains. And of course, with small brains they are no longer capable of carrying out the elaborate and monstrous and extremely wicked acts of their big-brained warmongering ancestors. Even if their pea brains could muster up the idea of building weapons of mass destruction, or even your basic shiv, could you imagine trying to do this with slippery flippers and a beak? We might be dealing with the Galápagos Islands and lizards and Charles Darwin and catching fish and cannibal girls and a former male prostitute and an old women who likes playing around with sperm and whatnot, but it's clear he is still pointing the finger at the human race—rebuking it for all the wrongs like greed and excessive technology and financial catastrophe and war. On the surface we have a band of misfits assembled to take the 'the nature cruise of the century' before everything starts to go belly up, but Vonnegut Jr. adds important and deeper subtext to the story and it's this that impressed me the most. It's a really clever novel narrated by a ghost from a point a million years in the future—who also happens to be a Vietnam veteran—and I actually preferred this to his classic anti-war novel Slaughterhouse-Five.
Profile Image for Jenna ❤ ❀  ❤.
811 reviews1,275 followers
July 22, 2020
Seals, Resting, Rock, Ocean, Wildlife, Water, Mammal
Humans, one million years in the future

What would happen if, due to a virus that prevents women from reproducing, all but a handful of humans die out? In which direction would evolution go if we suddenly had to live without modern technology?

This is something I sometimes wonder about. If a virus suddenly wiped out nine-tenths of us, or some idiot wannabe dictator slammed his tiny hands on that big red nuclear weapon button because someone hurt his feelings and tweeting a childish tantrum just wasn't enough to show how yugely pissed he was...... shrouding the world in nuclear radiation for decades to come.

Even if humans don't suddenly have to start over with just a handful of us, what will we be like a million years from now? (That is, provided we don't entirely kill ourselves off through greed or stupidity.)

Whether or not you've ever pondered these questions, Kurt Vonnegut has some answers.

He envisioned a virus that kept women from reproducing. At this time (1986 to be exact, so don't worry. It didn't happen), a small number of humans were isolated and marooned on one of the Galapagos Islands and were the only ones to whom this virus didn't spread. The women of this island were the only ones able to reproduce, passing on their DNA from one generation to the next.

If you know anything about how evolution works, you should have no problem understanding why Vonnegut saw humans, stranded on this island, becoming seal-like.

He writes Galapagos with his usual dry wit and critical view of humanity. He decides our big brains are responsible for our suffering, and we would be much happier without them. 

And if we had flippers instead of hands, we could no longer enslave our fellow human beings, or build weapons to destroy our world and each other. 

It's a fun book and if you've enjoyed any of Vonnegut's other works, you don't want to miss this one. 

The characters are all too-human with their flaws and wants and dislikes and likes and big brains and everything else that makes us the complicated beings we are. 

Oh, and what a fun surprise to find out, 70% of the way through, who the narrator is!!!
Profile Image for Darwin8u.
1,599 reviews8,732 followers
December 12, 2016
"In this era of big brains, anything which can be done will be done -- so hunker down."
-- Kurt Vonnegut, Galápagos


Trying to stay a couple books ahead of my son as I re-read Vonnegut. I haven't read much since those years between 13 and 18 when I seemed to burn through Vonnegut books again and again. He was one of those few writers I ever read twice (Dickens, Shakespeare, and Hugo are a few others). So, now as an adult I am approaching these books again.

God I love this man. I love his hopeful, resigned cynicism about the modern era. He writes as an outsider, but also as a friend -- if that makes any sense. This novel is so brilliant in its simplicity. Kilgore Trout's son Leon Trotsky Trout narrates a tale that covers one million years. He is a ghost, destined to watch humanity crash and be reborn on the Island of Galápagos. That is the basic arc. The almost end of man, and his rebirth. Using evolution as a key, Vonnegut shows that like the Irish Elk, with its large, heavy, awkward, and almost unadaptive giant antlers, man is burdened with a giant brain that seems to cause endless trouble for our species.

“Given a choice between a brain like you and the antlers of an Irish elk,” she told her own central nervous system, “I'd take the antlers of the Irish elk.”.

So, the accidents of genetics and the isolation of some famous islands West of Ecuador allow for our species to be reborn.

“What was it going to do with a bigger brain? Compose Beethoven's Ninth Symphony?”.
Profile Image for Brian.
709 reviews353 followers
July 6, 2020
“They figure they can’t do much of anything about anything anyway, so they take life as it comes.”

One of Kurt Vonnegut’s most enviable talents as a writer was his ability to mock and celebrate humanity. Often times he would do this in the same sentence. It is a skill that only the best satirists possess. “Galápagos” is a novel tinged with darkness, but not the bitterness that would envelop Vonnegut later in his life/career.
In “Galápagos” I really like the unique idea of modern (in this novel the late 20th century) humanity’s brains being “too big” and thus a bad thing. It is an intriguing motif, which Vonnegut weaves the book around. The book takes place a million years in the future from 1986 AD and humans have “evolved’ into a sort of aquatic creature that only operates on the basic and necessary instincts of life. Get it? The irony of “evolving” into a lesser species? It is intriguing. I am not sure the novel makes a case for its being the entire focus of a book.
Many of the usual suspects one assumes would be in a Vonnegut novel are addressed in this tale, and he makes a biting connection between sex and warfare that is a nice touch. It is satirical, and yet perfectly apropos at the same time.
I will admit that I am still a little perplexed at the purpose of the use of a narrator who is a ghost, a Vietnam vet and the son of Vonnegut’s eponymous character Kilgore Trout. I don’t know that it detracts from the novel; I just don’t see the point?
Like most Vonnegut, “Galápagos” is about what it is that makes us human. Among those items: having the capacity to reason, to be motivated by selfish desires over the greater good, to laugh at farts…these are traits of most people. And Vonnegut is not saying that is a bad thing, he is just saying “The thing was…”
“Galápagos” makes me feel irritation and great love (at the same time) for those things about us that make us so wonderfully human.

*I am sure that when I reread this book I will have some very different opinions. I think that is what makes it good.
Profile Image for William2.
758 reviews3,079 followers
June 14, 2019
Stephen Jay Gould used to assign this novel to his students at Harvard. Probably for some introductory paleontology course or other. Since I admire SJG’s essays I’ve always wanted to read Galápagos. Two things: most if not all of Vonnegut’s novels feature a highly intrusive narrator—God-like—marshaling his patterns. E.M. Forster doesn’t hold a candle to Vonnegut for sheer intrusiveness. Second, Vonnegut uses a relentless list of referents—in this book, big human brains, natural selection, marine iguanas, blue-footed boobies, etc.—and if he’s ever at a loss in his narrative he simply returns to an element in this pattern to propel the narrative. It’s a pretty good device. This makes for a text that is highly self-referential yet not one cut off from world events. The time is one million years from now. Humans have devolved into sea-going creatures with flippers where their hands used to be and much smaller brains, since a streamlined body is more likely to be successful in the hunt for fish. The world as we know it is long gone. As with whales, once land animals, probably some type of ruminant, humans are now seagoing, and once again part of the food chain. There’s no more high tech, no money, no society, no language, no novels, no 24/7 sexual arousal. Now humans have devolved to the states of musth and rut like most other mammals. The book is basically about the small human multi-racial contingent that interbreeds after the apocalypse (which is tacit, never discussed) and becomes future humankind’s (such as it is) genetic ancestors. The narrator is a ghost. It’s quite a farrago.
Profile Image for Dan Schwent.
3,005 reviews10.6k followers
July 15, 2016
One million years in the future, a man recounts humanity's origins in the Galapagos islands.

This was the third Kurt Vonnegut book I've read and my third favorite. Actually, it reminds me of one of Grandpa Simpson's rambling stories that circles back on itself, only with novel-y bits like themes and messages and such.

Galapagos is part satire, part cautionary tale. There's a shipwreck on Galapagos and it turns out those people are the only ones who can reproduces. I'm pretty sure this is mentioned in the first two pages. Anyway, one million years in the future, humanity is a whole other species.

Galapagos deals in evolution, environmentalism, and anti-war. Also, humanity's "big brains" are blamed for most of their problems. The world of Galapagos is in a global economic crisis. Yeah, a lot has changed since 1986...

The book is actually pretty funny with Vonnegut's dark absurdist humor being the star of the show. I interrupted my girlfriend's Harry Potter reading with this, easily my favorite quote:
“I didn't know then what a sperm was, and so wouldn't understand his answer for several years. "My boy," he said, "you are descended from a long line of determined, resourceful, microscopic tadpoles-- champions every one.”

I enjoyed this fairly well and devoured it in three sittings. I didn't like it as much as Cat's Cradle or Slaughterhouse-Five, however. I think it was the circular nature of the narrative that got me. If Galapagos was a road trip, it would have been thousands of left turns in order to go fifty miles in a straight line. 3.5 out of 5 stars.
Profile Image for Dave Schaafsma.
Author 6 books31.5k followers
June 20, 2019
"The only true villain in my story: The oversized human brain."

So to me Galápagos (a series of islands off the coast of Ecuador) is a kind of environmental symbol. I’ve never been there, but it emerged for me (and many of us) decades ago as one of many pristine places where eco-diversity thrives. Very old tortoises! Iguanas! Finches galore! I know Charles Darwin was the guy that catapulted the place to international fame, and that it is still much written about and researched and visited. Since I own a copy of this book (that I had thought I had read decades ago; maybe I did!), and since I was going to visit another volcanic island, Kona, the Big Island, and have been trying to avoid reading a sort of similarly themed book, The Uninhabitable Earth, and because I love Vonnegut, I thought I would take along his 1985 speculative fiction about Galápagos and about man’s potential for survival in what was already then seen as our impending environmental disaster. (Spoiler alert: We don't, at least not most of us, in anything like our current configurations, at least according to the narrator, looking back from a million years forward).

“Just in the nick of time they realized that it was their own habitat they were wrecking—that they weren't merely visitors.”

Oh, how things have stayed the same and changed in the last 3o or so years. Vonnegut establishes in this book that man’s “Big Brain” has basically destroyed the planet, through greed and war and eco-trashing. From the author who personally survived the horrific bombing of Dresden and was never quite the same after (who could be?), he’s earned his dark vision of man and the planet. But he also did his science homework, too. Anyway, the “same” part is that recognition of impending doom, which he writes about then, and we have with us today; the difference from today is a kind of cock-eyed optimism he has his narrator, Leon Trotsky Trout, express in the end in spite of every bad thing he tells you about (for you Vonnegut fans, Leon is the son of Vonnegut's recurring character Kilgore Trout, himself based on an actual friend and once popular science fiction writer Theodore Sturgeon). As to that optimism, Leon’s favorite quote is from Anne Frank: “In spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart.” Trout quotes Frank in spite of the story he describes of ludicrous greed and destruction.

The basic story is that some people create a Ecotourist Event, “The Nature Cruise of the Century," to the Galápagos Islands, involving any number of rich celebrities such as Jackie Onassis and Rudolph Nureyev and several shady (and a couple good) fictional characters, in the building of a cruise ship, the Bahía de Darwin. Of course many people want to get rich on the occasion, including a guy who preys on rich widows and another guy who wants to develop billion-dollar corporations out of it. The cruise never comes off, as a worldwide recession affecting Ecuador (and thus, worldwide hunger, an the hint of global class revolution and war) makes it problematic for rich celebrities to travel to places of extreme poverty. We are already in 1986 always at war, of course:

“As long as they killed people with conventional rather than nuclear weapons, they were praised as humanitarian statesmen. As long as they did not use nuclear weapons, it appeared, nobody was going to give the right name to all the killing that had been going on since the end of the Second World War, which was surely World War Three.”

Anyway, some (poor) people in the process of the cruise event falling apart raid the cruise ship, and some others take it and get shipwrecked on one of the outer islands at the time a worldwide virus makes all humans infertile except the group on this particular island. One girl bears a child with seal-like fur, pointing to early shifts in evolution. In Trout’s (who is a ghost, and has been for a million years) speculative/science fictional account, humans evolve to survive as amphibians, living a simpler life, post-tech.

Notable things:

*The book is both a tribute to and a critique of Darwin. Evolution happens, but what if survival of the fittest just means the survival of the powerful and greedy? The book seems eerily prescient, and relevant to today in so many ways.

*Vonnegut’s humorous meta-fictional approach has him starring the names of characters who will soon die in his story.

*Black humor; this is a grim book, but also darkly satirical, often very funny. Vonnegut in this book is most clearly the twentieth century Twain.

*The idea of chance—heart attacks, murders, diseases—suddenly changing one's personal fortunes is part of the serendipity of Vonnegut’s absurdist world view.

*Capitalism as the destruction of the world, no turning back: “The value of their money was imaginary. Like the nature of the universe itself, the desirability of their American dollars and yen was all in people’s heads.”

*Against all odds, hope: “So, the accidents of genetics and the isolation of some famous islands West of Ecuador allow for our species to be reborn.”

I think this is one of the very best Vonnegut novels, maybe second behind Slaughterhouse Five. Highly recommended!

Charles Darwin on Galápagos, which he first visited in 1835:


Darwin took, among other things, a few giant tortoises back with him when he left the islands, including Harriet, who died in 2006 at 176 (true story!) (and no, that wasn't the oldest tortoise on record!) (look it up for yourself! I did!). Here's a different, yet similarly giant tortoise on Galápagos:


Re: The popularity of ecotourism in Galápagos, and the trashing of it, ironically:

Profile Image for Apatt.
507 reviews806 followers
November 12, 2017
“Just about every adult human being back then had a brain weighing about three kilograms! There was no end to the evil schemes that a thought machine that oversized couldn’t imagine and execute.”

No “so it goes”, but “and so on” does make the occasional appearances. This quote represents what appears to be the basic theme of Galápagos. The “big brain” is humanity’s downfall. Though I believe Vonnegut means something more subtle than that.

Galápagos is about a group of survivors of an apocalypse after (and before) the rest of humanity is wiped out, thanks to our big brains. Because this is a Kurt Vonnegut book don’t go in expecting a post-apocalypse thriller like The Stand; best not to expect anything and just go on the wild ride. The story is mainly set in 1986 and sometimes fast forward one million years (to 1,001,986?), with multiple flashbacks to the central characters’ back-stories (linear timeline is not Uncle Kurt’s style). Still, the narrative is easy to follow because Vonnegut knows what he is doing and there is method to his madness. Most of the characters are staying at the El Dorado hotel in Guayaquil (the port city in Ecuador) in preparation to board the ship “Bahía de Darwin” for their “Nature Cruise of the Century” on the Galápagos Islands.

After a cataclysmic event destroys most of Ecuador they flee the city and board the “Bahía de Darwin” which becomes a sort of Noah’s Ark for a while until the inept Captain runs it aground on an island called Santa Rosalia where they are marooned for the rest of their lives. The story is narrated by Leon Trotsky Trout, son of Vonnegut's recurring character Kilgore Trout. Leon never interacts with any of the characters, however, as he died during the construction of the “Bahía de Darwin”, and is narrating as a ghost doing a research on the meaning of life. Fast forward one million years and humanity has evolved, entirely from this group of survivors on Santa Rosalia, into semi-aquatic people with flippers instead of hands; and much smaller brains which prevent them from making the same mistake as their ancestors from the 80s.

As with other Vonnegut’s novels, the humour is front and centre but laid on a foundation of sadness and disapproval of where humanity is heading in spite because of our big brains. According to Leon the narrator the sorrows of humankind were caused by “the oversized human brain”. A point frequently reiterated throughout the book. However, it is important to distinguish between what Leon Trout thinks and what Kurt Vonnegut thinks. I believe Vonnegut’s point is that humanity is blessed with intelligence but we, as a race, have been abusing it, using it to worsen life on this planet since time immemorial. Eventually, such misuse is likely to be the cause of our downfall.

There are numerous subplots and flashbacks, initially, I did not find the narrative particularly compelling because of the jumbled timeline which seems to prevent any kind of momentum from developing. However, as I said, Vonnegut knows what he is doing and the disparate plot strands are gradually woven together into one cohesive story. The book is often very funny, full of whimsical nonsequiturs and sharp satire. However, Vonnegut is not Wodehouse, he wants to do more than tickle your funny bones, sometimes his disgust is made quite plain. For example, the back-story of a character called James Wait features this:
“Later, when he was a prostitute on the island of Manhattan, his clients would find those scars, made by cigarettes and coat hangers and belt buckles and so on, very exciting.”

Galápagos made me laugh and feel sad at the same time, I can’t think of any other authors who can accomplish this.
fancy line
• Vonnegut seems to have foreseen smartphones and PDAs with a device called Mandarax, but as a product of our “big brain”, it is basically useless.

• There is very little dialogue in this book, but there is so much else going on you won’t miss it.

• The blue-footed boobies have an important role to play in the survival of humanity, and they are just so damn cute!

• In spite of the far future setting and the ghost, Galápagos is neither sci-fi nor fantasy. It is a satire about humanity, what we have been doing, what we are still doing to eff up the world we live in. More of a cautionary tale than spec fic, IMO.

• Thank you, Cecily, for nagging me to read recommending this book.

“Mere opinions, in fact, were as likely to govern people’s actions as hard evidence, and were subject to sudden reversals as hard evidence could never be.”

“Of what possible use was such emotional volatility, not to say craziness, in the heads of animals who were supposed to stay together long enough, at least, to raise a human child, which took about fourteen years or so?”

“Something is always going wrong with our teeth. They don’t last anything like a lifetime, usually. What chain of events in evolution should we thank for our mouthfuls of rotting crockery?”

“Like so many other pathological personalities in positions of power a million years ago, he might do almost anything on impulse, feeling nothing much. The logical explanations for his actions, invented at leisure, always came afterwards.”
Profile Image for Jason.
137 reviews2,350 followers
August 5, 2016
FINALLY. A Vonnegut book I didn’t like. I didn’t think it were possible!

Narrated by the million-year-old ghost of Kilgore Trout’s son (Trout being the obscure science fiction writer whom Vonnegut fans will undoubtedly recall from such books as Breakfast of Champions and Slaughterhouse-Five), Galápagos tells the story of the end of human civilization as we currently know it. Which is, incidentally, a million years before Trout’s telling of it. And by this description one might expect to be highly entertained—imagining Vonnegut’s satirical yet humoristic style, his fun but quirky characters, his interjected musings on all things life, the whole ordeal undercut by a certain familiar poignancy. But this book was missing all of that. None of its characters was very interesting, the end of “big-brained” human existence was not fleshed out in as much detail as one might otherwise expect from a book specifically about its demise (or, more accurately, about its transformation). There were a few genius quips about Charles Darwin and his theory of natural selection, but for the most part this book was a bit of a let down.
Profile Image for PirateSteve.
90 reviews336 followers
September 6, 2015
Mr. Vonnegut puts to use a hyper imagination with Galapagos. This book is about big brains. Big brains, like big boobies, regularly get in peoples way. Fortunately, I have neither. They are in peoples way when riding a crowded bus, or crowded elevators or when actively engaged in a sport. And evolution. This book is about big brains, boobies and evolution. That's about all a person needs to know before reading Galapagos... after all, it's not likely you were going to write Beethoven's Ninth Symphony.
Profile Image for Tom Quinn.
552 reviews168 followers
April 21, 2023
Shortly after college I used to pass my time getting severely stoned and writing down my thoughts. Epiphanies were few and far between but among the more coherent insights was something along the lines of: great white sharks evolved teeth and jaws and no one begrudges them chomping their way through the sea so humans, having evolved big problem-solving brains, had some sort of biological duty to think and think and think.

Boy, was I full of it!

Imagine my delight a decade or so later finding out that Vonnegut said it so much better in this punchy novel. As the not-often-proud owner of the sort of brain Mary Hepburn has, the sort that at times suggests wildly unhelpful things, what I wouldn't give these days to think less and less and less!

5 stars. Can I ever relate.

Beyond that personal anecdote, I feel the book is a brilliantly direct challenge to Biological Imperativism and Social Darwinism. OK, so we humans are animals and subject to all the embarrassing hindrances of the simple crayfish or what have you. But we need not compete to survive. Yes, we're prey to chemical disturbances a la Breakfast of Champions. But we need not abandon the mental/spiritual frontier on that account.

Accepting Darwin's evolutionary premises does not eliminate the wonderful accomplishments of humankind. It shifts their context something fierce but it can still follow that we humans are something special and well worth banding together to keep this marvel moving. And that's Humanism to me, in a rambling roundabout fashion.

Quoth Mandarax:
What a piece of work is a man! How noble in reason, how infinite in faculty! In form and moving how express and admirable! In action, how like an Angel, In apprehension, how like a god! The beauty of the world, the paragon of animals—and yet to me, what is this quintessence of dust?

- Wm. Shakespeare, Hamlet (2.3.295-300)
Profile Image for Anthony Vacca.
423 reviews284 followers
May 3, 2016
Absolutely adored the central conceit of this novel: In the midst of the death of the human species, a pocket of "humanity" manages to trundle on for at least another million years into the future, but the caveat being that these far-flung descendants are forever marooned on an ashy isle of the Galapagos where they have devolved into furry small-brained creatures with flippers--and the species and the planet couldn't be better off for it! The conceptual remove from its characters will probably trouble readers with conventional hearts, not to mention the very grim tone this novel takes toward the worth of the human race. But I loved the ruthlessly mordant satire that froths from every page of this novel. More gloomy and acerbic takedowns of the human species, please!
Profile Image for Jean-Luke.
Author 1 book394 followers
November 22, 2021
Have you heard of Charles Darwin? Irish elk? Antonio José de Sucre? Ikebana? Rudolf Nureyev? Jackie Kennedy Onassis? The Kanka-bonos—I don’t think so, as Vonnegut has made them up. Blue-footed boobies? Vampire finches—the list goes on. No? Well, crack open Galápagos, and you’ll be in the dark no more. Gorgeous and meditative and funny and circuitous, you may just finish it feeling like you’ve stimulated the big brain that is to blame for every single problem in your life. You’re your own worst enemy, as it turns out, and there’s nobody you’d rather have enlighten you on this than Kurt Vonnegut.
Profile Image for Melki.
6,049 reviews2,392 followers
April 4, 2012
I hadn't read anything by Vonnegut since 1990. No real reason for the lapse, just life, I guess. But boy, am I glad he's back in my life again.

Like most of THE MAN'S books, this one is about everything and nothing.

The ghost of Leon Trotsky Trout (sprung from the loins of Kilgore Trout) spins a salty yarn from one million years in the future, telling us all about the mating rituals of humans and blue footed boobies in the year 1986. Seems that once upon a time, mankind had bigger brains and opposable thumbs instead of flippers. And we still managed to screw everything up!

I was just happy to learn that people will not only be around a million years from now, a fact that I had truly doubted, but that we'll still get hiccups and laugh when someone farts.
Profile Image for Amanda.
282 reviews313 followers
September 10, 2013
As a fan of sarcasm, cynicism, pessimism, and nihilism (yup, I'm fun at parties), as well as an absurdist plot, I'm a smitten-kitten when it comes to Vonnegut. However, I'm not in love with Galapagos. In deep like? Yes, but, for me, the gold standard when it comes to Vonnegut is Cat's Cradle, followed by Mother Night. I did, however, like Galapagos better than Slaughterhouse-Five.

Galapagos is set one million years after 1986, when the world as we know it ended and, through a series of fluke events, one man and several women are stranded on the island of Santa Rosalia in the Galapagos. The end of civilization was brought about by mankind's "big brains" (although not necessarily by man himself, as man is fundamentally good--just led astray by his inability to control his thoughts and his imagination), along with the help of a bacteria that leaves all the women of the world sterile. However, on the secluded island of Santa Rosalia, the female castaways still young enough to produce are spared and, with an unwilling sire and a little help from a high school biology teacher, they are all impregnated. Thus, life continues to flourish on Santa Rosalia. Not only that, but after millions of years, mankind has evolved so that they have smaller brains, flippers for hands, and a lifespan of 30 years (at which point we're easy prey for sharks and killer whales). Welcome to utopia! With our Darwinian advancements, we no longer have the ability to lie, cheat, steal, etc. We also lack the capacity for simple thought or creativity of any kind. (Admittedly, it's a shit utopia, as far as utopias go, and I myself would gladly just swim out to meet the sharks.)

If you think I've just divulged several plot spoilers, I haven't. You learn all this at the beginning and the rest of the novel circles itself like a dog chasing its tail as these events are told over and over again, but new details are added with each retelling. This structure could become repetitive for some readers, but didn't really bother me. As with most Vonnegut works, fragmented and nonlinear narrative is to be expected, as is the theme of "people are dumb asses." However, there is hope in this cautionary tale--if we learn to rein in our big brains, then maybe we'll be spared the evolutionary chain of events that lead to the utopian existence of lounging around on a beach somewhere, clapping our flippers together while chewing seaweed cud and hoping for some seal-like lovin' before the sharks come for us. And I think that's a lesson we can all learn from, don't you?

Cross posted at This Insignificant Cinder
Profile Image for Caro the Helmet Lady.
773 reviews349 followers
April 30, 2017
It was a complicated relationship, with this book. I love Vonnegut, so I was more than enthusiastic to start yet another book by him. And as I started reading it, I got stuck right away... It took me a MONTH and a couple of days to finish it. Which is unusual for me, with Vonnegut.
My main problem with it - knowing from the start that all the characters were doomed and what sort of fate awaited them (and the whole humanity too, btw) wasn't good. There were no surprises, no "aha!" moments, no twists. The action was jumping in time and space, which I found not really confusing, but rather pointless.
Also, having way too many characters didn't help either. It didn't let me getting attached to any of them, or to know them better and I didn't actually care what was going to happen to them.
So what I got was another Vonnegut's rant on poor moral state of human kind and how nothing good could ever happen to us because we were/are/will be selfish egotistic bastards ready to kill everything and everyone because of our crazy or hungry reasons. Sounded familiar? Right.
It reminded me of Cat's Cradle, where we also had the extinction of human race.
I didn't love it. I liked it, because you just can't easily get over Vonnegut, he's brilliant with his sarcasm, his insight and writing, of course. But I don't think this one is going to be as memorable to me as his other books I've already read. I really tried, but it just didn't work this time for me.
Profile Image for Stuart.
722 reviews269 followers
August 1, 2015
Galapagos: Our biggest problem is our oversized brains
Originally posted at Fantasy Literature
This year I read or reread my favorite Kurt Vonnegut books after a two-decade gap: The Sirens of Titan (1959), Mother Night (1961), Cat’s Cradle (1963), and Slaughterhouse-Five (1969). In these works, his trademark cynicism and resignation towards humanity’s recurrent vanity and folly was mitigated by his gallows humor and simple, unadorned prose. It’s a formula that really transcends any period and keeps his books popular among successive generations of readers, particularly younger people who connect with his consistent debunking of societies’ pretensions and hypocrisies.

I debated whether to add Galápagos (1985) to the list, since it comes much later in his career and some of his later books seemed to lack the energy and focus of his early works. In the end, it’s such a short book and the audiobook is narrated by the excellent Jonathan Davis, so I gave it a go. As it turns out, Galápagos served as a concise summation of the ideas that infuse his earlier books.

Galápagos is the story of the “Nature Cruise of the Century” aboard the Bahía de Darwin, a cruise set to depart Ecuador for the Galapagos Islands with a roster of wealthy and prominent passengers including Jackie Onassis, Henry Kissinger, Mick Jagger, and other celebs. However, right before the cruise embarks, a global financial crisis destroys the value of emerging currencies, rendering the value of the Ecuadorian currency “less than a banana peel” and scuppering the trip. However, a number of passengers are already in Ecuador, and amid growing unrest and hunger in the local population, the captain still hopes to depart with hundreds of gourmet meals still onboard. As you can imagine, things don’t go well, and the boat finally runs aground on the island of Santa Rosalia in the Galapagos.

The novel is narrated by an omniscient voice that does not identify itself for most of the book, but does indicate it is viewing the events of 1985 from a million years in the future. The narrator tells us that in this far future, humankind has completely evolved (or devolved) into streamlined, beaked creatures living in the Galapagos Islands that live mainly on fish, iguanas, Blue-footed Boobies, etc. Their key development is that they have evolved much smaller brains to adapt to a simple existence, free of all the miseries and neuroses that afflicted mankind a million years ago. In fact, humans’ hands have become flippers designed for swimming, so they no longer can use tools and recreate civilization. It turns out that civilization was wiped out by a virus that consumed human eggs in the uterus, and the only survivors are descended from the passengers (and a few others) of the Bahía de Darwin.

Throughout the story, the narrator dryly describes the various dramas that each passenger has gone through in their lives, and how this random gathering of people unwittingly becomes the start of a new human race. As always, the selection of people is utterly random due to the absence of a divine being controlling events, so everyone is flawed in various ways, with no heroes or villains. In fact, the only villain in the story is the oversized brains of people that created such an absurd and unsustainable global society in the first place.

This theme is very much in keeping with what Vonnegut has written before, and he has always had great pathos and empathy for the plight of the poor, deluded, and neurotic human race, but I think in Galápagos he pulls the focus even farther back (a million years, in fact) to observe humans from a great distance, and his conclusion is that the self-inflicted misery of the human race can only be solved by shrinking and simplifying those oversized, useless brains of ours that prevent us from being satisfied with a simple, unencumbered existence.

In other words, after several decades of writing about the stupidity of modern society, Vonnegut has essentially said, “you know what, it’s pretty obvious that we are hopeless basket cases and would be better off as simple-minded creatures that live a peaceful existence fishing and fornicating and otherwise thinking about nothing at all.” That suggests to me that the balance of his cynicism and humanism finally had tipped towards fatalism and that humanity is incapable of fixing its own problems. How we as readers take this message is entirely up to us, but it’s certainly not a comforting thought.
Profile Image for Kim.
1 review4 followers
August 6, 2007
I've read a few of Vonnegut's novels now, and I can't get enough. I love his writing style, his dark humor, and his incredible imagination. He has this way of making his bizarre visions of the future seem perfectly plausible, and makes me worry for our future and laugh at the same time.

Galapagos is told from the point of view of a person a million years after 1986. He relates the story of events in 1986 that led to the remnants of all of humanity being situated on one tiny island a million years later. I won't tell you what life is like a million years from now, because it's more fun to be surprised as the storyteller slowly fills you in.

Something I love about Vonnegut's brand of storytelling is the way he bounces around among the story's different points. In Slaughterhouse Five, his speaker has become "unstuck in time", and so one moment he's an old man, the next he's a child, the next he's a soldier in WWII, etc. In Galapagos, the speaker has been around for a million years, and so we just follow his train of thought as he tells about one person in 1986, then another person twenty years later, then about life on the island one million years later, then about the atom bomb on Nagasaki, then back to 1986 about a different person, then about himself, etc. The story never moves in a straight line, so you learn the "ending" rather early on and take a great ride while he fills in the middle for you.

Vonnegut may not be everyone's cup of tea, but it's my opinion that he should be! Everyone should try reading his stories, because they are so full of commentary on human beings and what we're capable of. And it isn't all war and apocalypse; there are beautiful moments about love and human connection and wonder as well.
Profile Image for Steph.
576 reviews300 followers
October 5, 2021
oh i loved this book!! it's so fucking clever and fascinating and funny and wise!

this is only my second vonnegut so far. i read cat's cradle in high school and enjoyed it, but wasn't sure if i really got it. i was happy to feel like i absorbed enough of galapagos, now that i'm a bit older and wiser. or maybe i've just learned not to take vonnegut's work too seriously.

but regardless of what he has to say about our big troublesome brains (and how much better off we'd be without such mental capacities), this book is a blast. the short chapters and sharp wit make it super readable. i love that the reader knows the ending from the start: future humans have evolved into fin-bearing seal-like creatures! but with this knowledge we cozy up to enjoy the ride and see how everything unfolds.
Profile Image for Daniel Clausen.
Author 11 books469 followers
January 11, 2016
This is either the best or the worst travel book ever written. I was traveling through central Europe while I read this book. And as I read, I kept thinking that perhaps I was on my own "Nature Cruise of the Century." I thought that perhaps my own version of James Wait was around every corner. Now, let my oversized brain ruin a simple book review, let me finish by saying that there were no currency crises, wars, drunken captains, or con artists (at least that I knew of) on my trip. I wasn't stranded anywhere and the book didn't become my mandarax. So, there's that. It was all a lot of fun, and the book was a great travel partner (as far as inanimate books can be).
Profile Image for Meike.
1,594 reviews2,833 followers
December 3, 2017
When will evolution correct its mistake and shrink our excessively big brains? - because obviously, what we do with our intelligence ultimately goes against the interest of the planet and consequently, against our own best interest. The speculative future evolutionary stages of mankind and how they might come about, that's what lies at the heart of this satiric dystopia.

The book is a typical Vonnegut: It's funny, but the humor serves to amplify the author's message which is, as usual, dead-serious. I might have read too many of his novels in the last couple of weeks and I am clearly in need of a Vonnegut break, but this certainly wasn't my last book by this amazing writer.

Profile Image for Liz Janet.
579 reviews384 followers
July 15, 2016
"In the era of big brains, life stories could end up any which way. Look at mine.”

This is my favourite of Kurt Vonnegut’s books. It is a story told through the eyes of Leon Trotsky Trout, son of one of Vonnegut’s recurring characters, Kilgore Trout. Leon has been watching over humanity for around a million years as a ghost, and by watching over I mean he just sits there and watches them, not in any divine form.

Galapagos takes quite a big chunk being about Ecuador in 1986 during the Latin American Debt Crisis, which leads the main characters to flee the country and go of to an island named Santa Rosalia. After this the apocalypse basically happens, as a bacteria making women(except those in the island) infertile spreads, and kills off all of humanity(except those in the island).

Now, the story is basically chronological, expect occasionally it jumps to “future events” that are actually past events, don’t worry, not as confusing as I am making them sound, and you know who is going to die because he has marked their names with an asterisk.

Vonnegut uses this book to show us his view that global finance will cause humanity’s downfall, or something along those lines. He tells us that our brains are the main cause of our problems, because they make us distracted ( I don’t necessary agree with him on this), and that with it we lie to each other, and ignore the basics of life and death. “Thanks to their decreased brainpower, people aren’t diverted from the main business of life by the hobgoblins of opinion anymore.” He brings up that our creation of machines will diminish the size of our brain. He also likes to touch upon the fact that our brains trick us into believing there is a safety net and a god that will help us. Because of this, he says that once stranded in an island, humans are naturally selected to going back to more primitive ways, becoming more animal than man, furry and seal-like, oh so lovely.

“I didn’t know then what a sperm was, and so wouldn’t understand his answer for several years. “My boy,” he said, “you are descended from a long line of determined, resourceful, microscopic tadpoles– champions every one.”

So if you are in search of a book to begin with this iconic author, this is the one you should read first. I mean, what is better that having an author say: “I give p with humanity, we are all a bunch of twisted and stupid creatures that need to go back to eating fish and only focus on surviving, and fornicating, because there is nothing better than that.” Thanks for teaching me that Kurt.
Profile Image for Ryan.
1,012 reviews
June 11, 2011
Kurt Vonnegut explains that the greatest achievement of The Origin of Species is that it has done "more to stabilize people’s volatile opinions of how to identify success or failure than any other tome." The thinking is that so long as we continue to survive challenges, we will have improved over those that came before.

We often associate survival with success, merit and quality, and Vonnegut goes out of his way to undermine this notion in one of his less appreciated novels, Galapagos.

Leon Trotsky Trout is a ghost speaking from a million years in the future. Natural selection has continued throughout that time so humanity is better than ever. Perhaps surprisingly, the evolution of the human race reveals that the villain of history is the "oversize human brain." After all, the humans of the future don't have big brains anymore.

A million years from now, people will have evolved to be, more or less, seals. The skull of the average human will not be as big as it is now, which makes swimming for fish easier, which in turn makes survival a cakewalk. So who needs an oversize brain?

Certainly the world is a better place without those villainous brains. The rainforest, the atmosphere, and the icecaps of today would think so -- as would any human seal that thinks survival is a rubber stamp of success.

We spend a great deal of time holding 1984 and Brave New World as models for all dystopian writers. After a while, unfortunately, government and corporate control starts to feel all too familiar. Galapagos may be my favorite dystopian story simply because Vonnegut takes such an unconventional route to his dystopian future.

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