The Books of Bokonon

From Cat's Cradle

By Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

Edited by
Eugene Wallingford
Available on Twitter at

Editor's Introduction

In Cat's Cradle, Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., created a new religion, Bokononism. The holy scripture of Bokononism was the ever-growing "Books of Bokonon", written by Bokonon -- a British Episcopalian Negro from the island of Tobago whose real name was Lionel Boyd Johnson [ 48 ] -- as a way to distract the people of San Lorenzo from their pitiful lives. What is sacred to Bokononists? Not God; just one thing: man. [ 94 ]

All material contained below was written by Kurt Vonnegut and scattered throughout Cat's Cradle wherever it best suited the novel. I have merely tabulated -- as best I could -- his snippets into an order that one might find in a real copy of the Books of Bokonon. I have also tried to cross-reference these snippets to the numbered sections of the novel, where you may read of scripture in the context of Vonnegut's story.

Index to The Books of Bokonon

The First Book

Warning from title page: Don't be a fool! Close this book at once! It is nothing but foma! [ 118 ]

Verse 1: All of the true things that I am about to tell you are shameless lies. [ 4 ]

Verses 2-4 (?): In the beginning, God created the earth, and he looked upon it in His cosmic loneliness.

And God said, "Let Us make living creatures out of mud, so the mud can see what We have done." And God created every living creature that now moveth, and one was man. Mud as man alone could speak. God leaned close as mud as man sat up, looked around, and spoke. Man blinked. "What is the purpose of all this?" he asked politely.

"Everything must have a purpose?" asked God.

"Certainly," said man.

"Then I leave it to you to think of one for all this," said God.

And He went away. [ 118 ]

Verse 5: Live by the foma that make you brave and kind and healthy and happy. [ frontispiece ]

The Sixth Book

[ This book "is devoted to pain, in particular to tortures inflicted by men on men". [ 118 ] ]

If I am ever put to death on the hook, expect a very human performance.

In any case, there's bound to be much crying.
But the oubliette alone will let you think while dying.

The Seventh Book: Bokonon's Republic

[ "...a whole book about Utopias". [ 126 ] ]

The hand that stocks the drug stores rules the world.

Let us start our Republic with a chain of drug stores, a chain of grocery stores, a chain of gas chambers, and a national game. After that we can write our Constitution.

The Fourteenth Book

[ A short book with a long title. [ 110 ] ]

Title: What Can a Thoughtful Man Hope for Mankind on Earth, Given the Experience of the Past Million Years?

Only verse: Nothing.

The Calypsos

On Dynamic Tension [ 47 ]
"Papa" Monzano, he's so very bad,
But without bad "Papa" I would be so sad;
Because without "Papa's" badness,
Tell me, if you would,
How could wicked old Bokonon
Ever, ever look good?
On the Natives of San Lorenzo: [ 56 ]
Oh, a very sorry people, yes,
Did I find here.
Oh, they had no music,
And they had no beer.
And, oh, everywhere
Where they tried to perch
Belonged to Castle Sugar, Incorporated,
Or the Catholic church.
On the creation of Bokononism: [ 58 ]
I wanted all things
To seem to make some sense,
So we could all be happy, yes,
Instead of tense.
And I made up lies
So that they all fit nice,
And I made this sad world
A par-a-dise.
On the end of the world: [ 119 ]
Someday, someday, this crazy world will have to end,
And our God will take things back that He to us did lend.
And if, on that sad day, you want to scold our God,
Why just go ahead and scold Him. He'll just smile and nod.
The Boko-maru Calypso [ 72 ]
We will touch our feet, yes,
Yes, for all we're worth,
And we will love each other, yes,
Yes, like we love our Mother Earth.
The Fourteenth Calypso [ 48 ]
When I was young
I was so gay and mean,
And I drank and chased the girls
Just like young St. Augustine.
Saint Augustine,
He got to be a saint.
So, if I get to be one, also,
Please. Mama, don't you faint.
The Fifty-third Calypso [ 2 ]
Oh, a sleeping drunkard
up in Central Park,
And a lion-hunter
In the jungle dark,
And a Chinese dentist,
And a British queen--
All fit together
In the same machine.
Nice, nice, very nice;
Nice, nice, very nice;
Nice, nice, very nice--
So many different people
In the same device.
The Hundred-and-nineteenth Calypso [ 102 ]
"Where's my good old gang done gone?"
I heard a sad man say.
I whispered in that sad man's ear,
"Your gang's done gone away."

From the Autobiographical Section

A parable on the folly of pretending to discover, to understand [ 3 ]
I once knew an Episcopalian lady in Newport, Rhode Island, who asked me to design and build a doghouse for her Great Dane. The lady claimed to understand God and His Ways of Working perfectly. She could not understand why anyone should be puzzled about what had been or about what was going to be.

And yet, when I showed her a blueprint of the doghouse I proposed to build, she said to me, "I'm sorry, but I never could read one of those things."

"Give it to your husband or your minister to pass on to God," I said, "and, when God finds a minute, I'm sure he'll explain this doghouse of mine in a way that even you can understand."

She fired me. I shall never forget her. She believed that God liked people in sailboats much better than He liked people in motorboats. She could not bear to look at a worm. When she saw a worm, she screamed.

She was a fool, and so am I, and so is anyone who thinks he can see what God is Doing, [writes Bokonon].

Unreferenced Verses and Stories

Referring to one's karass:
Man created the checkerboard; God created the karass. [ 2 ]

If you find your life tangled up with somebody else's life for no very logical reasons that person may be a member of your karass. [ 2 ]

Likes and dislikes have nothing to do with it. [ 9 ]
Referring to inevitability:
As it was meant to happen... [ 10 ]
Referring to the wampeter:
No karass is without a wampeter, just as no wheel is without a hub. [ 24 ]

Around and around and around we spin,
with feet of lead and wings of tin... [ 24 ]

Peculiar travel suggestions are dancing lessons from god. [ 31 ]
Referring to a duprass:
A true duprass can't be invaded, not even by children born of such a union. [ 41 ]
Referring to a granfalloon:
If you wish to study a granfalloon,
Just remove the skin of a toy balloon. [ 42 ]
Regarding Jesus' "Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's.":
Pay no attention to Caesar. Caesar doesn't have the slightest idea what's really going on. [ 46 ]
On his own re-birth:
A fish pitched up
By the angry sea,
I gasped on land,
And I became me.

Be like a baby,
The Bible say,
So I stay like a baby
To this very day. [ 49 ]
On Mona Aamons Monzano:
Mona has the simplicity of the all. [ 64 ]
A poem on pretending to understand:
Tiger got to hunt,
Bird got to fly;
Man got to sit and wonder, "Why, why, why?"

Tiger got to sleep,
Bird got to land;
Man got to tell himself he understand. [ 81 ]
On cosmology: [ 85 ]
... wherein Borasisi, the sun, held Pabu, the moon, in his arms, and hoped that Pabu would bear him a fiery child.

But poor Pabu gave birth to children that were cold, that did not burn; and Borasisi threw them away in disgust. These were the planets, who circled their terrible father at a safe distance.

Then poor Pabu herself was cast away, and she went to live with her favorite child, which was Earth. Earth was Pabu's favorite because it had people on it; and the people looked up at her and loved her and sympathized.
Bokonon's opinion of his cosmology: [ 85 ]
Foma! Lies! A pack of foma!
On maturity: [ 88 ]
Maturity is a bitter disappointment for which no remedy exists, unless laughter can be said to remedy anything.
On Mona's fate: [ 88 ]
Mona Aamons Monzano will marry the next President of San Lorenzo [after Papa Monzano].
On parting: [ 102 ]
It is never a mistake to say good-bye.
On love: [ 104 ]
A lover's a liar,
To himself he lies,
The truthful are loveless,
Like oysters their eyes!
On God: [ 107 ]
God never wrote a good play in His life.
On man's troubles: [ 110 ]
Sometimes the pool-pah exceeds the power of humans to comment.
On man's power to control: [ 111 ]
Any man can call time out, but no man can say how long the time out will be.
Also on man's power to control: [ ? ]
It is not possible to make a mistake.

[ Mona says this to John, and it is described as a "customary greeting given by all Bokononists when meeting a shy person." ]
On history: [ 113 ]
History! Read it and weep!
On religion: [ 118 ]
Of course it's trash!
On man's destiny: [ 119 ]
Today I will be a Bulgarian Minister of Education. Tomorrow I will be Helen of Troy.

We do, doodley do, doodley do, doodley do,
What we must, muddily must, muddily must, muddily must;
Muddily do, muddily do, muddily do, muddily do,
Until we bust, bodily bust, bodily bust, bodily bust.
On the ignorance of learned men: [ 124 ]
Beware of the man who works hard to learn something, learns it, and finds himself no wiser than before. He is full of murderous resentment of people who are ignorant without having come by their ignorance the hard way.
On "the heartbreaking necessity of lying about reality,
and the heartbreaking impossibility of lying about it:"
[ 125 ]
Midget, midget, midget, how he struts and winks,
For he knows a man's as big as what he hopes and thinks!

The Final Sentence

If I were a younger man, I would write a history of human stupidity; and I would climb to the top of Mount McCabe and lie down on my back with my history for a pillow; and I would take from the ground some of the blue-white poison that makes statues of men; and I would make a statue of myself, lying on my back, grinning horribly, and thumbing my nose at You Know Who. [ 127 ]

Dictionary of Terms from The Books of Bokonon

Also by Bokonon

The San Lorenzan National Anthem [ 63 ]
(Sung to the melody of 'Home on the Range'.)
Oh, ours is a land
Where the living is grand,
And the men are as fearless as sharks;
The women are pure,
And we always sure
That our children will all toe their marks.
San, San Lo-ren-zo!
What a rich, lucky island are we!
Our enemies quail,
For they know they will fail
Against people so reverent and free.
A Poem on the Creation of Bokononism [ 78 ]
So I said good-bye to government,
And I gave my reason:
That a really good religion
Is a form of treason.
The Last Rites of the Bokononism [ 99 ]
(Each line is said once by the person giving the rites and then repeated by the dying person.)
God made mud.
God got lonesome.
So God said to some of the mud, "Sit up!"
"See all I've made," said God, "the hills, the sea, the sky, the stars."
And I was some of the mud that got to sit up and look around.

Lucky me, lucky mud.
I, mud, sat up and saw what a nice job God had done.
Nice going, God.
Nobody but you could have done it, God! I certainly couldn't have.
I feel very unimportant compared to You.
The only way I can feel the least bit important is to think of all the mud that didn't even get to sit up and look around.
I got so much, and most mud got so little.
Thank you for the honor!
Now mud lies down again and goes to sleep.
What memories for mud to have!
What interesting other kinds of sitting-up mud I met!
I loved everything I saw!
Good night.
I will go to heaven now.
I can hardly wait...
To find out for certain what my wampeter was...
And who was in my karass...
And all the good things our karass did for you.
On a Boulder near the Post-Ice Nine Mass Suicide [ 120 ]
To whom it may concern: These people around you are almost all of the survivors on San Lorenzo of the winds that followed the freezing of the sea. These people made a captive of the spurious holy man named Bokonon. They brought him here, placed him at their center, and commanded him to tell them exactly what God Almighty was up to and what they should now do. The mountebank told them that God was surely trying to kill them, possibly because he was through with them, and that they should have the good manners to die. This, as you can see, they did.