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Terrible Reviews of Great Books: Catch-22 by Heller


There is no such thing as a universally loved book. Each month, we’ll feature a book from Time’s list of the best 100 English language novels of all time. From the nasty to the snarky to the downright absurd, we’ll highlight some of the strange reasons why some people hate these great reads. This month we’ll be taking a look at reviews for Catch-22 by Joseph Heller.

Catch-22 by Joseph Heller was published in 1961 and it is considered to be one of the greatest literary works of the 20th century. The title has since become a commonly-used phrase, referring to an unsolvable logic puzzle. Modern Library ranks it as 7th greatest English-language novel and it is listed on numerous best of lists including from Time, BBC, The Observer, 1001 list, and more. I personally loved the book and feel somewhat bitter toward these reviews.

The book has 1,631 customer reviews on Amazon. The average rating was 4.3 stars and 6% were 1 star reviews. Quite a few people who gave it 1-star ratings didn’t seem to understand the book was satire. Here’s a sampling of 1-star reviews (my comments in blue):

NOTE: I did not edit for grammar or spelling. All reviews were copied exactly as posted on Amazon. You can read all 1-star reviews here.

  •  DO NOT believe the hype. The writing style is sooooo overwritten, so over polished. I can’t even imagine it appealing to people who don’t read much. Too elaborate, burdensome, diffuse, or prolix a style.
  • More sophomoric crap for (and from) the haughty sophisticates. No doubt the same genre of reader who heartily applaud the likes of The Catcher In The Rye (true, I also liked The Catcher in the Rye) also give this nonsensical, disjointed novel kudos cum laude. I give it one star because there were a few instances where I cracked a smile…but no out-loud, belly laughter (and I was the class clown, so I have a sense of humor).
  • I thought Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas was the worst book I had ever read until I took a chance on this abomination. Every chapter is a bombardment of meaningless characters. There is no point in trying to remember them because you won’t care what happens to them. I found absolutely nothing humorous, clever, or insightful. I think I’ll be checking out Fear and Loathing this week.
  • Possibly the worst book I’ve ever attempted to read and I say attempted because I gave up on it 1/4 of the way through. It mystifies me how so many people can consider this some kind of masterpiece, because it’s not. “Laugh on every page” is hardly the case. I didn’t laugh on any page. Perhaps if you’re a 13 year old you’ll find Joseph Heller’s prose amusing. Apparently, I am young at heart.
  • The book has been a huge seller. As a PhD in English I say that it’s an overlong piece of smart-ass not very amusing junk. Highly thoughtful review from a PhD in English. Clearly, literary analysis was not a course taught at this person’s graduate school. 
  • It takes some nerve to write funny books about wars. It takes more nerve to like funny books about wars. I bought this one out of pure curiosity. after having heard so much about it. I could not finish reading it. This book is not funny but just ridiculous. Also not a fan of films or TV shows like M.A.S.H., apparently…
  • I have read hundreds of books, and the enormous amount of hype surrounding this novel is unparalleled. Personally, I attribute most of it to the chance luck of Heller in creating the often used phrase “Catch-22.” Essentially, he coined a phrase that became an advertisement for the book. If his title had been something slightly less appealing like “Catch-33” or if the term “Catch-22” was used but hidden in the text, rather than used as the title, no one would have ever heard of this book. Yes, choosing “22” was clearly the masterstroke here.
  • I personally don’t read that many books, (I get that sense) but this is one of the worst books I ever read. First, they’re are too many characters. This book has too many characters that I can’t remember even one of them in my head. They include many minor characters that nobody cares so you get confused about it. Second, it has too many mini-stories. It has lots of short stories that doesn’t relate to any of the other stories and they are usually pretty boring. Third this is none sense. Much like this review. It doesn’t have a major theme or anything and it’s just talking about air force men being board of the war and just being crazy. It’s like writing every detail of your every day life. I cannot believe that it saids on the behind that it is one of the greatest American literature and I would definitely not recommend to anyone.
  • First off, the writing here is garbage. Actually, it’s every bit as bad as Twilight. Hmm. Here is a sentence from Catch-22: These three men who hated [Clevinger] spoke his language and wore his uniform, but he saw their loveless faces set immutably into cramped, mean lines of hostility and understood instantly that nowhere in the world, not in all the fascist tanks or planes or submarines, not in the bunker behind the machine guns or mortars or behind the blowing flame throwers, not even among all the expert gunners of the crack Hermann Goering Antiaircraft Division or among the grisly connivers in all the beer halls in Munich and everywhere else, were there men who hated him more. And here is a sentence from Twilight: I love them,” I enthused, making an effort to smolder at him. As you can see, they are very similar.
  • I think the character in the book was mean spirited and had no regard for anyone’s pain but his own. Don’t like being around people like that in real life much less reading about them. 
  • All I can say about this book is that “I don’t get it.” Or what I do get, I don’t like. This book is dripping with sarcasm and cynicism, and fails to make any point, in my opinion. Yes, the world is a cynical place, filled with cynical people, and often times large institutions behave in ways that don’t make sense. I see this every day in life, so writing a book about this aspect of the world does nothing except breed more cynicism. I have enough, thank you. The characters are flat, the story is… …weird…, and the apparent point and purpose of the story was waaaay over done.
  • Though the writing skills of the author may be touted the story and what it portrays is totally disrespectable to the majority of military people who work hard and follow the rules. The author idolizes a few bozo’s who were slugs that took advantage of others. This reviewer might benefit from reading the definition of satire.

We want to hear from you? Did you read this book? What did you think?

Coming up next month: The Grapes of Wrath. 

Want to read more? You can check out our past Terrible Reviews of Great Books:

The Great Gatsby
The Catcher in the Rye
The Lord of the Rings
To Kill a Mockingbird
Lord of the Flies
Animal Farm

12 Comments Post a comment
  1. Diane Zwang #

    I read this book my first year in college and I liked it. I don’t remember the details too well but I do remember liking it. I enjoyed reading all the “terrible reviews” it gave me a chuckle this morning.

    Liked by 1 person

    September 30, 2016
    • I’m glad it gave you a chuckle. I love doing this post because reading through all the 1-star reviews is hysterical


      September 30, 2016
  2. Tracy S #

    I think the funniest part of these reviews (besides the Jen generated commentary) is how they tried so hard to sound like intellectuals, but, well, didn’t.
    Catch 22 is one of my all time favorites. I first read it in high school, and it didn’t lose its sparkle with the grownup readings.

    Liked by 1 person

    September 30, 2016
    • such a great book. I didn’t read it until recently but loved it. I agree, it’s pretty funny to read some of these reviews that seem to try so hard to come across with brilliant insight and yet fail so spectacularly. Granted there are some thoughtful critical reviews too – I just don’t post those ones 🙂


      September 30, 2016
      • Heller has something to say to those guys trying to be brilliant

        “He knew everything there was to know about literature, except how to enjoy it”

        Love the segments your doing

        Liked by 1 person

        December 12, 2016
    • I first read it in high school and liked it as well. I read it again after working for the federal government for a few years and I absolutely LOVED it. I swear to god my boss was Major Major.

      Liked by 1 person

      September 30, 2016
    • Kevin #

      My favorite thing about articles like this on Catch 22 is the unintentional humor of people authoritatively insisting the book they like, which has a strong anti-authoritarian streak, is unassailable.
      There are tons of legitimate reasons for not loving this book. And I don’t say that as someone who “must love Nicholas Sparks”, or “doesn’t get satire”, or “lacks a sense of humor”.
      And I got the book enough to find it funny that it’s biggest fans try so hard to insist on some canonical status for a book that, in part, mocks the kind bureaucracy that insists on canon, and that also challenges the idea of easy right and wrong on big important questions, let alone on questions of whether a book is good or not.


      October 10, 2016
      • There are many legitimate critical reviews of this book but that is not the point of this piece. The point is to highlight terrible reviews as the title suggests.


        October 10, 2016
  3. Damn you! Now I have unwittingly read a sentence from Twilight!

    “Yes, choosing “22” was clearly the masterstroke here.”
    This begs the question, would Douglas Adam’s magnum opus had been as successful had he chosen the number 63 instead of the iconic 42?

    Liked by 1 person

    September 30, 2016
  4. I knew it was satire but that didnt stop me wondering what all the fuss was about when I read it as a teenager. It’s a novel I recently classed as one that caused me to waste precious time I could have spent reading something more worthwhile –

    Liked by 1 person

    October 1, 2016
  5. Eric Lovelace #

    I made it to page 51 and was unsure whether to google “does Catch-22 get any better?” or “Catch-22 is terrible”. The latter search brought me to your page, which was so much more fun
    than the book. I think I will stop with Heller and read more of your blog posts. Thanks for a few good laughs!


    March 8, 2021
  6. Portia Kay #

    Loved this rabbit hole that I accidentally fell down.
    JenP27 is so witty and insightful. Her comments have made me realise that I had misjudged Catch-22. I was a young teenager when I first read it and at that time, I could not understand the hype at all. The prose reminded me of smug, schoolboy humor and I found the ‘plot’ slow and dull. However, I am going to re-read it soon and this time I know I will enjoy it – now that I am older and understand what satire is.


    July 10, 2021

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