Armageddon in Retrospect
by Kurt Vonnegut
(Putnam) $24.95

It's hard to hate a new book by Kurt Vonnegut, and this posthumous release is actually a far worthier final book than 2005's A Man Without a Country. The Armageddon in the title is the 1945 decimation of Dresden by American bombers, an event that Vonnegut lived through as a young man in the army. Dresden figured prominently in more than half of his novels and all of his nonfiction collections; Vonnegut himself seemed aware of the horrible fact that his career is built on the 250,000 lives lost in that one day.

A Man Without a Country was simply a string of anticonservative screeds, and the book sold quite well with the indignant liberal crowd, landing Vonnegut on best-seller lists again. As a cohesive work, it was a failure. Armageddon in Retrospect, though, is as clear and cogent an antiwar book as the pacifist Vonnegut ever wrote.

There are science-fiction stories about time machines from early in Vonnegut's career and essays written weeks before his death, but all of them are about war, and all of them could easily have sprung, fully formed, from Vonnegut's mind as he emerged from the bunker he accidentally found himself in on the day of Dresden's burning. A large part of the man passed away on that day, and more than anything, Armageddon in Retrospect is an elegy for the part of Vonnegut that died more than a half-century before the rest of him.