'Catch-22' is Published

Like all superlative works of comedy - and I am ready to argue that this is one of the most bitterly funny works in the language - Catch-22 is based on an unconventional but utterly convincing internal logic.

In the very opening pages, when we come upon a number of Air Force officers malingering in a hospital - one censoring all the modifiers out of enlisted men's letters and signing the censor's name "Washington Irving," another pursuing tedious conversations with boring Texans in order to increase his life span by making time pass slowly, still another storing horse chestnuts in his cheeks to give himself a look of innocence - it seems obvious that an inordinate number of Joseph Heller's characters are, by all conventional standards, mad.

The book - which was originally titled Catch-18 - tells the story of Captain Joseph Yossarian, a member of a US bomber crew stationed on the Mediterranean island of Pianosa. Yossarian is convinced that the military is trying to get him killed, and that those around him are insane, and he spends the book trying to get out of flying any more seemingly suicidal missions.

Yossarian is surrounded by a cast of bizarre characters, including Colonel Scheisskopf, obsessed with winning military parades at the expense of just about everything else, the newly promoted Major Major, who spends most of the war trying to hide from his men, and the profiteer Lieutenant Milo Minderbinder, a pure capitalist whose only ambition is to make money out of the war, and who ends up charging a commission on every military engagement.