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Christopher Buckley On The Legacy Of 'Catch-22'

<p>Christopher Buckley is the author of <a href="">Losing Mum and Pup</a><em> </em>and<em> Thank You for Smoking.</em></p>
Peter Kramer
Getty Images

Christopher Buckley is the author of Losing Mum and Pup and Thank You for Smoking.

Joseph Heller first published his American classic, Catch-22, 50 years ago this October. Set on an island off the coast of Italy during World War II, Catch-22 tells the story of Yossarian, an American bomber coming to grips with the realities and absurdities of war.

Since its first publication, the book has sold more than 10 million copies, but it never won a single literary prize. Still, according to Heller's friend and fellow writer Christopher Buckley, a number of people fell for it — and they fell hard.

Buckley has written the introduction to the 50th-anniversary edition of the novel. He tells NPR's Neal Conan that the book has become a cultural touchstone.

"I can't think of another book title ... that has so permeated the English language, that we use ... almost every day," he says, "usually to describe some encounter with the Department of Motor Vehicles."

Buckley explains that since the book's publication, the phrase "catch-22" has been called upon again and again to express "the bewildered outrage of humanity in the face of implacable bureaucracy."

Though the book is often thought of as an anti-war novel, Buckley refutes that characterization. He says Heller "was proud of his service in World War II" and did not come out of it as an anti-war person.

Rather, Buckley says, it was the Korean and Cold wars that shaped the mindset of Catch-22 -- and ever since its publication soldiers have found a comrade in Joseph Heller.

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