Joseph Heller

Illustrated by Neil Packer

Introduced by Malcolm Bradbury

Preface by Joseph Heller

Joseph Heller’s masterpiece of anti-war satire is given a fittingly glorious home in this Folio edition introduced by celebrated writer and critic Malcolm Bradbury.


Captain Yossarian is a rebel with a cause: to avoid flying the bombing missions over Italy and France that sooner or later will almost certainly result in his own death. His attempts to convince his superiors that he is insane and should be grounded are thwarted by the oblique piece of reasoning known as Catch-22. ‘If he flew them he was crazy and didn’t have to; but if he didn’t want to he was sane and had to.’

One of the greatest anti-war novels ever written, Joseph Heller’s darkly comic masterpiece is now in its sixth Folio printing, the best-selling illustrated edition celebrating the massive literary significance of the book. In an introduction that is as critically insightful as the novel is compelling, the late academic and celebrated novelist Malcolm Bradbury discusses the global heartbreak caused by two world wars, while reflecting on their transformative effect on art and literature.

Production details

Bound in blocked cloth

Set in Plantin with Stencil display

472 pages

Frontispiece and 8 colour illustrations

Printed endpapers

Plain slipcase

10˝ x 6¼˝

An ironic take on a lose-lose situation

First published in 1961, Heller’s withering satire continues to hit its target today. The novel marshals and exposes farcical bureaucracy, logistical confusion and a freak show of officers as dangerous as they are absurd: Major Major, the reclusive squadron commander who is bullied by his own men; the sadistic Colonel Cathcart, who keeps raising the number of missions required to complete a tour of duty; and the shameless capitalist Milo Minderbinder, who isn’t averse to bombing his own base in the name of profit. Watching in bewilderment as, one by one, his friends are killed in action, is Yossarian, the ultimate anti-hero, who resorts to ever more desperate measures to save himself from the same fate.

‘That’s some catch, that Catch-22,’ he observed.

‘It’s the best there is,’ Doc Daneeka agreed.

Fighting just a generation after ‘the war to end all wars’, the bitter irony isn’t lost on the American squaddies at the air base on the island of Pianosa. Heller’s carefully drawn characters (the novel took eight years to complete) ponder the absurdity of their situation while continuing to play their roles in a daily game of chance.

The vulgarity of war with a large dose of humour

From screwball comedy to extreme horror, Catch-22 – as no other novel before or since – captures the manic energy and madness of war. For Heller, the base is also a microcosm of America; the war a particularly violent and degrading version of ‘peacetime’. This skilful merging of horror, pathos and black humour could make illustration a challenge, but not in the masterful hands of Neil Packer, who had previously worked on Folio books including The Name of the Rose and Foucault’s Pendulum. His eight instinctively grotesque poster-inspired colour illustrations transform this cult classic into a stunning illustrated edition: an essential addition to any contemporary fiction collection.

About Joseph Heller

Joseph Heller was born in New York in 1923. He flew with the US Air Force in the Second World War before going on to study for an MA at Columbia University in 1949. Later, he taught English at Pennsylvania State University and worked for Time and Look magazines as a copywriter. It was during this period that Heller wrote Catch-22, working on the book in his spare time for a number of years. When eventually published, it had mixed reviews but it went on to gain a cult following. Heller’s later novels include Something Happened (1974), Good as Gold (1979), and God Knows (1984). Closing Time was published in 1994 and was the sequel to Catch-22. Heller’s final novel, Portrait of an Artist, as an Old Man (2000), was published posthumously, as was Catch As Catch Can: The Collected Stories and Other Writings (2003). Heller died in December 1999 in New York.

About Malcolm Bradbury

Malcolm Bradbury was born in 1932 in Sheffield. He attended West Bridgford Grammar School in Nottingham and then the University of Leicester and Queen Mary’s College in London. In 1959 he began a PhD in American Studies at Manchester University and published his first novel, Eating People is Wrong. This was also the year that he began his teaching career, first at Hull University and then the University of Birmingham and the University of East Anglia, where he set up the renowned creative writing course with Sir Angus Wilson. His novels include The History Man (1975), which won the Heinemann Award, Rates of Exchange (1983) and To the Hermitage (2000). Bradbury also wrote radio and television plays and adapted novels for television. He was made a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 1976 and was awarded a CBE in 1991. He died in 2000.

About Neil packer

Neil Packer was born in Birmingham in 1961. He trained at the Colchester School of Art before becoming a full-time illustrator in 1984 with the publication of his first children’s book. He has had a long career working in design, publishing and advertising, mostly in the United States, and has recently illustrated children’s versions of The Iliad and The Odyssey for Walker Books. He has illustrated a number of previous titles for The Folio Society, including I, Claudius (1994), The Name of the Rose (2001), Catch-22 (2004), One Hundred Years of Solitude (2006) and Foucault’s Pendulum (2016). Packer’s work has been exhibited in London at the Chris Beetles Gallery, the Royal Academy, the British Museum, and the British Library, with solo shows at the Portal Gallery and the Illustration Cupboard. His work has also been shown in Singapore and the United States.


You May Also Like

  1. Under Fire

    Under Fire

    Henri Barbusse


    A hauntingly illustrated edition of Under Fire, Henri Barbusse’s uniquely devastating anti-war masterpiece published at the height of the First World War.

  2. Image of Lord of the Flies book

    Lord of the Flies

    William Golding

    Illustrated by Sam Weber


    One of the most influential novels of the 20th century, William Golding’s Lord of the Flies is presented as a unique Folio Society edition, illustrated by Sam Weber and introduced by Ian McEwan.

  3. The Princess Bride

    The Princess Bride

    William Goldman

    Illustrated by Mark Thomas


    Featuring giants, duels, man-eating swamp rats and, of course, true love, Goldman’s funny and poignant lampoon of the fairy-tale tradition has inadvertently become a classic of the genre.