Joseph Heller began work on Catch-22, the story of a US airman's attempts to survive the madness of the Second World War, shortly after returning from the conflict himself.
The son of Russian Jewish immigrants to the United States, Heller had joined the US Air Force in 1942 at the age of 19, going on to fly 60 bombing missions against enemy targets over Southern Europe.
After the war, while working as an advertising copywriter, he spent seven years writing a novel that reflected his experience, and what he saw as the insanity of military life.
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.
Using satire, black humour and seemingly undefeatable logic, the book argues that war is insane, that the military is insane, and that, quite probably, modern life itself is insane too.