5. Kurt Vonnegut

Most celebrated books: Cat’s Cradle (1963), Slaughterhouse-Five (1969), The Breakfast Of Champions (1973)

Life story: Kurt Vonnegut’s entire life was a productive haze of cigarette smoke (he was addicted to Pall Malls) and narrative genius, but to grasp the sheer craziness that no doubt bounced around his psyche, one needs to look no further than the year 1944, when the Indianapolis native was a 21-year-old.

First, in May, his mother killed herself by overdosing on sleeping pills…on Mother’s Day. Then, seven months later, Vonnegut, serving in World War II, was taken prisoner during the infamous Battle of the Bulge; initially, he was chosen as the prisoners’ leader due to his ability to speak German, but his hot head led to beatdowns and the relinquishing of his subordinate power. To ultimately escape from the prison camp, dude locked himself inside a slaughterhouse meat locker until he was rescued by Russian soldiers.

And when did he officially step foot back onto American soil? May 1945, a full calendar’s worth of days after his mother’s suicide. Worst. Year. Ever.