Heller rose to prominence with his first novel Catch-22 (1961). The novel became so iconic that the title is a commonly used and accepted phrase in the English language. He was a Brooklyn native and a World War II veteran, enlisting in 1942 and flew numerous missions as a bombardier in the European theater.
His themes are darkly humorous, highlighting characters that are enshrouded with the futility of their actions in the modern world. While many of his main characters seem to allude to similarities with the author at different times in his life, his novels have very little concrete autobiographical material; tending to be more abstract than reality.
He was good friends with Kurt Vonnegut who described Heller as “a first-rate humorist who cripples his own jokes intentionally–with the unhappiness of the characters who perceive them. He also insists on dealing with only the most hackneyed themes.”
Vonnegut wrote a poem called “Joe Heller” as a tribute to the author after his death from a heart attack. While Catch-22 stands out as his most lucrative and commonly read novel, most literature enthusiasts consider his later work to be stronger, more effective novels.