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Doomsday Book

Written by: Connie Willis
Narrated by: Jenny Sterlin
Length: 26 hrs and 20 mins
4 out of 5 stars (26 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

One of the most respected and awarded of all contemporary science-fiction writers, Connie Willis repeatedly amazes her many admiring fans with her ability to create vivid characters in unusual situations. With Doomsday Book, she takes listeners on a thrilling trip through time to discover the things that make us most human.

For Oxford student Kivrin, traveling back to the 14th century is more than the culmination of her studies - it's the chance for a wonderful adventure. For Dunworthy, her mentor, it is cause for intense worry about the thousands of things that could go wrong. When an accident leaves Kivrin trapped in one of the deadliest eras in human history, the two find themselves in equally gripping - and oddly connected - struggles to survive.

Deftly juggling stories from the 14th and 21st centuries, Willis provides thrilling action - as well as an insightful examination of the things that connect human beings to each other.

©1992 Connie Willis (P)2000 Recorded Books

What the critics say

  • Hugo Award, Best Novel, 1993
  • Nebula Award, Best Novel, 1992

"Ms. Willis displays impressive control of her material; virtually every detail introduced in the early chapters is made to pay off as the separate threads of the story are brought together." (The New York Times Book Review)
"A stunning novel that encompasses both suffering and hope....The best work yet from one of science fiction's best writers." (The Denver Post)

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

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  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    2 out of 5 stars

Why so much repetitive and unnecessary dialogue?!

I struggled to finish this book and routinely wanted to throw my phone across the room.The writing is extremely repetative, the characters are bland, and I don't buy any of their relationships for a minute!

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars

Love this book

I have read this book at least 5 times and I still love it. Was even better being able to listen to it.

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • mudcelt
  • 2009-11-02

Timely, beautiful, terrible and haunting

Now more than ever, I am recommending that everyone I know listen to this book. It is an amazing, satisfying, beautiful and terrible story mostly about a time traveler who is trapped in a small medieval village that is stricken by the plague. Meanwhile, current day Oxfordshire is also suffering from an especially virulent flu and attendant quarantine. The book was written in 1992 and much of the action takes place in a squalid, medieval village and yet it is all terribly timely. The characters and setting are beautifully written and this is one of the most moving books I've ever had the pleasure of reading or listening to.
Three more selling points for this great book: 1) I love a good, long book from Audible and "Doomsday" is a wonderful 26 hours and 30 minuets of listening to one of my favorite narrators, Jenny Sterlin. 2) "Doomsday won a Hugo Award in 93 and Nebula Award in 92 and 3) Connie Willis has written another book with some of the same characters that is much lighter in tone yet still very worth reading and a good way to recover from the terrible, searing beauty of "The Doomsday Book". That other book is also available on Audible :"To Say Nothing of the Dog"
Listen to "Doomsday" first, save "To Say Nothing of the Dog" to cheer you up and you can then finish off with Jerome K Jerome's sweetly funny "Three Men in a Boat". There- I've just come up with a great plan for your next 50 or hours of Audible listening. You can thank me later. After you've thoroughly enjoyed all of these amazing books.

270 of 288 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Wyonia
  • 2008-10-17

WELL DONE...but a real bummer

I listened to this on vacation and the beach, and it promised to be pure, guilty-pleasure ear candy. I was not disappointed by the writing, the concept, or the reading (the narrator is fanTAStic).

However, I would put a warning label on this that the whole second half of the book is (vague spoiler alert) sort of a sinkhole of depressing events. I wouldn't recommend this to anyone looking for a "pick-me-up" or a happily-ever-after type story.

I guess a book about the plague wouldn't be a typical candidate for that anyway, but for history buffs like me, taking a time machine back to the Middle Ages sounds like such a "fun" idea...and this just isn't a "fun" story.

Still, DEFINITELY worth a read...when you're in the right mood for a downer.

145 of 157 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Sara
  • 2014-07-28

A Haunting First Book in the Series

I mistakenly read this series out of order starting with book 2 first. That book "To Say Nothing of the Dog" was an upbeat, funny, and happy experience. The title of this book should be a warning to future readers--"Doomsday". Don't start this book thinking this will be a happy listen. Very long, repetitive, plodding and detailed. That said, I admit I still couldn't stop listening. Time travel and enthralling stories that alternate between past and future. Characters are developed into people that captivate and make the long hours of listening possible. A thoughtful look at time, perception, life, illness and epidemics. A perfect example that even a grueling book can be worth a listen.

75 of 83 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    3 out of 5 stars
  • LisaB2595
  • 2017-04-21

Not What I Hoped For

Is there anything you would change about this book?

How many characters do I get? My sub-title for this book is "Or What Happens When Stupid People Get Time Travel." The bone-headedness of all of the characters was immensely frustrating as were the half-baked futuristic elements. We've got time travel, but we're still frustrated by "phone outages" and characters asking to borrow phones although in 1992, cell phones weren't unknown. Surely the author could have seen a future with them? No one can look up an NHS number. There's been a worldwide flu pandemic, but Christmas vacation means no one can do anything. Does anyone actually believe the CDC says "sorry, they're on vacation" when a possible pandemic is in the works? Entire hours are seem to be wasted on the inability of the quarantine area receiving supplies. First: not gonna happen that way, and two, probably not the reason you picked up the book. You probably picked it up wanted to read about life in the 14th century, and there's precious little of that.

How would you have changed the story to make it more enjoyable?

Characters that are smart and capable. The characters were all so slow on the uptake. Forgetting important concepts until 10 minutes into the conversation. I'd be mentally reminding them to ask about "X" while I listened to character blab on about stupid stuff that wasn't story. The historian is particularly susceptible to being an idiot, taking forever to realize what's going on (The whole "wicked man" episode in the church was particularly grating.) There was so little actual medieval history or culture in this book, IMO, and waaaaay too many annoying children (yes, there are TWO.) Also, some resolution to where the actual director of History had gone off too. They spend the entire book looking for him, entire sections devoted to "finding Basingham (?)"

What did you like about the performance? What did you dislike?

My frustration with the characters probably has roots in the way the reader would repeat a question like she'd never heard of the concept before. Typical exchange: "Yes, but what if Kivrin catches the flu?" "Kivrin?" said like they'd never heard the name before. OMG. It was head-bashing frustration at times to listen to this book.

If this book were a movie would you go see it?

Probably because a movie would certainly cut out all of the over-writing. If this author could find a way to make something more time-consuming, she would. Everything skitters out of reach requiring a second try. Everyone gets sick and has to bring the story to a stop while we have scene after scene of "no visitors!" or "you're not supposed to be out of bed."

Any additional comments?

What sold me on this book was the fact it had won both the Hugo and Nebula awards. As science fiction, I found it lacking. As history, I found it lacking. By the time the "real" story starts, you're ten hours in. This book would have been more enjoyable with a length of maybe 15 hours.

15 of 16 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    2 out of 5 stars
  • Ilana
  • 2012-05-27

Cut by half would have made it twice as good.

We're in the middle of the 21st century, and a group of Oxford scholars are now able to travel back in time. Young student Kivrin Engle has a passion for the middle ages, and the object of the next study involves traveling to the 14th century Oxford region in 1320, well before the arrival of the bubonic plague of 1348 which killed off entire villages. Kivrin has spent years preparing for this trip, and even though professor Dunworthy thinks her too young and worries the trip is fraught with too many dangers, she hasn't wasted time learning Middle English and Latin and the various tasks and labours expected of the young noblewoman she is meant to impersonate. But things have gone wrong from the start. When she arrives in the 14th century, she is badly disoriented and falls gravely ill. She is found and brought to the home of a family who do their best to nurse her back to health, but though she has spent many dedicated months to prepare for this journey, she soon discovers all her studies have been for naught, because for one thing, she can't communicate with them. Meanwhile, in the Oxford of the 21st century, things are going very wrong too. Badri Chaudhuri, the young technician responsible for setting up the apparatus for Kivrin's time travel, seeks out Dunworthy to tell him that "something is very wrong", but he can say no more than that, having fallen gravely ill and suffering from high fevers which put his life at risk, so that all he is able to communicate through the better half of this lengthy novel is that "something is wrong" over and over and over again.

The very beginning of the story showed great promise, and I found all the details about 14th century England fascinating, but I felt that for at least the first half of the narrative barely anything happened at all and we were circling round the same details again and again, as if in a bad dream. I quickly lost patience and was ready to give up, but so many fans of this book assured me it was well worth the effort that I stuck to it. The story that finally emerges is a good one, but I would probably have enjoyed it more had there been a serious editing job done, since so much of the book was taken up with what seemed like filler. Had the novel been cut by half, I would probably have thought it was pretty great, but as it is I have a hard time believing that it won prestigious awards (the Hugo, Nebula and Locus awards among many others), and had to overcome a lot of frustration to finish it. I think I found a reasonable compromise with my current rating.

You might love it completely, and then again, you may not.

62 of 69 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Lesley A. Slavin
  • 2009-08-24

Don't let the bad reviews stop you!

I loved this book! I listened to another Willis book "To Say Nothing of the Dog" (also an award winner) and enjoyed it immensely. Then, I debated downloading this one. The terrible reviews almost stopped me - but I'm so glad I didn't listen to them. I imagine fans of action/adventure-oriented Science Fiction would not appreciate it. However, if you like more character-oriented scifi, historical novels and British literature, you are likely to enjoy this as I did. I agree that the narration isn't especially outstanding, but I found it perfectly adequate. The characters are very well-developed and many are truly lovable. Try it!

126 of 144 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    1 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    1 out of 5 stars
  • Beckersly
  • 2018-05-31

I wish i had a time machine..

I wish I had a time machine to go back in time and stop me from getting this.
This book was super repetitive. I liked the idea of this book however a lot was lacking in the execution for me. This book was super repetitive. If you like hearing about the same things over and over again, you may enjoy this book. This book was super repetitive. It took forever to really kick into gear. I think for me, if finally became interesting when I had about 3 hours left. This book was super repetitive. I think if it would have been trimmed down to maybe 10 hours or even 15, I might could have rated it higher. This book was super repetitive.

25 of 28 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    2 out of 5 stars
  • DPM
  • 2012-05-08

Good and Bad

previous reviews seem to either love this book, or find it to be overwritten. I fall closer to the latter.

There were elements that were very good. The narrator is excellent, superb. The amount of detail that Willis gives for the preparation of time travel was, at first, intriguing and unique. The story does have imagination.BUT, a big but, the length of the book, ( and I mean how long she takes to tell the story, not the length per se) and the unnecessary ( often boring) detail, and meanderings off the main trail, made it very tedious to get to the end. I finished it only because of two reasons. One, well, I'm OCD about these things. Two, the latter portion of the book got considerably more interesting than the former.

I recommended only if you have lots [and lots] of patience with the developing story. Otherwise, a pass.

28 of 32 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    2 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Jocelyn
  • 2015-01-24

Great idea for a story; anger-inducing repetition

What did you like best about Doomsday Book? What did you like least?

I love the story idea for this book, and enjoyed it very much. Like Michael Crichton's "Timeline," it's fascinating to look through the eyes of the historian at the actual people and place of the period they think they know so well from studying it, but in fact learn new things they could never have known without experiencing in person. I can even forgive the minimal or less-than-compelling SciFi details other reviewers have noted; happy to use my imagination that the tech is enough to accomplish the time travel.

What I liked the least was the mind-numbing, cringe-worthy repetition of various details of the story. There were SO MANY TIMES details were repeated when we really had already got the idea several times previous. If I hear "I must find the drop" or "there's something wrong" one more time, I will scream. Or all the times someone says something and the person they're talking to says "say what?" or equivalent like they didn't hear them, and then they have to repeat themselves over and over just to be understood. I found myself yelling at the audiobook (in the privacy of my car :-) several times "Duh!" "We already know that!! "He just told you that!" "You told us 5 times already!!" and so on.

Who was your favorite character and why?

Hard to say. Kivrin's OK but she seems like a dunce sometimes. Colin was good comic relief. Agnes was pretty great.

How did the narrator detract from the book?

I can't tell if the narration was less than smooth because of the story's repetition, or just on its own. The American accents weren't quite there. She sounded like she was running out of breath sometimes.

Do you think Doomsday Book needs a follow-up book? Why or why not?

No... what would be awesome would be a re-write, or a movie that would really take the tech to another level, and remove all the repetition - that could be a great story.

Any additional comments?

Really wanted to like this book.

21 of 24 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    1 out of 5 stars
  • Dubi
  • 2015-04-05

A Plague Upon Us

A pessimist might say, well that's 26 and a half hours of my life I'll never get back. An optimist might respond, well at least it saves us from having to listen to the other 63 and a half hours of this series. Seriously: you've been warned.

Neil Young once introduced his song, Don't Let It Bring You Down, by saying, here's a song guaranteed to bring you right down -- it starts off slowly and then peters out altogether. If only that were true of Doomsday Book, which starts of slowly, 18 hours worth of slow, and then turns downright awful for the final eight hours. Unless you've been hankering for graphic descriptions of death by plague (eight hours worth!), consider yourself warned.

At the 18 hour mark, there was a moment where I thought this might all be worth it. I could see exactly how Willis could bring together her story of time travel from the mid-21st century to the 14th century, with its bookend epidemics and attempts to bring the time traveller back from the deep dark past. But instead of tying together the scant plot strands, she gives us eight hours of the plague.

I listened to Willis's Bellwether and absolutely loved it. A neat, satisfying six and a half hour bundle of genius. I thought Doomsday Book might be Bellwether times four, the entire Oxford series Bellwether times fourteen. If only Willis had distilled this down to a manageable 8-12 hours, maybe it would have lived up to its hype and awards (by cutting out the endless repetition, for example, or cutting down the graphic description of the plague -- half an hour of plague would have sufficed).

This is beyond disappointment. This was simply awful -- 18 hours of boring followed by eight hours of awful. Thanks to Jenny Sterlin for narration that at least makes the listening easy on the ears. Too bad the writing was not at the same level.

47 of 55 people found this review helpful