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Publisher's Summary

Winner of the 2018 Audie Award for Audiobook of the Year

The long-awaited first novel from the author of Tenth of December: a moving and original father-son story featuring none other than Abraham Lincoln, as well as an unforgettable cast of supporting characters, living and dead, historical and invented  

February 1862. The Civil War is less than one year old. The fighting has begun in earnest, and the nation has begun to realize it is in for a long, bloody struggle. Meanwhile, President Lincoln’s beloved 11-year-old son, Willie, lies upstairs in the White House, gravely ill. In a matter of days, despite predictions of a recovery, Willie dies and is laid to rest in a Georgetown cemetery. 

“My poor boy, he was too good for this earth,” the president says at the time. “God has called him home.” Newspapers report that a grief-stricken Lincoln returns, alone, to the crypt several times to hold his boy’s body. From that seed of historical truth, George Saunders spins an unforgettable story of familial love and loss that breaks free of its realistic, historical framework into a supernatural realm both hilarious and terrifying. Willie Lincoln finds himself in a strange purgatory where ghosts mingle, gripe, commiserate, quarrel, and enact bizarre acts of penance. Within this transitional state—called, in the Tibetan tradition, the bardo—a monumental struggle erupts over young Willie’s soul.  

Lincoln in the Bardo is an astonishing feat of imagination and a bold step forward from one of the most important and influential writers of his generation. Formally daring, generous in spirit, deeply concerned with matters of the heart, it is a testament to fiction’s ability to speak honestly and powerfully to the things that really matter to us. Saunders has invented a thrilling new form that deploys a kaleidoscopic, theatrical panorama of voices to ask a timeless, profound question: How do we live and love when we know that everything we love must end?  

The 166-person full cast features award-winning actors and musicians, as well as a number of Saunders’ family, friends, and members of his publishing team, including, in order of their appearance:     

Nick Offerman as Hans Vollman
David Sedaris as Roger Bevins III
Carrie Brownstein as Isabelle Perkins
George Saunders as The Reverend Everly Thomas
Miranda July as Mrs. Elizabeth Crawford
Lena Dunham as Elise Traynor
Ben Stiller as Jack Manders
Julianne Moore as Jane Ellis
Susan Sarandon as Mrs. Abigail Blass
Bradley Whitford as Lt. Cecil Stone
Bill Hader as Eddie Baron
Megan Mullally as Betsy Baron
Rainn Wilson as Percival “Dash” Collier
Jeff Tweedy as Captain William Prince
Kat Dennings as Miss Tamara Doolittle
Jeffrey Tambor as Professor Edmund Bloomer
Mike O’Brien as Lawrence T. Decroix
Keegan-Michael Key as Elson Farwell
Don Cheadle as Thomas Havens
Patrick Wilson as Stanley “Perfesser” Lippert

With Kirby Heyborne as Willie Lincoln, Mary Karr as Mrs. Rose Milland, and Cassandra Campbell as Your Narrator    

Praise for the audiobook

Lincoln in the Bardo sets a new standard for cast recordings in its structure, in its performances, and in its boldness. Now, let's see who answers the challenge.” (Chicago Tribune)

“Like the novel, the audiobook breaks new ground in what can be accomplished through a story. It helps that there’s not a single bad note in the cast of a whopping 166 people. It’s also the rare phenomenon of an audiobook being a completely different experience compared to the novel. Even if you’ve read the novel, the audiobook is worth a listen (and vice versa). The whole project pushes the narrative form forward.” (A.V. Club)

“The result is an auditory experience unlike any other, where the awareness of individual voices disappears while the carefully calibrated soundscape summons a metaphysical masterpiece. This is a tour de force of audiobook production, and a dazzling realization of Saunders’ unique authorial structure.” (Booklist)

“The finished audiobook’s tapestry of voices perfectly mirrors the novel.” (Entertainment Weekly)

©2017 George Saunders (P)2017 Random House Audio

What listeners say about Lincoln in the Bardo

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Outstanding

Exceptional and full of heart. This story was not at all what I expected, in the very best way.

4 people found this helpful

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A strange tale from purgatory

This is an unusual story that is focused on souls in the afterlife. It can be charming, crude or shocking - sometimes all at once. The author does examine and explore the idea of loss - both for the living and the dead - in great detail and in some interesting and surprising ways. If you enjoy reading/listening to books that are off the beaten path, then I recommend this book. At first I wasn't sure, but I really enjoyed this book by the end and will probably listen to it again.

4 people found this helpful

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Not worth it

A pure struggle to get through and finish. A confusing recollection is a serious of short stories where often the titles were longer than the story. Reader: Upset.

2 people found this helpful

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Impossible to follow

Bought it for a road trip. Over an hour into the drive I had absolutely no idea what was going on. It took me reading the reviews here to realise that about 30% of what constituted the disjointed sentences that make up the "story" were footnotes. A daring foray into the absurd for the format that, in my opinion, yielded incredibly poor results.

2 people found this helpful

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Fantastical

No question about this G. Saunders creative outing, but a bit of a grunt to listen to... not because of the narrators, they were all excellent. The story simply was tortuous in places and the citations, although appropriate were distracting. I will read it and see if I feel better about the whole thing. My recommendation is: go ahead and give it a try. You may enjoy it a lot.

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I wanted to love it

This was rather confusing to follow. The full cast narration was impressive but that's it.

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Great performance but story is not my cup of tea.

Very unique book. Part fiction, part biography / history, part philosophy. I feel like it went into some interesting ideas, such as is it really the fault of people doing bad things, or has fate/biology/environment that forced them into it? But then it will just completely switch to some other idea, not going too deep into any one. Overall an okay story. The performance was amazing, but performance can't overcompensate the material.

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fustrating

could not get past the format, the multitude of quotations, with the verbal source references took away from the story - which i never got to. I could only stick with 1/2 hour before i wrote it off. might be good later but not going to get there.

5 people found this helpful

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Unexpected delight

Struggled to begin with, then I was mesmerized. Masterfully produced and read. I will need to now read the paper copy because it seems it must have been made to be read. Like poetry.

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Historical Ghost Story

Very unique story format. A lot of research went into the politics and characters of the time.
Loved it!

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  • Thomas More
  • 2017-02-24

A Mixed Bag

I found the audiobook to be frustrating, to say the least. I love Saunders' work and know that the printed version of this novel is likely much better than this audiobook version indicates. As is, there are some good narrators (Nick Offerman), some decent ones (David Sedaris), and some utterly terrible ones, who feel like they are reading their lines with a gun to their heads. I think the stilted language of the 1860s was too much an impediment to some of these voices. Another problem is that the actors were not recording a shared experience - in other words, they were not together at the time and were not able to fully feed off each other's lines and work as a true ensemble. Few actors enjoy working under those conditions. The story rambles and ambles about, speakers are interrupted, and there is no cohesive emotional center sustained throughout. I felt at times that I was in the audience of a bad high school play. That said, there are some beautiful moments and funny moments, too. Too bad they're buried amidst the mess.

202 people found this helpful

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 2018-01-27

Hard to follow

This narration was hard to follow. It jumped from story to story with chapter title and author

19 people found this helpful

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  • Joe Faraci
  • 2018-01-18

Difficult

There are just too many characters voiced by too many people and burdened by too many footnotes to follow. I found my attention wandering.

91 people found this helpful

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  • Saman
  • 2018-01-11

Disappointment!

I wanted so much more from this book than I received. If I had known what “Bardo” meant prior to picking this up at Audible, I may have enjoyed the listen better. On many reviews of the book on-line, people state that it is not for all tastes. I can agree that it was not for me.

Centered around a cemetery, spirits, and Lincoln mourning the loss of his young son, the story is filled with what was and what could be. In between the spaces, multitude of period quotes are intertwined with the story to interject relevance, experience and fact. Characters, and there are many of them, narrate their own lives and how and why they seem to be trapped in this limbo state. Many fear the next state – moving on. All this can get quite confusing.

The production of this book is awful. There are long gaps of silence between some of the chapters that makes you think the audio has stopped working. It is almost impossible to know when a quote is delivered versus the actual narrative of a character. And there are so many readers. Its absurdly confusing.

How this won the Booker is a mystery to me.

67 people found this helpful

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  • Adele
  • 2017-09-19

A first-rate radio drama, not a mere audiobook

Would you consider the audio edition of Lincoln in the Bardo to be better than the print version?

Yes! Not that I've seen the print version, but the different voices for each character are a huge enhancement to a book with so many characters. Some chapters are composed of excerpts from historical sources, often from firsthand accounts, and these were also enhanced by being read in different voices.

What did you like best about this story?

The connection between Lincoln's personal grief and his empathy for the grief being faced by the nation, culminating in the epiphany that despite seeing this grief it was his duty to continue on with whatever brutality was required to win the war. His struggle, in turn, connects with that of the other characters, who are ghosts living in a form of purgatory, unable to move past life's disappointments into the "next place"; they are all helped along both by the president and his son.

What about the narrators’s performance did you like?

Really, this is more a first-rate radio drama than an audiobook. The actors make each character unique and relatable.

Who was the most memorable character of Lincoln in the Bardo and why?

I wouldn't want to pick one. The lead "ghosts" portrayed by Nick Offerman and David Sedaris were excellent. Probably the central portrait was of Lincoln himself, which we saw from many different perspectives including his own, his son's, and the ghosts (most of whom don't know at first that he is president.)

14 people found this helpful

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  • Betty Vance
  • 2017-10-02

George Saunders answer to Dante's Inferno

I've not listened to many books but it's hard to imagine one that could be more entertaining than Lincoln. The actors speaking for the characters make the story seem more like a play. A truly wonderful play.
The images that are conjured up by George Saunders are so vivid ,heartbreaking , and comical at the same time. This book found me when I was beginning my journey of grief over the sudden loss of my 35 year old disabled daughter. The scene in the beginning where the spirit of Willy is standing with his father with his arm around his him comforting him gave me comfort and made me feel that my daughter was sitting close to me with her arm around me.
It also gave me a glimmer of hope that if President Lincoln could endure this terrible loss and go on eventually with his life maybe so could I. It's been 6 months now and I've listened to the book gradually during these months and just finished it tonight. This book has been one of the most important pieces of my healing. My deepest thanks to George Saunders for this precious gift.
Betty Reardon Vance

178 people found this helpful

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  • John D. Finch
  • 2018-05-30

Not Great in Audio

I love George Saunders' stories, but I couldn't manage to get through more than 30 minutes of this audiobook. Having never seen it in hardcopy, I can only assume large parts of it are printed in snippets, perhaps with offset bits of text, each with in-line citations, which, when read aloud, makes the audiobook version interminable. The audio-narrative is staccato and hard to follow. As I said - I couldn't get through more than 30 minutes of it. Perhaps later in the book, it becomes more of a narrative stream? I don't know ... looking forward to the hardcopy, abandoning the audiobook.

10 people found this helpful

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  • Sharey
  • 2017-09-04

Creative

I enjoyed the creativity of this book. I did not enjoy the constant interruptions citing references.

28 people found this helpful

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  • Sean
  • 2017-05-07

Provocative and engaging...

Listening to this novel is highly recommended.

It is a provocative, well-told, engaging story. It was written to be read aloud.

Listening to it brings the characters to life - the life after they died – and enables us to reflect on our own lives and on our own choices we have made and are making while there is still time left.

And what better period in history for George Saunders to write about than one that resembles the 1860s.

Saunders give us the pleasure of a beautifully written, emotionally charged story needed for the tumultuous times we're living -- muddling-- through.

Sean Gresh



8 people found this helpful

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  • BannerQueen
  • 2017-06-13

Utterly beautiful

For some time at the beginning I felt a little lost, but the writing was so beautiful and the narrations so compelling, I stuck with it. Eventually the fog lifted and I came to (somewhat) understand the activities in this netherworld. It seemed like maybe Richard Brautigan stumbled into "Our Town" tossing strange, deep, poetic, goof balls throughout.

6 people found this helpful