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Cloud Atlas | [David Mitchell]

Cloud Atlas

A reluctant voyager crossing the Pacific in 1850; a disinherited composer blagging a precarious livelihood in between-the-wars Belgium; a high-minded journalist in Governor Reagan's California; a vanity publisher fleeing his gangland creditors; a genetically modified "dinery server" on death-row; and Zachry, a young Pacific Islander witnessing the nightfall of science and civilisation: the narrators of Cloud Atlas hear each other's echoes down the corridor of history.
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Audible Editor Reviews

Why we think it's Essential: This is an ingenious novel composed of six embedded stories interconnected with subtle nuance and utter finesse. Brilliant prose, sharp social criticism, and six distinct narratives combine to make this a superb listen. The varying narrations provide unique tones and voices for each story, perfectly mimicking Mitchell's writing. I'd have given Mitchell the Booker Prize for this. —Chris Doheny

Publisher's Summary

From David Mitchell, the Booker Prize nominee, award-winning writer, and one of the featured authors in Granta's Best of Young British Novelists 2003 issue, comes his highly anticipated third novel, a work of mind-bending imagination and scope.

A reluctant voyager crossing the Pacific in 1850; a disinherited composer blagging a precarious livelihood in between-the-wars Belgium; a high-minded journalist in Governor Reagan's California; a vanity publisher fleeing his gangland creditors; a genetically modified "dinery server" on death-row; and Zachry, a young Pacific Islander witnessing the nightfall of science and civilization: the narrators of Cloud Atlas hear each other's echoes down the corridor of history, and their destinies are changed in ways great and small.

In his captivating third novel, shortlisted for the Booker Prize, David Mitchell erases the boundaries of language, genre, and time to offer a meditation on humanity's dangerous will to power, and where it may lead us.

This audiobook is available exclusively as an audio download!

Note to customers: The complicated format of this novel makes it seem that the audio may be cutting off before the end of a story, accompanied by a change in narrator. However, this is the author's intention, so please continue to listen, and the stories will conclude themselves as intended.

©2004 David Mitchell; (P)2004 Random House Audio

What the Critics Say

  • 2005 Audie Award Nominee, Literary Fiction

"[Mitchell's] exuberant, Nabokovian delight in word play; his provocative grapplings with the great unknowables; and most of all his masterful storytelling: all coalesce to make Cloud Atlas an exciting, almost overwhelming masterpiece." (Washington Times)

"[Cloud Atlas] glows with a fizzy, dizzy energy, pregnant with possibility and whispering in your ear: listen closely to a story, any story, and you'll hear another story inside it, eager to meet the world." (The Village Voice)

"A remarkable book....It knits together science fiction, political thriller, and historical pastiche with musical virtuosity and linguistic exuberance: there won't be a bigger, bolder novel next year." (The Guardian)

What Members Say

Average Customer Rating

3.9 (3765 )
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  •  
    William R. Creech Bainbridge Island, WA United States 01-23-05
    William R. Creech Bainbridge Island, WA United States 01-23-05 Member Since 2001
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Clever writing"

    This "novel" is really 6 short stories. The gimmick is that the second story starts in the middle of the first and the third starts in the middle of the second and so on. Only the sixth story is complete and then we get the finish of the fifth, fourth, third, second and first stories. The stories occur in the 1840s, 1930s, 1970s, present, 100+ years, 200+ years.

    On one level, the author is making his philosophical point that mankind is inheritently greedy and willing to kill and enslave other humans. The ultimate result is a corpocracy that destroys everything as we see in the final two stories.

    On another level is a great wordsmith who gives each story a different voice and even a different language while staying true to his message. In the second story, a composer writes to his physicist friend(see third story) that he has conceived a major work which he will call the "Cloud Atlas Sextette." Each of the six parts will be a different instrument and will be interrupted by the next part and finished in descending order by the remaining parts: 12345654321. The composer asks: Is this a conceit or genius? And each listener should probably ask the same question.

    The readers are excellent and it is immediately clear which of the six stories is being read. There are a lot of interesting discussion issues raised by this book. I would buy it again but I imagine that many would not really enjoy it.

    65 of 81 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Walter Loewenstern 08-19-14 Member Since 2014

    Walter L.

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    "Listened to it twice, and may again"
    If you could sum up Cloud Atlas in three words, what would they be?

    an amazing novel


    What did you like best about this story?

    The way it carries an interesting theme through hundreds of years.


    Who would you have cast as narrator instead of the narrators?

    Replace Scott Brick, every sentence read by him is too dramatic.


    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Lesley Seattle, WA, United States 03-11-13
    Lesley Seattle, WA, United States 03-11-13 Member Since 2005

    From Austen to zombies!

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    Story
    "Let them tell you a story"

    There are numerous descriptions of the structure of this book, so I'll skip the details and just say there are six different stories, all set in different times, but interconnected, and each is read by a different narrator.

    The narration alone made this book worth a listen. It starts with Scott Brick--one of my favorites, although I know some people don't like him as much as I do. But the other narrators are good too, particularly the one in the middle, longest section (sorry, don't know which one he is), who reads in a futuristic sort of Hawaiian pidgin.

    All the stories are at least engaging, and all but a couple are fun, with humorous moments. In each case it's as if someone is reading to you, or just telling you a story, perhaps to kill time while traveling, or at a boring party, or maybe around a campfire.

    That's the power of this book: there are so many stories in the world, and so many are connected.

    I do wonder if some of the stories could stand well on their own. One or two of these wouldn't have been as good without the framework. Together, though, they make a good experience. All were suspenseful; while I didn't care about every single character I did want to know what happened to them all. And the characters that I did care about stayed with me for days after listening.

    So I wouldn't say this is the greatest novel of all time. But I do recommend it for the light it throws on the messy, sad, funny, happy human experience.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Bill provincetown, ma, United States 03-08-13
    Bill provincetown, ma, United States 03-08-13

    I like horror, science fiction, transgressive writing, and some nonfiction.

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    "really well written"

    This is an amazing book with so much going on. It really is well worth a read.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Joel Mill Valley, CA, United States 05-16-12
    Joel Mill Valley, CA, United States 05-16-12

    Me, myself, and I.

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "What can I add?"

    I think my headline says it all. After spending such an indescribably wonderful time in the universe of Cloud Atlas, I have emerged with the understanding that I can't add anything to what has been written before.

    This was a transcendent experience. The story structure could have been a gimmick. The various genres could have been a mess. The relative looseness of all of this could have been silly. None of that happened. Instead, David Mitchell has crafted a book that has everything I could have possibly asked for. It has six interlocking stories, each with its own merits and fascination. The end of the story, when I thought it would finish with a wimper (although a great wimper!), finished strong, bringing home the entire reason the novel exists. It was this finish that left me wholly satisfied.

    Among the best books I've ever experienced. I cannot recommend it any more than I am trying here. Just read it, listen to it, experience it. You will not be disappointed.

    21 of 28 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Matthew Laun 01-23-05 Member Since 2014
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    "Regardless of the structure, each story is great."

    The nice thing about this book is that each story is very different, in a different genre and narrative voice. If you have a wide range of tastes in types of fiction, you'll love this. Historical, comical, detective, science fiction, post-apocolyptical, there are samples of each. The connections between the stories are clever, but nothing to get hung up on. If you have a poor memory, then picking up the thread of the earlier stories might be difficult for you. I had no problem with it, despite the fact that my listening was broken up into may small sessions. I also believe the narrators are some of the best in the business and enjoyed the all-star cast.

    33 of 45 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Tim United States 10-21-12
    Tim United States 10-21-12 Member Since 2011

    I don't write book reports.

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    "Needs a Steady Pace"

    If you are reading "Cloud Atlas" before you decide to see the movie, you really need to pay attention in what is going on because the six different story is hard to understand on how they intertwined together. The stories are a bit hard to follow because it flashes back and forth with each of their characters and their situations, but once you get through the first part of their tales, you will start noticing the bond between their stories.

    Cloud Atlas is not the greatest book that I have ever read because the author jumps ships too often. He tells us something to get our interest and all of a sudden, starts something new. I don't think that Cloud Atlas is well told, but just "okay." If the movie follows the story line of the book, I won't be taking a restroom break in between the showing.

    I wanted to know more about Sonmi and the sci fi story because that part of the book was most interesting to me. I don't regret at getting this book because I am looking forward to the movie, but I just wished it had a easier pace of storytelling.

    This book doesn't have a steady flow.

    15 of 21 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Coffee Virginia Beach, VA, United States 11-26-12
    Coffee Virginia Beach, VA, United States 11-26-12 Member Since 2012

    Coffee and a Book Chick

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    "Complete focus is required..."

    I'm sure this is better in print or on the big screen... If you are like me and do a lot of errands, or go for a run when listening to an audiobook, than this might not be for you. I love science fiction, but this was just much too challenging to listen to. With six interconnected stories, each has its own narrator, which is fantastic, however each tale is simultaneously unique and challenging to comprehend. There is a specific way each narration is delivered, and depending on the time period of the story, it can either be 1800s prose or a completely made-up dialect that was painful to listen to and translate. I would not recommend this book if you like to do other things while you are listening. There were some moments within each tale that piqued my interest and engaged me for a little while, but then it switched to the next tale and I was left with trying to get used to the way it was written yet again.

    However, I did enjoy the stories for Luisa Rey and Timothy Cavendish. The others, especially Zachry's tale, were just painful to listen to.

    10 of 14 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Jefferson 04-05-15
    Jefferson 04-05-15 Member Since 2010

    I love reading and listening to books, especially fantasy, science fiction, children's, historical, and classics.

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    ""Hold out your hands, look. . . ""

    Cloud Atlas (2004) is a composite novel comprised of six different stories, each one set in a different time and place, including Belgium in 1931 and Hawaii in the far future; each one featuring a different protagonist, including a conservative 19th-century American notary and a revolutionary future Korean clone; each one belonging to a different genre, including an epistolary novel and a campfire tale; each one evoking a different mood, including suspense and black comedy; and each one featuring an aptly different style (vocabulary, syntax, and orthography), including an elegant Oscar Wildean British English and a lyrical post-apocalypse transformed English ala Russell Hoban's Riddley Walker. Author David Mitchell's ability to make each story strand and voice unique and convincing is impressive, as is his clever arrangement and compassionate linking of the six stories, which refer backwards and forwards to each other in increasingly meaningful ways.

    Tying the whole thing together is a set of potent themes relating to memory, history, story, identity, human nature, civilization, the past, and the future. "The mighty [Edward] Gibbon" and his masterpiece, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, are often referred to and quoted ("History is little more than the record of the crimes, follies, and misfortunes of mankind"), and most of Mitchell's inter-nested stories concern the heroic attempt of fallible individuals in a moment of crisis to try to make a better future by standing up for another person or for themselves or for the truth and so defusing the default predatory human mode of greed, will to power, and cruelty. In short, the novel is about the growth of the human soul in eras and cultures inimical to it.

    The following excerpts from the novel demonstrate its richness and range of voices:

    "My eyes adjusted to the gloom & revealed a sight at once indelible, fearsome & sublime. First one, then ten, then hundreds of faces emerged from the perpetual dim, adzed by idolaters into bark, as if Sylvan spirits were frozen immobile by a cruel enchanter. No adjectives may properly delineate that basilisk tribe! Only the inanimate may be so alive."

    "I've manipulated people for advancement, lust, or loans, but never for the roof over my head."

    "I saw my first dawn over the Kangwon-Do Mountains. I cannot describe what I felt. The Immanent Chairman's one true son, its molten lite, petro-clouds. His dome of sky. . . Why did the entire conurb not grind to a halt and give praise in the face of such ineluctable beauty?"

    "In my new tellin', see, I wasn't Zachry the Stoopit nor Zachry the Cowardy. I was jus' Zachry the Unlucky'n'Lucky. Lies are Old Georgie's vultures what circle on high lookin' down for a runty'n'weedy soul to plummet'n'sink their talons in, an' that night at Abel's Dwellin', that runty'n'weedy soul, yay, it was me."

    "What wouldn't I give now for a never-changing map of the ever-constant ineffable, to possess as it were an atlas of clouds."

    Perhaps the thriller story feels odd-man-out by having the only third person narration and generally seeming less convincing than its fellows (though I suspect that may partly be Mitchell's point). The intimations of reincarnation glimpsed in most of the stories sit a bit uncomfortably with me. In the brave new corprocratic dystopia of Mitchell's first future, I'd think that more likely brand names would become nouns than "fords" for cars and "sonys" for computer/smart phones (though "starbucks" for coffee and "nikes" for tennis shoes sure sound right). And because the stories of Cloud Atlas progress from the past to the future and back again, each ending in mid-crisis on the way forward, I found the first half of the novel when I had no idea what kind of story would start in each new section more intriguing than the second when the aborted stories conclude, albeit suspensefully.

    The six readers (four male, two female) of the audiobook are mostly quite good, especially Simon Vance as Robert Frobisher and John Lee as Timothy Cavendish, both men relishing Mitchell's spot on articulate, brilliant, cynical, educated British English for those two characters, and Cassandra Campbell was perfectly dignified, resigned, and hopeful as Sonmi-451.

    At one point, Mitchell's disinherited young British bisexual composer writes to his soul mate about Cloud Atlas, his "sextet for overlapping soloists, piano, clarinet, cello, flute, obo, violin, each in its own language of key, scale and color. In the first set each solo is interrupted by its successor. In the second each interruption is continued in order. Revolutionary or gimmicky?" This obviously describes the novel. So is it revolutionary or gimmicky? I think it falls between those two poles, being too coherent to be revolutionary and too well-written and heart-felt to be gimmicky.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Gena hendersonville, TN, United States 10-03-13
    Gena hendersonville, TN, United States 10-03-13 Member Since 2015

    Bookworm

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "skip the movie, skip the book - do audio!"
    What made the experience of listening to Cloud Atlas the most enjoyable?

    Excellent narration! I watched the movie afterwards and it stunk. The audio book easily ties all the story lines together and the different voices and accents make it difficult to put down.


    What other book might you compare Cloud Atlas to and why?

    Unique. I've never read (Listened to) anything like it.


    Which scene was your favorite?

    The guy in the old folks home was hilarious from the start. I replayed parts from this section over and over and kept laughing.


    Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

    It was an experience. You have to listen to this audio to get the whole deal. Better than ANY movie I've seen in the past year.


    Any additional comments?

    SKIP THE MOVIE AND THE BOOK........this one was MADE for audio!

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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