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Doomsday Book | [Connie Willis]

Doomsday Book

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.
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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 Rating

3.9 (2057 )
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4.1 (1378 )
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Performance
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  •  
    Amy Bonners Ferry, ID, United States 03-31-12
    Amy Bonners Ferry, ID, United States 03-31-12 Member Since 2010
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Did not live up to the hype"

    After reading a whole slew of exited, glowing reviews, I optimistically downloaded this book. Sadly, as I slogged through the narrators bland reading, I came to realize this was not nearly the book I had hoped it would be. The time spent in the 'present' is a particular snooze, with me wishing for a switch back to the middle ages, where I at least felt I could learn something new. Indeed, this was the book's only redeeming feature--Connie Willis must have either quite an imagination or is a very thorough researcher. I was very interested in her descriptions of middle age life and customs, and the statistics of the plague she cited were also very interesting, humbling, and downright scary. For this reason alone I gave the book 2 stars and not one. As another reviewer stated, this book is also rather a downer...I'm not the fluffy feathers and floating hearts type but man...I was a little depressed at the end of this story. If you really want a wonderful time travel book, download Stephen King's "11/22/63". The reader is LIGHT YEARS better and so is the story. Don't waste your time on this downer/snoozer.

    4 of 4 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Louise Tremblay Cole 04-09-10 Member Since 2002
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    "One of the Absolute Great Books"

    The interplay between the events in future Oxford and 14th century Oxford is beguiling and dizzying. The theme of the ringing of bell changes is a metaphor for this intricate counterpoint of events. The historical details of the past are solid and convincing, and so are the characters of both periods. Agnes, presented with all the exasperating traits that five-year-olds try adults with, is probably the most convincing and lovable portrayal of a young child I have ever encountered in literature. The account of the Black Death and all its horror and grief is not easy reading, but it shouldn't be. It is a real reminder of what life can be like for human beings in any age. The tale is, in the end, consoling and hopeful.
    Oh, and in parts, it is very funny.

    4 of 4 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Susan APO, AP, USA 04-20-09
    Susan APO, AP, USA 04-20-09 Member Since 2005
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Amazing book"

    I understand that some listeners find the beginning a little hard to get into, but those who stick with it will be rewarded. The characters become incredibly, heartbreakingly real, as do the worlds Willis painstakingly creates. I listened to this a year ago, and I still think of it often. Willis is one of our great writers crossing the border between sci-fi and "serious" fiction.

    13 of 15 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Tamara heyfieldAustralia 05-01-08
    Tamara heyfieldAustralia 05-01-08
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "A great story"

    I really enjoyed this book. Although it started a little slowly, I became totally absorbed in the two worlds, staying in my car once I reached home after work, not wanting to stop listening. The characters -especially Colin, Kivrin, Dunworthy, Agnes and Father Roche were well thought out, and the relationship between Kivrin and Agnes was very special. Christmas Eve, with the beautiful night, and the feasting: the suspense kept on building. The book ended almost too suddenly, and I was left wanting to know more. A good sign perhaps. I enjoyed the narration - Jenny Sterlin. Well worth listening to.

    17 of 20 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Carolyn Memphis, TN, United States 05-31-12
    Carolyn Memphis, TN, United States 05-31-12
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    "Haunting"

    This is an incredible book, capable of bringing smiles and tears (often within the same few pages). It is not for everyone since the story it tells is horrific but the humanity of the characters and the gentle bits of humor ameliorate the horror of the black death and the epidemic in the future plot. I read it two months ago and it still haunts me. I can feel the warm breath of the characters breathing down my neck and they are never far from my thoughts. She is a masterful writer. The awards for this book are well-deserved. Just don't read it while depressed.

    3 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Aser Tolentino Vacaville, California USA 04-23-12
    Aser Tolentino Vacaville, California USA 04-23-12 Member Since 2004

    I am a blind lawyer and aspiring writer, trying to read a little bit of everything but partial to sci-fi and military fiction.

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "One half captivating, the other, endurable"

    I was constantly of two minds while reading this book. The segments set in the 14th Century were engrossing, vibrant, explorations into a wonderful if harsh world, looked forward to and cherished. The portion set in the 21st Century however, dragged, full of comparatively mundane detail and an improbably bumbling cast of characters. Some mild spoilers follow.

    Part of the problem stems from the fact that there are essentially two stories going on; a science fiction tale in which Mr. Dunworthy tries to overcome numerous obstacles to rescue a lost time traveler, not least being a "modern" epidemic, and a historical recounting of one village's fate during the Black Death, as observed by the young Kivrin. Being two very distinct settings, I can say they appear to have aged differently. I find it odd now to read contemporary sci-fi stories that include things like blogging, but here find that I'm equally conscious of snags that date a work including a near future world that fails to include developments like ubiquitous wireless communication. I always try to put such nitpicks out of my mind, but can you imagine someone like a major university head completely disappearing from the grid for weeks at a time in the present day? There is also the series of unfortunate events that leads the book's major crisis to occur in the first place, but your suspension of disbelief may vary on these points.

    I really did not find anything overly remarkable about the narration; it was very good overall, but could be slow, leading me to increase playback speed.

    With all of that said, the reason why I enthusiastically recommend this book can be summed up in one word, Kivrin. While Dunworthy's tale is largely mired in overcoming bureaucratic resistance and a telephone system designed by Satan, Kivrin is discovering the reality of Medieval England, how much harder it was in ways neglected by those who made it their business to "study" it, but more importantly, that it was a time in which real people lived, worked, hoped, and died. The modern influenza epidemic provides contrast. While trained medical personnel in the 2050s stop showing up to work, a priest in a 1348 English village tirelessly tends the dying and rings the bell to ensure the salvation of the dead. While those quarantined in 2054 bicker and grumble, the female head of a noble family seeking refuge in the country takes in Kivrin who appears to her to be a sick girl with no memory of her past. It's easy to see Dunworthy taking a shine to being Kivrin's tutor; both have keen minds, a need to do what's right, as well as almost too much fatalism balanced by an ability to quickly adapt. And both wield a delightful gift for sarcasm. I felt true sympathy for her as she struggled to cope with the underlying assumptions of her world suddenly unraveling, reshaping, and perhaps leaving her stranded in a world not her own, and when the girl Dunworthy thought looked too young to cross a street on her own was able to live up to a poor priest's prayers for divine assistance.

    Like other reviewers, I was sad for Kivrin in the end, and that my time with her, Dunworthy too I suppose, had come to a close.

    3 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Karen Westbury, Australia 04-20-12
    Karen Westbury, Australia 04-20-12
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    "Absorbing"

    I am a Connie Willis fan but it must be said that she does tend to send her characters off on wild goose chases that can go on too long. The Doomsday book is no exception. The plot develops in two time periods, the early 14th century and the mid 21st century. The story line in the 14th century is fascinating and absorbing and beautifully written. The story line in the 21st century is the one with all the wild goose chases after missing people and countless misunderstandings of vital clues about "what went wrong." This is not helped by the fact that Connie Willis's depiction of the year 2054 does not include mobile phones or the internet so there is endless frustration caused by a land line system that does not seem to have developed beyond the 1950s. Add this to the buffoonery of some two dimensional characters and it all gets a bit tedious. There were times when I actually groaned each time the story went back to the 21st century plot.
    That said, the last third of the book was gripping and very difficult to stop listening to. Connie Willis took me into the story and I just wanted to stay there as she pulled all the threads together.
    If the book was shorter by a third, it would have been brilliant and the last third of the book, almost made up for the tedium of the 21st century. Almost.

    7 of 8 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Jimbo Champaign, IL United States 05-20-10
    Jimbo Champaign, IL United States 05-20-10 Member Since 2006

    noyb999

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    "One of my favorite books ever"

    I liked this book so much that I got two other books from the same author: "To Say Nothing of the Dog," and "Blackout." The narration is excellent, and I would be happy to get another book by the same narrator.

    3 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Joe Gilbert, AZ, USA 10-13-08
    Joe Gilbert, AZ, USA 10-13-08
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "This is one of the best books ever written..."

    I was spellbound for the whole 20 some odd hours of listening to this book. At first I thought I was going to have a problem with the British accent, but after a few hours I marveled at the talent of the narrator to make me believe it was different characters. This was just so interesting and well written I couldn't wait to listen to it each day on my morning commute. It was a very sad day when it was finished and I didn't have it to look forward to any more.

    You can't go wrong with this book! Amazing!!!

    21 of 26 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Tango Texas 05-19-13
    Tango Texas 05-19-13 Member Since 2012

    Two great passions - dogs and books! Sci-fi/fantasy novels are my go-to favorites, but I love good writing across all genres.

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Reviews are a better read than this book"

    I hated the Doomsday Book and I totally hated that I could have been spared this 26 hour agony had I only done what I almost always do - READ THE REVIEWS. I usually read many of a book's reviews before buying and I look especially for the more critical reviews since they tend to tell me more of what I want to know. In the case of Doomsday Book there are MANY negative reviews so even though Audible doesn't make critical reviews easy to find, it would not have been hard with this book. But no - I stupidly assumed a book that won both Nebula and Hugo awards had to be good if not great. I mean really - this book is in the rarefied company of truly stellar sci-fi like Ender's Game, Left Hand of Darkness, and Dune. I read the reviews on this book AFTER slogging through this bloated pig of a book and found they were much more interesting and better written than the book itself. To those of you who might have spared me, thanks for taking the time, sorry I was too stupid to take advantage of your efforts.

    I am adding my voice to the chorus just to work out some aggravation over this one. The flaws in Doomsday Book are numerous:

    * NO Editing
    * Poor Writing - repetitive, cliched, terrible dialog, flat out boring sequences of characters' agonizing internally, cardboard characters, stupid and repeated plot devices, no suspense because the author takes 17 hours to get to the big reveal which is actually on the book's cover and you'd figure out anyway after about the first chapter, etc.
    * Unrealistic Settings - you have a time machine and there is no advanced security for the system, the head of the HISTORY dept. is making decisions about the use of the machine, there is only one tech on duty and when he falls ill there seems to be no backup whatsoever. On and on ridiculous beyond anyone's ability to suspend disbelief.
    * Terrible Narration - character voices are awful especially the children and Jenny Sterlin can't do an American accent at all. Sterlin is so slow and deliberate in delivery with a book that is already horribly slow.

    But in my mind, the cardinal sin of this book is that Connie Willis has NO excuse whatsoever for the total miss on the sci-fi side of this book. She may have researched the 14th century, but she didn't seem to have even noticed technology in her own time! Published in 1992 with futuristic part of the novel set in the 2050's:

    * There are no cell phones or any type of portable communication device except something called a "bleeper" which seems to be nothing but a 2050 version of a beeper (oooh - that's creative). C'mon, mobile communications technology has been around since the 40's and the first cell phones hit the scene in 1973! (I had a car phone in 1988.) But our doofus "hero" waits around for a "trunk" call - PUHLEAZE! Willis makes a point to mention that phone calls have video like that's a big advancement - I was installing teleconferencing units in 1984.
    * No GPS - GPS was invented in 1974
    * No Internet/email - First commercial email service was available in 1976. First host-to-host connection which launched the internet was in 1969 and this connectivity came to be called the Internet by the early 70's.
    * Little advancement in medicine or transportation between 1992 and 2050.

    Connie Willis must have been living under a rock. None of the technologies like cellular communications, the Internet/email, GPS were top secret in 1992 and a quick skim of any science/technology journal would have told her all about it. I can't understand how she or the Hugo/Nebula voters thought that a society that would have time travel technology would have lost communications technology that was invented in the 1940's!

    I don't recommend this book to anyone. I have no idea how it won awards, but it has proven to me that no awards or acclaim guarantees a good book. Live and learn...

    9 of 11 people found this review helpful
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