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Publisher's Summary

William Stoner is born at the end of the 19th century into a dirt-poor Missouri farming family. Sent to the state university to study agronomy, he instead falls in love with English literature and embraces a scholar's life, far different from the hardscrabble existence he has known. And yet as the years pass, Stoner encounters a succession of disappointments: marriage into a "proper" family estranges him from his parents; his career is stymied; his wife and daughter turn coldly away from him; a transforming experience of new love ends under threat of scandal. Driven ever deeper within himself, Stoner rediscovers the stoic silence of his forebears and confronts an essential solitude.

John Williams's luminous and deeply moving novel is a work of quiet perfection. William Stoner emerges from it not only as an archetypal American, but as an unlikely existential hero, standing, like a figure in a painting by Edward Hopper, in stark relief against an unforgiving world.

©1965 John Williams (P)2010 Blackstone Audio, Inc.

Critic Reviews

“A perfect novel, so well told and beautifully written, so deeply moving, it takes your breath away." (Morris Dickstein, New York Times Book Review )
“A masterly portrait of a truly virtuous and dedicated man.” (New Yorker)
“An exquisite study, bleak as Hopper, of a hopelessly honest academic at a meretricious Midwestern university. I had not known…that the kind of unsparing portrait of failed marriage shown in Stoner existed before John Cheever.” (Los Angeles Times)

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

Overall

  • 4.2 out of 5.0
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Performance

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Story

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  • Overall

A fascinating book

A book which is very fascinating because of its plainness. The story is of an interesting character who lives an ordinary life. Doesn't excel. Doesn't achieve greatness. Isn't a hero. Isn't a villain. Just a normal guy who stoically faces a failed marriage, who loses relationship with his family, who fights for right on the job and is tormented because of his choice. Yet told in a fashion which makes the book more like a verbal Grant Wood's American Gothic tale. Hopeful and sad at the same time. It will live with me for some time. Also, well interpreted by reader Robin Field.

34 of 34 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

A masterpiece

I had never heard of this book but was so intrigued by the description (also the description at Amazon) that I decided to give it a try. It is a masterpiece -- one of the great novels of the 20th century. (So why hadn't I ever heard of it?) It's the story of a farmboy who attends the University of MO to study agriculture and falls in love with literature and becomes a professor of English literature at the same school. The book spans World War I & II. The story is almost emotionally devasastating but the author writes with such restraint -- showing not telling -- that the power is heightened all the more. Concealed art at its finest. I couldn';t put it down. Not boring for a moment. The narrator, Robin Field, is spot on perfect for this book. Great, great stuff.

78 of 80 people found this review helpful

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  • Anton
  • Perm, Russia
  • 10-13-12

A story of sadness and serenity

If ever I have read a book that moved me gently but to tears, that would be 'Stoner'. Akin to Stoner's happy days, I regretted the book ending so soon, but it could not come to a close at a better moment and the sadness that you will feel is going to be an acute one, which I surmised coming in waves and not continuously humming at the same pitch in 'Stoner'; the sadness will lap gently against you, you will be carried away. While pleasant dryness permeates Williams's writing, with the narrator's voice being attuned to it, there is little chance anyone could ever call it bland. If anything, this dryness intensifies complex emotions that the story evokes by acting as a counterweght, by keeping things mild, not overpronouncing them.

I hope you appreciate this book and if you do, you can try "The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter" by Carson McCullers that is of a similar sentiment.

67 of 69 people found this review helpful

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  • Jessica
  • LINDENHURST, NY, United States
  • 12-23-12

Incredible story with ALMOST perfect narration

First, this is now my favorite classic,which is funny because I had never heard of it before I found it on Audible. (They never teach the good stuff in high school). The reviews on this site pretty much sum up why it's so great, so if you're prepared to feel a bit sad when it's over then you'll probably love it.

My only complaint is about the narration, but I would NOT give the narration less than 4 stars. The problem for me was that Robin Field uses the same cadence for every line that isn't being spoken by a character, and for a few that are. It's sort of like when you're learning about iambic pentameter in 11th grade English, and the whole class ends up reading in a kind of monotone sing-song. And THEN he WALKED out TO the BARN and RAKED. It wasn't quite that bad, and the rhythm was less obvious than iambic pentameter, but I found myself nodding my head a little to the pattern and it was a bit distracting. His VOICE, though, is utterly hypnotic,and once I got past that rhythm issue each time I started listening I got pulled in and didn't want to turn it off.

Listening to this audiobook felt like listening to what my grandfather must have sounded like as a young man. That's part of the beauty of the story, too, that you truly feel like you're listening to someone's life story, not some glamorized, plot driven adventure. It touches you because it could BE you - it's one of those rare stories where the character's decisions are not what drives his story, they're just what determine how he lives with his simple disappointments.

64 of 66 people found this review helpful

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  • ESK
  • Moscow, Russia
  • 02-10-13

Heartrending

I'd say it was emotionally exhausting to listen to the book. There are no wars depicted; no atrocities described. But there's the tragedy of one man, the broken, or rather ruined promises, the futility of aspiration, and failure of love. Yes, it's a story about an ordinary life, not about superheroes we look up to, but we never come across them in real life.
It's a story that could have happened to any of us, about the things we're too afraid to do, and then regret not doing them. Vanity of vanities... Thus 'Stoner' is thought-provoking and pensive. Its sadness is reverberating. I listened to it in one sitting, but I had to stop the audio from time to time to recharge my 'battery'. And it took me some time to get down to it and write the review.
It was so hard to listen to the book, because of the emotional involvement and empathy I felt towards the protagonist. A brilliant and moving novel.

30 of 31 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • John
  • Houston, TX, United States
  • 03-10-11

Everyman as University Professor

I have listened to approx 30 titles a year for last 5 years. Stoner goes in my top five fiction list. Not a wasted sentence; pitch perfect diction; not at all pedantic. An undiscovered classic of American literature.

44 of 46 people found this review helpful

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  • DLC
  • Fair Oaks, CA USA
  • 07-31-12

Exceptional

If you could sum up Stoner in three words, what would they be?

Heartbreaking enthralling realistic

What did you like best about this story?

The consistency of the characters. Even when behavioral changes occurred they were not unrealistic but were fascinating.

What does Robin Field bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?

He has a laconic delivery that is perfectly suited for this story.

Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

I served in various positions in academia. One of the conclusions I made about the position of department chair was how difficult it was to accomplish positive change but the power to be negative is considerable. One of the dramatic conflicts in the book demonstrated that rather well.

Any additional comments?

I read or listen to as many as 3 or 4 books a week. Every once awhile one comes along that shows me the difference between a really good book and one that is solely entertaining- In my opinion this book is one of the best. If someone asks what the book is about it is very difficult to describe it in a way that will encourage one to read it. The reader or listener will be surprised how interesting and moving an ordinary life can be.

25 of 26 people found this review helpful

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Frustrating "read"

The narrator's clipped and deliberate style may be responsible for my lukewarm response to this title; I admit I may have had a completely different reaction had I simply picked up the written word version instead. On the other hand, the writer's style was not the easiest to warm up to: it was strange encountering so much adverbial modification (I wasn't even sure if some of these adverbs could ever be found in the dictionary). And although I understand that the impossibly impassive and stoic protagonist might actually have a counterpart in the real world, I found it very unfortunate that he had not learned anything from the extensive reading he had done. It is hard to reconcile his professed passion for literature with such a glaring absence of all the major themes of literature from his everyday life, whether physical or emotional.

8 of 8 people found this review helpful

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  • Gary
  • Las Cruces, NM, United States
  • 09-17-14

A guidebook for life for people like me

Very good fiction can be better than non-fiction at explaining your place in the universe and this book does just that by considering the life and times of just one character, William Stoner. There's not much to his story but for those of us who have had a fairly mediocre life (and who embrace that mediocrity) Stoner's story helps us understand ourselves just a little bit better. It's good to see that university politics never change over time. The stakes are so small making the professors ever more vicious.

As for the narrator, he made the events come alive and at times I felt as if I were alive in the early part of the last century while being transfixed by the story and the storyteller.


14 of 15 people found this review helpful

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Not with a bang, but a whimper...

Here's a scary story for you. Not one with fictional creatures or supernatural occurrences, but instead, a novel that details all the quiet miseries and disappointments we work-a-day stiffs endure throughout the course of a lifetime. It is not an escape, but a story that forces you to confront the choices you have made in your own life. The writing is done with great care and intelligence, so that the reader gets the sense that WIlliams truly knows this academic world and its inhabitants.

Stoner is so unsettling in its description of family and work life that I think we could cure the earth's overpopulation problem if this book became mandatory reading in the eighth grade.

6 of 6 people found this review helpful

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  • Crocker
  • 07-30-13

A life so ordinary so well told .

There is a slow and painful inevitability about this quiet masterpiece .
The combination of narrator and content has resulted in a modern classic which has a most profound effect, how this book remained under the literary radar for so long is a mystery, no more need be said, just listen quietly and reflect .

9 of 9 people found this review helpful

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  • steven
  • 01-04-14

Slow and frugal writing

Finally a book that deserves each of its five stars. Written in 1965 and forgotten for 40 years this book was recently voted Book of the Year, and it is easy to see why. It is a very simple tale of a simple man – an academic who comes from a very modest background and achieves virtually nothing in his lifetime. He watches as his life happens to him and watches as it slips past. He is mild mannered and polite but fails to take a stand on any issue or on any relationship in his life. He has the opportunity on several occasions: an ethical choice which he gets right but executes badly; and a love choice which he lets slip.

The world happens to him, his life is thrust upon him and with a barely detectable shrug he accepts it and moves on.

The sum of the plot is revealed on the first page of the first chapter. It is not for intrigue that one should read the book but for the writing. In style this is somewhere between John Steinbeck and William Faulkner and Franz Kafka. It is slow, measured and carefully descriptive – perfectly in keeping with each tentative thought of William Stoner. Some of JM Coetzee’s early work is similar.

Reading the biography of the author one wonders how autobiographical the story is – two novels published in a lifetime, one receives some acclaim and then evaporates from view for 40 years.

I strongly recommend it, not for reading while lying on the beach – stick to a thriller. But when you are in a contemplative mood and thinking about what to make of 2014 and beyond this would be perfect material.

The narrator's reedy monotone is absolutely perfect for the story - his characterisation is spot on.

8 of 8 people found this review helpful

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  • Judy Corstjens
  • 04-06-14

Small, gentle, but perfectly formed

A novel in the form of a biography - that classic form: Stoner is born, lives his life and end ups dying. But if a life unexamined is not worth living, examining a few more lives than just your own seems worthwhile too. William Stoner was born in 1891, Missouri USA, lived through two world wars, prohibition and depression, and dies in 1956. The book was written in 1965. Different age - that of my grandfather, say, so there is a historical/nostalgic element too. I don't know why this classic form of third party narrated story-telling has fallen out of fashion, I prefer it to most modern, fast moving, fantastical novels I have read in recent years.

Narrator speaks a bit like Kevin Spacey in House of Cards (especially in the first chapters). I loved that too.

11 of 12 people found this review helpful

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  • James
  • 11-02-13

The best

This novel was a revelation: as quiet a book as i have ever read, it reduced me to tears several times and admiration throughout.

5 of 5 people found this review helpful

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  • Michael
  • 01-31-14

Beautiful storytelling

Where does Stoner rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?

This is one of the best audiobooks I've ever listened to. Both the story and the narrator were superb. Beautifully written and read. I highly recommend this book.

What did you like best about this story?

I loved the precision of the writing that was essentially not an especially eventful life.

Which character – as performed by Robin Field – was your favourite?

William Stoner comes across as very much an understated hero with amazing amounts of patience and tolerance.

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

The book made me think about the effect of beautiful writing. At one point I remember thinking how clever John William had been to make the language he was using almost invisible if that doesn't sound a contradiction - but he was merely providing a beautifully transparent lens into Stoner's life.

Any additional comments?

Excellent book. I will explore more both the writer and reader.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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  • Emily
  • 01-29-14

Heartbreaking

This was absolutely heartbreaking but I loved every minute of it.
It is a life so well observed. The book was beautifully written.
The character of William Stoner will live with me for a long time.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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  • F Gibb
  • 01-09-14

The quiet heroism of a small life lived well

This novel is majestically understated.
It is a bleak novel, but it does not ask for you to pity the hero. Instead, it gently paints the portrait of a man, who becomes great through nothing more than remaining decent and unaltered by the forces around him.
I don't think it is a coincidence that the narrator has an echo of the laconic drawl of James Stewart. I felt a similar feeling about Mr Stoner as I did about George Bailey in It's a Wonderful Life- although Stoner it a dark and bleak classic, and IAWL is a MUCH lighter weighted fare, with saccharine added thoughout- so the analogy goes no further than the admiration of the man who chooses to surrender ambition, and make his life mean something through some other means.
A word about the way the book ends. It moved me like I have not been moved by writing before...

I cannot rate this book highly enough.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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  • MH
  • 07-14-13

Completely loved this

What did you like most about Stoner?

Best book I've listened to (read) in a while and have purchased a paper copy to read again and keep. Wonderful writing about an ordinary life. Narrator particularly good and will be looking at what else he has read as I found his performance perfectly measured.

6 of 7 people found this review helpful

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  • H
  • 07-18-14

A Sad and Moving Book

I loved this gentle, slow-paced account of a good man who lives an ordinary life. Not much happens to him but we are captivated by his integrity and compassion.
The narration is perfect for the plot.
It is also a time capsule of American life between the wars - a fascinating piece of social history.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • Boledylocks
  • 10-01-15

Quiet and intence

If you could sum up Stoner in three words, what would they be?

Life's a Bitch

What did you like best about this story?

We all live in our own heads with no instruction manual

Which scene did you most enjoy?

The imposition of a new student in an already full class. This small act destroyed his life.

If you made a film of this book, what would be the tag line be?

Life's a beach, then you marry.

Any additional comments?

As good as Faulks Human Traces.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful