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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

Critic Reviews

  • 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

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  • Overall

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.

205 of 221 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Wyonia
  • Perry Hall, MD, USA
  • 10-17-08

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.

109 of 118 people found this review helpful

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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.

20 of 21 people found this review helpful

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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.

63 of 69 people found this review helpful

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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.

7 of 7 people found this review helpful

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  • Ilana
  • Montreal, Quebec, Canada
  • 05-27-12

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.

46 of 51 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

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!

113 of 129 people found this review helpful

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  • Dubi
  • New York, NY
  • 04-05-15

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.

36 of 41 people found this review helpful

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  • springn1
  • Alma, MI United States
  • 10-29-12

Long and goes nowhere

It is very long. It takes forever to get to a point of interest. There's very little suspense or conflict in the story.

10 of 11 people found this review helpful

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"He held my hand, when I was dying."

In Connie Willis' Hugo and Nebula winning novel Doomsday Book (1992), the Oxford University historians of 2054 use time travel to observe first hand the eras of their fields of study. Kivrin Engle is an undergraduate student keen to visit 1320 for two weeks around Christmas, despite the repeated warnings of her arthritic mentor, Mr. Dunworthy, who believes that the 14th century, what with its cutthroats, witch burnings, and diseases, is too dangerous. Ah, the reckless and ignorant enthusiasm of curious youth! Ah, the helpless and loving concern of experienced adulthood!

From the start, strange problems plague Kivrin's "drop" into 1320, and she begins to learn that the past is vastly different than all her research prepared her for and that its inhabitants are heart-breakingly human. Meanwhile, in 2054 an apparently new and deadly flu virus strikes the technician who programmed Kivrin's drop and soon leads to a city-wide quarantine. Willis tells her story alternating between the parallel plot strands of Kivrin's point of view in the 14th century and Dunworthy's in the 21st. Intense ironies and suspense grow from the inability of student and teacher to communicate with each other and from their different experiences with contagious diseases.

Willis draws well-rounded human beings we care for: in the past, Kivrin (intelligent, brave, sympathetic), Father Roche (devout, kind, good), and little Agnes (cute, spoiled, open), and in the "present," Mr. Dunworthy (wise, ironic, steadfast), Doctor Mary Ahrens (indefatigable, intelligent, caring), and her young nephew Colin (spunky, resourceful, resiliant). And her novel presents a great amount of apparently accurate historical detail of life in the 14th century. Although she is uninterested in "scientific" explanations of time travel, her depiction of infectious diseases is terrifying, reminding us of how difficult it is to remember that they are after all "only" diseases.

The book could be shorter, for sometimes characters repeat things that have earlier been narrated. And perhaps Willis relies too much on convenient narrative contrivances like the disruptions in the landline telephone system (in 2054?!), or the technician's delirium, or the History Department Head's fishing trip to Scotland. Despite its few flaws, however, its vivid historical setting, parallel contagion plots, great characters, and poignant relationships between them make Doomsday Book interesting, suspenseful, and moving. And the way in which "You are here in place of the friend I love" changes from being a revolting motto in the middle of the novel to a haunting phrase during the harrowing climax is beautiful.

With wit, heart, and restraint, the reader Jenny Sterlin expresses the various emotions and agendas of the characters, from Agnes begging Kivrin to tell her a story and Colin telling Dunworthy that an interfering woman is "necrotic," through Kivrin praying for a miracle and Father Roche urging her to return to Heaven, whence she has been sent by God to help them in their hour of need.

If you're interested in the 14th century, in time travel stories about the human condition more than the physics of time travel, in stories about apocalyptic diseases, or in stories about the fraught relationships between children and parents and between believers (and non-believers) and God in time of disaster, you should listen to Doomsday Book.

36 of 42 people found this review helpful

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  • artemis99
  • 01-21-11

A Smashing Book

I am not going to comment on how this book is written because I am not qualified to do so, but as an avid reader I do know what I enjoy. This book was one of the best books I have ever read, and as my eyesight is deteriorating now, I shall be purchasing this book so that I can listen to it as much as I wish. Thanks Audible for making it available.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

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  • lesley
  • 03-18-10

enthralling tale of time travel

do not be put off by the old fashioned start to this book as it improves as it goes on and the plot unfolds. I will be searching out another book by this author. Agreat listen

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

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  • N. Price
  • 11-22-11

Disappointing comedy of manners

This listener found Jenny Sterlin's voice flat and uninteresting, which was a drawback for such a long book. There's also a passage of a few paragraphs which gets repeated in the first section of the download, an indication of a lower standard of audio production than most recent Audible recordings.

As for the story itself, I was very disappointed. The pace is extremely leisurely and while the depiction of the pettiness of academic life is mildly amusing, the story failed to grip. Every time I was getting into it, I found myself shaken out by jarring inaccuracies of language or geographical detail. Clearly, these haven't bothered other listeners, but this one found that they severely impeded his ability to suspend disbelief.

A British character who refers to cars as "automobiles"? Cases that are called "valises"? A hospital accident and emergency department called "Casualties" rather than "Casualty"? A pub in the centre of Oxford which is nearly empty a few days before Christmas?

The geography is particularly bad. The heroine, who has travelled back to the fourteenth century to a location 10 miles west of Oxford, imagines that she might be able to see the sky glow of London "50 miles away". From that location, mediaeval London would be 70 miles away. I can't imagine much of a sky glow at that period but, besides, the Chiltern Hills would have blocked any such view even had it been available.

In her cover story, she is supposedly travelling from Yorkshire to Evesham via Oxford, which is a strange and indirect route to take, and is travelling on the road from Oxford to Bath, which runs in entirely the wrong direction.

Such details are individually trivial but cumulatively produce an impression of an author who really doesn't know Oxford and has a poor grasp of British idiom.

I was hoping for history and adventure, but while these are present, they are mostly subordinated to a mild and uninvolving comedy of manners. Disappointing.

8 of 9 people found this review helpful

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  • Charmaine
  • 03-03-10

You have to listen to this

This book is excellant. So many superb twists and turns it makes you want to keep listening. It'll make you laugh cry and smile like the village idiot whilst sat on the bus. The interaction of the characters is so fatastic would definately recommend. A must listen to.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Pamela Kiewitt
  • 02-19-12

Loved it

I am certainly no historian and do not know much about the medieval ways of life but this book is very well written, well read, entertaining, impossible to put down. It certainly made me go to the library and start reading about that period in the history books!

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • Ulrika
  • 10-20-10

One of the best simply!

This is something unusual, a well written really engaging historically true story that simply is almost perfect!

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • Laurelle
  • 03-15-17

A stunning story.

There is alot of detail here but it packs a real punch at the end. Intelligent and thought provoking about time and the human condition.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • roland
  • 02-29-16

Imagine getting stuck in the 14th century!

Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

Brief Synopsis

This book has two story threads running through it, both set in and around Oxford.
It is set in 2054 and time travel is possible, but done only by historical researchers - but no-one has gone back as far as the 14th century.
The story is based in and around Oxford University and a young student called Kivrin who is determined to get back to the 14th century.
Kivrin does get back to the 14th century against Mr Dunworthy's advice but the trip is not as straight-forward as she had expected.
Kevrin has recorders embedded in her wrists and she records her life in a medieval village - this is what she calls her 'Doomsday Book' and what gives the book its title. There are extracts at the end of many of the chapters.
Together with her troubles in the past there is a parallel story being played out in 2054 Oxford and the story chops and changes between the two.
An archaeologist is excavating an old abandoned church in 2054 Oxford ares and it is to this village that Kivrin is supposedly being sent back to - so the story plays out supposedly in the same place but different centuries.
It does look a long book but it is one I have thoroughly enjoyed each time I have read it.
It is quite hard to review the story without giving plot spoilers away but I shall try.
This book combined two of my interests - time travel and history.
I had not read any of Connie's books before this one so came to it fresh.

Since though I have read a few more of her books and enjoyed them all, but this is my all time favourite.
I enjoyed the element of twin stories unravelling together. Though the story set in the 14th century is more compelling for me.
I especially enjoyed the details of life and clothing in the 14th century. Plus there was a lot of discussion to begin with as to how words were pronouced and how Kivrin had been taught the wrong pronouceations - though she did have an embedded translator that helped her understand others and also be understood.
It was a large book of 650 pages but I read it over a few days and felt sorry when it was finished - though I couldn't wait to get to the end to see what happened. It is a pity that Connie Willis never wrote a sequel to this story.
I enjoyed this on two levels - first as a good science fiction read but also as it gave me an added insight into what medieval life was like and I will use that information when I imagine how life was like in and around our little village.
Although science fiction in the sense that Kivrin got to the 14th century via time travel, a lot of the book is about her life in the past, how the people there lived, their hopes and dreams and how they persevered through adversity.
The research seemed very thorough into living conditions back in the 14th century - from the type of dye used on their clothing to the way women had to behave and how young girls were betrothed at an early age.
Some have commented that her geography relating to the Oxford area is not as accurate as it could be but personally I cannot comment and it is a fictional story after all so I do not fault it on that.
Being written by an American there are one or two odd turns of phrase - such as 'muffler' instead of 'scarf' and terrorist' clothes instead of 'camouflage'. But these are very small and do not detract from the reading of the story.
The future part of the story set in 2054 does rather oddly not feature mobile phones at all - though whether by error or design I am not sure. However it does help with some of the twists of the story which relies on certain people not be able to be contacted.
This book is written in such a way that it really brings the people from the past alive - they are there talking with different forms of speech, but they still have their needs and worries as we do today. Some are mean and spiteful while others are generous to a fault.
There are one or two bits that could have been edited out to shorten the book but personally I thoroughly enjoyed the easy place of the story.
Kivrin was a young girl when she travelled back into the past - but her experience was mind-blowing.
I am glad in a way that this has never been turned into a movie. I have such a vivid image of the people and places in the story that I think any film would ruin the illusion of the images I have made.


Locus Award for Best Science Fiction Novel (1993).

Star Rating

5 stars. An excellent read.

Would I Recommend?

Yes. Even after such a long book I still wanted more.
Connie has written other time travel books in the same vein which I have enjoyed - 'Blackout' and 'All Clear'. She has also written other books and many short stories.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • SuzyDiamond
  • 11-09-15

A slow starter, but worth the patience

Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

Yes, it was a nice combination of future society/attitudes and historical perspective

What was one of the most memorable moments of Doomsday Book?

Kivrin finally forgets the need to get to the drop in her wish to help the contemps

Have you listened to any of Jenny Sterlin’s other performances? How does this one compare?

No, and she does have a couple of irritating verbal mannerisms, but after a while I managed to forget these

Any additional comments?

I found myself wanting to scream at some of the characters who seem incapable of answering a question! There was a lot of frustration, but I suppose the plot would not have continued without them.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Stefan
  • 05-18-10

Bellow Par

I'm slowly working my way through award winning science fiction and I was really excited about this book. I have a degree in Medieval History and this seemed to combine my two favorite reading genres. The book however was very disappointing. I can't flaw the history, but the story was so dire. No humor, no passion, no excitement. It was mundane banality. I closed the book with a profound feeling of depression and anti climax. I found it difficult to relate to any of the characters, and often found my self wishing that the book would get to the point. I won't give a one star review. That is reserved for tripe such as Jordan's numerous biographies, but I would not recommend reading this book.

7 of 11 people found this review helpful

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  • Emily
  • 03-15-17

A pretty good historical story...

Would you listen to another book narrated by Jenny Sterlin?

Probably not. I wasn't that keen on her narrating style. While she did a good job with various voices and character, at times I just felt a bit... bored or sleepy by her style. She picked up toward the end but it was slow going at the start.

Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

Not really. Once the character went into the past it got more interesting but I nearly gave up on it at first.