Book Reviews of Doomsday Book

Doomsday Book
Doomsday Book
Author: Connie Willis
ISBN-13: 9780553562736
ISBN-10: 0553562738
Publication Date: 8/1/1993
Pages: 592
  • Currently 4.1/5 Stars.

4.1 stars, based on 269 ratings
Publisher: Spectra
Book Type: Paperback
Reviews: Amazon | Write a Review

56 Book Reviews submitted by our Members...sorted by voted most helpful

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Helpful Score: 13
This is one of the most inventive tales of time travel I've ever read. The plot is well-researched, giving an incredibly detailed history of The Plague. In addition, it addresses the sticky issue of paradox in a satisfying way.
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Helpful Score: 7
A must read by a great author. She really studied her history for this one. I always enjoy her books, but I understand why this was a Nebula Award Winner. Dive into the 578 pages and enjoy this stunning novel. I would never part with this book, but some how I ended up with two copies.
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Helpful Score: 4
n 2048, history student Kirvin decides to do an on-site study of fourteenth century life. Now, by 2048, time travel is possible so on-site means an actual trip back to the fourteenth century. It's a dangerous time: the black plague is scheduled to occur twenty years after the year for which Kirvin is scheduled. But guess what? Something goes wrong and Kirvin finds herself smack in the middle of this terrible plague anyway. What's a girl to do?

Connie Willis spent five years studying for her novel Doomsday Book and it shows. The description of the living conditions of the time will shock the reader. Willis also won both the Hugo and Nebula awards for this book, a rare feat.

This novel is already a SF classic and a standard on many "must read" lists of SF books. I know it's one of my favorites.
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Helpful Score: 2
The story's okay, but a bit of a slow read.
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Helpful Score: 2
I found this a bit darker than "To say nothing of the dog" but then again, this book is about the Plague. Written in a semi-serious tone, though, and there's an interesting parallel/contrast situation going throughout comparing the 14th century to the 21st. The impact really doesn't hit until after you finish reading. Without giving away too much plot, there are two pandemics, one the aforementioned black plague and the other a modern-day plague. It was saddening and a bit laughable that, in the modern-day scenario, you have a bunch of self-righteous bell ringers complaining about missing their concert, whereas during the Plague, the bell tolls meant something much more ominous. Anyway, this book has moments of irony, horror, humor and history. It's sci-fi "lite"!
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Helpful Score: 2
Great book! If you love England, past & present, time travel, & refreshing, witty writing, this is the book for you. I enjoyed this more than anything I'd read in a long time.
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Helpful Score: 2
History and future wrapped in great writing. Experience vicariously the horrors of the Black Death, and discover how easily history might repeat itself. Kirvin and Dunworthy are well-drawn characters the reader begins to care about. Collin, a young boy swept up into both their tales, adds a atouch of humor and youthful exuberance that keeps things from becoming overwhelming. Not a "horror story," not a dry "history text" ... just two good stories that carry the reader along into what is imagination today, but might too easily be reality in the future.
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Helpful Score: 2
A friend loaned me this book and highly recommended it; if it weren't for that, I doubt I would've finished it. The premise is great, but the execution is poor, embarrassing even. The book is badly written, both in terms of the unfolding of the plot and the unfolding of the characters.

It took me a few chapters to realize this. At first, I was optimistic, curious about what had gone wrong in the present-day, and intrigued about the unexpected snags Kivrin hit in the 1300s. I learned some interesting facts about the 1300s, an era largely unknown to me before reading this book.

Soon, though, it became clear that the author had no intention of moving the plot along much until the last act. More than half of the 600 pages are superfluous. The book has an incoherent, thrown-together feel, with the narrative often not serving the plot or the characters.

The book switches between the 1300s and the present day. I suppose the purpose of the present-day narrative (or rather, the slightly-future narrative where time travel is possible) was to add suspense and tension, but all it did was add filler -- and pretty bad filler at that. Characters go back and forth to the hospital without accomplishing anything. Characters drift in and out of consciousness, on the brink of disclosing something important, only to become incoherent for the next hundred pages (and the next few hospital visits). Characters attempt to reach each other on the phone ad nauseum, and when they do finally make contact, we find out that they did not have any helpful information after all. And on and on it goes. The technological advances of this era are glossed over and unexplored, serving to further disengage me from the happenings in the 2050s.

The other half of the story, following our waylaid time traveler, Kivrin, is better, and I enjoyed the aspects of 14th-century life relayed in its pages (though there weren't as many historical tidbits as I would've expected), but it too suffered from pacing issues, with Kivrin asking the same questions and finding no answers until near the end. Often, it felt like we were just biding our time until the story really got going around page 400 ... And even then, the "twists" were so telegraphed that there were few surprises.

And then there were the stereotypical, paper-thin characters, the likes of whom I was shocked to find in a book so highly lauded. Many characters (particularly in the present day) had absolutely no bearing on the plot, and existed only to help fill the space, to (I suppose?) provide comic relief, to have one overblown feature, and one alone, that would be revisited again and again and again with little to no attempt to understand these characters or justify their presence (i.e. the woman who read Bible verses of doom to patients, the man who fretted over the decreasing supply of toilet paper, etc.). Character motivations were flimsy and often nonsensical, lacking nuance, lacking depth.

As far as the characters in the 1300s? They were a little better, in no small part because the setting was more interesting and the plot less stymied. These 14th-century men, women, and children, however, still acted as props to hammer home what life (and death) were like back then, or to serve the meandering narrative, everyone following a script, everyone designed to fit a certain character type to a T, everyone embodying some sort of cliche (i.e. the nagging mother-in-law, the curious, energetic little girl, the selfless but uneducated priest, etc.) Granted, these characters/cliches were more believable than their 21st-century counterparts, but depth and complexity were still lacking. If this story was designed to put a human face on historical events, it did not succeed, at least not for this reader. Some characters were drawn worse than others, it's true, but in my opinion, none of the characters broke out of their one- or two-dimensional shells to become fully fledged three-dimensional characters.

The back cover of my copy states that the author "draws upon her understanding of the universalities of human nature to explore the ageless issues of evil, suffering, and the indomitable will of the human spirit." I wish this were true. I wish this book were a window not only into a far-gone era, but into the humanity, the pain, and the hope of that far-gone era. I wish it opened my eyes and awakened my imagination and fulfilled all its potential. Alas, it was a big disappointment.

Some books have strong, well-paced plots; others specialize in rich characterization. Truly great literature excels at both. This novel, however, succeeded at neither, with its bloated plot propped up by a huge cast of thin characters. I did learn some things about 14th-century Britain, but I was left wanting here too, both in terms of quantity (amount of historical, factual information, especially for a book of this size) and quality (presentation of these facts in a vivid, immersive, and realistic way).

I'm assuming much of the five years the author spent on this book were devoted to researching the time period. However, I wish more time had been spent on telling a compelling story well. This is my first book by Connie Willis, and probably my last.
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Helpful Score: 2
This book was well written, had well developed characters and a really interesting premise.....but relied on one convention (the unreliability of communication) to create the entire story. I found it incredibly unbelievable that in 2060 (or so, when this story takes place) we are expected to believe that quarantining one city would cripple communications lines, and that the Department Head of a Major University could be completely out of contact (and unfindable) for upwards of three weeks. Communication hasn't been that unreliable for more than fifty years - and I would assume that in fifty more years, things would be better....not worse.
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Helpful Score: 1
Had heard about this book from many quarters and when I saw it in audio at the library-I grabbed it. I am about 3/4 through it and love it but I have a few comments or reservations. I think that if I was reading it I would be skipping pages big time. I think the whole book is a fascinating premise and very well written but it could be compacted without losing a whole lot of drama- in fact i feel it would add to the suspense. I think it is way too drawn out and wordy and although I love the charachters if I hear about Colin taking his Gobstopper out of his mouth and what the color is one more time I will throw the book into the ocean outside of my bedroom window without compunction. I love the historical references but as mentioned earlier i think it could be tightened up.
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Helpful Score: 1
It has a lot of interesting details about the plague and how it was dealt with in that time period. I liked how Willis handled the whole time travel concept; she managed not to make it too complicated. I liked that the main character is female, but her relationship with the fatherly professor left me with a lot of question. Something that I found mildly annoying was that she seemed to repeat herself frequently. I wish the story had focused more on the time during the plague, but some of the interesting and explanatory facts about the plague years appear in the sections set in the (future) present. All in all, I enjoyed this book and recommend it as a good sci-fi read.
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Helpful Score: 1
This was only by second book that I've read by Connie Willis. I was delighted to find that it was set in the same milieu as the other one I've read, "To Say Nothing of the Dog," although it is (much) more serious in tone. In near-future England, academic historians study the past by sending people back through time to that past. Kivrin is an enthusiastic young post-doc (?) who has pushed hard to be the first to visit 1320 - but her mentor, Mr. Dunworthy, is obsessed by a feeling that something will go - or has gone - wrong. Unfortunately, once Kivrin is in the past, the tech who completed her time-travel falls ill - and soon the University is under quarantine, and the whole place is in chaos. Meanwhile, for Kivrin, things are worse than Dunworthy has even imagined - she's in 1348, the year the Black Death ravaged Europe.
The harrowing experiences on both sides of the time machine are leavened by Willis' wit - she truly excels at poking fun of human nature, and people's ability to be silly and petty no matter what we are facing. The juxtaposition of humor and tragedy is sometimes jarring, but, I believe, intentionally so.
This book won both the Hugo and Nebula awards.
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Helpful Score: 1
very well written. time travel with some interesting history.
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Helpful Score: 1
This book gets very good at the end. However, during the first 300 pages or so, the story is more suspenseful for the characters, who are trying to figure out whats going on, than for the reader, who mostly already has. The research was excellent, though the author often enlightens her reader through characters unlikely thought processes: x wouldnt have existed at such-and-such a time or y didnt come along until the 19th centurynot the most sophisticated storytelling technique. I liked the book, but just enough. It was not nearly as good as I had expected, and Im not sure, knowing what I do now, that I would spend the time on it again.
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Connie Willis is always excellent, and this is one of the best books I have ever read. Although it has been several years since I read it, the characters still stick in my mind. A very dark book that is in the end uplifting. Try some of her others as well, esp. To Say Nothing of the Dog (a lighthearted wry read), or Passage (sort of about the Titanic).
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As a huge fan of the time travel genre, I loved this book. The descriptions of life in plague times is extraordinary. The interplay between the 1300s and the present is very intriguing. I could not put this book down!
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This is one of the best books I have ever read. I cannot recommend it highly enough. History, suspense and time travel.
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What a disappointment. I couldn't get through it. I did my best, but I finally gave up around page two-hundred something. I am flabbergasted this book won the Hugo & Nebula awards. People must see something in this book that I don't. I found most of the characters to be annoying, particularly the ones in the near-future Oxford, England. I love a good story, but if I don't care about the characters I can't disappear into the book. This book has gotten quite a few great reviews, but I also read some less that stellar ones also. I would have to agree with the latter ones.
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I thought this a wonderfully written book. The story flows with a great voice. For a time travel story it was excellent and of course things go wrong with every plan--otherwise its not a very exciting story.
Having read the back of the book, I expected the heroin to know much sooner that she ended up in the wrong time.
And I really liked the jump back and forth between the present (future time 2065) and the time traveler in the past. The drama for why there was a problem and concern tied these characters together and made them more real.
I also enjoyed the little comments of thing that happened before our now and the present time in the story -- glimps of what the author is guessing could come to pass.
As for LizzyG's review, yes in large instutions there is always someone fixated on supplies (or lack of) especially in a time of crisis (that is how some people deal with things when they have no control over the bigger picture) and yes a person in the leadership role can depart for leave and not be contacted.....I will say that they never explain where or why the Director was not able to be contacted--I'd have like to know if he was off on a fishing trip or a romantic get away.
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The book tells two stories -- one following the adventures of a time-traveling historian who goes back to the 1300's and one following the university staff who run the equipment used to send her back. I found both stories sort of interesting, maybe a little more so in the future part. However, I cannot recommend this to casual readers. it's way too long, with loads of paragraphs and pages telling us tedious details about the family of the medieval characters, and I especially found the child Agnes trying and a lot of in k is wasted on her "exploits." Plus, the author wasn't very clever in foreseeing the future. Lots of frustrating time is spent in the 2048 part trying to find a video-phone that isn't overloaded or in use. Seems cell 'phones must die out in that world since no one has one.And they still rely on books to research stuff, so the Internet has also disappeared. A disappointing read considering all the praise it's gotten.
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good read
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For me, this was a bit on the "in-depth" type of book, since we were constantly going from the "now" time of 205? and the past time via a time machine of 1348, the time of the Black Plague or Bubonic Plague as it was also later known as.

The characters were definitely well defined and outlined. The interaction between them all was very enjoyable. There was a lot of emotion as well as the facts, which made it all the more enjoyable. You felt like you were really there when things went wrong, and you felt the excitement when things when right.

If you are wanting a good solid read, not a flimsily written, read in an afternoon book, this fits the bill. Good plots, great characters, enjoyable time lines. Great if you want to really sit and get absorbed in a story and fall deep into the plot.
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This is the polar opposite of Willis' other time travel book, "To Say Nothing of the Dog". Where "Dog" is light and witty, this is dark and serious.
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I'm not a big sci-fi fan, but I really enjoyed this book. Very interesting historically. I enjoy re-reading it.
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An excellent, entertaining read!
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For Kirvin, preparing for on-site study of one of the deadliest eras in human history was as simple as receiving innoculations against the diseases of the fourteenth century and inventing an alibi for a woman traveling alone. For her instructors in the twenty-first century, it meant painstaking calculations and careful monitoring of the rendezvous location where Kivrin would be retrieved
But a crisis strangely linking past and future strands Kivrin in a bygone age as her fellows try desperately to rescue her. In a time of superstition and fear, Kivrin--barely of age herself--finds she has become an unlikely angel of hope during one of history's darkest hours.
This book kept me up all night---I HAD to find out what was coming next! Great writing. Believable characters. More plot twists than a pretzel factory.
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I liked the story and how the book was written, but I hate books about epidemics. I also hate when the main character is trying to resolve a problem but is thwarted at every turn until the last ten pages of the book. But that's just my personal taste. This is only the second book steampunk style book I've read, I guess they all have some element of time travel or they wouldn't be science and historical fiction. Good interesting read.
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This was my first time to read this author. I loved this story!! A young girl gets sent back in time to the middle ages in the midst of Black Plague. It wasn't too technical as some science fiction can be, and it wasn't full of strange unpronounceable names either. A great read!!
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A good sci-fi read about time travel. If I'd realized it was going to be so depressing I'd have tried not to get so attached to the curious characters. But I give it good marks for comparative realism. Not a romanticized view of time travel, or the Middle Ages. I was really surprised it had a relatively happy ending.
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This book was absolutely brilliant. I loved the way the dry humor of things happening in the future was juxtaposed with the deadly seriousness of the past. For being 578 pages, it went by really quickly!
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Recommended reading by Diana Gabaldon (Outlander) and well worth it! Willis has a razor-sharp wit and her humor is delightful. Her depiction of the worlds of the 1300s and the near future are so plausible that you can't help but feel you are reading a true historical account and a true contemporary novel at the same time instead of historical fiction and science fiction.
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I found this book to be a little dry. I really didn't like the UK type English spoken by the people of the futuristic side of the book. It does get better towards the end, and I found myself unable to just put it down because I wanted to know what would happen in the end. I have read better science fiction than this one, but this one is O.K.
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A time travel book, Kivrin has the chance for an on-site study of her specialty, the fourteenth century. However, things don't go as her instructors planned and Kivrin finds herself stranded just in time for one of history's most deadly disasters. This is a really great book by the same author of Say Nothing of the Dog and some of the characters from that book are also present in this one.
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Interesting idea, sort of like Timeline - time machine takes heroine back to Dark Ages: plague hits, crew of future struggles to get her back
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Awesome- great time-travel story.
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Good story but it just went on and on. It could have been shortened by about 200 pages and told the tale better.
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I read this book back in 1991. It was the start of the massive love I have for books. Ive looked for this book for years and finally found it. This is a FANTASTIC fantasy book. One that has stayed with me for over 20 years.
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Good time travel book. Scientist travels back to medieval England when plague was reaching the island.
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Very enjoyable. Like Crichton's timeline and well worth the read.
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Excellent cience Fiction.
Kirvin travels back in time. Something goes wrong and she is stranded in a bygome age.
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I felt this book took a long time to get on the way. I felt the first two hundred pages were really slow to build. Especially in the present day there was a lot of confusion, running back and forth to look for people and answers. That was tedious to me. After that the book picked up a bit and I was very interested in the Medieval life that Kivrin was leading. Willis' descriptions of the plague were very vivid and made me sick to my stomach at times. I did not realise that there were three types of plague and that they came all together. It was sobering that Kivrin was not able to save anyone. Roche said that she brought hope but I just kept thinking about how scarred she will be because of all she knows, she was still not able to save any of the people that she had grown to love.
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To quote one of my favorite characters, 'Apocalyptic'
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Incredible book. Impossible to put down. Time travel at it's very best.
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This book is not for the squeamish, but it grips you from page 1 and it's hard to put down.
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Absolutely fantastic. I could not put it down.
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Absolutely spellbinding. I love her writing.
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Great book: time travel, plague/influenza, nicely developed characters, great plot - leaves you thinking.
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This science fiction novel is an odd exploration into the past and future of mankind, where it is possible to travel to the past for the purpose of reserach. Traveling to the fourteenth century would have been interesting for the lead character, if it weren't for the Bubonic Plague.
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She is a very good writer. The characters are well developed and you soon find you care about them and want to just keep turning the pages!
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Interesting, enjoyed it!
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The book is well written but lacked enough time travel details for me to love.
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Really liked it - read it twice.
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Interesting look at life during the black plague.
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One of my all time favorites. An interesting blend of history, science and fantasy.
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Time travel and plague make for a very bad combination. Brilliantly written but unremittingly depressing.
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Won the Hugo & Nebula awards!!