Skip to main content
PBS logo
Want fewer ads?

Book Reviews of Gilead

Author: Marilynne Robinson
ISBN-13: 9780374153892
ISBN-10: 0374153892
Publication Date: 11/19/2004
Pages: 256
  • Currently 3.3/5 Stars.

3.3 stars, based on 225 ratings
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Book Type: Hardcover
Reviews: Amazon | Write a Review

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

quiltgranny avatar reviewed Gilead on + 11 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 10
This book just washed over me with it's excellent word crafting and ideas. I so enjoyed not being hit over the head with the "spiritual" message of life as a special creation. Even though the main character is a preacher, there is no preaching to the reader, only soft guidance and pleasures of discovering relationships. I also liked how some small part of history was woven into the story and in the end, it was a circle within the story. No wonder it won the Pulitzer award in 2005 - it's a book not to be missed.
reviewed Gilead on + 2 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 8
I'm not religious at all, but this was very moving and enjoyable.
reviewed Gilead on + 14 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 5
agony. No plot line. no action...one of the only books I have ever quit on. I found it because it had been abandoned on an airplane, and now I know why.
Jan1 avatar reviewed Gilead on + 52 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 5
I'm an avid reader and thought this would be a good book since it won an award...but I could not get interested in it and finally just gave up on it - never did finish it.
reviewed Gilead on + 344 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 4
Sometimes I feel that a good story could have been told in a short story format rather than a full length novel. This is one of those cases. For a portion of the book, I thought the author would never get to the point (or plot) of her book. However, the book then suddenly grabbed me and for the last half I had a hard time putting it down. I'm very glad I kept with it!
reviewed Gilead on + 108 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 3
Such wonderful writing. A minsters in his 90's looks back to his abolitionist grandfather and as he writes for his young son and wife with a fictional memoir. Really made me think and appreciate the natural and spiritual world. Read it not for plot but for an enlightening experience.

A Pulitzer Prize winner
reviewed Gilead on
Helpful Score: 3
an unusuallu beautiful book. It is written as a letter from an elderly father to his young son....
Thoughtful, peaceful, graceful.
reviewed Gilead on + 39 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 3
So precise, so distilled, so beautiful that one doesn't want to miss any pleasure it might yield.
reviewed Gilead on + 10 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 3
was disappointed --trouble getting through it
reviewed Gilead on + 109 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 3
A wonderful book - as a conscientious older minister from the midwest reflects on his life, thoughts, regrets - in the form of a letter to his son.
May be more appreciated by someone with a Christian heritage...
reviewed Gilead on
Helpful Score: 2
I loved Gilead. It's a gentle, character driven book - those looking for thrilling plot twists are going to be disappointed. But I fell in love with the characters, and with the gorgeous wordsmithing of Marilynne Robinson.

The story of the Rev. John Ames is the story of a life well lived, and of the beauty of a simple, practical faith. I loved Gilead so much that I ended up giving it as presents to several of my friends for Christmas. That this book won the Pulitzer Prize is no accident - I have rarely read more beautiful prose.
woodworm avatar reviewed Gilead on + 92 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 2
Very, Very Good. Reverend Ames leaves his son an amazing legacy through a letter, he doesn't have long to live so he wants his son to remember the kind of man he was.
reviewed Gilead on + 56 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 1
An unusual but very effective way to present characters. This book is written as the journal of an older minister to his son. The son was born to him in later life after his second marriage. The second marriage was unexpected and the joy and peace it has brought to his life is made evident by the loving use of language. The book does not lack in well developed characters. They are all delineated in the minister's journal. The book moves from a time that is no more, showing the change subtly in the description of the past and present life of this town small Iowa town called Gilead. This book kept my interest all the way through.

Since I am a resident of Iowa, I am proud of the State, and proud of the work that comes from the participants of the Iowa Writer's Workshop in Iowa City. I have lived some of the changes described in "Gilead" so perhaps this meant more to me. It is in any case a book to be read and enjoyed.
carolbooth avatar reviewed Gilead on + 22 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 1
A story written by a third generation preacher for his son to read when grown. Wild grandfather, substantial father and keenly observant son. When you read the part about a town in Kansas digging a tunnel, there is a surprise in store for you. After you read the whole section, tell it to someone and suddenly you will laugh until you just can't keep telling it!!!! It didn't really strike me as that funny until I told it. Amazingly funny story. This book is a real delight! Tender, strange, acute observations, odd people, and it will make you want to know more of the history of people like John Brown. I can't wait to finish it to give it to my pastor. He will absolutely love it!!!! Although, my son and grandson are likely to ask for it since I told them about the tunneling. The tower of babel in reverse, I'd say.
You won't be sorry you got this one!
reviewed Gilead on
Helpful Score: 1
This is one of my favorite books.The voice of the main character is real, eloquent and passionate about his world.
reviewed Gilead on + 222 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 1
ABSOLUTELY ENCHANTING! The book is beautiful in every respect.
reviewed Gilead on + 105 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 1
This book won a Pulitzer prize for fiction in 2005, which is slmost always a good reccomendation, but I didn't care for it at all. Only got into the second CD before I gave up on it. Maybe it was the reader who turned me off, bur to me it was just the babbling of a sanctimonious senile old fool. I'm 73 myself, so senile old fools are easy to recognize. The protagonist's mindset was so far from my own, I couldn't handle it. Usually I'm more tolerant of other people's opinions, but we were so far apart on so many things I wasn't willing to spend another seven hours listening to this.
mazeface avatar reviewed Gilead on + 66 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 1
John Ames is pushy 80 and he's tired and probably dying. He knows it. He is not so much concerned about himself'after all, he's a Congregationalist minister who's going to heaven, right?'as he is about his seven-year-old son. How will Ames show his son who he really is when he will probably not be a part of his growing up? A memoir. Gilead is a letter by Ames to his young boy revealing his loves, beliefs and fears.

This Pulitzer Prize winner novel is more subtle that other winners like The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, but just as powerful. It may even seem slow in the beginning'the true antagonist, John Ames Boughton, the narrator's namesake, doesn't play a significant role until half-way through the book. In the first half of Gilead, John Ames talks more about his grandfather's role in the Abolitionist Movement in the 1800's.

Author Marilynne Robinson's prose seems to bewitch the reader; it's almost like the reader doesn't know why he finds the story so compelling. It's so quiet and unassuming. Probably best to read it twice.
reviewed Gilead on + 407 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 1
I found this book emotionally moving and thought-provoking. I liked how John reflected on his relationship with his father and his father's relationship with his father.
reviewed Gilead on + 1281 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 1
The story is written by a father to his very young son. Having married when he was older, he knows that he will not be alive to watch his son grow into a man. As a minister he uses his knowledge of scripture and his religious beliefs throughout the writing. He writes of his family - particularly his father and grandfather, hoping to help his little boy understand his ancestors as well as his father. It's an interesting approach and an interesting story. Makes one think about one's own life and how we might relay our beliefs and the personalities of our family members to our children and grandchildren. Good read.
reviewed Gilead on + 3 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 1
Lyrical and spiritual letter from an aging father to his young son. Beautifully written.
nannybebette avatar reviewed Gilead on + 23 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 1
Giliad by Marilynne Robinson

I loved "Gilead". It is written as a memoir from a dying elderly (at least third generational preacher) to his seven year old son. And It is written in a manner that takes one back to about the 1950s. The father, who is narrating, writes in a very calming, soothing way and is attempting to let his son know what he thinks, why he thinks that way and about things that have occurred in his lifetime and the reactions and responses to those occurrences.
The preacher married late in life and had his son even later so he wants to share as much as he can to give his son an understanding of himself as a man. He writes of his beautiful relationship with his best friend (a preacher of another denomination) and of his wife, the boy's mother. He writes to him of his growing up years and he and his father's relationship.
The book is full of God, the Bible, prayer and of a life devoted to God. Yet it is not written in a preachy way at all. I also think it was much more contemplative than religious. If I didn't love the Lord, I think I still would have loved this book because of the way it was written. The author's words simply flow throughout the entire novel. It is one of the easiest books I have read all year and perhaps one of the best. It may not make my top ten, but it will certainly be way up there. Marilynne Robinson is a wonderful author. I highly recommend this book to people of all persuasions. The only other book I have read that I can compare feeling this way about upon finishing would be "Cry, the Beloved Country". There was just something about "Gilead" that took my breath away.
Do something really kind for yourself and read this one.
rainpebble | Jul 23, 2009
reviewed Gilead on + 11 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 1
Although the story gets off to a slow start, this book is an excellent character study and a very touching tale
that relates to the American experience, the Christian ministry, and human relations. The first person narrtive style is used very effectively to unfold the plot. A great book!
reviewed Gilead on + 1281 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 1
The story is written by a father to his very young son. Having married when he was older, he knows that he will not be alive to watch his son grow into a man. As a minister he uses his knowledge of scripture and his religious beliefs throughout the writing. He writes of his family - particularly his father and grandfather, hoping to help his little boy understand his ancestors as well as his father. It's an interesting approach and an interesting story. Makes one think about one's own life and how we might relay our beliefs and the personalities of our family members to our children and grandchildren. Good read.
turbokittykat avatar reviewed Gilead on + 4 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 1
Just did not enjoy this book. I think it's one of those that you "either love it or hate it." I find it to be dry as day old toast.
reviewed Gilead on + 35 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 1
so powerful....fathers, sons...it reads like it's not fiction....
reviewed Gilead on
Helpful Score: 1
It's a letter written by an old, dying preacher to his only child, his 7 y/o son. Of the highest quality writing and very humbling, I really see this as a story of legacy, regret and forgiveness. Loved it! Written for a secular audience, Christians will love the subtleties of the author's theological inter-weavings, whether you agree on his finer doctrinal points or not. Loved it!
reviewed Gilead on + 22 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 1
Extremely well written. Full of great insights. Very enjoyable.
reviewed Gilead on + 9 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 1
It was a great choice for my book club--lots to discuss
reviewed Gilead on + 4 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 1
2005 Pulitzer Prize Winner for Fiction

2004 National Book Critics Circle Winner

In 1956, toward the end of Reverend John Ames's life, he begins a letter to his young son, an account of himself and his forebears. Ames is the son of an Iowan preacher and the grandson of a minister who, as a young man in Maine, saw a vision of Christ bound in chains and came west to Kansas to fight for abolition: He "preached men into the Civil War," then, at age fifty, became a chaplain in the Union Army, losing his right eye in battle. Reverend Ames writes to his son about the tension between his father--an ardent pacifist--and his grandfather, whose pistol and bloody shirts, concealed in an army blanket, may be relics from the fight between the abolitionists and those settlers who wanted to vote Kansas into the union as a slave state. And he tells a story of the sacred bonds between fathers and sons, which are tested in his tender and strained relationship with his namesake, John Ames Boughton, his best friend's wayward son.

This is also the tale of another remarkable vision--not a corporeal vision of God but the vision of life as a wondrously strange creation. It tells how wisdom was forged in Ames's soul during his solitary life, and how history lives through generations, pervasively present even when betrayed and forgotten.

Gilead is the long-hoped-for second novel by one of our finest writers, a hymn of praise and lamentation to the God-haunted existence that Reverend Ames loves passionately, and from which he will soon part.
reviewed Gilead on + 43 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 1
This is a beautiful novel. The protagonist's voice is gentle (perhaps the entire book is addressed to his beloved child) and the diction is elevated, with a lot of biblical references. Everything about this spoke to me, though the setting--small town, rural Iowa, the life of a Protestant minister--could not be more different from my life. I read this after reading her other two novels (which I also loved!) and thought this was the best one. It does a better job of setting up historical context with subtlety than the other two books. I do love a book with an unreliable narrator--Rev. Ames is honest and self-reflective, but he's still a real person, flawed.
reviewed Gilead on
Helpful Score: 1
A very moving book. The author's style of writing is poetic. I loved reading this book and was sorry when it ended.
reviewed Gilead on
This was the saddest, most depressing book I've read.
kimdep avatar reviewed Gilead on + 39 more book reviews
interesting read.. it's a letter from an older dad who is a pastor in a small town to his son. it's a thoughtful book but there's not a lot of action just a glimpse inside the mind of this thoughtful man who knows he will die before he's able to pass on life lessons to his son.
michael-vermont avatar reviewed Gilead on + 2 more book reviews
Deeply moving and thoroughly engaging, this novel's focus is on character rather than plot - a character which unfolds, deepens, and profoundly illuminates not only his world, but our own.
LillyStreet avatar reviewed Gilead on
Beautiful and wrought with wisdom. This book opens you to a world of unbridled honesty, caste fulfillment and the kind of love for oneself and one's life that few have the opportunity to savor. It leaves you better for having read it.
reviewed Gilead on
Housekeeping was a very haunting book (I loved it). Gilead certainly seems haunting at times, and Robinsons main character is leaving this life, which lends palpably to its ethereal quality. but Gilead seems more revealing and mature somehow, and, whereas I lent my copy of Housekeeping back out to the world, Im keeping Gilead for a reread or two, right here on my shelf.

John Ames is a preacher who married young, but lost his wife and child young too. he remarried very late in life, and now he is 80 years old and dying, with a 7 year old son. this book is written as if a letter to that son, who otherwise will never know his father.

it tells about his [John Ames] childhood, and his father the pacifist (who was also a preacher), his grandfather the radical abolitionist (who was a preacher as well), and his best friend (you guessed it- also a preacher)s son, who was named John Ames in his honor and grew up to break the hearts of all who loved him. three wars are encompassed in this tale, as well as the Great Depression, the advent of television, and the ending of a way of life.

John Ames reflection on all of this, his personal struggles with all of this, and his all-encompassing joy and love of life, even with its terrible sufferings and inexplicable turnings, is highly original and ultimately universal at the same time.

Gilead is earthier and more hopeful really than Housekeeping, with greater insight (if possible), and evokes shades of Faulkner while written in that resounding poetic bliss that is Robinsons style.
reviewed Gilead on + 30 more book reviews
This book is full of wonderful thoughts. I'm not a religious person, though, and it was sometimes a little heavy with religion for me. I'm glad I read it, there were many beautiful sections about children, about family and about the importance of reflection.
reviewed Gilead on + 10 more book reviews
Lovely use of language. Gets A little tiresome.
reviewed Gilead on
Robinson won a Pulitizer for this book describing a former pastor's look back at his life while also dealing with his contemporary family. It is paced so that every chapter is cherished. There is much wisdom in this man's look back and his reflections on contemporary life.
reviewed Gilead on
Gilead for me was thought provoking and touching. What a treasure for that son when he is older.
retiredgardener avatar reviewed Gilead on
I read about half of it and enjoyed parts of it. I did get bored with it and passed it on to a friend.
reviewed Gilead on + 13 more book reviews
This is a character study of an old man with a young son he will not live to see grow up.
reviewed Gilead on + 76 more book reviews
very interesting book which consists of an old man writing a letter to his young son, telling him about his life.
flowers avatar reviewed Gilead on + 2 more book reviews
The story starts slow and gradually builds till we get to know the characters. A very good book that realistically portrays the characters from all stages of life. A good read.
reviewed Gilead on + 9 more book reviews
Pulitzer Prize winner, national bestseller, National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction.
The story of an aging and dying father as a letter to his young son.
reviewed Gilead on + 117 more book reviews
Winner of the 2005 Pulitzer Prize for fiction.
reviewed Gilead on + 29 more book reviews
I'm one of the people who did not appreciate this slow-paced, beautifully written book. I had a hard time entering the world of Rev. John Ames, 76, who is writing a letter to his son in the 1950's. The book spans Gilead, Iowa in the 1820s to the 1950s. This book struck me as the musings of an old man, written in a disjointed style without chapters. The religious aspects of this book are breathtaking, and this book is definitely a work of art. However, if you enjoy a modern novel, not a journal of memories than this is probably not a book for you.
reviewed Gilead on + 15 more book reviews
Such an interesting format and story, but not a page turner.
reviewed Gilead on
I absolutely loved this book. As a church staff member I was touched by her portrayal of a minister ... and surprised by her insight. It can be a slow read if you are looking for action. Read the book for its imagery of the world/nature and people. Loved it! (and cried!) :-)
reviewed Gilead on + 57 more book reviews
Beautiful book sometimes slow going but the end brought tears to my eyes.
tracymar avatar reviewed Gilead on + 407 more book reviews
I am an appreciator of quality literature - and especially sensitive and subtle writing - and since this book has gotten rave reviews, I figured that I'd love it. However I started reading it three times and was so bored I finally gave up........
reviewed Gilead on + 63 more book reviews
A preachers story for his young son, as he's approaching the end of his life.
gotbks2 avatar reviewed Gilead on + 27 more book reviews
As I started reading Gilead, I really had no idea what to expect, but right away I was struck with the unique perspective from which it is narrated. This book doesnt follow an obvious plot-line and there are no chapter divisions. It is written in a rambling, stream-of-consciousness style as the writer records his memories and thoughts as they come to mind. Its not one story, but a collection of them.

Old Reverend John Ames had his son late in life in fact, hes in his mid-70s, and his boy is only 6 years old. Ames lived alone as a widower for many years before his second wife, more than 30 years his junior, walked into his church and into his life. The Iowan minister is keenly aware that he wont be around to provide his son the love, encouragement and counsel that a dad usually has the opportunity to contribute to his childrens lives, so he is keeping a journal -- writing down the stories, observations, reflections, and advice that he wants to leave his son after he is gone. Although Gilead is a work of fiction, I felt as if I had discovered an old diary and was reading the private thoughts of a man sharing his heart with his loved ones.

To read the rest of my review on this book, visit my blog: www.ImAllBooked.com.
reviewed Gilead on
One of the few books that I have sincerely missed when it ended. I was tempted to start again from the beginning.
reviewed Gilead on + 6 more book reviews
great book
stargazingbookworm avatar reviewed Gilead on + 28 more book reviews
Give this book time to capture you.
I didn't get into the story or characters until the half-way point and then I was hooked.
It takes getting used to a different format of writing, this book is written as one long letter from father to son, more of a journal. Things that his son will need to know.
I ended up copying passages from this book, something I hardly ever do. The 2nd half of the book is much better than the first half but the first half is needed to understand the whole book.
I almost quit reading this and I'm so glad I continued on, otherwise I would have missed a really great experience.
njmom3 avatar reviewed Gilead on + 1233 more book reviews
Gilead by Marilynne Robinson is a dying pastor's epistle for his seven year old son and a philosophical reflection on his own life. I feel like I did not truly understand this book, perhaps not picking up on all the theological references. However, it leaves me thinking and I am engaged enough to want to understand. Many unanswered questions remain, but the book feels complete. We hear only John Ames' perspective, but I am left caring about all of them fictional characters who leave a very real, lingering impact.

Read my complete review at: http://www.memoriesfrombooks.com/2015/04/gilead.html
ralegh avatar reviewed Gilead on + 116 more book reviews
An elderly father with a heart condition writes to his toddler son, telling him all the things he would tell him if the father could live to his child's adulthood. The prose is beautiful, as the father shares the complicated family history and relations with a close friend's son. A book about religion, love, and forgiveness, and about coming to terms with one's own weaknesses and faults. The book reads easily, but is filled with depth of ideas and feelings.
eadieburke avatar reviewed Gilead on + 1328 more book reviews
This is a story of three generation from Civil War to the 20th century. Basically a pastor father speaking to his son of the spiritual battles of the American life. Robinson is a gifted writer with beautiful lyrical prose about love and forgiveness. It's not a book that not everyone would love as it is a lot of religious philosophizing. It's not a book with a plot or a real storyline so if that's what you are looking for, this book is not for you. I found it enjoyable in some areas but a bit boring in others.
reviewed Gilead on + 3 more book reviews
One of the best books I have read in along time. This book was able to keep me entertained with a downhome folksy feel to it; but still provide an intellectual challenge. Plus, it offers 2 terrific father son relationship skeletons, both with the Ames and his young son and with Broughton and his middle aged son (Each with their own problem and neither really concluding). It might be even better a second time through, as I read the first half with the bias that Ames told the stories with, it would be refreshing to re-read now that I have the "rest of the story".
The spiritual aspect shouldn't be ignored, there was a tremendous leap of faith made by the preacher (Ames) in his acknowledgement of and acceptance of those who didn't fear sharing their questions and skepticism as much as he seemed to. It was refreshing to meet a preacher who wasn't preachy and didn't let the pre-ordained notion of God get in the way of his version of God and his providence.
The book touches so many chords: spiritual reconciliation, one's existential purpose, the selfish nature of man,and love on several different levels.
Not exactly an easy read, as you (should) find yourself stopping to ponder the old man's wisdom along the way.
reviewed Gilead on + 83 more book reviews
Stunning. This book filled a void I could never have articulated. It made accessible and comprehensible the faith of my ancestors, in a way I did not even know I longed to understand. I was not 'converted' by the experience, but I felt a clearer understanding of a very different point of view.
Take your time with this book; let the story sink into you.
dpecoul avatar reviewed Gilead on + 20 more book reviews
I needed to read this before reading Home.... enjoyed both very much since "leading the flock" is in our family.
reviewed Gilead on + 83 more book reviews
One of the best books I ever read. I can't say enough about how lovely I found it.
bunchiemamma avatar reviewed Gilead on + 2 more book reviews
This is a beautiful, thoughtful, stunningly well-written novel. I expected to love it the way I loved Housekeeping, but I didn't. If Robinson's lyrical prose, that knack for crafting sentences perfectly balanced between poetry and, well, spareness, is enough for you, you will appreciate this book. If you're hoping for another Housekeeping, this isn't it.
reviewed Gilead on
Very interesting reading. A different type of book but good.
YahtzeeQueen avatar reviewed Gilead on + 54 more book reviews
This is a beautifully written book.
reviewed Gilead on + 237 more book reviews
"Gilead is a beautiful work-demanding, grave and lucid...Robinson'd words have a spiritual foce that's very rare in contemporary fiction"
reviewed Gilead on + 5 more book reviews
Winner of the Pulitzer Prize
reviewed Gilead on + 4 more book reviews
A good story about a father and son relationship.
reviewed Gilead on + 5 more book reviews
winner of the pulitzer prize
Munro avatar reviewed Gilead on + 95 more book reviews
From the back cover:
"Gileadis a refuge for readers longing for that increasingly rare work of fiction, one that explores big ideas while telling a good story...remarkable!
reviewed Gilead on + 10 more book reviews
I couldn't get started on this book, so can't really tell you much!
Want fewer ads?