Doomsday Book

by Connie Willis

Cover image

Publisher: Bantam
Copyright: July 1992
Printing: July 1994
ISBN: 0-553-56273-8
Format: Mass market
Pages: 578

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The original Doomsday Book (or more accurately, Domesday Book) was the results of a census of all the inhabitants of England in 1086 for William the Conqueror. This is the story of a time travel expedition to England some time later, 1320, to research medieval life and language. Of course, various things then go horribly wrong, stranding a time traveller in the past and giving those in the future quite a bit to worry about other than retrieving them.

This is one of Connie Willis's best-known books, winner of both the Hugo and Nebula awards for best novel. I actually liked Passage slightly better, for partly personal reasons, but this book is exceptionally well-written in Willis's normal style of confused and persistent scientists and effective non-confrontation. The plot is excellent and suspenseful (although some of the people in the way of the scientists are utterly infuriating) and the research feels very solid and detailed. The excellent presentation and explanation of the history behind the story makes me want to learn more.

Be very careful about reading reviews or cover blurbs for this book; one of the inside cover blurbs in my copy contains a significant spoiler for the first three quarters of the book (although you'll likely guess it on your own).

I liked how Doomsday Book deals with the regular people of the time rather than with the great events or with anyone who's trying to save the world. It gives a very different look at medieval life and finds drama, suspense, and tragedy in the ordinary lives of people rather than the great acts of warriors and magicians. I'd like to read more historical books like that.

This isn't a brilliant book — Passage, despite some flaws, is a more memorable novel for me. It is, however, a very competently told time-travel story with some fascinating glimpses of historical information and a very satisfying ending. Recommended.

Rating: 8 out of 10

Reviewed: 2003-11-26

Last modified and spun 2014-12-21