Cloud Atlas (Book Review)

Cloud Atlas (Book Review)

Cloud Atlas (Book Review)

This is a most brilliant book, far different than anything else I have ever read. It is an ingenious interplay of subplots starting in the past, morphing with the slightest of overlaps into the far distant future (and beyond), and then, reversing order and picking up the previous bits of stories backward to where you began.

Wow. I give this stunning, thought provoking book, a rousing five stars, with a warning that reading it, while captivating, is a project not for the faint of heart.

The author, weaves different voices throughout the various threads of storyline, and some you may find more interesting than others. I was particularly fascinated by the future “fabricants” (clones designed for specific menial tasks), the “true bloods” embedded with “souls” in their fingers, and the cautionary horror that is “corpocrary,” yielding   to its inevitable doom. That we can see some of the first filaments of those threads now, is deeply sobering, and more than a little disturbing.

Here is the story’s moral in the novel’s own words (page 507):

“What precipitates outcomes? Vicious acts and virtuous acts. What precipitates acts? Belief. Belief is both prize and battlefield, within the mind and in the mind’s mirror, the world. If we believe humanity is a ladder of tribes, a colosseum of confrontation, exploitation and bestiality, such a humanity is surely brought into being, and history’s [villains] shall prevail. You and I, the moneyed, the privileged, the fortunate, shall not fare so badly in this world, provided our luck holds. What if our consciences itch? Why undermine the dominance of our race, our gun ships, our heritage and our legacy? Why fight the ‘natural’ (oh, weaselly word!) order of things?

Why? Because of this– one fine day, a purely predatory world shall consume itself. Yes, the Devil shall take the hindmost until the foremost is the hindmost. In an individual, selfishness uglifies the soul; for the human species, selfishness is extinction. Is the doom written within our nature?

If we believe that humanity may transcend tooth and claw, if we believe divers races and creeds can share this world as peaceably as the orphans share their candlenut tree, if we believe leaders must be just, violence muzzled, power accountable and the riches of the Earth and its Oceans shared equitably, such a world will come to pass. I am not deceived. It is the hardest of worlds to make real. Torturous advances won over generations can be lost by a single stroke of a myopic president’s pen or a vainglorious general’s sword.

A life spent shaping a world I want [my children] to inherit, not one I fear [they] shall inherit, this strikes me as a life worth living.”

This book was published in 2004. Clearly we need to expend more vigorous energy to insure Cloud Atlas’ cautionary tale does not become a reality. We have come dangerously closer in the last 13 years, and continue to be heading in the wrong way.

On this hinge our future swings (and has swung) (page 403):

“‘The corporation is the future. We need to let business run the country and establish a true meritocracy. Not choked by welfare, unions, affirmative action for amputee transvestite colored homeless arachnophobes… and that the wealth makers –us–are rewarded. When a man aspires to power, I ask one simple question: Does he think like a businessman?’

Luisa rolls her napkin into a compact ball. [By contrast] ‘I ask three simple questions. How did he get that power? How is he using it? And how can it be taken off of [him]?'”

Selfishness and corporate power running the world, will by definition implode. This book tells that tale of letting corporations rule by greed and profits, instead of altruistic humanity taking the helm.

I’m glad I picked this one off my shelf, where it had been languishing for a long time, looking like too much of a project. (I finally read it because I liked his more recent book The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet.)

You may want to tackle Cloud Atlas–and stick with it– too. Like me, I think you’ll be glad you did. Then help me pray for our world, as a drop of water is one with the ocean.

Now I think I’ll read something lighter for a while…


I work to amplify good wherever I find it. I love color, texture, beauty, great ideas, nature, metaphor, deliciousness, genuine spirituality, and exploring new territory. I encourage authenticity, nurture creativity, champion sustainability, promote peace, and hope to foster a new renaissance where we all are free to be our most fulfilled, multifaceted, and terrific selves. Read more here.


  1. Deborah 7 years ago

    I watched a fantastical series on Netflix which must have been based on this book. It had the name Cloud Atlas. Might be interesting to see again after reading the book. Cloud Atlas is also the name for … well… describing clouds! Some new cloud phenomena have been added recently, one of which I have seen a couple of times here in Wichita. Thank you for bring this book to my notice.

    • Author
      Polly Castor 7 years ago

      There is a move made of the book which I have not seen.

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