Cloud Atlas


Cloud Atlas is a 2004 novel, the third book by British author David Mitchell. It consists of six nested stories that take the reader from the remote South Pacific in the nineteenth century to a distant, post-apocalyptic future. 

With the movie adaptation already out, I first read Cloud Atlas as part of Sword and Lazer's Book Club. They do a wonderful job of integrating people's reactions over on Goodreads via their video blog postings. Its a true 'Digital Age Book Club' with a wonderful online community!

In the below video they kick off the book (no spoilers) and giggle like schoolboys/girls at the titles of a few of Tom's favorite pieces of pulp fiction! Seriously, its pretty funny! If you have not yet read the book I highly suggest reading along with them and joining their book club!

I greatly enjoyed the book, however, was naturally drawn to the Sci-Fi elements more than the other stories. But I will say, each of the other nested stories did keep me engaged and feeling connected to the characters and the meta plot lines. There are some very important themes through the book and I highly suggest reading it. There is a bit of everything for everyone, while still keeping true to the book's fast paced exploration of human nature, conflict and the need for interpersonal connection.

Mitchell (the author) has said of the book: Literally all of the main characters, except one, are reincarnations of the same soul in different bodies throughout the novel identified by a birthmark...that's just a symbol really of the universality of human nature. The title itself "Cloud Atlas," the cloud refers to the ever changing manifestations of the Atlas, which is the fixed human nature which is always thus and ever shall be. So the book's theme is predacity, the way individuals prey on individuals, groups on groups, nations on nations, tribes on tribes. So I just take this theme and in a sense reincarnate that theme in another context.

Cloud Atlas won the British Book Awards Literary Fiction Award and the Richard & Judy Book of the Year award, and was short-listed for the 2004 Booker Prize, Nebula Award, Arthur C. Clarke Award, and other awards. Below is the the Sword and Laser space pub wrap-up where they discuss their reaction and check in with everyone on the GoodReads book club (read the book before the watch the below video, however!)

The novel was recently adapted to film by directors Tom Tykwer and the Wachowskis, with an ensemble cast to cover the film's multiple storylines. In October 2012, Mitchell wrote an article in the Wall Street Journal called "Translating 'Cloud Atlas' Into the Language of Film" in which he describes the work of the adapters as being like translating a work into another language. He stated that he was pleased with the final product as a successful translation from one medium into another.

Here is the movie's trailer:

The film premiered at the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival, whereupon it received a 10-minute standing ovation. Overall, reviews have been polarized, with some critics praising the film highly and others panning it outright. Forbs called it, "A Gorgeous Mess," with i09 saying, "Is Cloud Atlas an unholy mess or a brilliant masterpiece? Yes." 


Review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reports that 63% of critics have given Cloud Atlas a "fresh" rating based on 164 reviews, with an average of 6.5/10. The site's consensus from the collected reviews was "Its sprawling, ambitious blend of thought-provoking narrative and eye-catching visuals will prove too unwieldy for some, but the sheer size and scope of Cloud Atlas are all but impossible to ignore"


I feel Cloud Atlas is a great story which shines a very honest, and pertinent light on our shared human condition.