The Brief History of the Dead
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The Brief History of the Dead

3.66 of 5 stars 3.66  ·  rating details  ·  7,267 ratings  ·  1,329 reviews
From Kevin Brockmeier, one of this generation's most inventive young writers, comes a striking new novel about death, life, and the mysterious place in between.

The City is inhabited by those who have departed Earth but are still remembered by the living. They will reside in this afterlife until they are completely forgotten. But the City is shrinking, and the residents cl...more
Paperback, 252 pages
Published January 9th 2007 by Vintage (first published January 1st 2005)
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Community Reviews

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Richard Reviles Censorship Always in All Ways
Rating: 3.9* of five

The Book Description: From Kevin Brockmeier, one of this generation's most inventive young writers, comes a striking new novel about death, life, and the mysterious place in between. The City is inhabited by those who have departed Earth but are still remembered by the living. They will reside in this afterlife until they are completely forgotten.

But the City is shrinking, and the residents clearing out. Some of the holdouts, like Luka Sims, who produces the City’s only news...more
karen
i always want more. even when i enjoy a book - especially when i enjoy a book... i love the concept of this book, and while its true there are some implausibilities here, and while it gets a little thin in places, it is easy to overlook because it is such a delight to read. yes, a delight.

i am tacking on a little more to this sad and short excuse for a review because i was thinking about this book today, after i finished reading "on the beach". if anyone needs a dissertation topic or just has th...more
Saucy Kate
There are very few authors who write books that haunt me: Neil Gaiman, Kate Chopin. Add to that list Kevin Brockmeier. I didn't think that a book about the end of human civilization would have any affect on me; my ignorance led me into this novel fully unprepared for what I would encounter.

Set in the not-so-distant future, The Brief History of the Dead follows the story of a very big corporate "oops": Coca-Cola unintentionally spreads a virus that kills off the entire human population in a very...more
Eric
I dearly wanted to love this book. The first chapter--establishing a vast city of the recently dead, an afterlife for everyone still remembered by the living--is amazing and beautiful. The second chapter flies off in another direction entirely, and plants us firmly in the ice and snow of antarctica. From there the novel alternates: each odd-numbered chapter explores the city of the dead from a new character's perspective, while the even-numbered chapters follow the adventures of the woman in Ant...more
Oceana2602
Mar 01, 2008 Oceana2602 rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: everyone
Here's the story how I came by the best book I read in 2007:

So I'm standing at King's Cross station, waiting for a friend of mine to arrive by train. Oh, look, there's a Waterstones! They are having a 3 for the price of 2 sale, and there are two books that I wanted to buy anyway. Now, let's find a third one! This one looks pretty, and it isn't too heavy, gotta fly back tomorrow.
*buys books*

Great, my friend's train is an hour late. Let's read a book. That third one isn't too long.
*reads*
*reads*
*r...more
Ann M
There should be a particular damp shelf in book hell for science fiction books that start off with an interesting premise and then go absolutely NOWHERE. I mean, nowhere. I'm used to sci fi that starts off well, then is okay in the middle, then fizzles out. This one fizzled right away. I mean, who cares what the city of the still-remembered is like if nothing happens there? Who cares about all the dull crossing stories, and really, WHO CARES about the idiot street preacher as the last human on e...more
Alan
Could have been briefer.

Daniel
One of the few comforts we can draw on when facing up to our own mortality is the fact that we will live on in the memories of those we leave behind. Kevin Brockmeier takes this sentiment and envisions a world in which it is literally true. As such, The Brief History of the Dead makes for a unique take on the idea of life and death, as well as a poignant testimony to the power of memory.

For the dearly departed, there is no heaven or hell in this world of Brockmeier's imagination. Although the c...more
Tim
I picked up this book after listening to an episode of KCRW's To The Best Of Our Knowledge entitled "Apocalyptic Fiction" (mp3).

I had just finished reading Cormac McCarthy's "The Road," and felt myself compelled to read a bit more "apocalyptic fiction." Unfortunately, the brutal grandeur of "The Road" set the bar too high. It seems unfair to compare the two books, but because I read them in succession I feel I must.

Where "The Road" was almost liberatingly sparse and hopeless, "The Brief History...more
Res
The one where when people die, they go to live in "the city" until no living person remembers them. Meanwhile, on earth, things are turning out very badly.

I loved the short story that became the first chapter. And there are so many beautifully observed moments that I found the book quite enjoyable while I was reading it. It was only afterwards that doubts began to creep up.

The real-world part of the story has two major implausibilities in it: why the company would consolidate its production into...more
Ken-ichi
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Kelly
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liz
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Marvin
A moving story that explores the power of memory, the significance of loss, and the meaning of our existence. While reading this novel I was constantly reminded of Berkeley's "If a tree falls in the forest" question. Certainly many of us want to know that our life have meaning, perhaps even remembered beyond our existence. I think these are the ideas Brockmeier is playing with and of course he has no real answer but the route he takes is one mesmerizing journey. Two separate stories are revealed...more
Caleb Liu
The book certainly has an intriguing premise. Brockheimer's idea of the afterlife is a strange metaphysical situation whereby people end up in a large city seemingly doing precisely what they had been doing in their previous lives. If this is purgatory, it certainly is a strange one. This is where the story begins to intertwine with the "real world" which is embodied by the story of a young woman on an Antarctic expedition.

The book was certainly captivating at the beginning, but I began to grow...more
Alb
I just finished this book and now I need to go to CuteOverload.com and stare at pictures of puppies before I wander drained of all hope into on-coming traffic. Phew somebody please buy Kevin Brockmeir a balloon bouquet or give him a hug because this guy needs cheering up. I mean don't get me wrong, I like lots of sad, bleak books and I actually think the fatalistic ending was logical and necessary but throw me an interesting charater or a meaningful, complicated relationship every couple of hund...more
A.W. Wilson
If you read my reviews then you'll probably think I just wax lyrical about everything I read. the reason for this is that if I don't enjoy a book I tend to stop reading it and also don't think it's my place to criticise something that happened not to be 'for me'. And it's much more fun writing about stuff I've enjoyed anyway, so there!

Guess what? That's right, I loved this book! I normally employ a know-nothing-in-advance technique in which I ensure I've not read any reviews or even read the blu...more
Megan
This is exactly what the title proclaims to be, a brief history of many people who are already dead, and Laura Byrd, who is soon to be dead. Early on in this book, it becomes very clear what is going on and what is going to happen. Kevin Brockmeier presents so many small, insignificant moments and memories from different peoples’ lives, and the assumption is that this is all going to add up to a very poignant revelation. But it doesn’t. It’s just life, very beautifully told.

Really, not much hap...more
Gijs Grob
'The Brief History of the Dead' is partly an apocalyptic future novel, akin to 'War With the Newts' or 'On the Beach'. Like in those two books, human existence is wiped out by a destruction force of its own design.

Brockmeier, however, is not interested in the process of destruction itself, but focuses on the last survivor, biologist Laura Byrd, who's utterly alone on the Antarctic. Curiously, though, her adventures are altered with the description of a city where people go to after they die. The...more
Robyn
Great book, with a controversial ending. The author opens with an African folktale about the varying levels of death. As long as someone is alive to remember you, you exist on a plane of neither living nor dead. And so we open into a city of the dead, where the afterlife is unexpectedly a lot like normal life. As the people who knew you die, your spirit fades away.

But in the city of the dead something dreadful begins to happen -- whole communities sweep in and sweep out, as people begin to talk...more
Joe
Apr 27, 2008 Joe rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: divisive book lovers
Shelves: own
Brockmeier's novel, The Brief History of the Dead, is a curious affair that may not appeal to all readers, especially those who like their narratives straightforward and as unconvoluted as possible.

Although the novel's set-up is amazingly obnoxious (alternating chapters of the "living" - Laura Byrd, a biologist trapped and alone in Antarctica - and the "dead" - a population of recently passed souls who reside in The City), Brockmeier controls both sides quite well with a few missteps along the...more
Kev
This book brngs to mind a professor I had in college. He was a New York Jew with a withering wit. It was a graphic design class and he took no prisoners. He'd do a crit this way. One grade for the idea and another for the execution and he'd say thinges like this: "You had a great ideer here, A+ ideer, but LOUSY execution. I gotta give ya a D- for execution, so you getta C+."

Well, in the style of this prof, Kev: "GREAT execution, A+ execution; beautifully written. But I gotta give ya a D- for the...more
Tracy
Audio.

This book had such an interesting premise - when people die, they go to a city where they live until no one on earth has any memory of them. What would happen to the city if everyone on earth died from a virus? What if there was only one person left on earth?

I was hoping for more action, but it became kind of rambly and philosophical about death and the connections we all share.

In a story with the end of the world, I was hoping for more excitement, like zombies.....
Trudi
This book started out brilliantly with a wonderfully unique premise. The writing is e-x-c-e-l-l-e-n-t, but somehow the story loses its momentum at the end and speaking of endings, I found this one to be very unsatisfying. However, I enjoyed this book enough to try something else by Kevin Brockmeier.
Brett
This is an amazing book! The premise is original (to me anyway) and very thought provoking.
There are multiple story-lines with each depending on the other. Literally.

I won't write spoilers in my reviews, but this novel will make you look at death and dying in a very different way.
Nathan Shumate
A meandering, introspective fantasy, The Brief History of the Dead posits that the deceased end up in a limitless city, never grow older, and stay there as long as there's someone alive who remembers them. The population of the city drops precipitously, then, when an apocalyptic plague called "the blinks" strikes the world of the living, until all that's left are a few thousand people who gradually realize that they're all connected to one person -- Laura Byrd, a researcher stranded alone in Ant...more
Dan
I may be just burning out on fiction lately, but something about this book made me want to skip pages and just finish it already. Not in that compulsive way I like when a book has me under its sway, but just to relieve myself of it completely. It's a shame, too, the basic concept of the book is really clever. All the dead of the world live in a city together, and they remain there as long as someone living has a memory of them. But when a worldwide plague kills people by the millions, the city s...more
Laurie
I liked this book, but it was ultimately disappointing--almost like getting a beautifully wrapped gift, opening it up, and finding a nice present but not a great one. The premise is intriguing and the writing is poetic and sharp, but it is a letdown almost halfway through. The plot is linked by two stories: We have "the city," where people go after they die and remain only as long as somebody remembers them, and then we have the story of Laura, who is stranded in Antartica in the real world when...more
Shaniqua Lizardo
Good premise, but not entirely well-fleshed out story. This book made me realize that I don't take well to survival stories, because (A) there is only person to care about and if I don't like that person, well that's that, isn't it? and (B) NOTHING HAPPENS. No conversations, no character development, hardly any movement. It's not fun for me to read about a person who's basically just sitting there, twiddling her thumbs, trying not to die. I don't know, maybe I'm just really self-centered.

The fir...more
Alexandra
This book had been sitting on my shelf since 2006 when I bought it until just a few days ago when I was browsing my shelves looking for something interesting to read. I'm certainly not worse off for having read it, but it didn't change my life either. Come to think of it, what book has? I digress.
The Brief History of the Dead did however give me a new way to think about what happens when we die. A City that is forever expanding and changing to accommodate the dead. It has restaurants and silent...more
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Born and raised in Little Rock, Arkansas, Brockmeier received his MFA from the Iowa Writer's Workshop in 1997. His stories have been featured in The New Yorker, McSweeny's, Crazyhorse, and The Georgia Review. He is the recipient of an O. Henry Award, the Nelson Algren Award, and a National Endowment of the Arts grant.
More about Kevin Brockmeier...
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“Anyone who has ever experienced love knows that you can have too much or too little. You can have love that parches, love that defeats. You can have love measured out in the wrong proportions. It's like your sunlight and water - the wrong kind of love is just as likely to stifle hope as it is to nourish it.” 27 likes
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