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The Children of Men Paperback – May 16, 2006

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In her 12th book, the British author of the two series featuring Adam Dalgleish and Cordelia Gray ( Devices and Desires and An Unsuitable Job for a Woman , respectively) poses a premise that chills and darkens its setting in the year 2021. Near the end of the 20th century, for reasons beyond the grasp of modern science, human sperm count went to zero. The last birth occurred in 1995, and in the space of a generation humanity has lost its future. In England, under the rule of an increasingly despotic Warden, the infirm are encouraged to commit group suicide, criminals are exiled and abandoned and immigrants are subjected to semi-legalized slavery. Divorced, middle-aged Oxford history professor Theo Faron, an emotionally constrained man of means and intelligence who is the Warden's cousin, plods through an ordered, bleak existence. But a chance involvement with a group of dissidents moves him onto unexpected paths, leading him, in the novel's compelling second half, toward risk, commitment and the joys and anguish of love. In this convincingly detailed world--where kittens are (illegally) christened, sex has lost its allure and the arts have been abandoned--James concretely explores an unthinkable prospect. Readers should persevere through the slow start, for the rewards of this story, including its reminder of the transforming power of hope, are many and lasting. 125,000 first printing; BOMC main selection.
Copyright 1992 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.


"A book of such accelerating tension that the pages seem to turn faster as one moves along." —Chicago Tribune


"As scary and suspenseful as anything in Hitchcock." —The New Yorker


"Extraordinary. . . . Daring. . . . Frightening in its implications." —The New York Times


"Fascinating, suspenseful, and morally provocative. The characterizations are sharply etched and the narrative is compelling."—Chicago Sun-Times


“She writes like an angel. Every character is closely drawn. Her atmosphere is unerringly, chillingly convincing. And she manages all this without for a moment slowing down the drive and tension of an exciting mystery.”

The Times (UK)


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Rei Rep edition (May 16, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307275434
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307275431
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.5 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (228 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #31,137 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

P. D. James is the author of twenty previous books, most of which have been filmed and broadcast on television in the United States and other countries. She spent thirty years in various departments of the British Civil Service, including the Police and Criminal Law Departments of Great Britain's Home Office. She has served as a magistrate and as a governor of the BBC. In 2000 she celebrated her eightieth birthday and published her autobiography, Time to Be in Earnest. The recipient of many prizes and honors, she was created Baroness James of Holland Park in 1991 and was inducted into the International Crime Writing Hall of Fame in 2008. She lives in London and Oxford.

Photo credit Ulla Montan

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

90 of 96 people found the following review helpful By Michael Fridman on December 30, 2006
Format: Paperback
Note: for those who have seen the movie, remove your preconceptions when starting to read this book. It is quite unlike the movie.

The premise is simple - the entire human population has been rendered infertile. Any scientific attempts to find or fix the cause have failed spectatularly. And so, the world is heading to a very quiet and desperate extinction. The population ages and diminishes as people await the inevitable fading away of humanity. More importantly, hope and meaning have gone. There is no longer a point in doing anything because it will all soon disappear. The result is a world of atrocities and chaos. These have been largely avoided in the UK due to the rational dictatorship of the Warden and his cabinet, who have engineered calm and stability, with many tradeoffs on human rights and freedoms. Enter Otto, the Warden's cousin who is an academic and an unsympathetic snob. He is drawn into the beginnings of an extremely small, almost laughable rebellion, but one that changes Otto and the future of the country forever.

This is an extremely simple novel in its world description. Everything flows naturally from the premise, including all the new neuroses that society is stuck with. The book almost feels sparse. So if you insist on fast-paced thrillers only this is not for you. The reason I loved it was because in its sparseness it gives itself - and the reader - a lot of space to think and consider the issues. Unlike the movie where the government is sadistic and evil, things are much less black-and-white in the novel. There is almost an ambivalence for most of the work as to the question of whether the Warden's methods are wrong. The book is very emotional and almost spiritual -- James is magnificent at giving a sense of longing and nihilism present in a world that has no future. It's worth a read just for that.
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54 of 60 people found the following review helpful By Roger Brunyate TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on February 14, 2007
Format: Paperback
This subtle and thought-provoking work of science fiction is quite different from P. D. James' detective stories, but as well-written as the best of them. The premise is brilliantly simple: in 1995, all over the world, the human race has become incapable of propagation; now, in 2021, an aging and dwindling population faces an existence without future, hope, or apparent purpose. England has become an outwardly benevolent police state, maintaining a veneer of normality with the tacit acquiescence of an apathetic population. James does not belabor the process by which these social changes have taken place, but her vision is all too plausible.

I read the novel in the movie-tie-in edition, with a picture of Clive Owen on the cover looking through a broken window of grimy glass. From what I have seen of the trailer, the photo is a perfect summary of the movie's atmosphere of apocalyptic urban decay, but it couldn't be less suitable as an illustration for James' book. I shall have to wait to see whether this is merely a question of emphasis, in that the scenes shown in the trailer perhaps do not represent the balance of the whole, or whether the entire movie has been transposed to a quite different world. For now, I am writing only about the book.

Although the future setting may take the reader into an alternate reality, the book is still very much anchored in the familiar world of the present. A common theme of all James' novels is what happens when the civilized world, the comfortable world of the upper middle classes, is touched by evil, and the books depend upon the author's ability to invoke that world and its inhabitants. The first half of the novel takes place in and around Oxford, the city in which nothing ever changes, as one character remarks.
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65 of 78 people found the following review helpful By Logical Libertine on October 27, 2006
Format: Hardcover
I have never read any works of PD James - however I wanted to read the inspiration to the film recently released.

Many reviewers feel that James is 'overly descriptive'... and yet I felt that was what kept me drawn in. Some writers 'write' ... PD James paints her story with her words. Not to mention so much of the descriptions were metaphores of the very stark world in which these characters found themselves in.

This isn't a book you rush through for plot... its a book you savor, with hopes that all will be well with the world in the end. Highly recommended.
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Frederick Meekins on June 17, 2004
Format: Paperback
Often the appeal of science fiction lies in the genre's ability to extrapolate from the trends of the present and project them into the future. One novel exemplifying this tendency is "The Children Of Men" by P.D. James.

In "The Children Of Men", the reader finds a world where the population has become inexplicably infertile and must deal with the stresses of a dwindling population and the psychological angst that results when many realize what's the point of life if it will come to a screeching halt in a scant generation. Such a milieu is explored through the eyes of Oxford Historian Theodore Faron who becomes a reluctant intermediary between a group of bumbling, idealistic revolutionaries and the dictatorial Warden of England who happens to be Theodore's cousin.

The group starts out with the goal of enacting needed reforms such as better treatment of migrant workers known as Sojourners and restoring order to an out-of-control penal colony on the Isle of Man where the inmates --- some not as criminal as the general population is led to believe --- are left to fend for themselves. However, as the story unfolds a matter of greater urgency comes to the forefront of the plot, namely that a couple within the cell has been able to conceive a child.

"The Children Of Men" is not the most riveting example of the dystopian police state novel. It often gets bogged in the details of the personal experiences, emotions, and perceptions of its protagonist Theodore Faron. Yet at times the book provides glimpses into a morally eerie world where the outrages of our own day are allowed to fester to ghastly proportions.
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