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All the Light We Cannot See: A Novel Paperback – April 4, 2017

4.6 out of 5 stars 68,529 ratings

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Popular Highlights in this book

From the Publisher

Editorial Reviews


“Exquisite…Mesmerizing…Nothing short of brilliant.” -- Alice Evans ― Portland Oregonian

“Hauntingly beautiful.” -- Janet Maslin ―
The New York Times

“History intertwines with irresistible fiction—secret radio broadcasts, a cursed diamond, a soldier’s deepest doubts—into a richly compelling, bittersweet package.” -- Mary Pols ―
People (3 1/2 stars)

“Anthony Doerr again takes language beyond mortal limits.” -- Elissa Schappell ―
Vanity Fair

“The whole enthralls.” ―
Good Housekeeping

“Enthrallingly told, beautifully written…Every piece of back story reveals information that charges the emerging narrative with significance, until at last the puzzle-box of the plot slides open to reveal the treasure hidden inside.” -- Amanda Vaill ―
Washington Post

“Stupendous…A beautiful, daring, heartbreaking, oddly joyous novel.” -- David Laskin ―
The Seattle Times

“Stunning and ultimately uplifting… Doerr’s not-to-be-missed tale is a testament to the buoyancy of our dreams, carrying us into the light through the darkest nights.” ―
Entertainment Weekly

“Doerr has packed each of his scenes with such refractory material that
All the Light We Cannot See reflects a dazzling array of themes….Startlingly fresh.” -- John Freeman ― The Boston Globe

“Gorgeous… moves with the pace of a thriller… Doerr imagines the unseen grace, the unseen light that, occasionally, surprisingly, breaks to the surface even in the worst of times.” -- Dan Cryer ―
San Francisco Chronicle

“Incandescent… a luminous work of strife and transcendence… with characters as noble as they are enthralling” -- Hamilton Cain ―
O, the Oprah magazine

“Perfectly captured…Doerr writes sentences that are clear-eyed, taut, sweetly lyrical.” -- Josh Cook ―
Minneapolis Star Tribune

“A beautiful, expansive tale…Ambitious and majestic.” -- Steph Cha ―
Los Angeles Times

“This tough-to-put-down book proves its worth page after lyrical page…Each and every person in this finely spun assemblage is distinct and true.” -- Sharon Peters ―
USA Today

“Doerr is an exquisite stylist; his talents are on full display.” -- Alan Cheuse ―

All the Light We Cannot See] brims with scrupulous reverence for all forms of life. The invisible light of the title shines long after the last page.” -- Tricia Springstubb ― Cleveland Plain Dealer

“Intricate… A meditation on fate, free will, and the way that, in wartime, small choices can have vast consequences.” ―
New Yorker

“Doerr deftly guides
All the Light We Cannot See toward the day Werner’s and Marie-Laure lives intersect during the bombing of Saint-Malo in what may be his best work to date.” -- Yvonne Zipp ― Christian Science Monitor

“To open a book by Anthony Doerr is to open a door on humanity…His sentences shimmer…His paragraphs are luminous with bright, sparkling beauty.” -- Martha Anne Toll ―
Washington Independent Review of Books

“Endlessly bold and equally delicate…An intricate miracle of invention, narrative verve, and deep research lightly held, but above all a miracle of humanity….Anthony Doerr’s novel celebrates—and also accomplishes—what only the finest art can: the power to create, reveal, and augment experience in all its horror and wonder, heartbreak and rapture.” ―
Shelf Awareness

“Magnificent.” -- Carmen Callil ―
The Guardian (UK)

“Intricately structured…
All the Light We Cannot See is a work of art and of preservation.” -- Jane Ciabattari ― BBC

“A revelation.” -- Michael Magras ―

“Anthony Doerr writes beautifully… A tour de force.” -- Elizabeth Reed ―
Deseret Morning News

“A novel to live in, learn from, and feel bereft over when the last page is turned, Doerr’s magnificently drawn story seems at once spacious and tightly composed. . . . Doerr masterfully and knowledgeably recreates the deprived civilian conditions of war-torn France and the strictly controlled lives of the military occupiers.” ―
Booklist (starred review)

“Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.” ―
Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“If a book’s success can be measured by its ability to move readers and the number of memorable characters it has, Story Prize-winner Doerr’s novel triumphs on both counts. He convinces readers...that war—despite its desperation, cruelty, and harrowing moral choices—cannot negate the pleasures of the world.” ―
Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“This novel has the physical and emotional heft of a masterpiece…[All the Light We Cannot See] presents two characters so interesting and sympathetic that readers will keep turning the pages hoping for an impossibly happy ending…Highly recommended for fans of Michael Ondaatje’s The English Patient.” -- Evelyn Beck ―
Library Journal (starred review)

"What a delight! This novel has exquisite writing and a wonderfully suspenseful story. A book you'll tell your friends about..." -- Frances Itani, author of Deafening

“This jewel of a story is put together like a vintage timepiece, its many threads coming together so perfectly. Doerr’s writing and imagery are stunning. It’s been a while since a novel had me under its spell in this fashion. The story still lives on in my head.” -- Abraham Verghese, author of Cutting for Stone

All the Light We Cannot See is a dazzling, epic work of fiction. Anthony Doerr writes beautifully about the mythic and the intimate, about snails on beaches and armies on the move, about fate and love and history and those breathless, unbearable moments when they all come crashing together.” -- Jess Walter, author of Beautiful Ruins

“Doerr sees the world as a scientist, but feels it as a poet. He knows about
everything—radios, diamonds, mollusks, birds, flowers, locks, guns—but he also writes a line so beautiful, creates an image or scene so haunting, it makes you think forever differently about the big things—love, fear, cruelty, kindness, the countless facets of the human heart. Wildly suspenseful, structurally daring, rich in detail and soul, Doerr’s new novel is that novel, the one you savor, and ponder, and happily lose sleep over, then go around urging all your friends to read—now.” -- J.R. Moehringer, author of Sutton and The Tender Bar

“A tender exploration of this world's paradoxes; the beauty of the laws of nature and the terrible ends to which war subverts them; the frailty and the resilience of the human heart; the immutability of a moment and the healing power of time. The language is as expertly crafted as the master locksmith's models in the story, and the settings as intricately evoked. A compelling and uplifting novel.” -- M.L. Stedman, author of The Light Between Oceans

“The craftsmanship of Doerr’s book is rooted in his ability to inhabit the lives of Marie-Laure and Werner…[A] fine novel.” -- Steve Novak ―
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

“Beautifully written… Soulful and addictive.” -- Chris Stuckenschneider ―
The Missourian

“Doerr conjures up a vibrating, crackling world…Intricately, beautifully crafted.” -- Rebecca Kelley ―

“There is so much in this book. It is difficult to convey the complexity, the detail, the beauty and the brutality of this simple story.” -- Carole O'Brien ―
Aspen Daily News

“Sometimes a novel doesn’t merely transport. It immerses, engulfs, keeps you caught within its words until the very end, when you blink and remember there’s a world beyond the pages.
All the Light We Cannot See is such a book… Vibrant, poignant, delicately exquisite. Despite the careful building of time and place (so vivid you fall between the pages), it’s not a story of history; it’s a story of people living history.” ― Historical Novel Society

About the Author

Anthony Doerr is the author of Cloud Cuckoo Land, which was a finalist for the National Book Award, and All the Light We Cannot See, winner of the Pulitzer Prize, the Carnegie Medal, the Alex Award, and a #1 New York Times bestseller. He is also the author of the story collections Memory Wall and The Shell Collector, the novel About Grace, and the memoir Four Seasons in Rome. He has won five O. Henry Prizes, the Rome Prize, the New York Public Library’s Young Lions Award, the National Magazine Award for fiction, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and the Story Prize. Born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio, Doerr lives in Boise, Idaho, with his wife and two sons.
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Product details

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Scribner; Reprint edition (April 4, 2017)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 544 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1501173219
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1501173219
  • Lexile measure ‏ : ‎ 880L
  • Item Weight ‏ : ‎ 1 pounds
  • Dimensions ‏ : ‎ 5.25 x 1.3 x 8 inches
  • Customer Reviews:
    4.6 out of 5 stars 68,529 ratings

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Anthony Doerr has won numerous prizes for his fiction, including the Pulitzer Prize and the Carnegie Medal. His novel, 'All the Light We Cannot See,' was a #1 New York Times Bestseller and his new novel, 'Cloud Cuckoo Land,' published in September of 2021, was a finalist for the National Book Award. Learn more at

Customer reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars
4.6 out of 5
68,529 global ratings

Top reviews from the United States

Reviewed in the United States 🇺🇸 on October 14, 2015
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Reviewed in the United States 🇺🇸 on August 17, 2018
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5.0 out of 5 stars See the Light through Superb Writing with Profound Lessons
By Booksalottle on August 17, 2018
Being the recipient of the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, my expectations for 'All the Light we Cannot See' were extremely high. With all things considered, I feel confident in saying that the critical acclaim was warranted and deserved in this case. Despite two minor annoyances, which I cover at the end, 'All the Light we Cannot See' is a phenomenally written, percipient, and remarkable example of sound literature.

Author Anthony Doerr tells the story of how 18 years old Werner, a geeky, crafty, and thoughtful engineering prodigy in Germany, meets 16 years old Marie-Laure, a sweet, astute, and affable blind French girl during the siege of Saint-Malo in 1944. WWII, with all its stentorian and fervid trappings of war is the backdrop to Werner and Marie-Laure's fateful encounter. Written in short but vividly described, intricately woven chapters, the backstory of how they are brought together is told over the course of ten years starting in 1944 and flashing back as far as 1934. Through alternating timelines from both their perspectives, they meet and thereafter, the aftermath and implications of the encounter is written about up until the year 2014.

Several pages into the novel, I knew I had a special literary piece in my hands. Werner and Marie-Laure are easy to fall in love with as Doerr writes them in a way that is honest and open. They are both multi-faceted in their strengths and their vulnerabilities, without either one playing a victim. Or at least, I never saw either one as a victim. I also appreciated that foibles, frailty, and other unsavory personality traits are depicted for both, allowing them to be alive with authenticity. I never want to read about characters who are too perfect and give the sun, the moon, and the stars all of the time. In the case of this novel, the two main protagonists are realistic for their time and for the circumstances they find themselves in. Joining Werner and Marie-Laure is a dynamic, and at times unfortunate mix of supporting characters who collectively illuminate the radiance and light of when humanity is good and kind. Juxtaposed, others in the mix depict the ugly darkness of when humanity resorts to selfishness and evil. Though they are fictional, we should all be so lucky as to encounter characters like Frederick, Madame Manec, Frau Elena, and Dr. Geffard, and hope the world breeds less of Dr. Hauptmann, Bastian, and Reinhold von Rumpel.

'All the Light we Cannot See' has many lessons to impart on the reader, with one of the most profound being the titular Light that we must all see. The novel soundly shows us how those who are blind in the literal sense, can see more than those who have the ability to gaze as far as their eyes will carry. Additionally, the novel allows the reader to see for themselves how people whose visions are symbolically foggy, can still find goodness of heart and lightness of mind in unlikely places, and in the unlikeliest of people. Thought-provokingly, Doerr weaves for the reader how darkness creeps and consumes those who choose to be figuratively blind and who later become disillusioned by their own rancor, malevolence, and enmity. In the heart of strong-willed characters, we see how love, patience, understanding and empathy become the key that open and illuminate the path into light.

I very much enjoyed this read, and surprisingly, the short chapters were not an annoyance as can sometimes be when the author is not skilled enough to execute them. Doerr is skilled and in the case of 'All the Light we Cannot See,' he, in what was in many instances only a page and a half, or even only half a page, has written cohesive chapters that are richly dense, brimming with cerebral atmosphere that envelopes the reader at the turn of every page. In this regard, I could see Marie-Laure's loneliness, and Werner's moral conflict. I felt the fear and uncertainty in Jutta, Daniel LeBlanc, and Etienne's reticence. I could taste the saltiness in the breeze that wafted over Saint-Malo, while also I could smell the acrid, grey, and gritty skies of Zollverein. Each time a character was famished due to scant war rations, I tasted the sweetness of the cool water they drank and I could taste the crust and crumb of the loaf of bread they tore apart. These are not things easy to achieve in books. Doerr however has done so fantastically.

It goes without saying that there is plenty beauty and radiance to be found in 'All the Light we Cannot See.' Some of it emanates directly from the characters, while other times, it comes from the reader's own willingness to be open-minded. Taking that into mind, there were only two minor concerns I had with the novel. First being that when the author went into descriptive details of radio repair and engineering principles, my eyes would on occasion glaze over a bit since neither subject matter are strengths of mine. Nevertheless, as a curious reader, I know that it was necessary for me and other readers to know Werner's technical acumen when the author painstakingly described the workings of transmitters, transceivers, and the intricacies of repairing electronics.

The second minor concern I had with the novel was the very last chapter, which covered the year 2014. So that I don't inadvertently give spoilers, I will simply say that I would have liked this chapter better if it was written differently. I loved the significance of it and the observations made, but I would have liked it better minus the game playing grandson. Also, I would have preferred the scene take place during a final visit to Saint-Malo rather than where the scene is depicted. Even better would have been if this very last chapter had been cut altogether. Ending the novel on the previous chapter labeled "Frederick," would have had a better impact in my view.

Despite the minor misstep in the last chapter, 'All the Light we Cannot See' is superb all around and I absolutely recommend it. I also want to point out that unlike some readers, the back and forth narrative depicting differing timelines and differing character perspectives did NOT bother me one bit. This is a technique that I appreciate and think it is one of the reasons why this novel is so special. Readers who complain about this non-linear technique must challenge their ability (or lack of it) to retain multiple levels of story details as the plot progresses. For serious readers who like their books to have weighty, loaded implications, and for readers who appreciate intelligent writing that give literary gifts every turn of the page, 'All the Light we Cannot See' is for you. Read carefully and "open your eyes and see what you can with them before they close forever." 5 Stars!
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Lady Vibart
5.0 out of 5 stars A page turning, brilliantly sensitive story of courage, love and the cruelty of war, studded with characters we all recognise!
Reviewed in the United Kingdom 🇬🇧 on July 16, 2018
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Ashwini A.
5.0 out of 5 stars An absolute must-read
Reviewed in India 🇮🇳 on May 16, 2018
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3.0 out of 5 stars Thought Provoking Account Of The Occupation of France in WW2
Reviewed in the United Kingdom 🇬🇧 on June 7, 2018
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M. Faulkner
5.0 out of 5 stars Steel yourself, this one really tugs at the heart strings.
Reviewed in the United Kingdom 🇬🇧 on July 18, 2016
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Mr. Tempo
1.0 out of 5 stars Kids might like it
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