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All booksLiterary fictionA Ladder to the Sky
A Ladder to the Sky by John Boyne
Literary fiction

A Ladder to the Sky

Repeat author
John Boyne is back at Book of the Month – other BOTMs include The Heart's Invisible Furies.

by John Boyne

Quick take

From our 2017 Book of the Year winner, a literary drama about a young writer willing to do anything to attain his place among the greats.

Good to know

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_LGBTQ

    LGBTQ+ themes

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_Unreliable

    Unreliable narrator

  • Illustrated icon, Literary


  • Illustrated icon, Icon_Unlikeable

    Unlikeable narrator

Illustrated icon, Icon_Challenging_Indicator


This story is told by an unreliable narrator with a dark and cynical tone.

Why I love it

Liberty Hardy
BOTM Judge

Nothing can stop a ruthless writer hellbent on success in this suspenseful literary drama—John Boyne’s first offering since the 2017 Book of the Year, The Heart’s Invisible Furies!

After decades of obscurity, author Erich Ackermann is finally earning his rightful acclaim. While in Berlin, he meets a handsome struggling writer named Maurice Swift. Longing for a companion after so many years alone, Ackermann takes Swift on as an assistant. But Swift has his own motives, specifically, transforming Ackermann’s long-guarded, shameful past in Nazi Germany into a splashy reputation-destroying “fictional” work of his own. And once Swift gets a taste of fame, he will stop at nothing for more ...

What didn’t I love about this book??? Anyone familiar with Boyne’s previous novels knows his characters are generally warm, empathetic if a bit lonely, and relatable. But Swift is the polar opposite—an amazing villain, devious and driven. As he concocts one suspenseful scheme after another, I found myself unable to look away. In this twisted, complex novel, Boyne has created a character you’ll love to hate and a thrilling story you can’t help but love.

Read less


Maurice Swift is handsome, charming, and hungry for success. The one thing he doesn't have is talent—but he's not about to let a detail like that stand in his way. After all, a would-be writer can find stories anywhere. They don't need to be his own.

Working as a waiter in a West Berlin hotel in 1988, Maurice engineers the perfect opportunity: a chance encounter with celebrated novelist Erich Ackermann. He quickly ingratiates himself with the powerful—but desperately lonely—older man, teasing out of Erich a terrible, long-held secret about his activities during the war. Perfect material for Maurice's first novel.

Once Maurice has had a taste of literary fame, he knows he can stop at nothing in pursuit of that high. Moving from the Amalfi Coast, where he matches wits with Gore Vidal, to Manhattan and London, Maurice hones his talent for deceit and manipulation, preying on the talented and vulnerable in his cold-blooded climb to the top. But the higher he climbs, the further he has to fall ...

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Get an early look from the first pages of John Boyne's A Ladder to the Sky.

Member thoughts

All (3628)
All (3628)
Love (2321)
Like (1019)
Dislike (288)
3777 ratings
  • 61% Love
  • 27% Like
  • 8% Dislike
  • West Hollywood , CA

    As engrossing as ‘The Heart’s Invisible Furies’ but very different. It’s like watching a train wreck happen and being unable to look away or understand how the conductor can be so callous and selfish.

  • Houston, TX

    This book is one of the best I have read this year. Scary that there are individuals that live by Picasso’s/Maurice’s motto “good artists copy, great artists steal.” Are our ideas really our own?

  • Shelby Twp, MI

    Man, John Boyne really knows how to write a story. This may be my new favorite book! It’s well written, with an unlikeable character, and the same witty humor I loved in The Heart’s Invisible Furies!

  • Cherry Hill, NJ

    This book was just brilliant. I loved every bit of it. Seeing Maurice’s journey to fame and his anticipated and eventual downfall left me hooked and left me with a very bad book hangover. Loved it!

  • Dumont, NJ

    I LOVED this book! There’s something so satisfying about a character you love to hate. John Boyne does it again with his latest, and despite the seriousness of the plot, I laughed through the ending!

  • Louisville, KY

    So I was first introduced to John Boyne’s The Hearts Invisible Furies which is always my go to top book recommendation. This one was still very good, he has a gift for creating characters that I love.

  • Ashland , OH

    Boyne is quickly becoming one of my favorite authors. He wraps you up in his stories and doesn’t let go. Maurice is a character I loved to hate and I couldn’t get enough. Everyone should read this!

  • Los Angeles, CA

    This book was AMAZING! John Boyne is so gifted with crafting characters, and Maurice Swift is one of his most fascinating. Can’t wait for more, and I’ll definitely tell all my friends to read this!

  • Largo, FL

    I swear, every time Boyne puts words together, he creates a masterpiece. The cut-throat literary world of authors isn’t a topic I would normally choose to read about, but I was unable to put it down!

  • Palmrya, PA

    I love John Boyne and his writing. This was such a frustrating book, but I absolutely loved it. The ambition of Maurice and willingness to tear down anyone in his way was hard to believe and put down.

  • Addison, IL

    I can't remember the last time that I read a book so strong and so haunting that it made me want to puke. This work is astonishing and impactful in ways far beyond my expectations. Utterly surprising.

  • Ivyland, PA

    Out of 5, I'm giving this 4. So, yes, I really liked it but not my favorite of the author's. Fully developed unlikeable main character with a train wreck of a story, I couldn't turn away. Compulsive

  • Centerville, GA

    What an amazing book. It was shocking, extraordinary, appauling, and glorious. A pure sociopath that wrecks a path through every life he touches on his way to the top. Written beautifully. Bravo, sir!

  • Saint Louis, MO

    This book is magnificent. Each part could have stood as a story on its own, but together they form a a cohesive picture of a megavillain. For a book about a man with no plots...oooh boy this got to me

  • Union, NJ

    John Boyne has done it again! He has created another engrossing novel, and while I loved The Heart’s Invisible Furies and Cyril Avery, in this novel, I was captivated and repulsed by Maurice Swift.

  • Denver, CO

    Such a unique read. My absolute favorite from John Boyne yet. In a way no other author has been able to do, he makes you simultaneously LOATHE the protagonist while also relating on such a deep level.

  • Olathe, KS

    What started a little slow for me turned into such a wonderful book. Part II and beyond will get you turning those pages and gasping w/ shock and awe. Boyne always has great dialogue mixed with humor

  • Lighthouse Point, FL

    I LOVED this book. It was so different from what I expected. Just when you think Maurice may have a shred of humanity, he doesn't. There were so many shocking moments. I could not put this book down.

  • Independence, MO

    What an ingenious read! Honestly one of the best I've read in a while. It's so carefully constructed, I had no idea what I was being drawn into (not unlike Maurice's acquaintances) until the very end.

  • Minneapolis, MN

    This is an intense, beautifully written novel, about a truly despicable human being. Readers beware, you may find yourself buying up all of John Boyne’s books after exposure to his incredible prose.

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