• The Premonitions Bureau

  • A True Account of Death Foretold
  • By: Sam Knight
  • Narrated by: Julian Rhind-Tutt
  • Length: 6 hrs and 34 mins
  • 3.9 out of 5 stars (26 ratings)

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The Premonitions Bureau

By: Sam Knight
Narrated by: Julian Rhind-Tutt
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Publisher's Summary

“This is rich, florid, funny history, with undertones of human grief . . . Knight is shrewd and perceptive . . . [he] pushes his material into neurobiology, into the nature of placebos and expectations and self-fulfilling prophecies . . . Knight’s book is crisp.” —Dwight Garner, New York Times

"[E]legant and eccentric . . . [Knight's] prose glides like mercury and he does not waste a word. With deft skill, he explores historical theories of perception, time, death, fear." —New York Times Book Review

"[A] thought-provoking and deeply researched book . . . Knight probes the space between coincidence and the ineffable mystery of supernatural possibilities." —NPR Books

"[Knight's] prose delights." —Wall Street Journal 

“Stunning… An enveloping, unsettling book, gorgeously written and profound.” —Patrick Radden Keefe, New York Times bestselling author of Say Nothing and Empire of Pain

From a rising star New Yorker staff writer, the incredible and gripping true story of John Barker, a psychiatrist who investigated the power of premonitions—and came to believe he himself was destined for an early death

On the morning of October 21, 1966, Kathleen Middleton, a music teacher in suburban London, awoke choking and gasping, convinced disaster was about to strike. An hour later, a mountain of rubble containing waste from a coal mine collapsed above the village of Aberfan, swamping buildings and killing 144 people, many of them children. Among the doctors and emergency workers who arrived on the scene was John Barker, a psychiatrist from Shelton Hospital, in Shrewsbury. At Aberfan, Barker became convinced there had been supernatural warning signs of the disaster, and decided to establish a “premonitions bureau,” in conjunction with the Evening Standard newspaper, to collect dreams and forebodings from the public, in the hope of preventing future calamities.

Middleton was one of hundreds of seemingly normal people, who would contribute their visions to Barker’s research in the years to come, some of them unnervingly accurate. As Barker’s work plunged him deeper into the occult, his reputation suffered. But in the face of professional humiliation, Barker only became more determined, ultimately realizing with terrible certainty that catastrophe had been prophesied in his own life.

In Sam Knight’s crystalline telling, this astonishing true story comes to encompass the secrets of the world. We all know premonitions are impossible—and yet they come true all the time. Our lives are full of collisions and coincidence: the question is how we perceive these implausible events and therefore make meaning in our lives. The Premonitions Bureau is an enthralling account of madness and wonder, of science and the supernatural. With an unforgettable ending, it is a mysterious journey into the most unsettling reaches of the human mind.

©2022 Sam Knight (P)2022 Penguin Audio

Critic Reviews

“A stunning piece of work. Brimming with mystery and suffused with haunting atmosphere, The Premonitions Bureau is the tale of a team of midcentury investigators who set out to answer some of life's most imponderable questions. With calm rationality and a keen sense of pacing, Sam Knight relates the extraordinary story of this initiative to study those among us who appear to be able to predict the future—and in particular, to predict disaster. An enveloping, unsettling book, gorgeously written and profound.” —Patrick Radden Keefe, New York Times bestselling author of Say Nothing and Empire of Pain 

“A fluent and enticing book, skillfully navigating the tricky and marginal subject of the paranormal; it is beautifully ordered, humane, capacious.” —Hilary Mantel, two-time winner of the Booker Prize 

The Premonitions Bureau is an eerie and amazing account of coincidence and fate, and the impossibility of knowing the difference. I loved this fascinating book.” —Emma Cline, New York Times bestselling author of The Girls 

What listeners say about The Premonitions Bureau

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A book about Wales read by an Englishman

Seriously, how can you have a book which revolves around the disaster at Aberfan (a Welsh mining town pronounced “AberVan”), near Pontypridd (a Welsh town pronounced “Ponteepreeth”) read by an Englishman who doesn’t bother to correctly pronounce the Welsh words in the book? It’s lazy and disrespectful to those who died, and EASILY corrected by a decent editor/producer.

It’s an interesting book, but every time the narrator said “Aber-Fan” it just made me thoroughly pissed off.

2 people found this helpful