- Paperback: 334 pages
- Publisher: EOS; Reprint edition (May 9, 2006)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 9780060892999
- ISBN-13: 978-0060892999
- ASIN: 0060892994
- Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.9 x 8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 584 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #27,366 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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A Canticle for Leibowitz Paperback – May 9, 2006
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From the Back Cover
Winner of the 1961 Hugo Award for Best Novel and widely considered one of the most accomplished, powerful, and enduring classics of modern speculative fiction, Walter M. Miller, Jr.'s A Canticle for Leibowitz is a true landmark of twentieth-century literature -- a chilling and still-provocative look at a post-apocalyptic future.
In a nightmarish ruined world slowly awakening to the light after sleeping in darkness, the infant rediscoveries of science are secretly nourished by cloistered monks dedicated to the study and preservation of the relics and writings of the blessed Saint Isaac Leibowitz. From here the story spans centuries of ignorance, violence, and barbarism, viewing through a sharp, satirical eye the relentless progression of a human race damned by its inherent humanness to recelebrate its grand foibles and repeat its grievous mistakes. Seriously funny, stunning, and tragic, eternally fresh, imaginative, and altogether remarkable, A Canticle for Leibowitz retains its ability to enthrall and amaze. It is now, as it always has been, a masterpiece.
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Keep in mind that Miller was writing in the 1940s and 1950s. Among other things, he has characters argue or mull over intelligent design, euthanasia, "removable" conscience, politicians placating their country's "patriotic opinionated rabble," the line between church and state, and the destruction and rise of civilizations over millennia. Two examples of some phrases that jumped out at me:
- When scholar Thon Taddeo questions how a great civilization could destroy itself, the answer from the monsignor is "Perhaps ... by being materially great and materially wise, and nothing else."
- Brother Joshua, about to colonize space in order to save shreds of civilization as his current world implodes, thinks that, "the closer men come to perfecting for themselves a paradise, the more impatient they seemed to become with it, and with themselves as well." Joshua thinks that a dark world can yearn and hope, but a world "bright with reason and riches" begins to "sense the narrowness of the needle's eye," and the realization rankles.
My one complaint is that Miller uses way too many Latin phrases that I didn't take time to look up the first time through. (And I'm Catholic and even studied Latin in high school.) I will re-read this book with a dictionary at hand in order to mine even more from its depths.
What has been buried is the entrance to a bomb shelter, for this is the age after the world has gone through nuclear annihilation. Few people remain and those that do mistrust each other. Roaming tribes kill everything in their path and intellectuals are disdained as they were the ones who created the bombs that ruined civilization. As the initiate explores, he finds a box with fragments of writing. Even more amazing, the fragments carry the name of Leibowitz, who is the man for whom the monastery exists. For these monks are charged with preserving what little writing and knowledge exists. They bury barrels of writing material in remote places and copy the words of existing manuscripts, even when they have no idea what the words mean.
What follows is a bleak exhibit of humanity. The reader sees the world through the eyes of time. Over the centuries, men start to value knowledge again. They rediscover the natural principles that underlie all progress, and painstakingly, over centuries, civilization rebuilds to the point that sophisticated machines and computers once again exist. Yet, every time progress is made, it is accompanied by the human nature that cannot help but tear it down again.
This novel is considered a classic of science fiction. It demonstrates a fear of learning and an underlying negativity about human nature. Yet, along with the bleakness, there is always a tendril of hope, someone who risks all in order to learn and spread knowledge. This book is recommended for science fiction readers.
Fast forward roughly 600 years and society has advanced to a feudal level of warring principalities. Certain budding philosophers and “scientists” have discovered the trove of data maintained by the monks. Rapacious and immoral princes and warlords are beginning to use technology to acquire increased power and territory.
Another 600 passes and society has not only reached, but far exceeded the technological advancements attained prior to the Armageddon of the 20th century. Superpower rivalry has again reached the point of nuclear confrontation in an age of interstellar travel and colonization. What roles do the monks of St. Liebowitz have in this new age? With the nuclear holocaust of the 20th century well known, how could anyone allow such a condition to develop again?
I found the book to be quite interesting and thought provoking. Having read quite a bit of post-apocalyptic literature, it touches many of the same bases, but has a broader scope, both in time frame and cultural landscape than most others I’ve read. Not the best, but well worth the time required.