A Canticle for Leibowitz (Paperback)

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Staff Reviews

You should read A Canticle for Leibowitz if you'd like to ponder the cycles of humanity's conflicting agendas through the lens of science fiction. It is deceptively relevant to the struggles of our present society, as we contend with weapons turned upon the defenseless, declining environmental conditions, and the efforts of the ignorant to hinder both progress and decency. Miller presents an extreme global situation, where nuclear war has resulted not only in devastation, but in widespread distrust of the scientific understanding that led to such weapons being created in the first place. When the masses, labelled "simpletons", but proudly adopting the name, root out scientists, teachers, and officials deemed too dangerous on account of their intellect, civilization as we knew it enters a new dark age. Much like medieval times, it falls to the religious orders to doggedly preserve the books and documents of the past, despite not fully comprehending the relevance such information might hold for future re-discoveries. Amid this depressing backdrop, Miller unfolds his narrative in an awkwardly humorous and matter-of-fact tone that adds to the book's charm.

Miller's best known novel hits several points of interest for me, so it seems nearly inevitable I would have read it eventually. Most immediately, the setting of the southwestern United States (albeit after nuclear devastation) sets a somewhat familiar landscape. Brother Francis, the first central character to be introduced, is relatable, although in aspects unparallel to my own life. Like me, he is a young man raised in Utah, but the Utah of his time is a wasteland dominated by superstitious tribesmen. He is a defector from the tribes and a convert to Catholicism, while I was born-and-raised Catholic and am now estranged. His nervous and unsure behavior is reminiscent of the traits I believe, perhaps too hopefully, that I left behind in childhood. Finally, the book is a match for me because I'm a sucker for dystopian science fiction.

This book was originally written as three separate short stories, and it was not until writing the third that Miller decided his work constituted a novel. This means narratively that each of the three parts focuses on a different series of events, collectively covering a wide span of time without conventional continuity. The reader witnesses the transfer of information and the making of legends over generations. Within this format, the author also offers unforced worldbuilding, largely through character dialogue. The book presents many more thoughtful questions than answers, all the better to really make you think.

A theme that really resonated with me in the context of our work here at the bookstore is the preservation of knowledge. Here we store these items that contain so much of human history and the ideas of past generations, just waiting to be explored again by the very next person to take an interest. If I can recommend to anyone with even a slight interest in science fiction a work that gave me a greater appreciation of this task, then please consider Miller's timeless classic.

— Thomas Moore


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.

Product Details
ISBN: 9780060892999
ISBN-10: 0060892994
Publisher: Harper Voyager
Publication Date: May 9th, 2006
Pages: 352
Language: English