A Canticle for Leibowitz (Miller)

Next up: “A Canticle for Leibowitz” by Walter M. Miller, Jr.

A post-apocalyptic novel.  There’s a sequel but it was awful, don’t read it.


It starts off in a post-nuclear holocaust world, in a monastery in the southwestern United States, but it doesn’t stay there.  There are generally three parts to the book, which had originally been three novellas but had been converted to a single novel format.  On the surface of the book, it is the story of how humanity rebuilds after nuclear war, but it’s much more than that.

“A Canticle for Leibowitz” explores a lot of very interesting themes.  Religion plays an interesting role throughout the three parts of the book, and the interplay of church and state.  It also explores the idea of cyclical time, or as Battlestar Galactica put it: “All of this has happened before; all of this will happen again.”

It’s difficult to give a good summary, because the plot isn’t the only thing going on in the novel, and because the plot itself doesn’t follow a single character and spans a time of thousands of years.  Generally, the first part is about the time soon after the “Flame Deluge” and the Monks of the Order of Saint Leibowitz, who carefully maintain the ‘relics’ (scientific knowledge like blueprints or small machines) of the time before.  The second part shows advancing civilizations no longer simply scraping by, but beginning to expand… and wage war on neighbors.  The third part is a ‘futuristic’ (for the time it was published anyway) world on the brink of destroying itself once more.

My thoughts

I find this book absolutely fascinating.  It’s really not a happy book by any means, but its utterly remorseless portrayal of humanity kind of really rings true to me.  We’re all just a bunch of idiots making the same mistakes as were made before.  We’re completely incapable of thinking of ourselves as a global society, a single species, and continue to find stupid reasons to kill each other.  We use our curiosity and imagination, two of humanity’s most beautiful traits in my opinion, to figure out ways to hurt others in increased numbers and severity.  “A Canticle for Leibowitz” really hits the nail on the head on what humanity’s worst failings are.

Despite being rather dark, there are some instances of humor in the novel.  Particularly in the beginning, when humanity isn’t quite as educated or advanced.  Fallout is described as a monster.  The monks talk about copying blueprints and the frustration of inking in the entire page except for the thin white lines.  One of the relics is a grocery list.  These are little silly things and they tend to endear the ‘main’ character of the first third of the book to readers, but they in no way detract from the gravity of the overall work.

And lemme tell ya, this thing’s got so much gravity, it bends space-time around itself like a black hole.  It’s not afraid to hit some heavy topics, which really becomes apparent in the last third of the book.  It’s great and thought-provoking, but you kind of have to be ready for it.  Worth reading once you’ve girded your loins.


6/7 stars


I feel like this entire review kind of serves as a soft warning.


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