A Canticle for Leibowitz

By Walter M. Miller, Jr.,

Book cover of A Canticle for Leibowitz

Book description

In the depths of the Utah desert, long after the Flame Deluge has scoured the earth clean, a monk of the Order of Saint Leibowitz has made a miraculous discovery: holy relics from the life of the great saint himself, including the blessed blueprint, the sacred shopping list, and the…

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Why read it?

8 authors picked A Canticle for Leibowitz as one of their favorite books. Why do they recommend it?

Folks daunted at the prospect of jumping in to a longer series will be delighted to know that this is just a standalone novel. In fact, it was the only novel Walter M. Miller, Jr. wrote in his lifetime. There is a posthumously published sequel to this novel, but it was completed by another writer and is generally considered the lesser work, and at any rate, Canticle stands on its own. This is a post-apocalyptic novel, set after a nuclear war in the 1960s wiped out civilization. It takes place over the course of centuries, and follows a small Roman…

From Christopher's list on science fiction for fantasy readers.

This novel is a serious, sprawling epic that, over stages, takes the reader hundreds of years into a future where the United States is recovering from the effects of a massive nuclear war. Although I didn’t find the characters especially relatable, it was still a very engrossing read that gave me a lot to think about, as it explores the cycles of civilization, war, decay, and rebuilding, that are continually reoccurring in our species’ history.

In 1971, I wrote a short story for a creative writing class at a Catholic HS in Chicago in which humans had just rebuilt the world after a 2,000-year-old apocalypse and were making their “first” landing on the moon (only to discover our Apollo mission had already gone there). My instructor, a Jesuit brother gave me Walter Miller's A Canticle for Leibowitz to read. I had never even heard of it, but it blew my mind. I found it to be imaginative and thought-provoking. While the novel had very little in common with my story, its kindred spirit presented a…

Published in 1959 (and never out of print)—arguably the best and most idiosyncratic of post-holocaust novels. Civilization is kept alive by a group of monks in the southwestern United States. Remarkably, it’s filled with irony and humor, as well as minute attention to the details of monastic life. Written as a 3-part narrative, it manages, incredibly, to span 1800 years. I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve re-read it.

I read this apocalyptic novel many years ago, and found it as unforgettable as it was depressing. In the midst of death, disease, and anarchy after nuclear war destroys civilization, there remain small self-contained settlements that resemble monasteries in the middle ages. These settlements are the only pockets of knowledge in the devastated landscape. People who live in them struggle to understand formerly-common technologies, such as record players and other artifacts from the civilized world. One thing they do understand is that nuclear technology is dangerous and any development in this area is absolutely forbidden, under pain of death. But…

From Peter's list on stories built on an inspired premise.

A Canticle for Leibowitz truly has all three aspects of apocalyptic, post-apocalyptic, and dystopian set in a three-part cycle. My middle school English teacher gave it to me to read since I was bored with what she was teaching. I cannot thank her enough. Canticle has a fascinating premise: six centuries before the story begins, a worldwide atomic apocalypse occurred. Blaming the scientists and thinkers, survivors, dubbing themselves “Simpletons,” hunted and killed off academics, scientists, and other people with knowledge.

Leibowitz founded a monastery in the Utah desert to preserve what knowledge they could. He is being considered for sainthood…

From Robert's list on those good old apocalypse days.

In a post-nuclear-war future filled with savagery and ignorance, a band of monks labor to preserve the relics of a forgotten age, waiting for the time to re-introduce science and literacy to a world that has forsworn both. Brother Francis discovers relics of the blessed Saint Leibowitz, the founder of the order, and that discovery sets in motion the return of civilization...and the return of the same problems that bedevil us today. Told in three parts, and with great humor, this is the story of humanity's cyclic struggle between the forces of creation and destruction. 

A Canticle for Leibowitz always makes the top ten. Well-written, funny, complex, profound, exciting, non-fans of SF like it as much as fans,

In WWII Miller helped bomb Monte Cassino monastery. ACFL, in expiation, is infused with Catholicism. Interestingly, Monte Cassino has been destroyed and rebuilt many times ̶ just as civilizations in ACFL are.

I particularly like where characters misinterpret inadequately-digested knowledge. Bernard Berenson said, after reading Fahrenheit 451, that Bradbury should write about how the book-memorizers would garble everything. ACFL is full of garbling. "This–it wasn't like this at all!" cries the monk, Brother Francis.


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