A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller Jr.

A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller Jr.: This is one of those books that routinely shows up on lists of Best SF Books Evar and is often grouped with other dystopian stories like 1984 and Fahrenheit 451. In the first section of this novel, Brother Francis of Utah stumbles upon some artifacts from Saint Leibowitz himself: the sacred shopping list and the holy blueprints, among other things. This beginning sounds silly but the story is anything but. We begin about six hundred years after mankind has more or less annihilated itself through nuclear war and is just now beginning to rebuild. The Order of Leibowitz is a group of monks following in the tradition of a man who led others in the storing and memorization of books in the face of the mobs who wished to burn them. Like monks of the Middle Ages, they spend their days copying – and illuminating – blueprints, math textbooks, and other findings. I enjoyed this first section the most. The other two sections were difficult to follow. The second, taking place several hundred years after the first, explores some of the first rediscoveries of ancient technology, such as electricity. The third is several centuries after the second, and man now has space travel, colonies on other worlds, and – you guessed it – nuclear weapons. I wish I’d understood the whole deal with the ancient pilgrim/Benjamin/Eleazar. I wish I knew even a tiny bit of Latin, as I had to skim several passages in that no-longer-dead language (though this also served as a constant reminder of the fact that the book was written before Vatican II). In short, I’m not sure how I feel about this book because I’m not entirely convinced I understood what it was trying to say. I’m glad to have read it, but I’m not positive I would recommend it to someone else. This is often how I react to the rapidly growing pool of Classic Literature I Don’t Get.

Also posted on BookCrossing.

  1. You know, I loved Canticle when I read it, but I’m starting to think I should read it again to make sure. I have no answers for your confusion. Of course, that doesn’t mean I had no answers right after reading the book – it’s been some years.

  2. This is one of the few books I’ve never been able to finish. I tried reading it twice and just never got into it.

  3. It’s also possible that I just didn’t mind not understanding the book.

  4. I decided to get cultured with literature….I would only read those books deemed classics. Tale of Two Cities….SNORE!!! Lonesome Dove….kill me now!! Read a whole bunch of books that WON the “Man Booker” prize…ARGGGGHHH!!

    Now I read what I want to read because these prize commitees are smoking crack or boinking the authors

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