There is a reason Sir Arthur C. Clarke (1917 - 2008) is considered one of the greatest Science Fiction writers of all time. For so many other authors, a book like "The City and the Stars" would stand out as their greatest work, but with Clarke one has to consider novels like "Childhood's End", "2001: A Space Odyssey", and "Rendezvous with Rama" among others, and so this is merely one of his greatest works. Published in June of 1956, it is a rewrite of his novella "Against the Fall of Night" which was published in "Startling Stories" in November of 1948.
Set millions of years in the future, the story focuses on Alvin, a citizen of the city Diaspar who is unlike any other citizen at the time in that he has not lived before, though we do learn that there have been other "Uniques" (as they are called) in the past, they have all disappeared. As the others of his generation are coming of age and recovering the memories of their past lives, Alvin is left to pursue his own course. He, unlike any other citizen of Diaspar, wants to see what lies outside of the city.
Clarke's story is complex and layered and he builds a future which captures the reader's interest. The society of Diaspar is one based on fear, they have fear of "The Invaders" who at some time in the distant past forced humanity from the stars and back to Earth to live in the single city of Diaspar. Thus they also fear leaving the city, but at the same time, the Central Computer seems to be aiding Alvin in his attempts to leave the city, and he is also aided by Khedron, the Jester, who fulfills the role in society of stopping it from completely stagnating through his stunts or jests.
Needless to say that Alvin succeeds in his attempt to leave the city, but the story goes much further than that. He finds another human society, Lys, which is agrarian based and whose inhabitants want nothing to do with those in the city (who are unaware of Lys) and look down on them. Even though this other society is outside of Diaspar, many of the same traits which have stagnated humanity for all this time are the same between the two.
Clarke touches on numerous themes, such as the evolution of humanity, futuristic societies, the powers of the mind, and even the engineering of a new type of life. The story covers a lot of ground, and becomes something far more than what one would expect at the start. Though I would not rate this as highly as "Childhood's End", it is certainly an excellent novel and well worth reading for those who love science fiction and for fans of Arthur C. Clarke.
This novel tied for 22nd on the 1956 Astounding/Analog reader's All-Time poll for Science Fiction books and finished 7th on the same poll when it was retaken in 1966. It also was tied for 17th on the 1975 Locus All-Time poll for novels, 32nd on the 1987 Locus All-Time Poll for SF novels, and 34th on the 1998 Locus All-Time poll for novels written before 1990.