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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Lucifer is Fallen
This novel from the 1950's is a deserved classic among the sci-fi intelligentsia. Maybe its laborious title has kept it from being noticed by the popular masses, but this book is a hidden gem for those looking to broaden their horizons. This is probably one of the earliest stories to speculate on a post-nuclear apocalypse, and here Walter Miller created one of the most...
Published on May 3 2004 by doomsdayer520

3.0 out of 5 stars Latin not translated leaves ?
This is a long ranging story about post nuclear disaster world where the monks have retained the few scraps of pre-trepidation literature still left after the purge. Over the centuries that follow, the civilization begins to return and the order wrestles with the questions of the need to save knowledge for the future until the nuclear age again arrives. This is a...
Published on Dec 4 1999 by Darlene S. Goddard

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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Lucifer is Fallen, May 3 2004
This novel from the 1950's is a deserved classic among the sci-fi intelligentsia. Maybe its laborious title has kept it from being noticed by the popular masses, but this book is a hidden gem for those looking to broaden their horizons. This is probably one of the earliest stories to speculate on a post-nuclear apocalypse, and here Walter Miller created one of the most imaginative and far-reaching examples of that motif. Later nuclear winter stories would get predictable and formulaic, but not this originator. In this masterpiece of storytelling, three ages of human development pass by over the course of 1800 years, but in the end we see that those who don't know history are doomed to repeat it. While it's a bit dated in places, this brilliant and disturbing novel will keep you thinking for a long time after you're done reading it.
In addition to its unique take on historical processes, this book is essentially about the pros and cons of organized religion. In Part 1, humanity is stuck in the middle of several centuries of dark ages after a nuclear war, and once again the Catholic Church (or what's left of it) holds sway over a fearful and unenlightened society. Among the few records of the pre-war world that have survived are some inconsequential notes and blueprints by a minor scientist called Leibowitz. The church has made Leibowitz a saint, and here Miller appears to be commenting on the reverence of organized religion toward matters of doubtful authenticity and importance. Is religious belief built upon weak foundations? In Part 2 humanity is entering a new renaissance of knowledge, with religion being unable to adjust to the new enlightenment. In Part 3, humanity has reached a new technical age, but society is again oppressed by nuclear paranoia and mutually assured destruction. Humanity is about to destroy itself once again in this 1800-year cycle. Miller then takes us on an examination of the strength and relevance of faith in the face of such suffering and destruction. However, for the entire 1800 years and more, the disciples of Leibowitz have kept faith and hope alive. So is organized religion the curse or savior of humanity? Walter Miller contemplates these issues with great lucidity in this lost classic. [~doomsdayer520~]
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Amazing Work, June 19 2004
Charles J. Rector (Woodstock, IL United States) - See all my reviews
A Canticle for Leibowitz is not a novel. Rather, it is 3 linked novellas concerning the Order of Saint Leibowitz. Each of these novellas have different focuses and at first glance, would seem to have little to do with the other novellas. However, when you get down to thinking about it, they are actually pieces of a united work.
The first novella, Fiat Homo, is squarely about the Abbey of Saint Leibowitz and begins with the discovery of the Sacred Shopping List. It is the story of how the brothers seek to have Leibowitz officially recognized as a saint.
The second novella, Fiat Lux, is an espionage thriller dealing with the diabolical plans of the Emperor of Texarkana for continental domination. The third novella, Fiat Voluntas Tua, deals with the Second Nuclear Age as the nations that arose from the ashes of the First Nuclear Age and the nuclear war that ended that age, grapple with both nuclear weapons and the knowledge that a previous civilization died from those weapons.
As you can see, the 3 novellas deal with diverse subjects, but it is the way that Miller weaves his stories that the 3 become one.
A Canticle For Leibowitz is a most intriguing and well executed book and should be required reading in classrooms today.
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4.0 out of 5 stars A post-apocalyptic tale that still reads well, over 50 years later, July 5 2015
This review is from: A Canticle for Leibowitz (Mass Market Paperback)
The first thing that struck me about A Canticle for Leibowitz is just how well it reads over 50 years from its publication—released in 1959, even before the Cold War really took off, this classic post-apocalyptic novel still reads like a modern-day cautionary tale against nuclear weapons. In the first third of the novel, we meet Brother Francis, a young monk of an order that preserves the relics of a twentieth-century humanity that was nearly wiped out by a nuclear war. While fasting in the desert, Francis stumbles upon some relics from Saint Leibowitz, the founder of his order. These 'relics' are in fact electrical diagrams—Leibowitz was a Jewish-American electrical engineer—and Francis is eventually, after much debate as to the diagrams' authenticity, tasked with transporting them to New Rome. Here, they are added to the Church's slowly but inexorably growing scientific libraries, eventually spurring a new industrial era in the second third of the book. The pace of research continues to grow over hundreds of years, with Church scientists rediscovering things like general relativity and, inevitably, the secrets of the atom that had destroyed civilization over a millennium ago. By the final third of the novel, a nuclear-armed humanity is once again poised on the brink of armageddon.

Though the Fall of Man is an ancient literary theme, A Canticle for Leibowitz is probably one of the first science fiction novels to raise the question of whether we really are doomed to fall through technological rather than supernatural means. Miller makes his opinion on this matter fairly clear. I myself work on projects related to disarmament, and therefore (or despite this?) I have higher hopes than Miller for the future of humanity and technology.

Relatedly, there was one line in Canticle that I think sums up the novel well. In regards to nuclear war: "instead of trying to make the crime impossible, they tried to provide in advance for the consequences of the crime." I'll likely include this line in my Master's thesis somewhere.

All told, A Canticle for Leibowitz is an excellent, thought-provoking novel that will interest anyone concerned with the decades-old spectre of nuclear weapons, the inevitability of technological progress, and the long-term future of humanity despite what some would say is our dangerously weak grip on the technologies we inevitably create. Four stars.
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5.0 out of 5 stars After the Fall, May 16 2004
Jack Purcell (Placitas, NM USA) - See all my reviews
Imagine a Benedictine monastary, monks going through their daily rituals, preserving and reproducing holy documents without understanding them or why they're holy for hundreds of years through the dark ages. Now imagine that same monastary in some future time, some future dark age after the fall of all those things we believe make us a civilization. That's the basic theme of Canticle for Liebowitz.
As the churches of past times strove to have their Saints and holy artifacts recognized by the Church, so they do in Canticle. It's a good yarn, an intertaining one, an absorbing one. I'm not certain why this book isn't among those listed as 'classics', reviewed by hundreds of reader-fans. I do know I loved it when I first read it several decades ago and I've loved it every time I've read it since.
I see in the editorial review that the book had a sequel I'd never heard of. I'm going to try to chase it down. Meanwhile, I recommend you get yourself a copy of this one and begin the sustained process of enjoying it occasionally for as long as you have eyesight and enough light to read by.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Great example of 'Future History', March 29 2004
Canticle for Lebowitz is a story that will appeal to all types of readers: science fiction readerers because of its speculative aspects as well as fantasy readers due to its projection of people into a strange (but all too possible) world.
This novel does a great job of describing how certain human organizations (religion, in particular) could survive apocalypse and become the vessel of knowledge into a future age--not unlike the function of the Middle Age monasteries preserved Classical knowledge. It also provides a very believable account of how people might perceive technologies that have become incomprehensible. For example, one of the characters marvels over why ancient people put metal bars into stone (it is rebar reinforced concrete). It shows us how even things that we perceive as mundane in the modern world could take on a mystical nature to those who lack understanding.
For me, the best of this book was the first two thirds. These are the parts where the writing really shines and the you get a sense of how humanity could endure and rediscover science through a neo-dark age. The last part is very good as well, but I think the authors voice begins to creep into the story and the characters, and events unfold more for the benefit of the point he's trying to make more than any other factor.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Those who don't learn from the past...., Oct. 29 2003
600 years after the nuclear apocalypse, Brother Francis of the Albertian Order of Leibowitz (AOL) is performing his Lenten fast in the desert of Utah. During his fast, he sees a man wandering through the desert. This man leads Brother Francis to a hidden cave that contains warnings about the Fallout (a creature he would never like to encounter) and also some documents from the Blessed Leibowitz. He brings them to the attention of his abbot, who contacts New Rome withthe hopes that this may finally bring about the canonization of Leibowitz.
Jump ahead another 600 years. Leibowtiz has become a saint, and thanks to the efforts of the AOL, many of his documents have been faithfully copied and recopied. Brother Kornhoer decides to take one of the documents, a "blueprint" as it is called, and creates an arc lamp for the first time. Meanwhile, Thon Thaddeo, a scholar, needs to visit the abbey to peruse the Memorabilia of Leibowitz and the time before the Deluge and the Simplification. The abbot is unnerved when he discovers that the thon's companions are sketching the abbey as a possible military stronghold.
1800 years have passed since the Saint Leibowitz perished after the Deluge. Humankind is almost back to where it was with computers, cars that drive themselves and even space travel and colonization of other planets. the new abbot of the AOL, fearing the latest news of global discord and a possible nuclear war, assembles a small team to take the Memorabilia and other documents of the Deluge and the Simplification to Centarus, out in space.
This is a fascinating novel following the monks of the Albertian Order of Leibowitz, who are the safeguards of knowledge concerning the first nuclear war. It spans 1800 years and during that time, mankind goes from almost complete disappearance to a renaissance. But have they learned from the mistakes of the past?
The novel is filled with very rich descriptions of the new world in each of the three book sections: going from the post-apocalyptic to the desert-like conditions of the far distant future. Also, enough locations have similar names to giv ehe reader a certain familiarity. For example, much of the story takes place in the states of Utah and Texarkana. Already, the reader knows that they are in the former United States and in which area. Another intriguing feature of this book is te positive light in which religion is portrayed. The monks maintain the history and try to learn from it, to pass along that information. It's the world around them that maligns and misuses it.
This is an entertaining and intellectual novel that deserves it place as one of the classics of science fiction.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Outstanding post-apocalpytic literature, Oct. 2 2003
Ritesh Laud (Houston, TX USA) - See all my reviews
This one's really thought provoking, as any good science fiction novel should be. Based on a "what if" scenario of worldwide nuclear devastation (mainly by fallout) and the resultant shift of civilization back to the dark ages, Canticle explores a possible unfolding of events over the next millenium or so. It contains three novelettes set in widely separated time periods with no common characters (except for a strange one who doesn't age). All three parts are great; I think the first one is best with respect to the narrative and the last one is best with respect to engaging the mind.
All three stories focus on a single monastery, which was founded by Saint Leibowitz to accomplish a primary mission: to collect and preserve as much pre-war printed material as possible in the hopes that one day when technology catches up, people will be able to make use of it. The monks call this collection the Memorabilia. In the first story everyone outside the church is extremely hostile to any printed material and to education in general, because education and technology caused the development of weapons of mass destruction. So the monks have sort of a tough time preserving their Memorabilia. The story centers on Francis, a monk who when new to the order makes an interesting discovery in a fallout shelter.
By the second story, secular education is set to thrive again as the world begins to embrace technology and modernization. The Memorabilia start to show their worth while at the same time a large empire is rising. As technology improves, the church is taken less seriously. In the third story, technology has surpassed ours today and the Memorabilia's usefulness has been exhausted. However, the people of that time seem not to have learned from their past and the church prepares for a desperation move to start anew.
It's clear that Miller was a brilliant author and I wish he'd been more prolific. His style is casual and easily digestible yet full of subtleties and wit. Unfortunately Miller committed suicide before completing the sequel. It was published anyway in its incomplete form but apparently lacks the polish of Canticle. Nevertheless, it continues the second of the three stories in Canticle and explores new themes as well. I hope to get around to it someday.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Repetition Does Not Make Perfect, June 30 2003
Patrick Shepherd "hyperpat" (San Jose, CA USA) - See all my reviews
Canticle is one of the best post-holocaust stories ever written. Told in three separate sections that were originally published as separate stories, it details a post-nuclear war society where (once more) the Catholic church has become the repository for what little learning there still is, complete with monk scribes happily copying by hand the few remaining books. But at least for the first section of the book, the scribes don't understand what they're copying. When they uncover some ancient relics of Saint Leibowitz (a twentieth century engineer who tried to stop the book burnings and other atrocities) they end up enshrining one of his grocery lists and venerate a common blue-print as rare and sacred. Later portions of the book detail the resurgence of science, fueled by the church's repositories of knowledge, but as becomes increasingly obvious as you go further in the book, there is still no change in mankind's basic human nature, and war enters the picture again (and again) - covering almost a two-thousand year span.
There is a large amount of ironical humor suffused throughout this book, which makes its prime message that man is doomed to continuously repeat his mistakes, leavened only by the love of a distant God, much easier to take. In many ways this book is a hard look at both the ultimate value of religion and at basic human nature, couched alongside some heavy symbolism (the Wandering Jew makes multiple appearances) and some very sharp satire. The story itself is told with such emotional power that I found myself both plumbing the depths of despair and laughing uproariously, while the moral and ethical questions raised kept poking sharp daggers into my under-brain, just waiting for the chance to come to the fore of my consciousness and force me to re-live this book again and again.
Within each section of the book, characterization is excellent, from the young initiate Francis in the first section to the Caesar-like Hannegan and Brother Taddeo of the middle section to Abbot Zerchi of the final section. But the very fact that it is told as three separate stories leads to a little disjointedness, as the characters you have come to know and love in one section disappear in the next and a whole new set make their appearance. The unifying force between these sections is obviously the church, the one constant across all the years, and this provides the foundation for not only the story, but a framework for all the philosophical questions to reverberate against. Questions of is man inherently evil, what role God should play in an individual's life and his surrounding society, when does pride become hubris, what constitutes sin and can an earthly representative of God truly provide forgiveness, why do good deeds so often seem to lead to bad consequences, and many more. Miller does not really provide any answers to these questions - nor should he, as these questions are really only answerable at the individual level, but his story provides some powerful illumination of these questions, and his ending does leave some room for possibly the most enduring of human emotions, hope.
This book is what science fiction should be, a book that enlightens what the human condition is within a context of an all-too believable future world, literate and profound without hammering the reader on the head. Winner of the 1961 Hugo award, it clearly out-classed all the other contenders for that year, and ranks as one of the best the field has to offer.
--- Reviewed by Patrick Shepherd (hyperpat)
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5.0 out of 5 stars Let it be..., June 25 2003
FrKurt Messick "FrKurt Messick" (Bloomington, IN USA) - See all my reviews
Walter Miller's classic, A Canticle for Leibowitz, has been one of my favourite books since the first days I read it (I read it in three days, one day for each of the three parts of the triptych). The premise is one that we have come to recognise as a familiar theme -- post-nuclear-holocaust earth. However, this was a relatively new theme in the early 1950s, when this novel first appeared as a serialised story in the pages of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. Remarkably, for an early work, this remains one of the standards by which subsequent efforts have been judged.
--Fiat Homo--
In the first part of the story, we are introduced to Brother Francis, a member of the order of St. Leibowitz (well, not yet a saint, but considered one by his order), who, as it turns out, was an early survivor of the nuclear conflagration (later described as the Deluge, in biblical tones that recalls the flood of Genesis). Leibowitz, we discover, was looking for a way to help society maintain order in the destruction--being an historian, even though he was Jewish, he remembered the relative stability of society in the Dark Ages being guided and enhanced in the aftermath of fall of Rome by the Church in general, and monastic orders in particular. So, he founded a house, which continues.
Brother Francis, on a desert retreat, happens upon a scrap of paper that bears a possible signature of Leibowitz. Becoming ecstatic, he devotes his life to preserving and illuminating this document. Eventually he takes a doomed trip to New Rome (which we discover is in the heart of the North American continent). He is killed on his way back to the monastery, but not before delivering the Leibowitz document to New Rome and aiding the order in its quest for sainthood for Leibowitz.
--Fiat Lux--
In the second frame of the triptych, we come upon a political situation several hundred years later, much like the middle ages (Hannegan II under papal interdict while claiming title as Defender of the Faith) -- yet there are new discoveries both among philosopher/scientists of the present and researchers looking back into the past. There is to be to the order a visit from Thon Taddeo, a noted scholar and poet, and politically important person, and the monastery is concerned in many ways to make a good showing. Brother Kornhoer, figuring out texts on ancient electricity, contrived an electric light to the amazement and consternation of Thon Taddeo.
The poet, too, ends up dying on a journey, out in the desert.
--Fiat voluntas tua--
Again hundreds of years have passed, and mankind has once again reached the space age. Genetic purity is a concern (as mutations continue among many of the people due to the fallout of the Deluge). Warfare continues to grow in intensity and severity, and politics remains as ever ineffectual in containing the ambitions and greed of potential dictators. We have come into the nuclear age once again, and illegal nuclear testing has been detected. The world has become a much more secular place. But, once again, the monastery is at involved in the tensions, and more importantly, toward planning for life after another Deluge.
Visionaries at the monastery prepare to send brothers into space to survive what seems a sure collapse and nuclear war, so that they might once again be able to help rebuild society, preserving knowledge and the order of the Church.
* * *
This story is filled with small details of great insight -- how a Dark Ages person might interpret finding scraps of the modern world; how rediscoveries might be welcomed and not welcomed variously; how human personality is, alas, unlikely to change despite much pain and effort.
We are introduced to a man called 'the Old Jew of the Mountains' -- I at first thought this was the apostle John (who is referred to in legendary lore as the apostle who wasn't martyred, or the apostle who wouldn't die until the return of Christ); later I realised that it was Lazarus -- he who was raised from the dead by Christ, and because of this power, could not himself die, but remained outside society awaiting the return.
There are so many philosophical points which remain alive for those of us in the post-Cold War world, that this is a work of vision akin to Verne or Wells (though without their higher literary ability). This is a great story, and one that stays in the mind ever after.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A classic grandiose sweep of future history., May 13 2003
One of the earlier, and still the best, post-nuclear-holocaust novels around. Walter Miller treated the concept in a broad historical view, breaking the story into three parts at successive intervals of 600 years after the "Flame Deluge" (nuclear war) which presumably occurs in the late 20th or early 21st century. All three focus on the perspective of a new monastic order which emerges in its aftermath, dedicated to the preservation of scientific and technical literature preserved by their founder, an engineer later known as Saint Leibowitz.
To quickly summarize: part 1 is in the depths of a new dark age, begun by the widespread rejection of technology and learning following the holocaust. The monks, isolated in the North American desert, illuminate manuscripts based on ancient circuit diagrams and fearfully unearth a fallout shelter. Part 2 sees a second renaissance beginning amid warring city-states and nomadic raiders, with a gifted would-be scientist struggling to retrieve knowledge from the monastery's memorabilia. In part 3, as far from today as today is from the time of Hadrian, mankind has climbed back to and exceeded the heights of technology from which it fell. But in a supermodern age of robot traffic and interstellar colonization - and reinvented nuclear weapons - nations still vie with each other just as they always have. Is the only lesson of history to be that we never learn anything from history?
The religious framework is the chief continuity between the three periods, and gives a real sense of history - putting the far imagined future into a format with which one can identify is no small achievement for the author. Characters, though seeming somewhat po-faced, do come through and are more than two-dimensional. What is best, though, is the subtle detail of settings and circumstances which makes it thoroughly believable. The shift between different historical mindsets and perspectives is well-acomplished. My only criticism is that some pseudo-Scriptural passages require a Latin dictionary.
Miller can hardly be blamed for not fully realising the severe environmental consequences of a global nuclear exchange, such as the nuclear winter - he was writing before the relevant studies had been made.
Though not the longest novel of its kind around, quality is certainly evident over quantity. Anyone who enjoys intelligent and serious speculation should give this book a chance.
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A Canticle for Leibowitz
A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter Miller (Mass Market Paperback - Feb. 1 1961)
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