A Canticle for Leibowitz
By Walter M. Miller, Jr.

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Rating: Perfect!
4 Stars

First Published: 1959
US Trade Paperback Cover Art: Peter Jones
Pages: 338 

Review © 2009 by Stephen Roof
Genre:  Science Fiction (Post-Apocalyptic), Classic, Literature



A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller is one of the best and most unique post-apocalyptic novels ever written.  This is a classic science fiction epic that reads more like a mixture of modern literature and historical fiction.  Even people that normally avoid science fiction should take a chance on this book which has unforgettable characters and contains serious meditations on human nature, religion, love, and truth.

A Canticle for Leibowitz is written in three sections at 600 year intervals.  The first part begins 600 years after a nuclear holocaust, now referred to as the “flame deluge”.  The world has been plunged into a new Dark Age as almost all technical knowledge has been lost.  An abbey of Catholic monks seeks to preserve as much remaining technical knowledge as possible in the name of their founder, Saint Leibowitz.  The quiet existence of the abbey is given a jolt when a young initiate makes an amazing discovery.  He finds genuine relics of the martyr Leibowitz himself, including a long lost blueprint and a handwritten shopping list.  The discovery leads to unexpected consequences and, eventually, a harrowing pilgrimage to New Rome to provide further support for the canonization of St. Leibowitz.

Miller does a great job of describing a dedicated order of monks dominated by their religion amid a world plunged into ignorance.  The character development is outstanding and the descriptions of life in the abbey seem very realistic.  The novel probes deeply into many of the character’s hopes, beliefs, and fears.  There is also an occasional bit of sharp satire along with serious reflections on life and the human condition.

The second section of A Canticle for Leibowitz looks in on the abbey another 600 years into the future when there is beginning to be a rebirth of knowledge.  The relics saved by the monks are finally recognized for their scientific value but there is a clash between faith and rationalism.

The last section of A Canticle for Leibowitz takes place another 600 years in the future when science is beginning to surpass the level of learning when the original nuclear holocaust occurred.  However, the threat of nuclear war has also returned.  The learned Abbot of Leibowitz is worried.  Is mankind doomed to repeat history?  Can the Abbot find hope for the future?

I highly recommend this remarkable book to everyone.  Don’t let the religious aspects put you off.  Both believers and non-believers will really enjoy this work.  A Canticle for Leibowitz is a completely absorbing read that will make you think for days after you put it down.