Review: A Canticle for Leibowitz

A Canticle for Leibowitz

A Canticle for Leibowitz
By Walter M. Miller
(Harper Voyager, Paperback, 9780060892999, May 2006, 352pp.)

The Short of It:

First published in 1960, A Canticle for Leibowitz is at once a telling tale of what happens to civilization after a nuclear war, and a reminder that history has a tendency to repeat itself.  

The Rest of It:

This story spans thousands of years as civilization attempts to rebuild itself after a nuclear war. The monks of the Albertian Order of Leibowitz are charged with preserving historical remnants and protecting technological advances until the world is ready to once again accept them.

I’m not even sure what to say about this one. In a lot of ways it’s a brilliant novel, yet… there was a simpleness to it which made it seem less so. At least, while reading it, I didn’t get a sense that this was one of the greatest literary works to have been published. However, it was (and is) considered a literary masterpiece by many.

As quiet as the delivery is, the message that Miller delivers packs a powerful punch and that message is clearly, that history has a way of repeating itself. As he describes the “simplification” process where all who are learned are either killed or attacked by mobs, you can’t help but think about other historical events which involved the hatred of others just because they were different.

Oh, and let’s talk about industrialization for a moment. The advances in technology that we make use of each and every day are welcomed for the most part, but at some point, the effects of having them will take their toll. We know this, so while reading this story, I found it amusing that these monks were fighting to protect technology.

This is definitely the kind of book that you have to ponder for a while and I must say, I’ve read a lot of apocalyptic novels yet none of them had this “bigger than self” feel. There is so much to discuss between the religious themes, the theme of recurrence and the balance between church and state.

My book club chose this book and we discuss it this Thursday. It will be interesting to hear their reactions.

Source: Borrowed from the library.

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17 thoughts on “Review: A Canticle for Leibowitz”

  1. I haven’t thought of this title since High School. I can remember reading this and loving it (and the title). But, can’t remember a thing about the book anymore. If it’s been eons since the last time I read it does it count as a re-read? I have a strict no re-read policy this year.

    1. I think if you picked it up again, it woul\dn’t take any time at all for it to come flooding back to you. So technically, it would probably count as a re-read. BUT… Another blogger told me that she loved it when she first read and then thought it was “meh” the second time around so why mess with a good thing? Right?

  2. I have heard about this book forever, but had no idea what it was about. I always thought it had an uninviting title. At least now if it throws itself in my path, I will be inclined to pick it up. I’d love to know what your book club thinks.

  3. Upon reading this again last year, of course I’ve already forgotten most of it YET AGAIN, but I seem to remember being annoyed by that symbolic guy out in the rocks…

    1. I wasn’t annoyed by anyone. A first! I do think that the intellectual piece of my brain took a little nap while reading it though. It really wasn’t until I talked to a coworker about the book that things started to click.

  4. Wow…it sounds like everything a novel like that should be…I really do not remember it at all…but it sounds powerful…and scary!!! I love the way you stretch yourself with your book choices…my stretches are not that long right now…

  5. I need to start reading this one next for the same reason as Hannah (Word Lily); it’s the May selection for the Faith and Fiction Roundtable, and it sounds like it will generate quite a bit of discussion. Thanks for your thoughts on it!

  6. This is the first I’ve heard of this book, that I remember anyway! I don’t read much apocalyptic or sci-fi but I do want to read a few of the good books. I looked this up and, although reviews were mixed when it was first published, it’s now considered a literary masterpiece by many, as you said in you review and compared to books by Grahma Greene and Evelyn Waugh!

    The religious themes especially combined with the technology sound pretty interesting. Do you think it’s a good book for a readalong? I might try and get one going…one day!

    1. I think it would be a great book for a read-along. There is a lot to discuss, the language is easy, it’s not long, and it’s interesting to compare it to what is going on in the world today. However, I was told that My Friend Amy is doing a Faith and Fiction discussion of this on 5/14, so if you do a read-along, you might want to make it for over the summer or something.

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