A Canticle for Leibowitz: how history can repeat itself

a canticle for leibowitz

Title: A Canticle for Leibowitz
Author: Walter M. Miller
Year published: 1960
Genre: Post-apocalyptic, far
Threat: Nuclear holocaust.
Two words: Epic cycle.






Winner of the 1961 Hugo Award for Best Science Fiction novel, this is vast and scope and profound in its message. Spanning centuries of story, it is a literary tome that has been compared with many of the greats (such as Evelyn Waugh and Graham Greene) for its insights into the human condition. The only novel published by Miller, it remains in print half a century after publication, and is as true now as ever. 

What’s A Canticle for Leibowitz all about

Starting 600 years after global devastation (referred to as the Flame Deluge), the world has been ravaged by people reeling against technology. The titular Leibowitz, a Catholic convert, stockpiled the world’s knowledge and founded an abbey dedicated to preserving it. The story, split into three sections divided by 600 years each, chronicles the dissemination of knowledge into the dangerous new world, along with the results of this return to technology. It’s a damning tale that carefully describes, over thousands of years of inventive history, exactly how those how do not learn from the lessons of history are doomed to repeat it.

Why read this book

A Canticle for Leibowitz is nothing short of epic. The principle it puts across is simple in conception, but could not work without a story spanning such a vast history. Miller is careful to show the cyclical nature of technology and destruction over a very long period, never tempted to simplify such a point and present it in a more confined, less realistic time-frame. It’s a risky strategy, and not without flaws – as the excellently realised (and very different) central characters are confined to their separate sections of the novel, and the stories you’ve grown to care about are laid to rest at each change of timeline. But the narrative works, throughout, thanks to the through-line symbolism of the Church, the overarching (damning) theme of the nature of man, and the excellent literary ability of the author. Just be warned, though it’s enjoyable, its philosophy, so effectively presented, is unmistakeably bleak.



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