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Last and First Men

3.82 of 5 stars 3.82  ·  rating details  ·  2,726 ratings  ·  169 reviews
The classic future history of human intelligence from one of the fathers of science fiction.

In his epic Last and First Men Olaf Stapledon decribes the evolution of mankind through the ages, reaching the very heights of civilization at one point, descending to the depths of near-extinction at the next, surviving onslaughts from other planets and overcoming the waning of sol
Paperback, 314 pages
Published September 7th 1978 by Magnum Books (first published 1930)
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Richard Reviles Censorship Always in All Ways
Rating: 1/2* of five

I cried "uncle" on p59 of this book, which was part of a group read on LibraryThing; it was written in 1930 or so, it's true, but nothing as ephemeral as passing time can excuse the line:

A century after the founding of the first world state a rumour began to be heard in China about the supreme secret of scientific religion, the awful mystery of Gordelpus, by means of which it should be possible to utilize the energy locked up in the opposition of proton and electron.

*buzz* yo
4.0 stars. WOW, this book is in a class all by itself for originality, imagination and scope. I can not believe I have not heard more about this book as being one of the true "classics" of science fiction. Written in the 1930's, this is a future history that tells the story of mankind over a span of 2 billion years (yes billion with a B) from 1930 until approximately the year 2,000,000,000. During that period humanity evolves through what Olaf describes as 18 different species of men (our presen ...more
Stapledon tells you the story of the human race, starting now and ending with its demise, well over a billion years in the future. People change in all sorts of unexpected ways; during some periods, they have godlike intelligence, during others they aren't even sentient any more. The book has obvious flaws, but there's just nothing else like it. Some of the images are impossible to forget.

Despite the fact that it's not very well known (none of my 115 GR friends have it on their shelves), an impr
Last and First Men: The ultimate vision of man’s evolution
(Posted at Fantasy Literature)
Olaf Stapledon's vision of mankind's entire future history until the end is profound, beautiful, and affecting, and was written way back in 1930. It is unfortunate that this work has not found a wider audience, though it has had a deep influence on many of SF's luminaries, including Arthur C. Clarke, who indicated that this book and its later successor Star Maker were the two most influential books he had eve
Alfred Searls
Eighteen distinct species of human being, that’s what you’re in for with ‘Last and First Men’ (1930). Not all at once of course, I mean it takes two billion years and 300 extraordinary pages from Olaf Stapledon to create this seminal landmark in literary science fiction. In fact this wholly remarkable work is so brave and so audacious in its scope that it leaves you dizzy at the sheer scale of the writer’s triumph of imagination.

The early part of the book begins with usual geopolitical speculat
Kate Sherrod
I'm not gonna lie, folks; of all the books I've tackled so far this year, Last and First Men has been the toughest challenge to my resolve to only read one book at a time. That's not to say it's by any means a bad book; it's part of the SF Masterworks Collection* for very good reasons. It's just that, well, gripping storytelling it ain't.

Penned in 1930 by a philosophy professor, Last and First Men is heavy on exposition and all but devoid of character, dialogue or even plot beyond "exploring the
This is famously one of the classics of science fiction. At the time of its emergence in 1930, its scope and audacity were without precedent. However, it has been thoroughly pillaged by other writers since then, and its themes and tropes are now the everyday stuff of SF. Stapledon was a prophet and perhaps a kind of genius, but Last & First Men is a victim of its own success.

Also, it is very much a product of its time. Its physics and cosmology appear naive to us today. At times this works a
Nikolai Kim
Apr 17, 2013 Nikolai Kim rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: The Emotionally Stable, and yet Curious
Recommended to Nikolai by: I can't recall.
Shelves: sci-fi
Although LSD was discovered only in 1938, while this book was published in 1930, "Last and First Men" is just about the trippiest book you'll pick up this side of the white light that ferries you to your next incarnation, unless you read Joyce's "Ulysses" backwards. Either Olaf Stapledon's brain produces endorphins and organo-opiates at an unusually high rate, or else it must be assumed that the writer and his wife maintained a substantial and quite esoteric mushroom garden.

Get ready to take th
Chris Lynch
Where's that sixth star when you need it? I am in awe of this book and the mind that produced it.

In my youth, I'd spotted this on the shelves in the local bookstore and my curiosity was piqued, but I never got around to reading it. Ah, if only I'd known what lurked inside those covers....

Many later titans of Science Fiction, notably Arthur C Clarke, Doris Lessing, Stanislaw Lem, Theodore Sturgeon, cite Stapledon as a key influence. It's easy to see why. Published in 1930, when science fiction a
Remarkable book, filled with enough ideas to generate hundreds of SF novels, which it probably has. Its obsession with racial consciousness and its insistence on psychoanalyzing entire civilizations feels dated, very 1930s, as the diction. Most of HG Wells reads like it could've been written last week, but Stapledon you have to imagine in a wool double-breasted suit, eating war time rations, and listening to the BBC on a wooden radio.

And the species of human pathology and catastrophe that he in
Ive been a fan of scifi for a long while now - I read practically everything but scifi is my greatest joy when written well and this one turned out to be the grandfather of them all!

I had never even heard of Stapledon or this book before I came across it in my favourite book store and had the good luck of not reading it for months but decided last minute to take it on a recent vacation with me, where I was able to give it due time - and believe me this is a book that needs it.

Not madly long, bu
A supremely interesting book, without a doubt. Stapledon projects his imagination as far into the future as it can possibly go, beginning with his own time (late 1920s/early 1930s) and slowly taking his readers on a journey that details the rise and fall of civilisations, man's evolution through a dizzying array of ages, climates, evolutions, worlds...there are wars, invasions, disasters, triumphs, incredible scientific discoveries. The whole thing is just so fascinating, because while on the su ...more
Ian Dennis
now this is a tale unlike any other I have read. the scope is absolutely epic, projecting farther into the future than I have ever read. also, the story telling was unique. almost without exception, there was no real character in the story, except perhaps that narrator itself. the way the story is told more closely resembles the style of historians, and even though that makes it pretty dry some of the time, it is definitely appropriate. some of the phases are s little difficult to get into, beca ...more
Bart Everson
One of my favorite books, but definitely not for everybody, Last and First Men is a future history that reads like one. That is, it reads more like a textbook than a novel. The time-scale accelerates as the book progresses, so that subsequent chapters cover centuries and then millennia in a matter of pages. There are no individual characters after the 20th century or so. Truly, it is not a novel, but a philosophical treatise in the speculative mode.

There are some errors in Stapledon's science, s
Jenny (Reading Envy)
I can't believe I read this in a day because it is not an easy one, basically an imagined planetary history spanning over 200 million years. Discussed on the SFF Audio podcast with Jesse.
Zantaeus Glom
One of the most absorbing and thought-provoking novels I have ever had the grand pleasure to read. This is a pure, and devastatingly potent Gnostic experience in prose form; and, without a shadow of a doubt, all copies of 'Last & First Men' should come with a clearly visible health warning: as this journey is certainly NOT for the emotionally squeamish. So, take care eager cosmonauts, as once read, your world view is likely to be altered irrevocably!!!

The use of language is sublime, and Mr
Man, oh man. It's been a long time since I had to renew a library book because I wasn't done reading it. I have to admit, this was a slog. Olaf Stapledon has an incredible imagination. His works inspired many of the great names and most enduring concepts in SF (Dyson spheres and racial overminds, for example). He's an unending font of insightful observation, interesting speculation, and far flung extrapolation.

He is not, however, a masterful writer. His prose soars at times, and I found myself j
Bill Wellham
Written in 1930, this is a kind of future history of mankind. This is not a 'story' in the normal sense, but more of a prediction for the future development of mankind over 2 billion years. It is a rather humourless book with a strange outlook on mankind.

In short.. 'Man' is great, he invents, he expands, he wars, he evolves. Man almost is wiped out through various natural disasters, wars, diseases; but always makes it through. After each near escape, he has evolved. These evolutions involve, 'n
Edward Scott
The vast time-scale of this novel alone is enough to earn it some admiration. Across eighteen different human species and two billion years, Stapledon tells the tale of mankind, starting around the 1930s. Though some of his early ideas proved incorrect, he is surprisingly accurate in his prediction of a polarised global society, in which the cultures of the USA and China are the two rival superpowers. Seemingly by the day, this vision becomes more poignant.
However, the 20th or even the 30th cent
A remarkable treatise on the present and aspirational fundamentals of human nature and its relation to our place in the cosmos. The scope of this 'novel' is staggering. It chronicles the evolution and relocation of the human race, over the course of 2 billion years, employing a cyclical 'rise and fall' scenario. Leaving aside the visionary and vivid imaginings of our future selves (which in itself justifies reading this masterpiece), the most thought provoking, but ultimately most depressing con ...more
The scope and imagination of this book are unlike anything else I've read. The only possible exception is Greg Egan's Diaspora, which reads more like a conventional novel, following the paths of a few individual characters. First and Last Men reads like a history of humanity as a whole. Instead of characters, it has nations and species. Stapledon's psychological generalizations about the human race of various times and places cannot help but seem dated, but the dizzying acceleration of the pace ...more
Jeanne Thornton
It's hard to believe that a "future history" written a decade after WWI could be so compelling while being so manifestly wrong, ranging from obvious & forgivable predictive blunders (WWII not mentioned, techniques for splitting the atom not discovered for centuries, spaceflight never attempted prior to several million years of evolution) to kind of spurious inventions (Mars being inhabited by telepathic gas clouds obsessed with worshiping diamonds, humanity spawning a brief "bird species" on ...more
David Ranney
There is much in this vision which will remind you of your mystics; yet between them and us there is far more difference than similarity, in respect both of the matter and the manner of our thought. For while they are confident that the cosmos is perfect, we are sure only that it is very beautiful. While they pass their conclusion without the aid of intellect, we have used that staff every step of the way. Thus, even when in respect of conclusions we agree with your mystics rather than your plo
Peter Barney
Fascinating book. Not so much a story as a flight of imagination on what could be. Very fertile soil for long sessions of pondering over the malleable nature of man and change. Recommended for lovers of ideas more than for lovers of stories. There are no individuals, as the primary protagonist is the entire race of men, in whole.
Charles Lor
An incredible odyssey, voluntarily focused on the "spirit" of successive human species (wrongly called "races" in the book) rather than particular characters. It mainly works, especially when Stapledon makes an effort to describe the culture of the species he is talking about.

Many of his ideas are incredibly prescient for a man in 1932. He predicts the fall of the "first" civilization (ours) due to fossil fuels running out, he describes with a scary accuracy the current political organisation o
Bill H
An astonishing work of imagination; I thought I'd read plenty of early sf, but this was totally off my radar until now.
Roddy Williams
Recently republished as part of Gollancz’ ‘Space Opera’ Collection (a gorgeously designed set of paperbacks with beautifully thought out black and white cover illustrations made from photographed paper sculpture and cut outs) this was a novel far ahead of its time when first published.
Stapledon, a communist and atheist it appears, here takes us through the twentieth century and then in leaps and bounds through Mankind’s sometimes enforced evolution, the downfall and eventual rebirth of civilisat
Jesse Toldness
It has been a long time since I was moved to write a review of anything I've read, but if anything can stir me from my lassitude, then this is it.

First off, a pair of warnings.
Caveat 1: This is not a novel. It is certainly science fiction of the highest and grandest sort, but it is not a novel. There is no plot and no protagonists, not unless you count all of human history a plot and all of humanity and its descendants characters. It is a Future History in the truest sense, written as a textbook
Nicholas Whyte[return][return]This is an epic story of the future of the human race, starting in the present day (ie about 1930) and ending millions of years from now just before the destruction of the solar system by cosmic catastrophe. I think of Stapledon's epic yet detached tone as a peculiarly English style of writing; I detect it also in Brian Aldiss, Christopher Priest, and especially Stephen Baxter who is in many ways Stapledon's heir.[return][return]The weakest p ...more
Peyvand Mohseni
This is one of the best books I have ever read. The sheer imagination and insight it provides is wonderful.
It takes you through millions and millions of years and the story of 18 species of human race, and they are so believable that you actually look forward to these events coming to pass. The human potential that this book pictures makes you look at the world differently.
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Excerpted from wikipedia:
William Olaf Stapledon was a British philosopher and author of several influential works of science fiction.

Stapledon's writings directly influenced Arthur C. Clarke, Brian Aldiss, Stanisław Lem, C. S. Lewis and John Maynard Smith and indirectly influenced many others, contributing many ideas to the world of science fiction.
More about Olaf Stapledon...
Star Maker Odd John Last and First Men/Star Maker Sirius: A Fantasy of Love and Discord Odd John/Sirius

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“Is the beauty of the Whole really enhanced by our agony? And is the Whole really beautiful? And what is beauty? Throughout all his existence man has been striving to hear the music of the spheres, and has seemed to himself once and again to catch some phrase of it, or even a hint of the whole form of it. Yet he can never be sure that he has truly heard it, nor even that there is any such perfect music at all to be heard. Inevitably so, for if it exists, it is not for him in his littleness. But one thing is certain. Man himself, at the very least, is music, a brave theme that makes music also of its vast accompaniment, its matrix of storms and stars. Man himself in his degree is eternally a beauty in the eternal form of things. It is very good to have been man. And so we may go forward together with laughter in our hearts, and peace, thankful for the past, and for our own courage. For we shall make after all a fair conclusion to this brief music that is man.” 7 likes
“There is much in this vision that will remind you of your mystics; yet between them and us there is far more difference than similarity, in respect both of the matter and the manner of our thought. For while they are confident that the cosmos is perfect, we are sure only that it is very beautiful. While they pass to their conclusion without the aid of intellect, we have used that staff every step of the way. Thus, even when in respect of conclusions we agree with your mystics rather than your plodding intellectuals, in respect of method we applaud most your intellectuals; for they scorned to deceive themselves with comfortable fantasies.” 6 likes
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