Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Last and First Men” as Want to Read:
Last and First Men
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

Last and First Men

3.81  ·  Rating Details ·  3,710 Ratings  ·  247 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)
More Details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about Last and First Men, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about Last and First Men

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  Rating Details
Sep 10, 2015 Matthias rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Matthias by: Deus Ex
Shelves: favorites, my-reviews
"Last and First Men" has been a unique experience. It teaches and entertains, not by presenting the reader with facts, but by serving him and her with a broad range of possibilities that don't only open the eyes but also the mind.

On a basic level, the experience was very pleasant because of the imaginative power of Olaf Stapledon. His imagination is second to none. The images he conjures up provided me with the biggest spectacle I've ever seen, and that I can hope to see in the future. A single
Richard Derus
Dec 19, 2011 Richard Derus rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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
Dec 13, 2008 Manny rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science-fiction
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
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
Alfred Searls
Jun 18, 2012 Alfred Searls rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: reviewed
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
Dec 10, 2012 Kate Sherrod rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Léonard Gaya
Aug 02, 2014 Léonard Gaya rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is truly an astounding novel, which ambition is to tell the story of mankind from the near future to the end of our species, some two billion years into the future. The beginning of this book can be easily skipped since it's an outdated projection of historical events from the time when Stapledon was writing (around the 1930's). It is when he imagines the distant future of humanity that his fertile imagination starts to take flight.

The narrator of this human chronicle is actually one of the
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
Nikolai Kim
Apr 17, 2013 Nikolai Kim rated it really liked it  ·  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
Jul 30, 2011 Chris Lynch rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Dec 05, 2008 Evan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Bart Everson
Aug 13, 2011 Bart Everson rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: octavia-sf, re-read
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
Ian Dennis
Jul 12, 2012 Ian Dennis rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Aug 10, 2011 Akshay rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
May 16, 2016 Sophie rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
The Last and First Men is considered by many to be a classic in the science-fiction genre, and now that I've finally read it, I understand why.

It is an unusual read in that there are no characters to become invested in, aspect I found refreshing, novel, but which may make it difficult for some to connect to the story. It is a futuristic history of Man told from the distant future. It covers two billion years of His existence and evolution, His rise and fall, happening time and again.

Despite the
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.
Edward Scott
Aug 07, 2012 Edward Scott rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
May 07, 2013 Bjorn rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: usa
It's certainly impressive - both in concept and in execution. I can't really say I've read anything like it; I'm reminded of Asimov's Foundation "trilogy", only with a scope much grander, or of... some book I read back in my SF days... something by Aldiss, perhaps? Something about mankind millions of years into the future, living in space stations underground... it's fuzzy. Also of Swedish sf/non-fiction astronomy writer Peter Nilson, whom I absolutely adore, but who is mostly untranslated AFAIK ...more
Charles Lor
Apr 21, 2014 Charles Lor rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Buck Ward
Written in 1930, Last and First Men is unique in my experience of reading science fiction. It is a history book, without characters. The only individuals named in the book, I think, are Socrates, Jesus, Gautama, and Einstein, all of whom live among the First Men.

This is the history of the succession of species of men as they evolve over a span of two thousand million years. It describes the rise and fall of eighteen successive human species. Some were actually artificially created by their prede
Apr 25, 2015 Bart rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: speculative, reviewed
Reviewing fiction as old as this is always hard: how to judge a book that was written for an audience that is generally dead already? In a way, this book is alien itself.

I’ll try to do justice to its historical relevance, and also say something about it as a contemporary reading experience.

This review is heavy on quotes that are often long. When I first started writing it, I typed in all the 21 quotes I considered using, and ended up with more than 1600 words already. I ditched a few, but quite
Zantaeus Glom
Jan 19, 2014 Zantaeus Glom rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Aug 24, 2009 Dave rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: reviewed
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
Mar 20, 2014 Jan-Len rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
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
Feb 17, 2014 Carol rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I can't believe how a book can seem so interesting on chapter one and fall to a dull story for the rest of the book.
The original idea was nice, 'we are the Last Men and we need your help, oh primitive First Men'. I can even deal with the insults... but I never understood what exactly is they needed help with.
It's more like a very long history lesson on all the different evolutions of men. That's it.
No character.
No story (at least, no story to actually follow).
No plot.
Just a recount of all 18 d
Feb 21, 2009 David rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: sci-fi
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
Peter Barney
Aug 05, 2011 Peter Barney rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science-fiction
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.
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »
  • The Rediscovery of Man
  • The Centauri Device
  • Dark Benediction
  • Emphyrio
  • The Complete Roderick
  • Life During Wartime
  • The Book of Skulls
  • Floating Worlds
  • Non-Stop
  • The Long Tomorrow
  • A Case of Conscience (After Such Knowledge, #4)
  • Bring the Jubilee
  • Jem
  • Pavane
  • R.U.R. & War with the Newts
  • Behold the Man
  • The Fifth Head of Cerberus
  • The Child Garden
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...

Share This Book

“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.” 9 likes
“The older Puritans had trampled down all fleshly impulses; these newer Puritans trampled no less self-righteously upon the spiritual cravings. But in the increasingly spiritistic inclination of physics itself, Behaviorism and Fundamentalism had found a meeting place. Since the ultimate stuff of the physical universe was now said to be multitudinous and arbitrary “quanta” of the activity “spirits”, how easy was it for the materialistic and the spiritistic to agree? At heart, indeed, they were never very far apart in mood, though opposed in doctrine. The real cleavage was between the truly spiritual view on the one hand, and the spiritistic and materialistic on the other. Thus the most materialistic of Christian sects and the most doctrinaire of scientific sects were not long in finding a formula to express their unity, their denial of all those finer capacities which had emerged to be the spirit of man.” 5 likes
More quotes…