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A Canticle for Leibowitz (St. Leibowitz #1)

3.97  ·  Rating Details  ·  62,471 Ratings  ·  3,021 Reviews
Walter M. Miller's acclaimed SF classic A Canticle for Leibowitz opens with the accidental excavation of a holy artifact: a creased, brittle memo scrawled by the hand of the blessed St Leibowitz, that reads: "Pound pastrami, can kraut, six bagels--bring home for Emma." To the Brothers of St Leibowitz, this sacred shopping list penned by an obscure, 20th-century engineer is ...more
Mass Market Paperback, 288 pages
Published May 1st 1984 by Bantam Books (first published October 1959)
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Marcia Canticle can certainly stand on its own. I read the sequel may years ago, but I don't remember it well, and critical commentary is not kind to the…moreCanticle can certainly stand on its own. I read the sequel may years ago, but I don't remember it well, and critical commentary is not kind to the posthumous work. I read Canticle often as part of a course I teach, and I never, ever get tired of it. (less)
Susanj I'm about halfway through. A few thoughts:
1) at the time it was written and ever since, death of "our" civilization via humanity's bad actions looms…more
I'm about halfway through. A few thoughts:
1) at the time it was written and ever since, death of "our" civilization via humanity's bad actions looms large -- nukes, climate, you name it. the book is a working-out of one plausible life-on-earth scenario after one possible/plausible civilizational death
2) for the monks, the mini-cycle of one's own birth-life-death is pretty inconsequential. they just keep on scribing and memorizing, knowing that they're part of a much larger holding pattern that may perhaps land somewhere good far in the future.

I don't know what to make of Paul Sheppard's post; maybe after I get farther into Part 2....(less)

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Apr 26, 2009 Manny rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science-fiction
I'm not a Christian, but I live in a Christian society, and it's all around me. Reviewing on Goodreads brings home how many authors can be classified as some kind of Christian apologist. I have very different reactions to them. At one end, I can't stand most of C.S. Lewis - I feel he's there with his foot in the door trying to sell me something, and I'm just hoping that I can get him to take his foot away without being openly rude. At the opposite end, I think Dante is a genius, and that The Div ...more
Odd as it sounds, this is hot toddy, warm blanket comfort food for me. Admittedly, that’s not the typical description of this cynical, bleak-themed, post-apocalyptic SF classic. However, the easy, breezy style with which Miller explores his melancholy material manages to pluck smiles from me whenever I pick it up. This go around, I listened to the audio version which was recently released it was as mood brightening an experience as my previous read through.

Despite dealing with dark, somber subje
Jul 02, 2008 Tedb0t rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: big fans of pap sci-fi
I read this immediately following another well-known 1950s apocalyptic / nuclear holocaust novel "Alas, Babylon." That book, which I gave 4 stars to, was an excellent story and made no pretensions to literature; its prose was plain and transparent. The novel in question, "A Canticle for Leibowitz," turned out to be one of the most irritating kinds of genre sci-fi: one with ambitions to beauty and importance that falls far short of the mark.

Now, I hate to put it that way, because I would never cr
Jan 24, 2016 Lyn rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

A centuries old story following the evolving world after an apocalypse and centered on the monks of St. Leibowitz, somewhere in the American southwest.

The monks keep ancient artifacts of science and technology. Funny, sad, brutal, irreverent at times, but doggedly hopeful in its underlying themes, this is a science fiction gem but really transcends the genre to make a greater statement.

Scholars and critics have explored the many themes encompassed in the novel, frequently focusing o
Jennifer (aka EM)
ETA 09/03/13: Cloud Atlas to the reading path, below.


I was conceived somewhere late summer/early fall of 1963, roundabout the time the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty was signed by the US, UK and Soviet Union; close to a year after the Cuban Missile Crisis and about two months before JFK's assassination. There had been an earlier miscarriage, a child who would have been a year or so older than me.

I may have picked up, in the womb, an interest in the politics of that time. My father, in particular,
Mar 02, 2016 Apatt rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: sci-fi, pre-80s-sf
“Have we no choice but to play the Phoenix in an unending sequence of rise and fall?
Are we doomed to it, Lord, chained to the pendulum of our own mad clockwork, helpless to halt its swing?”

Looks like we are, at least according to Walter M. Miller Jr.

A Canticle for Leibowitz is a bona fide sci-fi classic, you'd be hard pressed to find a list of “all-time great sci-fi novels” without it. I remember being given a copy of this book in my teens when I was starting to become a serious sci-fi fan. I wa
Petra X
I am very cross. This is yet another book that I rated and reviewed and has disappeared from my shelves. I wonder if it happened when some librarian decided to add series information to it and thereby change the title? If it is no. 1 in a series there has to be a no. 2. There isn't. It isn't a series. According to Wikipedia,

"A Canticle for Leibowitz is based on three short stories Miller contributed to The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction.[1][2] It is the only novel published by the aut
mark monday
bleak themes with a light touch. although not an easy book to get into, once i realized the effort was a worthy one, it became an increasingly absorbing read. the structure in particular was interesting, challenging - and distancing. novels with religion at their core are often absorbing to me personally, and this novel is all about the impact of religion on the building and rebuilding of society. i appreciated the humanist values and found myself agreeing with the at times progressive, other ti ...more
A Canticle for Leibowitz: Are we doomed to destroy ourselves time after time?
(Completely revised and expanded after a great discussion at Fantasy Literature)

This 1959 Hugo-winning SF classic is certainly an odd fish in the genre. It’s central character is the Order of Saint Leibowitz that survives after the nuclear holocaust (the Flame Deluge), and the story spans over a thousand years as humanity seems determined to repeat its mistakes and destroy itself over and over, with the help of science
K.D. Absolutely
Nov 16, 2012 K.D. Absolutely rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to K.D. by: 501 Must Read Books
One of the best sci-fi that I've read so far.

A Canticle for Leibowitz is composed of three parts. In between each part is a period of 6 centuries. This reminded me of Roberto Bolano's 2666 (5 stars) that I recently read and found amazing. I am not sure whether Bolano got the idea from here but if it was a coincidence then there must be something happening around that time. Creepy. This first part, Fiat Homo or "Let There Be Man" happens 6 centuries from the 20th century. This book, the only one
Maybe it was the time of year. Maybe it was because my copy of the book was in an advanced stage of acidification with the pages cracking and the glue failing so I feared taking this book with me on the subway (images of high school moments when a dropped binder in a busy hallway could destroy a years worth of work in about three seconds). Maybe I read this too slowly, taking too many days off in between each sitting. Maybe it was the stress and anxiety of working retail, yet again, for another ...more
Veronica Belmont
There are some books that are called "classics," but you don't really understand why until you read it and feel that you've been changed. You know, for certain, that even though the themes have been played again and again, that the story is as everlasting as the bricks in an ancient abbey.

I'll save the rest of my thoughts for the Sword & Laser recap, but I'm glad that we've also read The Sparrow as an interesting comparison on the themes in both. Fantastic book, even if you don't speak a li
This is a story about humanity. It was born of the author's experiences taking part in the destruction of the monastery of Monte Cassino during WWII and the reasonable fear of nuclear annihilation that haunted many people for many years.

If in The Day of the Triffids there is a certain gladness on the part of the author that a society they didn't much like has been destroyed by a bright comet and wandering killer plants and now they can get on with rebuilding a new order much more to their own t
Kat  Hooper
Dec 18, 2011 Kat Hooper rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites, audiobook
ORIGINALLY POSTED AT Fantasy Literature.

It’s the dark ages again. A 20th century nuclear war spawned a “Flame Deluge” which destroyed human civilization’s infrastructure and technology, killed most of the people, and created genetic mutations in many of the rest. Then there was a backlash against the educated people of the world who were seen as the creators of both the ideas that started the war, and the weapons that were used to fight it. They were persecuted and killed and all knowledge was b
Jenny (Reading Envy)
Sep 24, 2012 Jenny (Reading Envy) rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Jenny (Reading Envy) by: Bill H
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
It's nice that a story written at the height of cold war tensions 52 years ago still manages to be relevant. This is a post apocalyptic story mostly set in an abbey in the southwestern United States, hundreds of years after a nuclear holocaust. That event becomes a sort of mythology for the times as the church tells the story of "the ancients" (us) in the form of a parable about the "Princes" of the world being given these weapons in the hope that mutually assured destruction would be enough of ...more
TEN stars. A book that would NEVER EVER make it through to a small-time SF magazine let alone a major publisher today, far too Catholic (and unapologetically so) and one of the greatest books I've ever read. I think it's fortunate that I waited until my middle age to read this as I'd likely not have had the depth of understanding to fully appreciate all the layers of this. Unfortunately it's the kind of book that also makes me question why I even try to write at all, it's shown me again that the ...more
Mar 31, 2013 Jon added it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Jon by: SciFi and Fantasy Book Club April 2010 Selection
I've tried to read this in paperback several times & the first section always put me to sleep much like The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, yet both are classics that really should be read. Ben's bio was great as an audio book & this one certainly went along far better & was well worth listening to. It truly is a classic showing chilling possibilities to the cyclical nature of our history & uses the Catholic Church as its vehicle.

Told in 3 sections roughly 600 years apart, th
Sep 20, 2009 Chloe rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It's rather difficult these days to understand the sheer terror that gripped the world in the aftermath of the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the subsequent decades-long arms race with the Soviet Union. In fact, I find it hard to get overly worked up about most existential threats. Perhaps it's threat burn-out. We're kept so constantly primed to expect something big and calamitous- climate change, bio warfare, outbreaks of nanobots, zombie plagues, pestilence- that I think most of us ...more
Nov 06, 2015 Amar rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-in-2015, kindle
Veoma dobar Post-Doomsday roman gdje se na kraju opet pitam , da li ćemo ikad naučit iz grešaka prošlosti ?

Podijeljen u 3 epiozode , Fiat Homo, Fiat Lux i Fiat voluntas tua (Neka bude čovjek, Neka bude svjetlo i Neka bude Tvoja volja) iliti 600 , 1200 i 1800 godina nakon nuklearnog rata i pokazuje nam ponovno uspostavljane civilizacije nakon što su pobijeni svi naučnici i spaljeni svi spisi ( pošto su oni krivi za rat )

Prve dvije epizode su jako dobre i imaju par veoma finih ideja , dok je 3. di
May 24, 2008 Werner rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Fans of serious science fiction
Recommended to Werner by: It was required reading for a course I took on science fiction
Shelves: science-fiction
Following the destruction of 20th-century civilization in a nuclear war, Jewish nuclear scientist Edward Isaac Leibowitz converted to Catholicism and founded a monastic order charged with salvaging the books that record humanity's heritage of literature and knowledge. Though the novel opens centuries after his death, his influence lingers throughout it, as the Order of Leibowitz fulfills its mission (like their monastic predecessors after the fall of the Roman Empire) to preserve written culture ...more
Without a doubt, A Canticle for Leibowitz is one of the classic post-apocalyptic novels. That it strikes so mercilessly at so many of our deepest fears, it is no wonder the tale has held up well over time. There is a fantastic interplay here of innocence vs. corruption, of reason vs. faith and intuitions, of hope vs. despair... The novel was significantly more emotional and gut-wrenching than I'd expected.

The novel is certainly worthy of a thoughtful and detailed review but I fear I may need mor
Nov 29, 2010 Ruth rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: dof-didnotfinish
I'd heard about this book for years. Finally decided now was the time. Turned out it wasn't. The beginning held my interest, although I did think the writing was a little self conscious. That got me through about 1/3 of the book. Then of a sudden, things shifted, and so did my attitude. Yawn. Skim. Skip. That got me through the 2nd 3rd. At that point I got wise. I am 75 years old. If I'm going to read even a portion of everything I want to read before I conk off, I can't afford to waste my time ...more
Sarah Anne
This was quite a remarkable work. The story has three sections that center around the order of the Blessed and later Sainted Leibowitz. The first section is a post-apocalyptic story about a young man who finds some artifacts that belong to Leibowitz. Yes, he really does find the Blessed Blueprint and Sacred Shopping List. The man, whose name is Francis, reports the find and is subsequently both persecuted and idolized, depending on who you ask. After this section we jump to a section where there ...more
I'm still in two minds about the rating I gave this book. On one hand it was well written and engaging throughout. On the other there were quite a few times, especially towards the end, where it felt like I was reading a sermon.

Going into this book I knew nothing about it apart from it being one of those "must-read" sci-fi books. I'd heard the name but that was it. Nothing about the storyline or the author. I went into it with an open-mind and no preconceptions. Now I think if I had read about
Mar 19, 2015 7jane rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I add this to my 'read' books having read it I don't know how many years ago (maybe even read it twice?), in Finnish translation. So what I write here is partly from memory, partly from having a look at my copy I recently bought.

It's good post-apocalyptic scifi. The apocalypse being a nuclear war, a very likely threat around the time it was written (1959ish). A group of cloistered monks secretly nourishing knowledge of past and trying to help some survivors. From this the humanity slowly patches
Sep 04, 2011 Simon rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: sf-masterworks, sf
"Nature imposes nothing on you that Nature doesn't prepare you to bear" quoth the abbot Zerchi in the final part of this book, not long before we are to find out humanity, in contrast, seems quite capable and determined to impose on its self that which it is not prepared to bear.

Are we in an endless cycle in which we build up and then destroy our civilization in our relentless attempt to restore our place in Eden? In our dark ages must he church gather and protect knowledge and wisdom from the v
Jul 02, 2008 Dustin rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Yeah, its preachy. Yeah, most of the plot happens off the page. Yeah, its light on action and heavy on a secular vs. religious debate. But it has a two-headed woman and an immortal Jew, medieval warfare AND rocket ships. Dude.

Also, I liked the structure. Supposedly the three sections were different novellas that Miller linked together to form this novel, which gives it a stop-and-go sensation that he uses to good effect in spanning over a thousand years of story, dropping and picking up charact
Feb 28, 2015 Carolyn rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: sf, dystopian, war

Written in 1959 during the cold war and the fear of nuclear war, this book has stood the test of time remarkably well.

Set over three time periods, it describes society a few hundred years after world-wide nuclear annihilation or the 'Flame Deluge" as it's remembered, when mankind is starting to recover. The backlash to nuclear war has been the 'Simplification' where all books are burnt and educated people killed to prevent to prevent any re-invention of the weapons that destroyed the world. A J
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From the Wikipedia article, "Walter M. Miller, Jr.":

Miller was born in New Smyrna Beach, Florida. Educated at the University of Tennessee and the University of Texas, he worked as an engineer. During World War II, he served in the Army Air Corps as a radioman and tail gunner, flying more than fifty bombing missions over Italy. He took part in the bombing of the Benedictine Abbey at Monte Cassino,
More about Walter M. Miller Jr....

Other Books in the Series

St. Leibowitz (2 books)
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“You don’t have a soul, Doctor. You are a soul. You have a body, temporarily.” 21012 likes
“The closer men came to perfecting for themselves a paradise, the more impatient they became with it, and with themselves as well. They made a garden of pleasure, and became progressively more miserable with it as it grew in richness and power and beauty; for then, perhaps, it was easier to see something was missing in the garden, some tree or shrub that would not grow. When the world was in darkness and wretchedness, it could believe in perfection and yearn for it. But when the world became bright with reason and riches, it began to sense the narrowness of the needle's eye, and that rankled for a world no longer willing to believe or yearn.” 68 likes
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