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Last and First Men

3.79  ·  Rating details ·  5,591 ratings  ·  483 reviews
"No book before or since has ever had such an impact upon my imagination," declared Arthur C. Clarke of Last and First Men. This masterpiece of science fiction by British philosopher and writer Olaf Stapledon (1886–1950) is an imaginative, ambitious history of humanity's future that spans billions of years. Together with its follow-up, Star Maker, it is regarded as the sta ...more
Paperback, 246 pages
Published May 19th 2008 by Dover Publications (first published 1930)
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Average rating 3.79  · 
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 ·  5,591 ratings  ·  483 reviews


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Matthias
Sep 10, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
...more
Leonard Gaya
Aug 02, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is truly an astounding novel. Its ambition is to tell the story of humankind 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 The beginning of this book can be easily skipped since it’s an outdated projection of historical events from the time when Stapledon was writing (around the 1930s). However, his fertile imagination truly takes flight when he imagines the distant future of humanity.

The narrator of this chronicle is one of the last men, who sends
...more
Richard Derus
Dec 19, 2011 rated it did not like it
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
...more
Manny
Dec 13, 2008 rated it really liked it
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
...more
Bradley
It's really hard to describe this novel in a way that can do it justice because any cursory explanation such as "plotless" and "characterless" has some rather negative connotations. :)

Indeed, it's kinda impossible to have those here except in brief glances relying on bird's eye views before necessarily jumping on to the next BIG IDEA and Super-Imaginative setting.

For what we have here, way back in 1930, is novel of Future History influencing every big SF author of the day, even influencing Winst
...more
Paul Sánchez Keighley
There’s this moment in Douglas Adams’ The Restaurant at the End of the Universe where, to torture a certain character, he is put into the Total Perspective Vortex, a device that gives him a perfectly accurate glimpse of the entire mind-cracking enormousness of the universe and every single thing contained therein, including a microscopic pinprick that reads ‘You are here.’

Reading Last and First Men was like being put into the Total Perspective Vortex. My brain is currently quite broken. Or,
...more
Stuart
Apr 05, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
...more
Stephen
Aug 20, 2010 rated it really liked it
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
Kate Sherrod
Dec 10, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
...more
L.S. Popovich
Listened to this whole audiobook on an all-day bike ride. I loved sinking in to the uber-omniscient narration so much that I repeated the experience with his similar book, Starmaker, on a similarly exhausting fifty-mile ride. This novel is a survey of 1930s European society extrapolated and speculated upon until we arrive at two billion years in the future. It exemplifies the spirit of discovery in this genre and is one of the most compelling thought experiments in book form I have encountered. ...more
ash | spaceyreads
Exploratory, awe-inspiring, existential crisis-inducing.

I have never read anything like this. This is a documentary of humanity’s career, spanning from us, homo sapiens, to the last of its descendants some two billion years later. (Actually, I had to refer to the wiki to write this review because for the love of god I cannot remember every single descendent of men – there are a lot of details in this giant book. It’s a great summary for those who want to collect their thoughts after reading the
...more
Marc
Apr 03, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: science-fiction
I read this, in Dutch, when I was only 15. As far as I can remember it was the first great work of fiction I read. And it was awesome. Only recently I saw this is viewed as one of the early classics of science fiction, published in 1930. I don't remember much of the story any more, but I remember being flabbergasted by the breadth of the historical overview, extending far into the future (million of years), and the alternation of narrative chapters and almost purely scientific descriptions of co ...more
Alfred Searls
Jun 18, 2012 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
...more
notgettingenough
There is a wonderful film made in Iceland by Jóhann Jóhannsson shortly before his death, with music by him and narrated by Tilda Swinton. It is all of 68 minutes long.

Next the book....

This is slow going, it's very dense for a start, but also it takes you places. EG when he casually mentions television and I had to look up the history to see that he was being rather prescient in his expectation of where TV would head, when it was scarcely functioning as more than an idea at the time he was writi
...more
Palmyrah
Jun 23, 2009 rated it liked it
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 again
...more
Jean-marcel
Apr 22, 2012 rated it liked it
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 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
...more
Derek
Sep 20, 2011 rated it liked it
That...that was hard. It is made up of the dry, textbook material that other authors would show rather than tell, or thunk heavily in a preface or appendix. It has no characters or plot as such, concentrating on the large sweeping trends that become larger and more sweeping as it proceeds, and it periodically dives into issues of national or racial character and motivations rather than actions.

Stapledon's vision is undeniable, though a reader today may quibble about overgeneralizations of nation
...more
Calzean
Apr 08, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: author-england, scifi
Quite an outstanding achievement as Stapledon invents a series of civilizations that occur over millions of years and has mankind morphing and meeting with aliens. There's a lot of the author's philosophy and thoughts on sex, religion and man's greed. Written in the 1930s it dwarfs many of today's similiar attempts to look at possible futures for mankind. ...more
BridgeBurger Spoony
I want to give this three stars based on my actual enjoyment level, but the unique ambition of the novel defies simple ratings. Despite inspiring a swath of golden age writers, there hasn’t been another novel like this…except Star Maker, which you should read instead because it has a similar idea executed with far more finesse.

Even though it’s length sits at a mere 300 pages, I had to read this slowly over the course of many weeks. Partially because it’s so dense, and partially because it’s so d
...more
Chris Lynch
Jul 30, 2011 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
...more
Stephen
Jun 28, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a book that has a vast ambition. It tells the story of humanity over the course of 2 trillion years and through eighteen iterations of the human species. We are the first, and the story is presented as an account of our future by the last. I thought that it was great - exactly my sort of futuring.

In terms of usefulness, the first third of the book is most telling. It takes us from the point where the book was written (1930) to the downfall of the first men, which it puts at about 9,000,0
...more
Buck
Jun 27, 2015 rated it it was ok
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
...more
Baba
Jun 30, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: scifi, sfmasterworks
SF Masterworks 11: I'd like to think that this is what pure science-fiction looks like. One of the Last Men, trillions of years in the future recounts the tale of mankind from the First Men (Homo Sapiens, us!), through numerous iterations, dark ages, wars, utopias, dystopia, home planets(!) etc. It reads like a lecture, rarely focusing on individuals and talking about man as a race. When you step back and think about it no one has ever done anything like this, before, or after Stapledon.

It's not
...more
Bart Everson
Aug 13, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
...more
Akshay
Aug 10, 2011 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
...more
Ian Dennis
Jul 12, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
Divya Pal Singh
Sep 19, 2022 rated it it was ok
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Edward Scott
Aug 07, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
...more
Charles Lor
Apr 21, 2014 rated it really liked it
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
...more
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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

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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.” 22 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.” 8 likes
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