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Lest Darkness Fall

3.94  ·  Rating details ·  2,713 ratings  ·  175 reviews
When am I? Padway asked himself after the lightning-flash knocked him down. He knew where he was--Rome. He was there to study archaeology, and even though the lightning had left him dazed, he could see the familiar Roman buildings. But the buildings looked newer and the crowds in the street were wearing tunics, not suits! And a rich barnyard smell had replaced the gasoline ...more
Mass Market Paperback, F817, 174 pages
Published February 1st 1963 by Pyramid Books (first published 1941)
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Average rating 3.94  · 
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Dec 12, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
God bless you, Mr. Twain!

L. Sprague de Camp’s classic sci-fi / time travel / alternate history story, certainly influenced by Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, has stood the test of time itself very well.

Told with an adept eye for historically accurate detail and better than average characterization this 1939 publication is one of the earlier of the “golden age” of science fiction novels and most certainly one of the better written. De Camp was 3 years old when Twain die
Tadiana ✩Night Owl☽
Martin Padway is struck by lightning while visiting Rome and finds himself permanently displaced to the 6th century AD. A student of history, he decides to use his knowledge of technology and history to prevent Rome's fall and thus prevent the Dark Ages, and single-handedly jumpstarts the Industrial Revolution, introducing distilleries (to give him some money to live on and finance his operations), double-entry bookkeeping, the telegraph, the printing press, modern methods of warfare, etc. Yanke ...more
CONCEPT: A History professor is whisked back in time to Rome; only a few years before it's about to fall; with his foresight he attempts to not only create a living for himself but, at a later point, to stop the fall of Rome.

HISTORY SETTING: 6th century Italy; very interesting setup. I didn't know much about it and rarely is it covered except in passing as they focus on other parts of the world. DeCamp knows his material.

PACING: The story is only 260 pages long which is small for today's fantasy
Mike (the Paladin)
** Original review** Nov.12, 2009**
de Camp made up a lot of my reading back in the 70s. This is an interesting take on the time stream idea. Pretty good read.

Wow, someone just liked this 2 line review. Thanks.

I'm surprised at how sparse it is. I imagine it's because my wife had passed away not long before and I was looking at moving to a smaller place. Please allow me to expand it a little.

I read this book long ago but it made an impact as it's very well written and one of the best classic scien
Peter Tillman
May 31, 2016 rated it really liked it
Out of copyright. Nice FREE ebook at

Read Jo Walton's review,
She points out why I prefer this one to the Twain book: de Camp was a historian of technology, so this is a tech-heavy book. Re-read sometime?
And note that Dana Stabenow loves it!

More at
CAUTION: HEAVY SPOILERS in the rest of that wikipage!
3.5 stars. Classic time travel tale. Good writing, nice pacing and a tour of ancient Rome. What is not to like.
Richard Derus
Apr 14, 2017 rated it really liked it
Rating: 4* of five

A re-read of a classic SF novel rethinking the trope of time travel from Wellsian to Twainian tropes. The mysterious transposition into the past via non-technological means, though, is permanent in de Camp's work. I think that makes the story a lot more interesting and a lot more fun. The stakes are a lot higher for Padway/Paduei than for Snodgrass since Paduei is there in the past for good.

The parts of the story that don't quite work for me are the parts about Paduei's effects
James Henderson
Lest Darkness Fall is an alternate history science fiction novel written in 1939 by author L. Sprague de Camp. The book is often considered one of the best examples of the alternate history genre; it is certainly one of the most influential. The novel reminded me of Mark Twain's A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court. In it American archaeologist Martin Padway is visiting the Pantheon in Rome in 1938. When a thunderstorm arrives lightning cracks and he finds himself transported to 6th centu ...more
May 09, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I read A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court not long ago & wanted to reread this. I didn't enjoy either one as much as I have in the past, although I liked this one better this time around. The idea were great, but just a little too facile. I never really got the feeling of his struggles, although quite a few were mentioned. I thought 'Yankee' did a better job with the newspaper, for instance.

There were a lot of great ideas throughout the book, though. There are so many things I take for
Mar 01, 2018 rated it it was ok
Shelves: science-fiction
"You have to be careful, doing business here in Rome. It's not like a growing town. Now, if this were Constantinople--" he sighed. "You can really make money in the East. But I don't care to live there, with Justinian making life exciting for the heretics, as he calls them. What's your religion, by the way?"

"What's yours? Not that it makes any difference to me."


"Well," said Padway carefully, "I'm what we call a Congregationalist." (It was not really true, but he guessed an agnostic w
Erik Graff
Oct 26, 2008 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: sf fans, alternative history fans
Recommended to Erik by: no one
Shelves: sf
By Junior High I'd mastered the techniques of avoiding the attention of parents. "Out of sight, out of mind" was the principle. If Dad saw me, he'd think of something for me to do, something boring, probably stupid, like raking leaves or cutting the lawn. What was important to me, wasn't important to him.

The easiest method was simply to get up and leave before they were up and in their "right" minds. This worked fine during the relatively happy summers back in Meadowdale, but was not so attracti
Jul 15, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: sf-fantasy
This was one of my favorite books as a child. It quite possibly was a major influence on my subsequent undergraduate and post-graduate careers since it powerfully motivated me to learn all I could about the Ostrogoths, the Byzantines & the historical figures that litter the novel.

It didn't hurt that de Camp is a pretty good writer, too.
Brenda Clough
May 15, 2013 rated it it was amazing
One of the first and best really sensible time travel novels of all time. Don't omit to admire the way the hero gets out of all the religious wars of the era he's traveled to. ...more
Jul 28, 2018 rated it liked it
If I do read, find discussion in Evolution of SF group.
Ok, read. Not my kind of thing, I have to admit. It does make me want to reread Mark Twain's "A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court," though. I also would recommend this to fans of Terry Pratchett. I wonder what historians make of it... I know that I have no idea whether the politics and military strategies make any sense.

I do appreciate that Padway couldn't miraculously solve every engineering problem he set himself. And that he d
Oct 10, 2016 rated it liked it
This is my favorite among the original de Camp stories that I've read. I'd say, 3 and a half stars. A modern man 'slips' back in time to the late Roman era, just before the Dark Ages are set to fall. He has to survive and uses his modern knowledge to do so, and eventually becomes a major player in the timeline as he strives to prevent the "fall of darkness," (i.e., the Dark Ages). It's not high octane adventure but it's probably a fairly realistic depiction of the situation and the age. There ar ...more
Pinko Palest
Jun 04, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
A revelation. I feel sad because I did't know that this wonderful book even existed up until a few days ago. It's a great story, with full attention going to historical detail (this is what Rome in the 6th century AD seems to have been really like), but also insanely funny. The second part of the book doesn't seem to be as funny, though it is still gripping. In this instance, the comparison with Mark Twain seems to be more than valid ...more
Glenn Schmelzle
Jul 15, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: sf
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Aug 05, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: science-fiction, rome
I read this book twice. The first time was years ago and I read it just because it by L. Sprague. I thought it was o.k., I then put it on the bookshelf where it collected dust for a few years. Over the past few years I have been seized by what could almost be called a mania about ancient rome, my bookshelf here on goodreads has most of what I've read on the subject, which has been about 80% of my reading lately. I was between books in Coleen McCullough's wonderful "Masters Of Rome" series (finis ...more
One of the early AH novels. I read many of de Camp's work when I was in middle school and high school, but it's been over thirty years since I picked up one of his novels. "Lest Darkness Falls" is considered a classic and it is a very entertaining read. What I liked is that our protagonist knows some things (future technology), but he is limited and some of which he attempts fails. It's a nice contrast to Mark Twain's "A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court" in which our protagonist is perf ...more
Jul 02, 2010 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Nov 29, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
What would you do if you were suddenly transported in time? This is the adventure thrust upon Martin Padway, an American archaeologist in 1938 Rome who is struck by a lightning bolt sends him over 1400 years in the past. Stuck in a city and an Italy that had seen better days and equipped with little more than his wits, he struggles at first to survive and then to prevent the onset of the “Dark Ages” by using his knowledge of history to change events. Before long he finds himself drawn into Itali ...more
Kathy Burford
Jul 14, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Often considered L. Sprague de Camp’s best book, Lest Darkness Fall is science fantasy rather than science fiction, concerned with the past. Archaeologist Martin Padway is abruptly transported from twentieth-century Rome to what he learns is the Roman year 1288 Anno Urbis Conditae: the first half of the sixth century AD. Fortunately he knows both classical Latin and Italian and stumbles through by using an ersatz language supposedly halfway between the two. Rome is a complex stew of ethnicities ...more
Jan 28, 2010 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
20th Century Archeologist Martin Padway suddenly finds himself transported back to Ancient Rome on the eve of the Dark Ages. He decides to try and head off the fall of Rome.
I found this book tiring. The writing isn't so great and I began to wonder if it had been meant for children, and maybe it was, as it was written in the late '30's, when science fiction was very popular with children. My problem was the almost complete lack of inner dialogue. Padway is caught in a sudden thunderstorm and POOF
Lisa (Harmonybites)
Apr 21, 2010 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Everyone
A historian, Martin Padway, is transported to Rome of 500AD and proceeds to introduce inventions (like the printing press, Arabic numerals) and innovations to prevent the Fall of Rome and the inception of the Dark Ages. This is an engaging mixture of time-travel and alternate history--in fact, given it was written in 1939, it might possibly have invented the genre of alternate history. I particularly found amusing the picture of all the different Christian sects. De Camp appears to have done his ...more
Al "Tank"
Nov 21, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
My copy is about a hundred years old (Ballentine 1974), but the words are the same.

Modern guy with a classical education gets sucked into the past (6th Century Rome) and manages to survive at first. Then decides to stave off the coming dark ages. To do so, he has to drag the rulers out of their bad habits and introduce some changes before their time. It's not easy. He has to deal with Goths, Italians, Visi-goths, Franks, and other militant groups.

It's a great yarn and well-written. My knowledge
Sep 07, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: easton-topside
It's hard to decide whether to rate it 9/10 or 10/10. It's fast-paced, entertaining, and thought-provoking, but it *does* get rather bogged down by the end, and I found it hard to keep track of the characters.

Overall, though, it's excellent for what it does, and is deservedly known as a classic.
Jan 26, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
One of my favorite books ever, and my introduction into the sub-genre that is alternate history. A wonderfully creative and intriguing book about one man's efforts to turn the tide of history and save civilization. Fun, humorous, smart and a pure pleasure. ...more
Robin Hobb
Mar 13, 2014 rated it really liked it
A clever and well written tale by a clever and intelligent writer. What more could you ask for!
Michael Fitzgerald
Very, very smart science fiction.
Matt Mitrovich
Jun 04, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A funny yet still plausible story of someone being sent back in time and deciding to improve the world. I can see why this alternate history is still a favorite of so many.
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Lyon Sprague de Camp, (Pseudonym: Lyman R. Lyon) was an American science fiction and fantasy author and biographer. In a writing career spanning fifty years he wrote over one hundred books, including novels and notable works of nonfiction, such as biographies of other important fantasy authors. He was widely regarded as an imaginative and innovative writer and was an important figure in the heyday ...more

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