A Canticle for Leibowitz

A Canticle for Leibowitz

by Walter M. Miller, Jr.

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Overview

Deep in the Utah desert, Brother Francis of the Albertian Order of Leibowitz has miraculously discovered the relics of the martyr Isaac Leibowitz himself, including the blessed blueprint and the sacred shopping list. They may provide a ray of hope in a terrifying age of darkness, a time of ignorance and genetic monsters that are the unholy aftermath of the Flame Deluge. As the mystery unfolds, it is the search for meaning, for truth, and for love, that offers hope to a humanity teetering on the edge of an abyss.

"Angry and eloquent...a terrific story." (New York Times)

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780397005741
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 01/28/1969
Pages: 320

About the Author

Walter M. Miller, Jr. grew up in the American South and enlisted in the Army Air Corps a month after Pearl Harbor. He spent most of World War II as a radio operator and tail gunner, participating in more than fifty-five combat sorties, among them the controversial destruction of the Benedictine abbey at Monte Cassino, the oldest monastery in the Western world. Fifteen years later he wrote A Canticle for Leibowitz. The sequel, Saint Leibowitz and the Wild Horse Woman, followed after nearly forty years.

Read an Excerpt

The box was shaped like a satchel and was obviously a carrying case of some kind. It might have served any number of purposes, but it had been rather badly battered by flying stones. Gingerly he worked it loose from the rubble and carried it closer to the fire. The lock seemed to be broken, but the lid had rusted shut. The box rattled when he shook it. It was not an obvious place to look for books or papers, but--obviously too--it was designed to be opened and closed, and might contain a scrap or two of information for the Memorabilia. Nevertheless, remembering the fate of Brother Boedullus and others, he sprinkled it with holy water before attempting to pry it open, and he handled the ancient relic as reverently as was possible while battering at its rusty hinges with a stone.

At last he broke the hinges, and the lid fell free. Small metal tidbits bounced from trays, spilled among the rocks, some of them falling irretrievably into crevices. But, in the bottom of the box in the space beneath the trays, he beheld--papers! After a quick prayer of thanksgiving, he regathered as many of the scattered tidbits as he could, and, after loosely replacing the lid, began climbing the hill of debris toward the stairwell and the thin patch of sky, with the box hugged tightly under one arm.

The sun was blinding after the darkness of the shelter. He scarcely bothered to notice that it was sinking dangerously low in the west, but began at once to search for a flat slab on which the contents of the box could be spread for examination without risk of losing anything in the sand.

Minutes later, seated on a cracked foundation slab, he began removing the tidbits of metal andglass that filled the trays. Most of them were small tubular things with a wire whisker at each end of each tube. These, he had seen before. The abbey's small museum had a few of them, of various size, shape and color. Once he had seen a shaman of the hill-pagan people wearing a string of them as a ceremonial necklace. The hill people thought of them as "parts of the body of the god"--of the fabled Machina analytica, hailed as the wisest of their gods. By swallowing one of them, a shaman could acquire "Infallibility," they said. He certainly acquired Indisputability that way, among his own people--unless he swallowed one of the poison kind. The similar tidbits in the museum were connected together too--not in the form of a necklace, but as a complex and rather disorderly maze in the bottom of a small metal box, exhibited as: "Radio Chassis: Application Uncertain."

Inside the lid of the carrying case, a note had been glued; the glue had powdered, the ink had faded, and the paper was so darkened by rusty stains that even good handwriting would have been hard enough to read, but this was written in a hasty scrawl. He studied it intermittently while emptying the trays. It seemed to be English, of a sort, but half an hour passed before he deciphered most of the message:

CARL--

Must grab plane for [undecipherable] in twenty minutes. For God's sake, keep Em there till we know if we're at war. Please! try to get her on the alternate list for the shelter. Can't get her a seat on my plane. Don't tell her why I sent her over with this box of junk, but try to keep her there till we know [undecipherable] at worst, one of the alternates not show.
I.E.L.

P.S. I put the seal on the lock and put TOP SECRET on the lid just to keep Em from looking inside. First tool box I happened to grab. Shove it in my locker or something.

The note seemed hasty gibberish to Brother Francis, who was at the moment too excited to concentrate on any single item more than the rest. After a final sneer at the notewriter's hasty scrawl, he began the task of removing the tray-racks to get at the papers in the bottom of the box. The trays were mounted on a swinging linkage which was obviously meant to swing the trays out of the box in stair-step array, but the pins were rusted fast, and Francis found it necessary to pry them out with a short steel tool from one of the tray compartments.

When Brother Francis had removed the last tray, he touched the papers reverently: only a handful of folded documents here, and yet a treasure; for they had escaped the angry flames of the Simplification, wherein even sacred writings had curled, blackened, and withered into smoke while ignorant mobs howled and hailed it a triumph. He handled the papers as one might handle holy things, shielding them from the wind with his habit, for all were brittle and cracked from age. There was a sheaf of rough sketches and diagrams. There were hand-scribbled notes, two large folded papers, and a small book entitled Memo.

First he examined the jotted notes. They were scrawled by the same hand that had written the note glued to the lid, and the penmanship was no less abominable. Pound pastrami, said one note, can kraut, six bagels--bring home for Emma. Another reminded: Remember--pick up Form 1040, Uncle Revenue. Another was only a column of figures with a circled total from which a second amount was subtracted and finally a percentage taken, followed by the word damn! Brother Francis checked the figures; he could find no fault with the abominable penman's arithmetic, at least, although he could deduce nothing about what the quantities might represent.

Memo, he handled with special reverence, because its title was suggestive of "Memorabilia." Before opening it, he crossed himself and murmured the Blessing of Texts. But the small book proved a disappointment. He had expected printed matter, but found only a handwritten list of names, places, numbers and dates. The dates ranged through the latter part of the fifth decade, and earlier part of the sixth decade, twentieth century. Again it was affirmed!--the contents of the shelter came from the twilight period of the Age of Enlightenment. An important discovery indeed.

Of the larger folded papers, one was tightly rolled as well, and it began to fall apart when he tried to unroll it; he could make out the words RACING FORM, but nothing more. After returning it to the box for later restorative work, he turned to the second folded document; its creases were so brittle that he dared inspect only a little of it, by parting the folds slightly and peering between them.

A diagram, it seemed, but--a diagram of white lines on dark paper!

Again he felt the thrill of discovery. It was clearly a blueprint!--and there was not a single original blueprint left at the abbey, but only inked facsimiles of several such prints. The originals had faded long ago from overexposure to light. Never before had Francis seen an original, although he had seen enough handpainted reproductions to recognize it as a blueprint, which, while stained and faded, remained legible after so many centuries because of the total darkness and low humidity in the shelter. He turned the document over--and felt brief fury. What idiot had desecrated the priceless paper? Someone had sketched absentminded geometrical figures and childish cartoon faces all over the back. What thoughtless vandal--

The anger passed after a moment's reflection. At the time of the deed, blueprints had probably been as common as weeds, and the owner of the box the probable culprit. He shielded the print from the sun with his own shadow while trying to unfold it further. In the lower right-hand corner was a printed rectangle containing, in simple block letters, various titles, dates, "patent numbers," reference numbers, and names. His eye traveled down the list until it encountered: "CIRCUIT DESIGN BY: Leibowitz, I.E."

He closed his eyes tightly and shook his head until it seemed to rattle. Then he looked again. There it was, quite plainly:

CIRCUIT DESIGN BY: Leibowitz, I.E.


The name was written in a clear feminine hand, not in the hasty scrawl of the other notes. He looked again at the initialed signature of the note in the lid of the box: I.E.L.--and again at "CIRCUIT DESIGN BY. . ." And the same initials appeared elsewhere throughout the notes.

There had been argument, all highly conjectural, about whether the beatified founder of the Order, if finally canonized, should be addressed as Saint Isaac or as Saint Edward. Some even favored Saint Leibowitz as the proper address, since the Beatus had, until the present, been referred to by his surname.

"Beate Leibowitz, ora pro me!" whispered Brother Francis. His hands were trembling so violently that they threatened to ruin the brittle documents.

He had uncovered relics of the Saint.



Excerpted from A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller, Jr. Copyright (c) 1959 by Walter M. Miller, Jr. Excerpted by permission of Bantam Books, a division of the Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.


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Canticle for Leibowitz 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 26 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Miller's work is a singular achievement in literature. Though classified as science ficiton, it is almost like reading historical fiction, more specifically, a counterfactual (what if?). The beauty of the work is that Miller does not beat you over the head with the book's ultimate message (are we doomed to repeat ourselves?). This is because there are many discussions inherent in the piece. What is the nature of faith? What is martyrdom? Are science and faith irreconcialable? Is there hope? The world is a harsh place in Canticle, a complex place where it is easy to understand everyone's point of view, regardless of their motives. As already stated, Miller does not beat the reader over the head with any of it. He just lets the world unfold before you. A unique piece, to be sure, and definitely relevant to these modern, yet greatly troubled (and troubling) times.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Found in the stack pile of the local library, I found this book has not been checked out in almost ten years. This greatly surprised me in that I feel that this is one of the most thought provking novels that I have ever read. I would rank this book in the ranks with that of Aldous Huxley's, Brave New World and other great classics. This is truly a forgotten book worth reading.
Guest More than 1 year ago
A friend raved about this book to me so I decided I would give it a try. I have never been a big Sci-Fi fan but this one was very good. Miller uses some intersting techniques to keep the reader's attention. The book goes through a nuclear war and a new 'Dark Age,' and one of the main themes is how man reacts to rapidly increasing knowledge and power. It is centered on the religious sector and the Catholic Church, which gave me some new insight about the Church and its processes. Miller uses Latin phases and speech throughout, and it would be a good idea to refresh on Latin before reading this one. I didn't find the Latin too distracting, nor did I feel I missed much meaning by not understanding some of it. Overall and great read, but there were a few places that I felt were a bit abrupt. Definitely worth the time.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I can't remember when I first read 'Canticle' or even how it came to my attention. My copy is a third printing of the first paperback edition and has become a 'personal classic' with me. I've reread it every year or two for at least the last 20 years and it never fails to stimulate thought or provoke emotions. This is not SciFi as most people define it, and I think its wrongly classified as SF, which prevents many potential readers from exploring it -- that and the improbable title! This is a moralist play -- really about our past and our uncertain (and all too near) future. The instincts and foibles of the characters and the events are easily identifiable to any student of history -- and Hannigan is the face of so many who have ruled and abused truth and power. But its the humility and simple piety of the monks and abbots -- and their incredibly believeable lives and interplay -- what makes this trilogy so appealing. I place this book with my other personal classics: 'A Day in the Life of Ivan Dinesovich', 'The Pine Barrens', 'The Hobbit' and '1984'. It should be required reading at the HS level and even good fodder for English Lit at the college level.
ElijahBailey on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Absolutely fantastic. The only seminal classic of apocalyptic fiction which has undeniable literary merit, A Canticle for Leibowitz succeeds brilliantly on several levels. Must own for fans of the subgenre, and must read for everyone else.
peterwall on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Rather than exploring the problem of what Gregory Benford has called "deep time," or suggesting that monasticism could be an effective way to preserve knowledge across dark ages, or critiquing religious beliefs as deforming and becoming less relevant over time, this book is essentially no more than unabashed advocacy of the Roman Catholic church. Because of that focus, all sorts of interesting issues are passed over and ignored.It might be a compelling story for someone who already believes (or wants to believe) that the Roman Catholic church has something important to offer the world, but this reader got all the way up to the last page still wondering, "When will he finally reveal that these monks, having preserved knowledge across a dark age, have fulfilled their function and are now irrelevant? When will he shift the narrative focus to depict the complexity and nuance of 'secular' governance with the same care he used to render monastic life?" But those things never came and the book is just a fictional form of the Catholic obsession to place their own institution at the center of all history, as though none of the rest of us matter.Contrary to its reputation, A Canticle for Leibowitz offers nothing worthwhile.
labbit440 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
One of the best post-apocalyptic novels I have ever read.
andreablythe on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Following a nuclear holocaust and an era known as the Simplification, which brought on a new Dark Ages, the Brothers of Order of Saint Leibowitz attempt to preserve the written word and historical documents. The story begins with the discovery of documents that may have belonged to the Saint Leibowitz himself and follows the implications of that discovery over the centuries.This book blew my mind with sheer awesomeness. It's fascinating how it shows characters from one era interpreting the long distance past ("fallout" is a demon, according to the monks) and to see how the world and humanity both changes and doesn't change over vast periods of time. There are some mysteries that remain when the book is done, but these are of a pleasing sort, no more jarring than the mysteries of the nature and origin of the universe. I deeply enjoyed this book and seeing how this world worked.
lizzy-x on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This was a great book. Just great. This is one of the best and most well thought-out depictions of the events that might unfold after the apocalypse that I have ever read, and the extremely projected timeline is a great advantage. It goes well beyond the usual 50 or so years that generally encase post-apocalyptic fiction, and predicts what may happen when it has been so long that what actually happened is but a dim memory, remembered only through legend, in a world where even the learned and literate few believe that a Fallout is some sort of monster. In a testament to human nature, when the world seems to have finally rebuilt itself after thousands of years, nuclear war rears its head again, and we are left to speculate as to the fate of those who have left Earth to live among the stars. This is definitely the best post-apocalyptic fiction I have ever encountered, and it comes highly recommended.
BeckyJG on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The world following a nuclear holocaust will have few survivors and they will be frightened, confused, sick, and angry. In A Canticle for Liebowitz, published in 1959 at the height of Cold War anxiety, survivor's anger takes the form of distrust of and disdain for all things of the intellect. After the war (six hundred years before the book opens) and the resulting chaos and destruction it wrought, the masses set their sights first on the governments and rulers who waged the war, and then on those who enabled it with their theories and inventions--the scientists, teachers, writers, intellectuals. This time is called the Simplification, and its bloodletting includes seeking out and destroying machines and books and those who created and understood them. Bloodthirsty simpletons! the intellectuals call the masses, and they embrace the name; eventually, simpleton will become the accepted term for any citizen.The book is divided into three sections, all of which center on the Abbey of the Order of Albertus Magnus, formed by Isaac Edward Liebowitz (a scientist in the world that came before) in the third decade after the war. Fiat Homo--Let There Be Man--is set six hundred years after what has become known as the Flame Deluge, during a time of gathering and protecting of knowledge by a very few. The monks who follow the blessed Liebowitz are the lone protectors of intellect in the wasteland of isolated city states the world has become. Its members are "bookleggers" (and a more wonderful term I haven't come across in I don't know how long), who seek out surviving books and smuggle them to the abbey where they're buried in kegs, and "memorizers," who commit to rote memory volumes of science, history, literature, and sacred writings. The second section is Fiat Lux--Let There Be Light, and is set six hundred years after that. This period sees the first reblossoming of invention and discovery, as well as the beginning of war among the city states. Finally, Fiat Voluntas Tua--Let They Will Be Done, has the world coming full cycle, eighteen hundred years after the holocaust that toppled the last great civilization.A Canticle for Liebowitz is grim and extraordinarily pessimistic, but somehow still hopeful. It is peopled with rich, often funny, characters: Brother Francis, the young novitiate in Fiat Homo who, while in the desert on a Lenten fast, discovers, in a buried fallout shelter, a cache of documents belonging to the blessed Liebowitz; the Pilgrim, a mysterious, cackling old man who appears at key points in each of the book's three sections; and the Poet, a professional fool who spends some time in the abbey. Ultimately, although Miller's vision is one of history repeating itself, endlessly, as civilization after civilization replicates the growth, achievements, and pitfalls of the ones that came before, still, he sees the spark of optimism, goodness, and intelligence in the race that keeps us striving and, consequently, alive.
Karlstar on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Definitely one of the best post-apocalypse books of all time. Not a ton of adventure, romance or hard sci-fi, just a lot of thought provoking imagery of what a post-nuclear future might be like, and why we as a human race keep doing this to ourselves. Excellent reading.
BenTreat on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A smart, impassioned, painful [fictional/literary] investigation of self-destructive behaviors and the sociocultural hedges (esp. religious practices) we create against those self-destructive behaviors. Synopsis: The book offers three snapshots of times in human history after a 1960s nuclear apocalypse. Over time, a group of monks in what is now the American Southwest gathers together & protects a group of documents which help humanity to regain its technological/material wisdom -- but not its moral capacity.Nuclear weapons still exist, and (as of this writing) we have not had any nuclear apocalypse (though nuclear testing has harmed human life in several locations since the Hiroshima and Nagasaki attacks). It is hard to say, reflecting on this book, if it overstates the human capacity for self-destruction, or if it simply underestimates the political will of leaders to avoid using nuclear weapons -- or if it is right on, and we are actually facing an imminent, unavoidable nuclear apocalypse.Fair warning: reading the book might be frustrating if you don't know any Latin. Most of the Latin in the book derives from the Latin Mass, but most people don't know /that/ any more, either. All other languages used in the book (Hebrew, a little German) are explained in context, as is much of the Latin. If you know no Latin & read the book, I recommend that you accept that you will need to tolerate uncertainty in some parts (not knowing precisely what a monk said to another monk) and you'll find by the end that you're more comfortable with that than you were at the beginning.
ex_ottoyuhr on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Awe-inspiring. One of the greats of the 20thC, though unjustly obscure; head, shoulders, and torso over all other SF approximately ever.Three novellas about moments in the history of a Catholic monastary in southern Utah, beginning centuries after a good old-fashioned nuclear war brought down the United States and its civilization. Little more need be said. Similar in some ways to -- and contemporaneous with -- Asimov's _Foundation_ trilogy, though much better at characterization; has an unforgettable (though extremely grim) atmosphere and a strange but extremely effective conclusion.
Jim53 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is a very fine novel, presenting a unique view of a post-holocaust future in three stages, through the viewpoint of a band of monks who were assembled to preserve the knowledge of the civilization that destroyed itself. Is that knowledge a good thing? Will it enable mankind to recapture its pre-deluge mastery of the world? Does knowledge guarantee wisdom, or will it be used again for destruction? What is the role of faith and how does it interact with knowledge? The novel addresses these and other questions, with a mixture of seriousness and leavening humor. I grew up Catholic and studied Latin, which made some things easier to understand. A basic knowledge of Christian catechism is a big help in understanding what's going on in a few places, especially the final section. Miller's prose is uneven but quite creative in places. His characters have the required depth for their roles. His message is in the end one of hope. Overall, this is well worth reading even for those who eschew science fiction.
MarcoGaidin on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Damn.I think this has to be one of the best novels I have read in the last year. In fact it has to be one of the best books I have read - ever.I'm a content over form reader, but Walter M. Miller Jr. provided both in ample supply.Basic thread is about humanity and the mistakes we make. A lot of hard hitting commentary on our deficiencies and how we can't take responsibility for our own actions.It has a dark, somber undertone with very dry, witty humour that lessens the feeling of hopelessness somewhat. The book is eloquently written and as I mentioned the form is as good as any I think you'll read.I was left feeling sad and lost, yet strangely comforted at the end. I would recommend this book to anyone. Read it.
mrtall on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A profound, troubling, inspiring meditation on original sin, salvation and the Church. Beautifully written and gripping. Surely one of the best science fiction novels ever written.
sailordanae on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
An intriguing sci-fi novel, different from any of the other post-apocalyptic stuff I've read before. Understanding everything is helped by a background in Catholicism, but it's not necessary for following the story or enjoying the book. A classic in the field, definitely worth reading. I may start referring to myself as a booklegger. Recommended.
clong on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Miller offers a rather bleak outlook on the essential nature of mankind. In this book our raison d'etre comes down to feeding the buzzards. A Canticle for Leibowitz is composed of three distinct stories set in a post-apocalyptic future, stories that mark key events in man's re-discovery of lost science and learning. I thought the first of the three (about a young apprentice monk who discovers some artifacts of unknown scientific import) was superb, and the second of the three (set in the time that natural science is just starting to reemerge) was the least effective. I didn't really understand the Lazarus character (perhaps reflecting limitations in my understanding of Judeo-Christian archetypes). One of the book's central arguments is that scientists have a profound moral responsiblity for the uses of their work. This is compelling story-telling, and one of the great post-apocalyptic novels of science fiction. The urgency of the message may seem less pressing today than it did in the 1950s, but in a way that makes it even more frightening.
TTAISI-Editor on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book is often cast as "science fiction," but to me it has always read as one of the most terrifying -- and insightful -- books about the nature of our society, our need for and reliance on some kind of touchstone of faith, and (to drag out the cliche) man's inhumanity to man.
p_linehan on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I read this book in a previous, paperback edition in the early seventies. I have since reread it several times and still have that old worn out copy someplace. This is one of the most chilling books written about the possible effects of a nuclear war. It has a rather pessimistic view of human nature. For those of us who were raised in the Catholic church, its masterful use of Catholic imagery and traditional monastic life really hits home. In the third part there is a fabulously prescient assisted suicide vs. pro-life debate. This book is highly recommended
Trogdor7899 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A great read! Very powerful imagery and a rather depressing and condescending view of the human race, but not without credibility. This is an excellent piece of fiction that reflects the world's fear of nuclear power and what the consequences could be if we do not learn from history.I highly recommend to anyone who enjoys good science fiction, whether you be Catholic or Atheist.
dmboyett More than 1 year ago
Writing fiction about a post apocalyptic world is tricky because once it is written it is hard for it to appear dated as is the case of “A Canticle For Liebowitz.” The plot is simple. Mankind has very nearly destroyed himself in a nuclear holocaust. Slowly rebuilding what was the southwest United States is a combination of feudal kingdoms and city states with the planes being overrun by barbarians. What is left of mankind’s scientific achievements has been preserved by an order Christian Monks known as the Albertian Order of St. Liebowitz. The order is part a post apocalyptic Catholicism under the rule of the Pope in New Rome (where ever that is). It is at the Abbey of St. Liebowitz the reader sees how mankind rebuilds civilization only to destroy himself again. Outside a few far flung colonies the only other survivors are a few chosen bishops, priest, some scientist, a healthy collection of orphan refuges are sent off into space so that not only does humanity survive so will the Roman Catholic Church. If you can get past the improbable notion that the Catholic Church would survive a nuclear holocaust so intact this book is a very interesting and thought provoking read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
I ordered that book at bn based on a French enthusiastic newspaper critic when the book was re-issued here. I had never heard of it and it didn't look very engaging (I'm no major SF fan either). Boy is it a great read ! About everything is to praise : the story is really original, mixing the theological with good twists in the plot. It also spares us the usual SF habberdashery about flying saucers, non-human races, and so on... Plus the characters were very interesting & likeable, which is an achievement considering we're talking about monks (OK, Name of the Rose was also a good read). Lastly, the style is crisp, easy-to-read while sparkling with humor & intelligence. Not only a SF classic, but definitely a XXth century classic, along with Brave New World.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I first picked up this book on the recommendation of my undergrad philosophy prof and then let it sit on the shelf till I lost it. Luck would have it that I found another copy in the give-away box at the public libary, and after reading it I conclude that the library and town have given up a gem. Ironic that a book about a cadre of monks who hoard information solely for its preservation from the information phobic masses, ends up abandoned, unchecked-out in a decade, only to find its way into my cloistered, albeit ecclectic, library. Canticle pushes the science-fiction genre in so many pleasing ways, unafraid of tweaking the upturned nose of humanity on issues ranging from city-state politics to euthanasia. Also enjoyable was the fact that this dystopian novel lifted one's spirit and ended with hope amidst tragedy, unlike 1984 or Brave New World. An absolute must-read!