WARNING: Some getting-to-know-you content; deal with it.

My father gave me a copy of this for my birthday as a teenager; he told me it had been one of his favorites. Though I've been a bookworm since I learned how to read, my copy remained unread until well after I had graduated from college, until one day I grabbed it at random before catching the train to work.

I started reading it on the long ride from Baltimore to Annapolis and for the next few days got little done--at work or at home--until I had finished. Even afterwards I felt like a clubbed seal and the so-called real world seemed dim in comparison to the world inhabited by the Albertian Order of Leibowitz. It is, in short, a stick of dynamite cleverly disguised to look like a trade paperback.

The theme is folly, hubris, and the temporary nature of things that we consider permanent. If you were to distill the whole book to one proverb, it would be "This too shall pass." But despite the essential pessimism of the plot (Miller seems to believe that a civilization that reaches a high enough level of advancement will inevitably destroy itself eventually) the characters are portrayed with warm sympathy. To top it off, in many places the writing is thigh-slapping hilarious.

This book should be required reading for any politician at the level of city councilman or above. Unfortunately, I have no hope that this will ever be so.

Written by Walter H. Miller, this post-apocalyptic novel centres on an order of monks practising a variant of catholicism which has grown up in the post-holocaustal world, and where everyday prosaic items from prior to the apocalpse have been imbued with huge religious significance.

One of the key figures in this religion, is Leibowitz, ironically, a jew

A Canticle for Leibowitz is one of the most critically acclaimed works of the science-fiction genre both for writing and concept. Unfortunately, the sequel "St Leibowitz and the Wild Horse Woman" released some 20 years after the original novel does not live up to it.

Here's a brief excerpt to give you the mythology and flavor of this classic:

It was said that God, in order to test mankind which had become swelled with pride as in the time of Noah, had commanded the wise men of that age, among them the Blessed Leibowitz, to devise great engines of war such as had never before been upon the Earth, weapons of such might that they contained the very fires of Hell, and that God had suffered these magi to place the weapons in the hands of princes, and to say to each prince: "Only because the enemies have such a thing have we devised this for thee, in order that they may know that thou hast it also, and fear to strike. See to it, m'Lord, that thou fearest them as much as they shall now fear thee, that none may unleash this dread thing which we have wrought."

But the princes, putting the words of their wise men to naught, thought each to himself: If I but strike quickly enough, and in secret, I shall destroy those others in their sleep, and there will be none to fight back; the earth shall be mine.

Such was the folly of princes, and there followed the Flame Deluge.

A Canticle for Leibowitz
Part I: Fiat Homo

A Canticle for Liebowitz, of diminished popularity since the Cold War, is a moralist novel in the tradition of Nathaniel Hawthorne and Herman Melville. Written during the age of nuclear anxiety, Canticle explores a post-diluvian wasteland of illiterate barbarians and cloistered monks. Today, when the fear of nuclear war seems to have abated in the public consciousness, readers of today can still appreciate the insightful socio-moral commentary provided by Miller in his undisputed masterwork.

Divided into three books, each published separately in science fiction magazines and later compiled into the whole, Canticle details the new dark age of man, the rise of a pseudo-Renaissance civilization, and a second Information Age. Through these, the theme of personal responsibility flows under the eddies of time that Miller so lovingly draws out for us. Vultures, violent death and the desert are constant symbols throughout, reflecting on Miller's harsh moral absolutism. His point, it seems, is that man will destroy himself by a compounded shrugging-off of his personal duty to save his race. His prognosis for mankind is dim, however; a last generation of Liebowitzan monks leaves the planet behind, shaking the dust off their sandals as nuclear oblivion overtakes the world.

The pessimism of Canticle may be compared to the novel Jem, in which colonists from earth settle a dwarf-star planet in three factions--which proceed to obliterate each other in due time, nearly causing the extinction of the species.

It is also worth mentioning that the literary merits of the work are equal to its message in depth and usefulness to the student of literature; the characters are drawn with depth, color and tenderness, and the settings are uniformly vivid. Though book two is weaker than those surrounding it, all three have their merits and a few flaws. Some readers may take offense at the pervasive Catholicism of the text; however, the religious aspect does not obscure the message Miller intended.

A Canticle for Liebowitz makes excellent public-reading, for university book-ins and other community demonstration.

It is notable that the sequel, Saint Liebowitz and the Wild Horse Woman is a novel of very different caliber, without the focus of the first book; that is, it is much longer than the original and yet seems to be far more diffuse in character and message. I personally found it very difficult to read, though I was amused by the timid insertion of a homoerotic relationship between two of the monks.

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