A Canticle for Leibowitz
by Walter Miller, Jr.

A Review by Scott finished June 1, 2012

In one sentence: A unique and interesting, albeit depressing, take on the post-apocalyptic genre.

This review will contain spoilers!

In many sentences:

This book starts off with a great opening. I was drawn in immediately by the acolyte seeking his calling in the woods, and finding the shelter with documents from Leibowitz himself. This story continued to be interesting, but I was literally shocked by the sudden death of Brother Francis. Then, with the passing of several hundred years with literally a single paragraph, I did not know what to think of the book.

This transition was particularly awkward because it was so unexpected. It certainly doesn't make the book bad, but it's easily the worst part, not because it isn't handled well, but because of how shocking it is. However, perhaps because of this very shock, the subsequent transitions are much less jarring because you are more prepared. Ultimately, I think this structure for the book works well, and makes for a better book. If it had only followed a single story (or jumped in at the last) the growth and change that occurs in the world would have been far less meaningful.

The entire last section is extremely powerful. In particular, I found the way Miller handles the subject of the mother and baby dying of radiation poisoning with great skill. His ability to present both sides of the argument without patronizing either viewpoint was truly impressive. The situation is so difficult and so heart breaking, that you immediately want to side with the initial desire of the mother. Yet, the Abbot presents a powerful argument for the point of view of the faith without making him look crazy, or disrespectful to the suffering of the mother.

I really enjoyed this book, despite the depressing ending, and difficult subject matter. The death and ending of the Abbot, while difficult to summarize with any clarity, is particularly beautiful in its writing. I would recommend this to anyone interested in a unique take on the post-apocalyptic genre that has been getting so much attention lately.

First Line

"Brother Francis Gerard of Utah might never have discovered the blessed documents, had it not been for the pilgrim with girded loins who appeared during that young novice's Lenten fast in the desert."

Walter Miller, Jr. the First Line of A Canticle for Leibowitz

Originally Published Jan. 1, 1960

Paperback edition:

313 pages - Aug. 1, 1976

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