A Canticle for Leibowitz

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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. ...
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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)

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
The Barnes & Noble Review
In the introduction to this visually stunning reissue of Walter M. Miller, Jr.'s 1959 postapocalyptic classic, Mary Doria Russell classifies the Hugo Award–winning A Canticle for Leibowitz as Literature with a capital L: a novel that will change all those who read it. She couldn't be more correct -- this bitingly cynical and disturbingly prophetic look at the future of humankind will chill readers to the bone.

Centuries after a nuclear war devastated the Earth, Brother Francis Gerard of Leibowitz Abbey is on a Lenten fast in the Utah desert when he uncovers an ancient fallout survival shelter containing puzzling clues into pre-Flame Deluge culture. Some of the findings may even have belonged to martyred "booklegger" Isaac Edward Leibowitz himself, a priest who dedicated his life to saving knowledge for future generations. But will Brother Gerard's discovery help humankind avoid another self-inflicted catastrophe?

Almost a half century after it was first published, A Canticle for Leibowitz hasn't lost any of its megaton punch: If anything, Miller's words relating to humankind's propensity for self-destruction have taken on a kind of eerie aura of prophecy: "Is the species congenitally insane, Brother?… Are we doomed to do it again and again and again? Have we no choice but to play the Phoenix in an unending sequence of rise and fall?… Are we doomed to it, Lord, chained to the pendulum of our own mad clockwork, helpless to halt its swing?" A fascinating and paradoxical novel by an equally paradoxical man, A Canticle for Leibowitz is undeniably one of the best science fiction novels of all time. Russell sums it up perfectly: "You'll be different when you finish it." Paul Goat Allen
From the Publisher
“Extraordinary ... chillingly effective.”— Time

“Angry, eloquent ... a terrific story.”— The New York Times

“An extraordinary novel ... Prodigiously imaginative, richly comic, terrifyingly grim, profound both intellectually and morally, and, above all ... simply such a memorable story as to stay with the reader for years.”— Chicago Tribune

“An exciting and imaginative story ... Unconditionally recommended.”— Library Journal

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780553379266
  • Publisher: Bantam Books
  • Publication date: 9/28/1997
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 368
  • Product dimensions: 5.28 (w) x 8.16 (h) x 1.01 (d)

Meet 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.

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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:


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.

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:


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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Table of Contents

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 9 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 9 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 25, 2005

    Complex, yet simple

    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.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 26, 2004

    gives the reader a new outlook on both science and God

    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.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 22, 2003

    Interesting and Insightful

    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.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 25, 2001

    Cult Classic

    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.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 16, 2012

    Writing fiction about a post apocalyptic world is tricky because

    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.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 17, 2001

    An unknown classic ?

    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.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 28, 2000

    'Canticle' unafraid to place thorns in side

    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!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 8, 2000

    Miller's Masterpiece

    Set in a world recovering from nuclear apocalypse, A Canticle for Leibowitz blends humor and tragedy into a narrative of remarkable depth and power. Its story tells of a group of monks-- reluctant heroes with all-too-common frailties-- who struggle to preserve the knowledge that was almost lost in the aftermath of war, only to find the world ungrateful and unwilling to learn from its own history. As they each encounter the challenges of life & mortality, the characters enact a poignant retelling of the age-old parable of the human condition, making Canticle not only stirring but meaningful. More, the novel stands to this day as one of the most compelling indictments of human arrogance yet written, as well as one of the most unforgettable testaments to the pricelessness of human life. Satire, science fiction, and social commentary; a memorial of faith; and a penetrating glimpse of human psychology; A Canticle for Leibowitz is quite simply a great novel, and one I must strongly recommend.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 22, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

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