I just finished A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller Jr. It’s about an order of monks who preserve scientific knowledge after mankind nearly destroys itself in a nuclear war. Drawing inspiration from monks who preserved classical civilization in the Dark Ages, the book is arranged in three sections dated 600 years apart.
What I like about this is also what I don’t like about it.
What I like is it understands the grand sweep of history. The three sections are not necessarily turning points in history, but they shape and are shaped by the social currents running through time. Events are referred to in later sections, but they’re not necessarily even remembered by later characters.
It’s very true-to-life, in the sense that the machinations of Henry Clay and Cardinal Richelieu helped shape my modern world, but I don’t know that much about them.
The problem is that the individual sections tend to be a bit meandering and low-stakes. Your enjoyment of this book depends on your appreciation for history and your tolerance for monks.
Canticle for Leibowitz traffics in some heavy, heavy ironies. Miller spends a long period of time on a debate between an abbot and a doctor over the ethics of euthanasia. I won’t spoil it for you, but suffice it to say that debate is thoroughly mooted.
The book has tremendous pessimism about the human race as a whole, but it never *feels* bleak. Miller has a lot of affection for the Order of St. Leibowitz, even if they help hasten the end of mankind, and it’s hard not to share the sentiment.
I’d like to think that, if it really came down to it, I’d be a booklegger and a memorizer, too.