Book Review: A Canticle for Leibowitz

It’s a strange story of the world after a nuclear holocaust and the lone Catholic monastery that preserves the remains of mankind’s natural science only to see the unthinkable on the verge of happening again.

The style is funny and surprising as it spans two thousand years of future history, but the characters are realistic. They are people you might bump into and others you’ve known deeply for years.

Miller’s novel is soaked in the Catholic Faith with many uses of Latin, mentions of obscure doctrines and thoroughly Catholic characters, yet he is not preachy. The religious themes are so genuinely woven into the story that the reader sees a glimpse of the Faith at its best: being lived by real people doing only their best, though they remain imperfect nonetheless.

As a dystopia, Canticle does not disappoint. If it doesn’t beat Brave New World, it comes close. Miller’s characters are certainly more compelling, and he leaves the reader with a bit more hope for humanity.

It’s a pity this book isn’t more widely read. I’m guessing the Latin is a bit off-putting.

Ultimately, after reading this, I was reminded how close nuclear weapons have brought us to edge of annihilation and how closely we remain to it, though atomic war isn’t at the forefront of our minds anymore.

I was reminded of how deadly free will has been and can be and how quiet God’s providence works through it all, no matter how wretchedly we screw up.

Miller’s position on some of the questions that dog the faith are wholly satisfying such as the relationship between Faith and science and ethical dilemmas that make the world cringe.

A Canticle for Leibowitz, though fictional, stands as a towering testament to the compatibility between science and religion and indeed, science fiction and religion. The former, in Miller’s estimation, seems to need the latter.

Have you read this book? What are some good science fiction books (or any book) with strong religious themes that aren’t preachy?

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5 thoughts on “Book Review: A Canticle for Leibowitz

  1. I read that book a long time ago and was expecting a lot – as it was a classic. It did not disappoint.

    One series of Science Fiction books that have a religious underpinning, though one that is unique and foreign, are the Dune books.

    Thanks for sharing.

  2. I liked it when I read it, but one thing that bugged me while reading it was how the Church counted as martyrs anyone killed by the mutants. The mutants didn’t come off as particularly hostile to clerics; they were more animalistic than human. They didn’t attack priests because the priests were Catholic; it was because the priests were something to attack.

    Of course, I may have missed something when I read it (I tend to miss important points in books).

    And, like I said, I did enjoy the book.

    • I guess the book is a bit inaccurate about determining martyrs. I just loved the characters–they seemed so real. Also, his take on original sin in the dialogue between the abbot and the hermit was insightful and interesting. And, at the end, the little apologetic against euthanasia was out of the ballpark when the abbot tries to convince the young mother not to get euthanized although she has radiation poisoning. There were just a lot of enjoyable Catholic nuggets in here.

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