My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I am continuing with my trek through all the end-of-the-world type books I can find. And this is one of the most famous.
There is not a single main character throughout the whole book. Rather, it follows the history of a Roman Catholic monastic order (think monks living together for worship and scholarship). The order was founded by an engineer turned monk after a great nuclear cataclysm that killed most of humanity. Learning and books had become despised and dangerous, so Saint Leibowitz founded his community to gather and safeguard the few books that had not been destroyed after the cataclysm. His hope was that once humanity had recovered from its state of barbarity the preserved books would then be of use again.
One might compare it to Asimov’s Foundation, except that here the community is explicitly religious and it is formed after civilization has been eradicated. It is a pleasure to see how, with many twists and turns, the vision of St Leibowitz comes to fruition–sort of.
Strengths: there is a lot of philosophy and ethical reasoning in the book. I like philosophy. I like religion. I find both topics interesting, so I enjoyed the fact that the author focused on these topics more deeply than other books in the sub-genre, like The Dog Stars or Earth Abides.
Note to readers: If you know anything about Roman Catholicism before the second Vatican Council (1962-5) it will help. The form of Roman Catholicism envisioned by Walter M. Miller Jr. was very clearly the continuation of the Church before the major changes introduced at Vatican II.
As noted, the overarching narrative continues for centuries in the book. I found it satisfying and surprising. My main complaint is that I didn’t realize we’d be jumping centuries down the road every now and then. But once I got used to it, it was fine. Some of the secondary characters felt a little flat to me.