Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Book Report, Part 2, Nuclear War and a Monastery


Before I turn from war to peace, I will add one more book to the war list in which the war is seen only in its effects. That book is A Canticle for Leibowitz, which I re-read for the fourth time this year.  The book is set in the Utah desert in an Abbey hundreds of years after “The Flame Deluge” of the 1960s, a nuclear war. Most of the world was killed. Those that survived had mutant children, the misborn. 

Shortly after the nuclear holocaust, the world turned on the scientists and intellectuals who the survivors believed caused the war.  One of the scientists, before being killed, called the mob “Simpletons.” They took the name as a badge of honor, like the Breitbart followers who embraced being “Deplorables.”  They called themselves “Simpletons from Simpletown.” They burned books as well as killing the learned. They ushered in the “Age of Simplification.”

Some of the survivors started hiding books. The Church hid books in monasteries in the desert.  One of the people who hid books was a nuclear scientist named Isaac Edward Leibowitz.  He was eventually caught and martyred—hung over a burning pile of books.  The Abbey was named for Leibowitz who has been nominated for sainthood when the book opens. 

The book follows life in the Abbey from that time until civilization is reborn. This darkly ironic book is one of my favorites.  With nuclear threats in the air, mistrust of intellectuals common and Deplorables now a moniker for millions, this 1950s book seems sadly contemporary. 

Curl up and wait for the mushroom cloud.  You won’t be disappointed! The New Yorker published a long and thorough review of the book and how it came to be written.