© 1960 Water M. Miller
A thousand years ago, nuclear war swept the Earth, rendering to ashes the civilizations which inaugurated it. In the southwestern desert, however, there lies an outpost of another civilization – one far older Just as an epoch earlier, when the monasteries of the Catholic Church preserved classical learning amid Gothic chaos, here the clerical orders dutifully safeguard what fragments of knowledge they can find. Humanity is populated with genetic monsters and the landscape deadened by radiation, but in the monastery of the blessed Leibowitz there is hope. As the secular world begins to climb back to its feet, however, with new Charlemagne at the head, hope for a renaissance is mingled with anxious anticipation of what mankind will do to itself once it has recovered from the shock. Can we learn from our mistakes?
The novel's end is bittersweet, as mankind by and large repeats its mistakes. This is especially tragic given how long the humans of Canticle had lived with their ancestors' mistakes: they were the ones living with greatly heightened levels of serious genetic disorders, and a landscape ruined in part by the ravages. They were the ones forced to claw their way back from the stone age after reaction against technology inflicted a 'cultural revolution' of sorts. Yet they persisted in straying near the edge yet again. There are reasons to be optimistic, however; at novel's end, the church at least has realized a plan to prevent this from happening again, by sending out a colony mission. In our own lives, we survived decades of brinkmanship and incidents that could have turned deadly.. We'll never truly learn from our mistakes, but when the consequences are as forboding as immediate and wholesale destruction, there at least we may hesitate enough to save our lives.
Nightfall and Foundation, in which knowledge is preserved by religious institutions, though in a less straightfoward manner.