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Last and First Men [Hardcover]

Olaf Stapledon
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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Book Description

7 May 2009
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Product details

  • Hardcover: 316 pages
  • Publisher: Lulu.com (7 May 2009)
  • ISBN-10: 1409207242
  • ISBN-13: 978-1409207245
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

Product Description

About the Author

William Olaf Stapledon (1886–1950) was a British philosopher and author of several influential works of science fiction. Stapledon's writings directly influenced Arthur C. Clarke, Brian Aldiss, Stanisław Lem, C. S. Lewis and John Maynard Smith and indirectly influenced many others, contributing many ideas to the world of science fiction. The "supermind" composed of many individual consciousnesses forms a recurring theme in his work. Star Maker contains the first known description of what are now called Dyson spheres. Freeman Dyson credits the novel with giving him the idea, even stating in an interview that "Stapledon sphere" would be a more appropriate name. Last and First Men features early descriptions of genetic engineering and terraforming. Sirius describes a dog whose intelligence is increased to the level of a human being's. Stapledon's fiction often presents the strivings of some intelligence that is beaten down by an indifferent universe and its inhabitants who, through no fault of their own, fail to comprehend its lofty yearnings. It is filled with protagonists who are tormented by the conflict between their "higher" and "lower" impulses. Last and First Men, a "future history" of 18 successive species of humanity, and Star Maker, an outline history of the Universe, were highly acclaimed by figures as diverse as Jorge Luis Borges, J. B. Priestley, Bertrand Russell, Hugh Walpole, Arnold Bennett, Virginia Woolf (Stapledon maintained a long correspondence with Woolf) and Winston Churchill. In contrast, Stapledon's philosophy repelled C. S. Lewis, whose Cosmic Trilogy was written partly in response to what Lewis saw as amorality, although Lewis admired Stapledon's inventiveness and described him as "a corking good writer". In fact Stapledon was an agnostic who was hostile to religious institutions, but not to religious yearnings, a fact that set him at odds with H. G. Wells in their correspondence. None of Stapledon's novels or short stories has been adapted for film or television, although George Pal bought the rights to Odd John. Castle of Frankenstein magazine reported in 1966 that David McCallum would play the title role. Together with his philosophy lectureship at the University of Liverpool, which now houses the Olaf Stapledon archive, Stapledon lectured in English literature, industrial history and psychology. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars A book every intelligent person should read 29 Mar 2013
Format:Paperback
I came across this book by accident when someone on Radio 4 was extolling its virtues. Firstly, this is not an easy holiday read. The language is intense and complex. Persevere. Secondly, it is wildly inaccurate as foretelling the future. However, the themes are disturbingly real. He sees man (as we know him) as yet to evolve - still with an animal-based nervous system that is unable to reach beyond the pack/the tribe and destructive emotions. He also describes national and international conflicts that are close to the truth in theme rather than fact. I will not say any more. READ IT!
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Amazon.com: 4.0 out of 5 stars  17 reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars wanna get your mind blown? 24 Nov 2012
By chrisam - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
I first came across Last and First Men in (I believe it was a Pelican paperback which also featured the companion novel Last Men in London). I use the term "novel" loosely.

Anyone who reads his billions-of-years spanning imagined future histories of humankind, alienkind, and the cosmos itself will realize that here is a unique artist and philosopher who writes in his own unique medium. This is light millennia away from space opera. So fasten your brain tight and enjoy the ride of your life. A tip of the space helmet to Sunday Classics for bringing Stapledon's books to a new generation in reasonaby priced ebooks.
3.0 out of 5 stars A Classic Written in 1930 - Worth Reading But Flawed 9 Jun 2014
By Hillel Kaminsky - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition
This review is based on the regular Kindle version of the text - not the illustrated version.

I have mixed feelings about the book. On the positive side, it was enormous in scope, covering the 2 billion year history of mankind from us (the first men) through a total of 18 permutations of the species. Humanity has quite a journey including fighting a war with Martians, escaping a dying Earth, and living for a while on Venus before finally ending up on (and ending on) Neptune. I thought it almost unique that the author didn’t presume FTL travel, and indeed had even the last men getting sick in the vastness of space. I also liked that each successive species was not necessarily an improvement over the one before and that civilizations arose and collapsed continuously over the eons, with dark ages and golden ages.

On the downside, the writing is rather dry and reads a bit like an encyclopedia, as opposed to an actual story. There are no characters to get attached to, as the book is entirely about history and philosophy. What made me crazy was that throughout the book, (particularly in the last third) when things got interesting, Stapledon would say things along the lines of, “I can’t pause to describe what happened” or, “It is impossible for me to give any idea of the…experience” or, “Whose nature it is impossible for me to describe” or, “Of this obviously, I can tell you nothing.” If the author can’t be bothered to do this, why tell the story in the first place?
5.0 out of 5 stars Amazing book 10 Mar 2014
By A.A.P - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
An unbelievable story of the human race and his future, this journey takes you to the highest imagination possible to man in the contemporary time
5.0 out of 5 stars Foundation for many later science fiction stories 24 Jan 2014
By Deborah J. Harper - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
The book is fascinating in itself and in its influence on later writers. At times the story drags and drags and drags but it is fun to read the 1930 view of atomic power and eugenics and the future of mankind. Worth reading or at least skimming!
3.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating yet boring read 30 Nov 2013
By Rose - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition
This story is truly epic in scope. It covers two billion years of man's existance and evolution. His rise and fall happening time and again. We are considered the First Men. The Last Men are the eighteenth.
It was a truly fascinating and yet boring read. I had to look up how long this book was from a couple of different sources. All say that it is around three hundred pages but it really felt like it was a thousand. I would have moments where I would be glued to the story, but this would be very short followed by page after page of what I would normally call filler but really it was the writing style of the times, which was about a century ago. There are concepts in there that are truly dated, such as the view of women, and I was a bit perturbed by a couple of things Stapledon said but I had to remind myself that he was from an altogether different time.

As I mentioned previously, there were moments that I was glued to the story. It was with each of these moments that others must have been fascinated as well. It is said that this book has lent itself to be the inspiration for innumerable other stories. I would encourage any avid science fiction reader to take this book on. Like me, you will probably come across many instances where you are reminded of stories you had read prior - the probable inspirations for those authors.
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