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Last and First Men Paperback – 1963

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Paperback, 1963
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Product details

  • Paperback
  • Publisher: Penguin Books; Reprint edition (1963)
  • ASIN: B005MQJ1F2
  • Product Dimensions: 18 x 11 x 1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 2,595,201 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Back Cover
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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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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 7 reviews
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
A Classic Written in 1930 - Worth Reading But Flawed 9 Jun. 2014
By Hillel Kaminsky - Published on
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?
Get ready to take the red pill 23 April 2015
By Nikolai Kim - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Although LSD was discovered only in 1938, while this book was published in 1930, "Last and First Men" is just about the trippiest book you'll pick up this side of the white light that ferries you to your next incarnation. Either Olaf Stapledon's brain produces endorphins and organo-opiates at an unusually high rate, or else it must be assumed that the writer and his wife maintained a substantial and quite esoteric mushroom garden.

Get ready to take the red pill.

The journey for which Stapledon is our guide is nothing less than the Evolution of Man, not from the past to the present, but from the present to the far, far, far, far, very, very, very, almost nuttily far future. There is no standard plot. And the story is told retrospectively.

This future odyssey begins with a recounting of a near-doomsday war between Asia and the West; and so, for the conspiratorially minded, you are likely to suspect... what else?... a sort of conspiracy about deliberately fomented wars intended to affect the arc of the Evolution of Man. But these suspicions disappear in due course as the result of an obliterating level of dilution as Stapledon's "future history" of Man grows wilder, more fantastic, frothily awe inspiring and disorientingly tragic.

For some, this book will test your emotional stability. For others, it will open up pathways in your imaginative capacities to the greatest degree possible without chemical assistance.

If I had taken the same mushrooms as Stapledon, I would certainly have given this book five stars. However, because I remained largely sober through this volume, I can only offer up 4 with another half-star for Stapledon's willingness to write a novel with no real characters and barely any dialog, but with a fluidity of imagination similar to that of a toddler, though the topic itself is phantasmagorically sophisticated; and yet, all of this overwhelming structurelessness holds together, forcing one to turn the page though the clock advises you that it is nearly dawn.

Therefore, be sure to start this book on a Friday or Saturday evening. The question of inebriants or other pharmacological accelerants to help you on the way, I leave entirely to you, your God, or that significant other to whom you have entrusted your emotional and neurological well-being.
A mixed bag... 20 Mar. 2015
By Marty - Published on
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
There are three things to know about this book:

The Ugly: Stapledon does a few things that us late first men find nasty. He is fond of racial stereotypes. Jews are cunning and tribal; blacks excel in athletics and dance; the British are highly skilled in rational, dispassionate thought; etc. And what’s more, diversity in cultural temperament (at least among the first men) is a negative. The conflux of these attributes leads to conflict and violence. In order to accept diversity, current day humans would have to be physically and mentally altered.

The Bad: This is not a novel. It’s a monologue conducted by a single voice – a man of the distant future “communicating” with a man of our own day. And the monologue spans over a billion years. And sometimes it actually feels that way! The central theme seems to be that civilizations rise and fall. Some last longer than others. But when they fall, their members sink back to total barbarism – somewhat repetitive. The ultimate goal is to appreciate the “beauty” in this bloody cycle.

The Good: Amazing predictions about future events! He predicts the oil crises of the 20th and 21st centuries, genocidal acts reminiscent of the holocaust, the development of nuclear (or something a lot like) nuclear power. He explores the Lem/Kurtzweil singularities where humans engage in “auto-evolution” by modifying themselves. He even addresses the future of sex with some degree of imagination – to the great chagrin of C.S. Lewis.

He introduced many themes that have echoed through some of the most famous science fiction novels post dating this one. He addressed the issues of collective intelligence (think Childhood’s End, Fire Upon the Deep, to name a few.) He even introduced the “Dyson Sphere” before Dyson (think Ringworld.) He invented the idea of an intersteller “virus” that stars caught, killing them (the movie Knowing with Nicholas Cage.)

So, bottom line, the book is a little boring because of the single voice droning on throughout the text. It’s pretty offensive in a lot of places. But if you’re a real sci fi fan, you’d love to see the origin of quite a few of the themes current in the genre.
Amazing book 10 Mar. 2014
By A.A.P - Published on
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
Foundation for many later science fiction stories 24 Jan. 2014
By Deborah J. Harper - Published on
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!
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