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Left Hand of Darkness [Paperback]

Ursula K. Le Guin
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (77 customer reviews)

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Book Description

13 July 2010

Winter is an Earth-like planet with two major differences: conditions are semi artic even at the warmest time of the year, and the inhabitants are all of the same sex. Tucked away in a remote corner of the universe, they have no knowledge of space travel or of life beyond their own world. And when a strange envoy from space brings news of a vast coalition of planets which they are invited to join, he is met with fear, mistrust and disbelief. . .

'The Left Hand of Darkness' is a groundbreaking work of feminist science fiction, an imaginative masterpiece which poses challenging questions about sexuality, sexism and the organisation of society.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Ace Books; Ace Trade Pbk. Ed edition (13 July 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0441007317
  • ISBN-13: 978-0441007318
  • Product Dimensions: 21.1 x 13.4 x 2.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (77 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,523,247 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Ursula Le Guin has won many awards, including a National Book Award, a Pushcart Prize, the Harold D. Vursell Memorial Award of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, a Newbery Honor and the World Fantasy Award For Life Achievement.

Product Description


A beguiling read... Le Guin's sometimes mischievous narrative tone is crisp and fresh (

A jewel of a story. (Frank Herbert)

As profuse and original in invention as The Lord of the Rings. (Michael Moorcock)

Delicate yet daring, narrated with immense gravitas...Ursula Le Guin's masterpiece (- Science Fiction: The 100 Best Novels) --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Book Description

A stunning re-issue of one of the most outstanding and enduring classics of science fiction. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
First Sentence
I'LL MAKE MY REPORT AS IF I TOLD A STORY, FOR I WAS taught as a child on my homeworld that Truth is a matter of the imagination. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
46 of 46 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A wonderful book that makes you think 6 Sep 2001
"The Left Hand of Darkness" tells about the mission of Genly Ai, an ambassador of the Ekumen to Winter. The Ekumen is a union of most of the known planets, and Winter is a faraway planet still in its glacier period where all people are of the same gender. Genly Ai goes to Karhide and Orgoreyn, the main countrylike territories on Winter to try to convince them to join the Ekumen. Le Guin describes an inspiring world, very different from what we know, where there are no "men" or "women", but only PEOPLE, and where pride is a completely different concept. Being both an alien and a man, Genly Ai has to go through various experiences to learn different meanings of country, friendship, pride and love, and together with him we are indulged in reflecting more about these things and the world that we (don't) know. I would recomment this book not only to science fiction friends, but also to everyone who likes to think while they read.
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37 of 37 people found the following review helpful
Ever since my dad gave me this book as a teenager, it has had a permanent place on my all-time Top Ten Book List, even though my reading tastes have drifted away from Sci-Fi over time. As other reviewers have commented, it's not only arguably the greatest science fiction novel of the century, but one of the best novels in general. It just has so many different aspects - and it's one of these books that leaves the reader with a real sense of loss on finishing it not because it's a particularly sad tale, but just because it's come to an end.
The setting on the world of Gethen, where the inhabitants are the hermaphrodite products of an ancient genetic engineering project and can both father and bear children, allows Le Guin to make some fascinating comments on gender; but this alone would not have allowed the book to stand the test of time (after books like Jeffrey Eugenides' "Middlesex" and Jackie Kay's "Trumpet", readers are probably much more used to seeing gender as a fluid thing than in the late 1960s when Le Guin's book was published). The two things which make the book so special for me are firstly Estraven and Genly Ai's epic journey across the ice cap - which is a unique blend of thrilling adventure, unconsummated love story and philosophical musing on duality (light and darkness; male and female; good and evil); and secondly the way in which Le Guin makes the planet of Gethen and its culture so thrillingly real - she constructs folk tales, poetry and suchlike which add extraordinary resonance to the narrative. While immersed in the book, Karhide and Orgoreyn are utterly real places for the reader - since my teenage years, I still feel disappointed that I can't actually go there...
A twentieth-century classic in all senses; and this Virago Modern Classics edition is beautifully packaged as always, with subtle but effective cover art.
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28 of 28 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars the religious slant 19 April 2005
Rereading this brilliant book 20 years later I was this time struck by a little noticed aspect, its treatment of religion. It contains two perfectly coherant alien religions, both wonderfully thought-through and convincing. I cannot think of any other SF work that contains one, let alone two, convincing stabs at what the religious ideas of an alien civilisation might be like.
Ursula le Guin`s family background was in social anthropology -the real science that forms the basis of her books is social enthropology not Physics or Biology.
An inexhaustable book.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Major Classic of Science Fiction 2 Jan 2002
By A Customer
This is an overwhelmingly excellent book.
On the planet Gethen, also called Winter, humanity exists in a unique form - all Getheninans are androgynes. Genderless most of the time, a Gethenian may become either male or female each month, during the three-day-long kemmer period.
The societies that developed in this unique strain of humanity are explored by the author intelligently and sensitively. Ursula Le Guin has a rare talent - she can make the most familiar exotic, and most exotic, familiar. I am not the first reader of this book to wish for a chance to visit Gethen.
Set in the Hainish Ekumen long after the overthrow of the Shing, (look for other books in the Hainish series: The Dispossesed, Rocanon's World, Planet of Exile, and City of Illusion,) The Left Hand of Darkness tells the story of Genly Ai, First Envoy of the Ekumen to Gethen. It is also the story of Therem Harth rem ir Estraven, a high official of the Gethenian Kingdom of Karhide, called the Traitor, the truest and most loyal citizen Gethen has ever known.
The Left Hand of Darkness tells a captivating story of fidelity and betreyal, set in a world that is alien yet familiar to us. Ursula K. Le Guin's unique writing and incredible imagination make reading this book an experience unparalelled in any genre.
I only wish I could give more than five stars.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A trek to question one's perceptions. 27 Jun 1999
By A Customer
Format:Mass Market Paperback
This book won the 1969 Nebula Award and the 1970 Hugo Award for best science fiction novel of the year. I recall first reading this book when it first appeared and being stunned at the originality and the beauty. I have read every Hugo and Nebula winner (and most of the nominees) and this is still near the top. In this classic novel, all of the action takes place on the planet known as Gethen or Winter, a frozen world set in Le Guin's Hainish universe. All of the humanoid inhabitants of Winter are exactly the same as the humans of Earth except in the means of reproduction. They are all of a single sex and can assume either sex when in "heat." If one person of a couple becomes female, the other automatically becomes male. The culture and society of this world is shaped not only by the harsh environment but by this sexual structure. A main portion of the novel is concerned with the trek of a human ambassador and ethnologist, Genly Ai, across Winter's surface with a Getthenian. The man from Earth and the manwoman from Winter grow to know and understand each other. The novel not only raises issues about our perceptions of sex but the problems associated with cultural chauvinism. It is a book that all serious students of science fiction literature should read. For those earlier reviewers who awarded this book a low rating because it wasn't "classic" science fiction, you have to recall that psychology, sociology, and anthropology are all sciences (remember that the author's father, T. Kroeber, was the first Chairman of the Anthropology Department at U.C. Berkeley), just like physics, chemistry, or, in my case, biochemistry. And to the reviewer from Washington, D.C., (of March 3, 1999) who complained that Genly Ai was too uninteresting as the main character. Perhaps that was the point. Have you forgotten your Heisenberg?
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars A Masterpiece
Le Guin delivers exactly what I expect of her, a masterpiece, from the creation of her world to the depth of her characters. Read more
Published 16 days ago by Cormac O. Halmhain
3.0 out of 5 stars A missed opportunity
Ultimately a bit disappointing. The first half of the book was very confusing. The second half concerning the long trek across the ice was better. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Mark Bracewell
1.0 out of 5 stars sorry not a science fiction fan. just didn't get it
I tried very hard but it was just a different language. Won't b reading any more of this genre
Chosen by book club for a change. Good as a rest?
Published 1 month ago by lodging
4.0 out of 5 stars Still worth reading
I first read this book from library over 40 years ago. Recently reread some of my old Ursula Le Guin books and still enjoyed them so decided to reread this book. Read more
Published 2 months ago by George Stephens
3.0 out of 5 stars An interesting read, but not a great read
The left hand of darkness perfectly describes an alien world and its inhabitants. The characters are well defined and the storyline draws you in, so you really feel what the... Read more
Published 2 months ago by Avid of cranborne
3.0 out of 5 stars Just wanted to put down ... anywhere.
I chose this book as someone recommended it... Why I don't know, she normally reads and writes excellent stuff. This was just so wierd... sorry. P..WP?
Published 2 months ago by movedbymortensen
5.0 out of 5 stars Unusual story
I've never read anything quite like this before. Great characters and indepth detail about a world similar yet so different to our own. Read more
Published 3 months ago by wendy parsons
5.0 out of 5 stars Seminal Masterpiece
The Left Hand of Darkness is a genuine science fiction classic that, depending on whom you ask, is part of science fiction canon. Read more
Published 3 months ago by W.M.M. van der Salm-Pallada
5.0 out of 5 stars Intelligent and influential
The Left Hand of Darkness is part of that science fiction genre which creates an alien world, sends an envoy from humanity and uses this stranger in a strange land as a mechanism... Read more
Published 5 months ago by P. G. Harris
5.0 out of 5 stars A TRUE CLASSIC
I wished I'd read this years ago. It is astonishing how many male sci-fi writers have been credited with 'foreseeing' the future, particularly where technology is concerned, yet... Read more
Published 6 months ago by Wondereyes
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