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Last and First Men, etc (Pelican Books. A3.)

4.2 out of 5 stars 46 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Unknown Binding
  • ASIN: B0017ZTXTQ
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (46 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 4,756,081 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By DAVID BRYSON TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 4 July 2002
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
After 20 years of reading about Last and First Men (they had not even heard of it in Hay-on-Wye)I have found it at last. If your idea of a novel is a book about people's relationships, it may not be for you. That particular element of novels bores me to death and this is more my idea of a compelling read. The history of mankind from 1930 to a few billion years hence is pre-written by a philosopher and fantasist possessed of a great and unquiet mind, inhuman but not inhumane as someone has well put it. On no account skip the opening chapters, whatever anyone tells you. The fact that S got the world's history 1930-2002 completely wrong is not the point -- the rest of it will almost certainly prove to be all wrong too, if we think like that. What these first chapters do is to get us into the author's weird exalted and passionless mindset. He is not so much on another planet as in an alternative universe. It is entirely to the book's advantage that he has no grasp of realpolitik and even that he has no detectable sense of humour -- when I was beginning to feel the latter as a lack I came to the only bit where he ascribes humour to any of his characters, a race of monkeys depicted in general unsympathetically and not least for their possession of this deplorable characteristic. That put me in my place I can tell you. From start to finish I got no sense of either pity or cruelty as he chronicles the the periodic near-annihilations that overtake the various successive human races, and while his account of the systematic extermination of the intelligent life on Venus filled me with a wrenching sense of tragedy that I did not feel for any of the mankinds the author himself seemed as unmoved as ever. If Wuthering Heights was written by an eagle, who or what wrote Last and First Men?Read more ›
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Format: Paperback
This book does nothing less than plot the next two thousand million years of human history. We see the extinction of our own species, and the rise and fall of seventeen others. Civilizations rise and fall, planets are laid waste, humanity repeatedly ascends to transcendance, only to fall to animality for millions of years at a time before the next species comes into its own. The exegesis (there is no other word) ends in a tragedy as the final species of Man (a five-eyed, genetically engineered giant, living on Neptune) gets a glimmer of the Meaning Of It All before a cruel and merciless annihilation. If that was not astounding enough, this whole thing was written in 1930 by a philosopher who hadn't heard of SF. Stapledon is now revered as the SF writer's SF writer. This will clearly not be for everyone. The unimaginative drones of Eng Lit will dismiss it as silliness, but don't be deterred. The prose is difficult but starkly beautiful without being remotely sentimental -- in tone, it is reminiscent of the more serious parts of H. G. Wells. The atmosphere, which H. P. Lovecraft identifies as a crucial ingredient of genre fiction, has a touch of Poe, as well as the cosmic dream sequence in horror classic House on the Borderland by Hope Hodgson. Where it is dispassionate and philosophical, it reminds you of the terrifying metaphysical conundrums of Borges. Yet Stapledon is very much his own voice: icily cool and clear, almost (dare one say it) inhuman, though not inhumane. But what sets this book apart from every other book except one is the majestic scale of the work. The book that trumps this is Stapledon's own Star Maker, in which the entire history of Last and First Men is compressed into two paragraphs. Nurse, pass the aspirins.
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Format: Paperback
This is a really old classic written in 1930 and you have to make some allowances for its age, especially in the early chapters. It sets out to tell the ambitious story of the entire history of mankind from the perspective of the Last Men, very distant descendants of homo sapiens. Succeeding chapters take us through the fate of the First Men (ourselves), the rise of the Second Men and their doom and on through a variety of stories each covering a greater and greater period of time until we reach the final end of the Fifteenth Men - the Last Men living in the outer solar system long after the Earth has become uninhabitable. The whole thing is told in the curiously dispassionate tones of an encyclopaedia. It's a story without characters, without much of a sense of place or description and without any human warmth. In fact it lacks almost all of the attributes of a traditional novel. The only excitement is the cold drama of the great sweeps of imaginary history it describes but it works brilliantly to evoke that desolate mood.
'Star Maker', a sort of a sequel (yes, you can have a sequel to the end of mankind!) manages to trump 'Last and First Men' (an amazing feat) and is possibly an even better book but if you want to read either of these you should start with 'Last and First Men'.
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Format: Paperback
This book has a unique perspective on time, dealing as it does with the two thousand million year history of the various human species as they all try to answer the question "Why are we here?" Or perhaps more accurately "How do we fill our time while we are here?" This is about the rise and fall of civilisations and about their different solutions to the problem of being alive. If you're into the grand view of history, the rise and fall of cultures, the slow percolation of ideas through society, this is for you. See the bleak future of the First Men; watch in horror the grotesque Fourth Men; marvel at the brilliant Fifth Men!
This is ultimately a hopeful book, dealing with the irrepressible impulse towards enlightenment. As Doris Lessing says of Stapledon: "Who made this extraordinary man? What star shone on his cradle?"
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