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Last and First Men  By  cover art

Last and First Men

By: Olaf Stapledon
Narrated by: Stephen Greif
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Publisher's Summary

One of the most extraordinary, imaginative and ambitious novels of the century: a history of the evolution of humankind over the next 2 billion years. Among all science fiction writers Olaf Stapledon stands alone for the sheer scope and ambition of his work. First published in 1930, Last and First Men is full of pioneering speculations about evolution, terraforming, genetic engineering and many other subjects.

©1930 Olaf Stapledon (P)2012 Audible Ltd

What listeners say about Last and First Men

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  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

Quite impressive for 1930

Stapledon attempts to convey the evolution of humans over a 2 billion year epoch. The breadth and scope of concepts are extensive and even somewhat surprising given the extent of scientific thinking at that time. Interestingly, he also nails some geopolitical evolution in his near term in that the US and China end up vying for global supremacy as well as identifying Germany dominating Europe economically (interestingly due to their pacifist nature following their WWI defeat). What follows is a natural progression of stages with current day being the "first" men and ending with the last, or eighteenth iteration of "humans". The story is conveyed as a message from the last to first when the last anticipate their eventual destruction.

The sci-fi elements are varied and Stapledon covers the gamut (only missing computers). He brings in biological warfare and anticipates genetic manipulation, first on microorganisms and finally animals, plants and even humans (some of which serve to demarcate the 1 - 18 progression). He envisions nuclear fission (annihilation of matter which leads to disaster), loss of fossil fuels, geothermal and wind power, space exploration (etherships instead of spaceships), Martian and Venusian lifeforms, alien invasion of Earth, planet wide terraforming, contact with the past and much more.

One particular note - this is not a story with characters and a plot. The tale unfolds more along the lines of a history professor's class lectures with emphasis on the dominate themes driving each version of man along with the forces shaping their evolution and transitions. The narration is excellent and makes up for what would otherwise be a pedantic soliloquy.

15 people found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars

Starts slow, but give it time; mind-blowing

What did you like best about this story?

The vast scope of time.

Any additional comments?

In the forward, [whoever wrote that] said they recommend skipping the first 3 chapters because they are tedious, and obviously, are now past future-history, which makes the predictions a little laughable in their falseness.
I didn't skip the first 3 chapters and almost gave the book up at around the 2 hour mark, and am so happy I didn't. It grows exponentially more amazing and interesting all the way to the end. Unlike anything I've read before. Truly mind-expanding.

12 people found this helpful

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Future History: "Life, the Universe, & Everything"

A classic, written over 80 years ago, before the results of World War II were known, and before any of the current technology was conceived (the first binary digital computer and the Turing machine were both not developed until 1936). This is definitely a history, not a story, and there are no characters here. It spans billions of years of human evolution, includes genetic engineering (used to both improve the human species and to save it from extinction, which almost occurs a number of times).

The scope of this book is ambitious, and some of Stapledon's future predictions (of the near future) are, neccessarily, inaccurate. But the philosophical impact is, nevertheless, gratifyingly huge. I first read this book in 1970, and it left an impression on me for the rest of my life. I was pleased to find it in audio, and the reader is a good match. I will listen again, and will probably get the other book of his that I have read, "Starmaker".

6 people found this helpful

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Breathtaking scope and vision.

Truly one of the greatest books ever written. There's nothing else like Stapeldon. Make sure to read Starmaker after.

4 people found this helpful

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  • Al
  • 10-26-16

Dry and unemotional

Struggled with this one. While it may be intellectual, lacked any emotion or connection. Had a hard time have of the book trying to understand what his point or imagery was.

3 people found this helpful

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A flawed masterpiece

While I do not doubt the significance of the work, I had a hard time taking in the science of the time when stapledon was writing. Too much has changed, and today's depiction of the future would've looked differently. in my opinion. Then again, at the time we didn't have Asimov, nor Clarke. 4/5.

2 people found this helpful

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Flying through the eons

I was blown away by the scope and deep time of this story. As a fan of Isaac Asimov's Foundation series and the setting of Warhammer 40K, this story goes from hopeful to grimdark (read: grim-dark) and back again over and over as it paints a mosaic of mankind's greatest heights and depths. I'm definitely listening to more from this guy.

2 people found this helpful

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Nothing like thia

It's a little hard, but worth it. One would be hard-pressed to find another work of this kind of imagination, scope, and vision.

1 person found this helpful

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I could not finish it.

I suffered through the first few chapters, knowing the predictions in those chapters were very. inaccurate.

However, the rest of the book was very difficult to take. It's my opinion that the same tale of the general rise and fall of humanity is told over and over. The only changes being the length of time the cycle takes to occur (ranging from centuries to millions of years) , the nature of the disaster that results in the downfall, and the sexual prowess/intelligence of the "second men" or third men. And on and on. The book, while very well narrated, was exceedingly repetitious.

1 person found this helpful

  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars

Considered a classic, but I wish I'd skipped it.

I knew this book didn't have an underlying story, and that it was a world building narrative. The world built and narrative have too many problems to recommend this book.

1 person found this helpful

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 11-17-16

One of the more unusual books I have read.

Breathtaking in span a book without characters. It is dated but worth it. A unique view on mankind.

6 people found this helpful

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  • Wakeman
  • 12-01-20

An essential for any fan of science fiction

I first read this book too many years ago; even then, its opening chapters, written before WWII, had dated badly. However, you should persevere, as the conclusion to the history of the First Men is surprisingly prescient. The description of the way the planet’s resources are relentlessly exploited, to the point of causing mass extinction, has a more than contemporary feel.

After this, the narrative’s scope, told from the perspective of 2 billion years in the future, switches from centuries, to millennia and greater steps of time. A large number of ideas, philosophies and future science are covered. Many of these you will recognise as the basis for a range of science fiction epics of the last century, genetic manipulation, giant brains grown and housed in concrete honeycombs not being the least.

The only downside is the slightly flat narration. Otherwise, highly recommended.

1 person found this helpful

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  • Jose
  • 07-14-17

impressive but not interesting

Impressive scope and foresight for a book that was written in 1930,
but ultimately not interesting enough for my taste.
No story or characters, just a bunch of concepts and small events explaining the long story of humanity across 18 civilisations ...

1 person found this helpful

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  • Mr S
  • 09-22-21

Enjoyed the last quarter the most

An interesting read, how a visionary man saw the distant future in 1930. Author combined his futuristic vision with some great spiritual and philosophical ideas, which makes this book very unique

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  • Helen Wilson
  • 05-20-21

Wonderful Read

Brilliant, a wonderful sci-fi narrative that explores the realms of the possible. Truely immersive and captivating. One of the great forebears of science fiction.

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  • Patrik
  • 12-05-18

Probably ahead of its time

This is very slow and tiresome reading, and only has the occasional interesting idea mixed in with endless verbal diarrhoea. I would suggest reading the origin trilogy by Stephen baxter which is truly imaginative and looks at the long term.

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  • Kester Hamilton
  • 05-23-22

Very entertaining, but not an actually good book.

I like the book, but the philosophy is shit. If you read this, you must also read Out of the Silent Planet by CS Lewis, or else you will become slightly insane.