Ben Reviews: God Emperor of Dune by Frank Herbert

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I’m going to do something a little different with this post. I’m going to share my original Goodreads review of God Emperor of Dune from my first reading of the book. This review predates Words About Books. Then I’ll give a short update to that review based on my second reading and I’ll do the rubric evaluation. I’m planning to expand on some of the things that I found interesting about God Emperor of Dune in another post that will get more heavily into spoilers.

Original Review

God Emperor of Dune is a very different book from the first three in the Dune series. There is no grand adventure or conflict for most of the book, and that’s the point. Leto’s enforced tranquility is a lesson that humanity will never forget. The God Emperor has used his powers to force humanity down his golden path, a path that will ultimately end in liberation from the powers of prescience, and ensure the species’ enduring survival.

This book reads more like a Socratic dialogue than a science fiction novel. The bulk of the story consists of Leto’s conversations with various characters who represent different facets of humanity. Each tries and fails to fully grasp what Leto is trying to achieve with The Golden Path.

I can easily see how some point to this as the point where Dune officially goes off the rails. This book can be dry, wordy, and pretentious. It can also be insightful and interesting. Frank Herbert’s political philosophy is fascinating, but like all great philosophers he wanders in and out of gibberish at times.

I liked the book quite a bit, and I’m still fascinated to see where it goes, but I have to admit this is an information dump of Frank Herbert’s personal philosophy disguised as a Dune novel. That by itself would still rate 4 stars from me, but the repetition of weak points and the occasional descent into nonsense lost it another star.

Recommended for people who liked the trippier bits of Dune, but can see why many people choose to exit the franchise here.

2023 Update

I thought I would be more critical of this book on the second read, but honestly, I like it more. I still understand why it’s very boring for a lot of people. I think that it gives a dated view of gender expression and sexuality, but with an underlying message that seems receptive to the progress that society has made on those fronts. With that said, I find a lot of the political ideas even more relevant than when I read this 4 years ago.

With the benefit of having read the rest of Frank Herbert’s entries into the series, I think this book is a lot less random and wandering than I did on my first read. I actually think that Frank Herbert did exactly what he intended to do. God Emperor of Dune is not for the first time reader. Like Leto II’s journals, the book is recorded for those who have the benefit of hindsight. To those experiencing these events as they happen, The God Emperor’s words are random and confusing.

I may be giving Frank too much credit here, but I actually think he was trying to do something really smart here. I don’t know if he was entirely successful. For someone so interested in humanity, he is a dry writer (get it, cause Dune), but it worked for me.


Content and Ideas 5/5: I’m not prepared to say that Frank Herbert is a genius, but he has a very interesting perspective on the way the human species organizes itself. In a lot of ways, I believe he was ahead of his time in his thinking about systemic problems resulting from how the human species organizes itself. He, and the characters in his stories, are constantly trying to find the balance between personal choice and the crushing weight of factors that are seemingly beyond their control. The world of Dune is a sandbox (pun intended) for Herbert to play with sociology and philosophy in a way that is intellectually stimulating to the reader, even if you disagree with all of his conclusions. In fact, I get the impression that Herbert has a healthy appreciation for dissenting opinions.

Organization 2/5: Frank Herbert’s greatest weakness in the Dune series has always been the plot. There is no denying that this book can be boring. The vast majority of the characters are stupid or frustratingly obtuse. I struggled between a 2 and a 3 on this one, and what I’m realizing is that my rubric fails to define a category that adequately captures what is missing from this novel.

While I feel that much of the frustration the reader will feel is intentional on Frank Herbert’s part, it still strikes me as a bit ham-fisted. The issue is simply that the plot has very little to do with the philosophy. It’s a very basic skeleton on which to hang the meat, which is the dialogs. A better writer could have woven the plot into these dialogs better and entertained the reader while educating them.

Use of Language 4/5: God Emperor of Dune feels like it was written by an alien and this is finally where Frank Herbert’s clinical style of writing starts to click. In God Emperor of Dune, Leto is crafting an alien humanity. These people are the next stage of our evolution. They are like us, but they are also being tailored to a space faring future of unimaginable challenges without end. It is right that they feel alien.

Personal Preference 5/5: This book tickles my brain more than most. I don’t agree with everything that Frank Herbert says, but he makes me think about things that I never considered before. As a result of thinking about those things I find a new appreciation for what humanity might be capable of, both good and bad. I get that the results of others may vary greatly, and I do not begrudge anyone who does not share my love for it. In fact, I suspect most people would find it incredibly boring with good reason.

Recommendation Strength 2/5: It’s weird. It’s dry. It’s trippy. At this point in Dune you probably know if you would like this or not.


I co-host the Words About Books podcast with my writing partner Nate.

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