The Left Hand of Darkness

The Left Hand of Darkness

Book - 1969
Average Rating:
Rate this:
*Now celebrating its 50th anniversary*

A deluxe hardcover edition of the queen of science fiction's trailblazing novel about a planet full of genderless beings--part of Penguin Galaxy, a collectible series of six sci-fi/fantasy classics, featuring a series introduction by Neil Gaiman

Winner of the AIGA + Design Observer 50 Books | 50 Covers competition

A groundbreaking work of science fiction, The Left Hand of Darkness tells the story of a lone human emissary's mission to Winter, an unknown alien world whose inhabitants can choose--and change--their gender. His goal is to facilitate Winter's inclusion in a growing intergalactic civilization. But to do so he must bridge the gulf between his own views and those of the completely dissimilar culture that he encounters. Exploring questions of psychology, society, and human emotion in an alien world, The Left Hand of Darkness stands as a landmark achievement in the annals of science fiction.

Penguin Galaxy

Six of our greatest masterworks of science fiction and fantasy, in dazzling collector-worthy hardcover editions, and featuring a series introduction by #1 New York Times bestselling author Neil Gaiman, Penguin Galaxy represents a constellation of achievement in visionary fiction, lighting the way toward our knowledge of the universe, and of ourselves. From historical legends to mythic futures, monuments of world-building to mind-bending dystopias, these touchstones of human invention and storytelling ingenuity have transported millions of readers to distant realms, and will continue for generations to chart the frontiers of the imagination.

The Once and Future King by T. H. White
Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein
Dune by Frank Herbert
2001: A Space Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke
The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin
Neuromancer by William Gibson

For more than seventy years, Penguin has been the leading publisher of classic literature in the English-speaking world. With more than 1,700 titles, Penguin Classics represents a global bookshelf of the best works throughout history and across genres and disciplines. Readers trust the series to provide authoritative texts enhanced by introductions and notes by distinguished scholars and contemporary authors, as well as up-to-date translations by award-winning translators.
Publisher: New York : ACE Books, c1969.
ISBN: 9780143111597


From Library Staff

List - Stars we Lost in 2018
Laura_X Nov 12, 2018

Ursula K Le Guin

Reprinted more than 30 times, "The Left Hand of Darkness" was instrumental in establishing Le Guin as a significant science fiction author. The story of a lone human emissary to Winter, an alien world whose inhabitants can choose and change their gender. The novel is an examination of s... Read More »

From the critics

Community Activity


Add a Comment
Jul 10, 2019

I know and knew before reading that this is largely considered a bit of a gender studies book, but honestly most of the themes in here don't have anything to do with gender. LeGuin has a lot to say about order vs disorder, patriotism and fear, corruption by power, ego, ignorance vs knowledge, loyalty, and happiness. So, even though I typically have a strong dislike for books with social-justicey themes, I thoroughly enjoyed this one and would recommend it to anyone as a classic piece of science fiction (though it's more of a fantasy novel if you ask me).

Jun 11, 2019

A striking, beautiful, and profound journey. Though fiction, this book should be required educational reading for all humans.

Feb 03, 2019

This book is really uneven. The concept is very good. The main story is very good. But every few chapters, the author feels the need to completely break the flow of the story and insert a chapter that's a tangentially related legend or historical tidbit. In only one case did I feel like that tangent added enough to the story to have been worth my while. I would have preferred for the story to have flowed better and, if the legends were necessary, to include them as part of a prologue or epilogue.

Essentially, this novel is an exploration of what it would be like to encounter a world that was mostly without gender (except for a few days a month). The conceptualization of how that could work (and still allow the species to propagate) was clever. Unfortunately, the author chose to use the pronoun 'he' for the genderless individuals and that really didn't work for me. I appreciate that the book was written in the 70s, but I completely disagree with the explanation given within the text that 'he' is a more gender neutral pronoun than 'she' or 'it'. I think it would have been far better for her to have invented a new pronoun as 'he' makes me think male - and I don't think I'm the only one. Something linguistically similar to 'he' and 'she' like 'ze' or something like that. This problem was exacerbated by the fact that he main character (a visitor to the planet) was actually male.

Apr 16, 2018

Incredible book. Deep and beautiful, moving and thought provoking, full of connections and meaning.

DBRL_IdaF Mar 12, 2018

One of the few books I would put on my personal list as transformational. I first read it as a teen, and it gave me a whole new way to look at my own life and world. It did for me the best thing a book can do - broadened my mind.

Le Guin achieves a significant feat, creating a world without gender politics, but still a lot of political intrigue.

BostonPL_JordanD Jan 23, 2018

This book always gets me in the end. I’m not sure what to say about it. Most of this, until about the second half, is not something I would normally read. Yet, I’ve enjoyed it twice now.

Le Guin calls the Genethians androgynous, though I think I see them more as intersex, and somewhat similar to the Wraeththu of Storm Constantine’s books of the same name.

Dec 21, 2017

Ehh... it's okay. There's a lot of thick prose and 'heavy ideas' to chew on. The language has a rhythm to it, which I like, but I couldn't connect with the story. Or the characters.

Nov 14, 2017

Published in 1969, this was Le Guin's breakthrough novel. The themes she explores - gender, power, patriotism - remain relevant and raise interesting questions. A thoughtful book.

Aug 06, 2017

So I have to say this upfront: I read Ancillary Justice before I read this book, and I think in some ways that was a mistake. I couldn't stop comparing the two, and finding the former better than the latter, both in plot and the ways that the Gender Thing was handled.

And boy that gender thing. I understand this was probably super revolutionary when it was published, but it's so tied up in Earth conceptions of gender and sex without doing much that feels super important? Like for all that the Gethenians are supposed to be without sex or gender, this book still felt super heavily gendered and in a kind of unquestioned way. (Again, here is where my biggest comparison to Ancillary Justice really takes root; this book didn't challenge my sense of gender, or the way that I understand and see gender in my own world at all, and certainly not to the degree that Ancillary Justice did.) The anthropological portions of the book made me feel kinda gross, like the attempts to "understand" this system, or document its differences, were part of a major mistranslation problem that was never really corrected in the book.

The plot itself was fine? I really enjoyed Estraven as a character and would have liked to see more about him. The ending felt like very very rushed, and parsing it was a little difficult because of that. This is a book that to me seems to scream sequel--for the purposes of exploring a larger world--and the fact that we don't have one is a little disappointing and adds to the sense of being unfinished in some ways.

I didn't hate this book, but I was definitely disappointed by it--it does make me want to return to the Imperial Radch series, so I can experience that world again!

Jul 21, 2017

This won't be for everyone. It can be a bit dry and mundane in places but then turn around and be brilliant. I would say I appreciated this book, more than enjoyed it. I happen to love Ursula Le Guin, both as a person and a writer so I was very patient with this book and feel I got a lot out of it. It's very thought provoking and has some fantastic quotes.

View All Comments


Add a Summary
May 29, 2019

The current plot summary is wrong.
This book is speculative fiction, in a sort of sci-fi, outer space setting. What if there were a world where gender didn't exist because sex was not a personal quality...?: just an occasional relationship that two persons found themselves in. This is the world visited by human Genly Ai, a person from the pan-human society, who must determine if these humanoids are ready to be allied with other humans. Does it make a difference that that they don't understand binary humans? After 50 years, this is still one of my all-time favorite books. Yes, Ursula's writing sometimes demands that you pay attention and reflect on how small details make differences matter. Please do NOT start with David Mitchell's introduction; just jump into the adventure story. Read it and give thanks for the Author's breaking the barriers of the time.


Add a Quote
Laura_X Feb 22, 2019

I was alone, with a stranger, inside the walls of a dark palace, in a strange snow-changed city, in the heart of the Ice Age of an alien world.

Age Suitability

Add Age Suitability

There are no age suitabilities for this title yet.


Add Notices

There are no notices for this title yet.

Explore Further

Browse by Call Number


Subject Headings


Find it at CPL

To Top