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Earth Abides by George R. Stewart

Earth Abides (1949)

by George R. Stewart

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
2,264822,826 (3.98)1 / 217
  1. 60
    The day of the triffids by John Wyndham (infiniteletters)
  2. 30
    The Stand by Stephen King (sturlington)
    sturlington: Stephen King has said that Earth Abides was an inspiration for The Stand.
  3. 20
    No Blade of Grass by John Christopher (timspalding)
    timspalding: Another (and far better) classic post-apocalyptic story.
  4. 10
    Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler (jlparent)
    jlparent: Main character witnesses/narrates the fall of civilization and its rebirth over a long time.
  5. 00
    The Slynx by Tatyana Tolstaya (agmlll)
  6. 01
    The World Without Us by Alan Weisman (Anonymous user)
  7. 23
    World War Z by Max Brooks (timspalding)
  8. 12
    The Dog Stars by Peter Heller (IamAleem)

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English (80)  French (1)  Spanish (1)  All languages (82)
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SPOILER ALERT: Huge spoilers ahead.

George Stewart's Earth Abides is a post-apocalyptic novel, set largely in San Francisco, between the years of approximately 1950 up to roughly 2010. Isherwood Williams is engaged in some fieldwork for his graduate studies in geography at the University of San Francisco. While out one day he finds an abandonned four-pound crack hammer, and shortly thereafter is bitten by a rattlesnake. He reaches the small cabin where he was staying, under primitive conditions, and manages to extract some of the snake venom with his snakebite kit, and spends several days' delirium poised between life and death. When he is sufficiently recovered, he emerges from the cabin to find that a plague has swept through the human population, leaving very few still alive. He returns to his parents' house, and then elects to set out and explore, to see what has become of the rest of the country. His explorations take him all the way back to New York City, but he returns alone despite having encountered a few survivors. Slowly, however, he falls in with others, including Emma, Ezra, George, and others, who become the foundation of "the Tribe", a group of survivors.

That, at least, is the setup to the book, accomplished in the first section. What is annoying is Stewart's decision - made repeatedly - to gloss over the sections which might have advanced the story dramatically, and instead favoring philosophical instances and discursions in Ish's mind. The details of the mechanics of the collapse of society appear to interest Stewart far less than philosophy. The sole dramatic tension in the book is created by the appearance of Charlie, a survivor from Los Angeles who threatens the balance of the group. But instead of using this tension for dramatic purposes, Charlie is summarily executed and buried in the space of a few words. The action, as it were, takes place entirely off-camera, with the result that the only thing impelling the reader to continue is sheer bloody-mindedness.

Ish is also a curiously incompetent "leader". Although he has youth working against him, he is seemingly unable to devise simple solutions to problems in the burgeoning community. Crows come and eat your crops? You have limitless supplies and some skilled manpower - why not build greenhouses? Children begin to run wild? Institute school from an early age, so they know nothing else, and devote one member of the community to curriculum. Maintenance and chores are an issue? Develop a rota, prioritize tasks. Leadership is a question or an issue? Form a simple government. For a philosophically-minded man, Stewart and his hero are woefully impractical, and as a result, the community will slide back into the bronze age in a matter of three generations.

And the rest of the book rather peters out from there. Ish gets older. All of the other original survivors die, and Ish is left with his grandchildren and great-grandchildren, crossing into the 21st century without much heed being paid. The Golden Gate Bridge continues to stand as something of a symbol, but of constancy or decay Stewart can't seem to decide. Maybe Mount Tamelpais, mentioned by name only once, would be a better reference for constancy. Some notions of the story were interesting: the discussion with his great-grandson, for instance, about the faces which appeared on coins, appeared to indicate that the story was written about a decade before it was published (references to the "Buffalo" nickels, which ceased production in 1938 when they were replaced by Jefferson, and the "Mercury" dimes, which were discontinued in 1946 when they were replaced by the Roosevelt dime); also the noting of the fact that dimes, quarters, and halves were made of coin silver, rather than the mix that replaced them in 1964, was something which a casual numismatist might enjoy puzzling out.

I struggled to like this book, and finally decided that it was not all that it was cracked up to be. Stewart seems to have wanted to be both philosopher and storyteller, and as a result he accomplished neither with any particular degree of aplomb. I don't object to the philosophical angle of the novel, but rather the fact that Stewart allowed it and his ideas about what was important for survival to dominate the drama. Much better novels about the "end of the world" have been written, and some, like John Wyndham's The Day of the Triffids, tell similar stories without succumbing to these flaws, and even manage to make similar ecological and philosophical points. Unfortunately, although I enjoyed some elements and the San Francisco setting, there were too many weaknesses in this book for me to give it more than a middle-of-the-road rating. Two-and-a-half stars.

eBOOK NOTE: if you read the Kindle edition of this novel, be prepared for numerous errors resulting from sloppy editing of an OCR-scanned text. The first half of the book appears to have been proofed more thoroughly than the second, and if you're a careful reader, it will be hugely irritating. Say what you will, paper is often still better. ( )
  Bill_Bibliomane | Feb 2, 2014 |
Yanki, profundamente yanki (todo pasa en EEUU), la novelita plantea algo similar a lo que había leído hacía poco en "El día de los trífidos": sociedad postapocalíptica, casi todos muertos (en este caso por un virus) que debe volver a organizarse. A partir de allí, el protagonista Ish intenta volver al esplendor de la civilización antigua. La referencia obvia, con la que el libro juega, es -al menos al comienzo- Robinson Crusoe. Mientras en Robinson se entiende que un hombre contiene en sí mismo a toda la civilización, en la obra de Stewart esto no parece ser tan así. El libro juega, entonces, durante toda una larga segunda parte con una situación de laboratorio: 3 parejas y una retrasada mental que deben repoblar la tierra. Se ponen a ello, en pocos años superan la treintena y surgen algunos problemas. Viven de la rapiña de la civilización pasada, comen latas de conserva, etc. Surgen algunos problemas cuando se viaja, aparece un nuevo integrante y se abre un sistema judicial, en fin, el protagonista envejece, la tierra se repuebla con la naturaleza, vuelven a aparecer cuestiones primitivas, cosas así. Parece ser que la novela cuenta con muchos fans (Javi, que me la prestó y la considera poesía pura, el primero), sin embargo a mí no terminó de convencerme por cuestiones estrictamente literarias. Parece una novela más preocupada en el devenir que en lo que está contando (en eso se parece un poco a su personaje), la sucesión de acciones rara vez se detiene en el detalle que enriquecería, creo yo, enormemente la narración de este mundo que se asume más que otra cosa. A su vez, se busca un tono melancólico, se entrecruzan parlamentos que no se entienden si son de Stewart, de Ish o de algún otro personaje (en el episodio de las clases es evidente que está desde la perspectiva de un alumno, en otro algún vocativo señala que es alguien cercano a otro personaje, en fin, fluctúa o no lo entendí bien). En definitiva, se deja leer, por momentos se me hizo larga y me pareció de inferior ejecución a Los trífidos (que ya no consideraba una gran obra) y a otras novelas postapocalípticas (Soy leyenda, claro). ( )
  gabrielgraves | Dec 29, 2013 |
More than speculative disaster fiction, Earth Abides is a post-apocalyptic novel about human civilization after a planet wide cataclysm. As revelatory narrative, it is not only sweeping and thoughtful, but also elemental and philosophical enough to show how futile were the backyard fallout shelters of the1950’s, and also the gasoline hoarding, food-stuffed lairs of 21st century doomsday preppers now. Author George R. Stewart travels beyond such temporary human stopgaps to illuminate the depth and breadth of a calamity affecting generations of humans.

Set in the San Francisco East Bay Area, not only does his novel introduce and follow individual men and women characters who grow, develop, and decay across their life spans; but also he makes Nature (weather, climate, season, fire, water, birth, growth, regression and succession, population collapse, death, and pandemic) and the Planet Earth brilliant primary characters that drive this tale. Stewart wrote about what he knew: including great 20th century Bay Area icons---the Golden Gate and Bay Bridge, and the colossal Doe Library (built 1910) at the University of California, Berkeley. All play roles as physical links to possibility, connection, and knowledge in Earth Abides, as Stewart attempts to discover what is essential, and what of civilization will or will not atrophy or survive. All three were very familiar to Stewart, who was a professor at the University of California, Berkeley.

Words like “staggering” and “heroic” describe the progress of this work. The result is amazing, considering Stewart’s novel was published in1949, before personal computers, satellites, and spacecraft. In this book he recreates the sympathetic and sobering tone of the prayer, “earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust” from the Book of Common Prayer, itself derived from Genesis 3:19, and combines it with the poetic perspective of Ecclesiastes. In fact Earth Abides owes much of its point-of-view, including its title, to the voice of the “teacher” Koheleth at the heart of Ecclesiastes, who investigates and ponders the gravity, moral purpose, and meaning of human life. But, this novel is no religious tract. Instead it develops a logical and spiritual consideration of what a devastated humanity set into a fragile landscape, can be or become. Both yesterday’s earthbound, and today’s orbiting, see-all humans can empathize with the hope and sorrow inherent in such an enterprise. As always Mankind’s character must bear the result, whether joy or blame in the end. Either way, no reader of Earth Abides will fail to be moved by the journey.___Val Morehouse, Reviewer. ( )
  Tsoys | Nov 28, 2013 |
Instead of a real review, I’ve decided to post random comments from and about the story.

Economics professor: “The trouble you are expecting never happens; it’s always something that sneaks up the other way.”

Coyote loping along the highway in daylight: “Strange how soon it had known the world had changed, and that it could take new freedoms.”

“Drink-blackness. Drink-blackness.” New will to live. To observe.

People who are left: alcoholic, running teenage girl, territorial man with woman

“His weakness had become his strength.” Not social. Able to endure lack of conversation.

Dog. “Found himself building a wall against more attachments which must end only with death.”

National Monument Cliff Dwellers Superintendent’s home already starting to deteriorate - eventually like cliff dwellers’ homes

“Men come and go, but earth abides.” ( )
  debnance | Sep 14, 2013 |
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» Add other authors (3 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Stewart, George R.primary authorall editionsconfirmed
Davis, JonathanNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Edwards, LesCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Gleeson, TonyCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Willis, ConnieIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Men go and come, but earth abides ECCLESIASTES, I, 4
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. . . and the Government of the United States of America is herewith suspended, except in the District of Columbia, as of the emergency.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0345487133, Paperback)

A disease of unparalleled destructive force has sprung up almost simultaneously in every corner of the globe, all but destroying the human race. One survivor, strangely immune to the effects of the epidemic, ventures forward to experience a world without man. What he ultimately discovers will prove far more astonishing than anything he'd either dreaded or hoped for.

From the Paperback edition.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:29:34 -0400)

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A disease of unparalleled destructive force has sprung up almost simultaneously in every corner of the globe, all but destroying the human race. One survivor, strangely immune to the effects of the epidemic, ventures forward to experience a world without man. What he ultimately discovers will prove far more astonishing than anything he'd either dreaded or hoped for.… (more)

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