George Stewart’s Biographer Praises Reviews of Earth Abides

Yesterday Donald Scott mentioned our class and this blog in a lovely post on his own blog dedicated to George R. Stewart. He’s been reading your reviews of Earth Abides, and — you should be proud to know — he’s found your perspectives to be original and exciting:

I’ve begun reading the student essays.  It’s very satisfying to see young people rediscovering GRS and his work, especially Earth Abides.  The authors have given me some new perspectives on the book, from the experience of the inhabitants of the early third millennium.

“Men go and come, but the earth abides”

I really enjoyed this book! Although it was a long read, Earth Abides by George R. Stewart was very entertaining. Stewart questions ideologies about social standards including companionship, education, religion, civilization, leadership, and maintaining ethical beliefs. The plague the kills off most of humanity, and those left are left to do whatever they wish.

We are able to follow Ish as he grows, and see the choices he must make on a daily base. What he wants for not only his children, but also humanity. He hopes that civilization will return to what it was before, that the future will be like the past again. This reminded me of a teaching (I’m going to butcher it:/) :trying to convince a baby that they will need to walk is pointless, because they must crawl first. The baby cannot understand this, until they have experienced the process. The entire time Ish is attempting to tech his children to read and about religion, they FIRST needed to learn the basics of surviving, like hunting and making a fire without matches.

I watch the tv show “the walking dead”. I saw many similarities, (but no “walkers”) in scavenging, and the hope to rebuild civilization. However in both and many other apocalyptic stories, that the human race severely damaged, and “men go and come, but the earth abides”.

Waste Not Want Not

George R. Stewart’s “Earth Abides” provokes intelligent debate as it examines the question of “what would happen to the world and its creatures without man” (25)? A world without man, is this concept even possible? Perhaps not in the literal sense, as far as most individuals’ imaginations will allow, but a world in which the human population has been greatly reduced in its numbers is more than feasible. The significant reduction of homosapiens to the point of extinction and their ability to recover is the focus of “Earth Abides.” This scenario of elimination realistically swept the human race before in Europe and Asia, 1346-1353. This time period, marked as the “Black Death,” was the most famously recorded history of the Black Plaque, a disease that wiped-out one-third of the population. Stewart references this fact in his novel, denoting this fictional story is somewhat based in lived truth. However, the author does not contrive a fantastical theory of what specific pestilence/disease obliterated one-third of the United States’ populace. Like the main protagonist, Isherwood Williams (Ish), who literally wakes up after recovering from a venomous snake bite to discover the world has changed without a concise understanding; the reader, too, is thrust into a new Earth not far from their own distant future that they must navigate and learn at the same time as Stewart’s characters, reminiscent of the character Rick from the Walking Dead television series. One effective writing technique is the purposeful omission of dates which keeps the story more realistic to readers who are not fans of futuristic sci-fi/cli-fi dramas.

This novel is not about global weatherization or climate change, but the story does have a cognitive link to the subjects, which is conservationism. Conservation of proliferated existing resources and their stored reserves is the echoing theme of most ecologist and environmental activist as the starting point to stop the destruction of the Earth’s atmosphere and land masses. In “Earth Abides” there are only sporadic mentions of weather in relation to the environment and its effects on vegetation growth, but Stewart notes throughout the novel the importance of conservationism: Ish is always worried that the Tribe will run out of supplies, and how Ish works to secure the libraries and the books of information for future generations. Stewart not only demonstrates the importance of not overusing/wasting the Earth’s natural resources, but also manmade fundamentals like matches. The novel focuses more on responsible “usage” more than climate change and humans’ role in negatively effecting the Earth. Stewart notes that the “almost complete removal of man had not in the slightest affected the earth’s relation to the sun, or the sizes and locations of the oceans and continents, or any other factor influencing the weather” (98). The preceding demonstrates that the Earth will continue to evolve without human inhabitants, the Earth is not dependent on man for its survival, but the reverse. Humans need the Earth and its natural elements to abide the needs of man as they distort atmospheric and core components to ensure mankind’s continued existence. Stewart further refocuses the narrative from being considered hardcore cli-fi by referencing an author named Brooks and his book “Climate through the Ages”; observing that the book “was not of the slightest value to human progress. Climate change was not a practical problem. In any case, this book had been superseded. He could just as well throw it away or tear it to pieces” (Stewart 292). The aforementioned quote could easily be misinterpreted; however, Stewart is not suggesting the book was useless when it was originally wrote with its predictions and concepts. Stewart is ironically indicating that given the current circumstances that Ish and the other survivors are presently living through, Brooks’ informative intent is inconsequential, but relevant during its original publication. Interpretively, this reference is sarcastic irony, but more to the point it reads as if the author was not as concerned with climatology as he is with conservationism.

George R. Stewart’s “Earth Abides” is a highly recommended, wonderfully written, third-person narrative that will stand the test of time. The third-person narration allows for a conversational tone as the author engages readers using diction and terminology appropriate for contemporary audiences, young and older. Respect for the environment and responsible conservative use of the Earth’s resources, natural and manufactured, is clearly delineated; yet infused with sub-textual themes of racism, sexism, and blasphemy that will hold readers’ attention.

Rebuilding Humanity As Earth Abides

After finishing George R. Stewart’s Earth Abides I felt a strong sense of relief. I was so very happy that the book was finally over. I felt that the book could have gotten the point across in a lot less pages. The book felt extremely repetitive and is pretty much a summary of what happened to the main character. While the book makes interesting points, I found it a very boring read.


The book follows Ish as he makes his way in a post-apocalyptic world. Ish’s journey starts just as everything is settling down and only the survivors of the disaster remain. First of all, I thought Stewart’s representation of how humans would handle an apocalypse was unrealistic. The world would be thrown into chaos. The book mentions that when Ish visited the larger towns there were more examples of looting and such, but he says that for the most part humans seemed to deal with it calmly. I feel like it would be the exact opposite and humans would not know how to handle the situation. I do however, like the fact that the apocalypse was caused by a virus and feel like this is a very likely cause. I believe that a biological attack to the human race would be the one thing to take us out.


One of the things that I found quite interesting was the moral debate that plagued Ish throughout the book. Ish constantly worries about the future and the things he knows will come, but does nothing about them to make a difference. As he gets older and resources begin to run out, he becomes frustrated by his lack of action and worried about the future. This really made me think about the differences of the creation of society versus the rebuilding of one. As we built our world the technology and knowledge of the world grew with us. In the case of Ish, he has the knowledge of how the world works and the technology that makes day to day living easy, but the knowledge is useless and only haunts him as he tries to rebuild the world. I can understand his frustration as the world takes a different shape from the future he wants to see. Knowing that there are safer and easier ways of living, but no ability to change things would only make me angrier.

Overall I think that this book has interesting ideas, but it was a little too boring for my taste.

Ish: The Last Arrogant American

George R. Stewart definitely created a staple in the post-apocalyptic gene with Earth Abides. The story follows a man, Ish, through his observations and interactions after the “Great Disaster” kills almost all of human population. Ish struggles throughout the novel with the importance of preserving humanity, as he once knew it. Stewart uses Ish (in an unflattering light) to make the reader question what is truly important once everyone and everything you once knew is gone.


Ish becomes a very difficult character to root for or side with throughout the novel. It seems that Stewart wrote him this way to show a sort of transformation. Ish has an idea and a plan to continue and pass on the “old” way of civilization. He is continuously worrying about the future and not focusing on the present. Ish sees himself as far more superior to those around him. His inner monologue is sometimes hard to stomach. His racism and sexism rears it’s head more than one would like. He patronizes the woman, even his own loving wife, Em. He thinks time and time again about their “stupidity” and he takes pity on them. His ego only grows larger throughout the book as he is seen as the leader and later on the “god” of the Tribe. Although, he is humbled by Em at times, Ish never fails to mention her lack of intellect. He favors his young son, Joey, after he showed a shared interest in reading. Ish imminently casts out his other children and spends most of his time intellectually grooming Joey. He saw himself in Joey and began to believe he was the “chosen one”. As a smart man, Ish has a hard time coming to grips with the world they now live in. It is only after Joey dies of an illness that Ish begins to understand what needs to be done. Literature and history are important but they needed to prepare for when the old civilization supplies was gone. They needed to adapt to the new world. They needed to go back to basics.


It was hard for Ish to release the part of humanity that he identified with and clung to. He worshiped the university library and gave strict instructions to the children to respect it in hopes that it would one day be of use again. It housed all of the information and history that Ish didn’t want to lose. As the years moved on Ish detached himself from his surrounds. The Tribe grew and customs changed around him. Him and his hammer were seen as a god from the old times. In the end, he let go and accepted that he was the end, the last American.



Earth Abides While My Interest Subsides

Earth Abides is an interesting kind of post-apocalypse novel in that it is about a plague, which wipes the vast majority of earth’s population out (not turning them into zombies or vampires); it is however, dreadfully boring. The novel does not hold much in the way of fast paced adventure, or the things that a contemporary reader would expect from the post-apocalypse novel that is typical of today. The first hundred pages of the book are really the hardest part, if you can get past that, then you can read the whole book.

Stewart tries very hard to create a world in which all things are considered. Through his main character, Ishwood, he tries to show how the world would be affected after a plague. I think this is the mistake he makes, his plot line suffers because he is trying to convey almost a tour of the US in the beginning of the book, and highlight areas that would be recognizable to readers, but this is poorly accomplished because it is simply uninteresting to read. There are some interesting points brought up by Stewart as he himself ponders the reality of a world ending plague. There are several characters during the first leg of the book that show how he thinks that it could play out. There is the drunkard, who the author seems to have a grudging respect for, the lunatics who snap under pressure, and the people who pretend that nothing has happened. The thing that all of these different types of characters seem to hold in common is that they are all kinds of suicide. There is not a single one of these people who will very likely make it through the first year without civilization.

Despite the lack of plot in the beginning of the book we do being to get an interesting observation about how the structure of society can very quickly breakdown, and how little our rules and morals actually mean. In the post-apocalypse era people are more than willing to abandon the memories of their loved ones or spouses for basic human company. A lot of the people that Ish meets have already found someone new, and are pretending that nothing has happened, as if they were together all along. This says a lot about the adaptability of humans to their changing circumstances, which is an issue that the author grapples with a lot. I think also that the author grapples significantly with the insignificance of humans in the grand scheme of things.

Stewart discusses more than once how little we would be missed if all humans were to disappear. I think this is an interesting study of how important we actually are in the world, because as we disappear other species seem to have their day, and the world becomes more naturally balanced yet again. He also grapples with the idea of society and rules, and how easily it can be broken down. This can really be seen in the decision to murder Charlie, he is killed because he has STD’s which is rather similar to euthanasia, and I think perhaps a product of the author’s time. In a functioning society someone would not receive the death penalty for having STD’s they would probably receive medical help. The society that is created by Ish and Em is not perfect and rivals on being dystopian.

I think that a few minor changes would go a long way with this book. It is an interesting read and presents some interesting ideas to try and grapple with when talking about the future, but I was much less interested than I typically am in post-apocalyptic stories, and would like to have had more of a plot to follow.

The Realism of Earth Abides.

When reading Earth Abides by George R. Stewart I would much more consider this a book a “soft apocalypse” novel than a book on climate change. Even Stewart writes, “the almost complete removal of man…had not in the slightest affected the earth’s relation to the sun….or any other factor influencing the weather.” (98) What we did affect though, was everything else. Some of the most interesting parts of the book were in the italics, when it would describe the world outside of what Ish knew, and how it broke down because of humans, or instead because humans weren’t there to keep it working properly. This goes for both animals (such as the sheep) “thousands of years ago they accepted the protection of the Shepard and lost their agility and sense of independence.” (55), as well as, mechanical failures like power. Stewart says that no one bothered to make the governors which controlled the generators automatic. He goes on to say “these could survive and function only because men were constantly at hand to repair..” (95). Racheal Carson sums it up nicely by quoting Albert Schweitzer in her article Silent Spring, “Man can hardly even recognize the devils of its own creation.”

In Earth Abides, it wasn’t clear what virus started the “Great Disaster.” It could very well be one of the “500 new chemicals to which the bodies of men and animals are required somehow to adapt each year,” Carson refers to. In her article she states “Everywhere was a shadow of death.” This could also very well describe Earth Abides. Not only people, but animals, rodents, insects and crops. As quick as they arrive, they disappear through lack of food, survival of the fittest, or otherwise. It was especially important to rid their environment in Earth Abides, of all of these that could be carrying disease (even people), as Carson points out “especially under conditions where sanitation is poor, as in time of natural disaster or war or in situations of extreme poverty and deprivation.”

In our present day, a lot of companies are trying to rid crops and other produce of disease carrying insects. One such corporation is Monsanto, which has come under fire lately for its “herbicide, Roundup, could be linked to a range of health problems and diseases, including Parkinson’s, infertility and cancers.. ” a Reuters article suggests. It also says, “Environmentalists, consumer groups and plant scientists from several countries have warned that heavy use of glyphosate is causing problems for plants, people and animals.” This strikes me as very familiar to these chemicals that Carson describes that “combine into new forms that kill vegetation, sicken cattle, and work unknown hard on those who drink from once pure wells.”

In Earth Abides, a few children die from a sort of poison that went uncovered. Stewart writes, “Even when dead, civilization seemed to lay traps.” (140). The question begs to be asked, is everything that Monsanto doing now laying the trap for the generations to come. Forbes Magazine reports, “In 2011 Monsanto has been fined by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for contaminating water supplies near one of its rural U.S. facilities…” Soon, the contamination by these companies will force people to migrate and desert the land they once inhabited. This is also what Ish found throughout his book, and similar to the story A Fable For Tomorrow. The story says the “people had done it to themselves.”

The most haunting aspect of Earth Abides was the realism behind it, how it wouldn’t take much to slip into a primeval state of society. The human condition, and how it relates to this new world, that is essentially healing itself is front and center. It is a delicate balance, and early in the book Ish was looking for “small things that showed how the wilderness was moving in to take charge.” (78). Earth Abides paints a very pragmatic view of what could happen in this scenario, how be adapt and carry on with our lives. Ish tries to bring the “American” way of life to the children and new tribes, but eventually they will discover their own traditions and beliefs. Even the hammer that is seen as the power symbol, which never left Ish’s side. Who would have thought something so simple would be the one thing that could carry on through generations. Simplicity can also relate to climate change, and how we can start making our current world better on step at a time.

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I Would Kill Charlie Too

George R. Stewart’s Earth Abides provides a frightening argument for the fallacy of civilized ideals and the prevalence of Darwinism that is inherit to human existence once civilization has fallen. Earth Abides chronicles the post-apocalyptic devolution of humanity through the eyes of Isherwood Williams, or simply Ish, a former university student and self-proclaimed observer of the world. Ish’s personality shifts polarity between cold and sympathetic, as his desire to preserve everything humanity has lost is admirable, but his elitism and relentless pragmatism are at times alienating. For these reasons he offers an intelligent and flawed, but ultimately rational window through which to observe the events of the novel.

Earth Abides revels in the moral conundrums of the post-apocalyptic world, as Stewart masterfully lures the reader into understanding Ish’s logic. In one moral dilemma, Ish’s colder thoughts regarding the villager Evie, a woman with intellectual disabilities, are disturbingly eugenicist: “Should they have even kept Evie all these years? There had been a word – euthanasia, wasn’t it?” (Stewart 163). Her strain on the village, or at least what he perceives to be a strain, causes him to see her more like an object or pet, than a human being. Yet, while his dehumanization of Evie is appalling, he makes a significant, if not troubling, point when he confronts the mysterious Charlie about making sexual advances towards her “We don’t want a lot of little half-wit brats running in on us, the sort of children that Evie would have.” (Stewart 255). Between the lack care for Evie’s inability to consent and his use of “half-wit”, Ish’s remarks are woefully problematic, but there is still something painfully convincing about his reasoning. Likewise, when the Ish votes with the rest of his village to murder Charlie, it is hard not agree with them given how Ish’s perceptions of Charlie dominate the reader’s perspective. Ish tells himself that if Charlie poses even a potential threat to the fragile, little village, it is enough to justify a preemptive strike on Charlie’s life. Given how Ish is perhaps more aware than others of the village’s perpetual fragility, it is hard not to agree with him.

Indeed, Charlie’s death is perhaps the pivotal moment where Ish realizes that all the pillars of civilization, (truth, morality, etc.), simply do not apply anymore. Ish goes as far as to reason that “rationalism – like so much else – had only been one of the luxuries which men could afford under civilization.” (Stewart 284). He sounds absurd out of context, but the reality he experiences is one where quick witted, in the moment decision making is consistently more effective than careful consideration. Ish learns that with swift and certain danger lurking around every corner, whatever will most directly insure the immediate survival of the village is always the best decision. Morality means nothing if everybody dies.

With that in mind, Earth Abides is effective in arguing that civilization is nothing more than a delicate series of social constructions. While civilization is strong as long as there are people to uphold it, it is still a collective fabrication, and in times of great crisis, those same people who uphold it will scramble around worrying about their own survival before they will consider anything else. There is a dangerous universality to this assertion, but Earth Abides makes a compelling case to support it.