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I don’t recall what prompted me to start reading Earth Abides, but once I took it up, I couldn’t put it down. That was in the 1960s and it has stayed with me all these years.
George R. Stewart wrote 29 books, all but one are scholarly non-fiction works about names, place-names, and events that unfolded at those places. But he is best known for his only novel, a science fiction story of a post-apocalyptic world.
Earth Abides tells the fascinating and moving account of Ish (Isherwood) and a small band of survivors after a disease wipes out nearly all of Earth’s humans. Ish is their leader . He tries to preserve civilization, even as it disintegrates and is replaced by a new order.
It’s also about how Nature reverts in the absence of man’s destructive influence and how humans behave in the absence of civilization’s dominance. It deals with huge issues: plant and animal biology, population size, artificial and natural selection, diversity of life forms, tribal structure, family systems, customs, justice, personal relationships.
Earth Abides was my introduction to the field of ecology. It enhanced my awareness of “systems,” a concept that applies to all of life, weather, and climate. This is the first book on the environment that I read — how every species affects, however indirectly, every other species.
Interview with George R. Stewart, Susanne B. Riess, UC Berkeley Special Collections
Finding Aid to the George Rippey Stewart Papers, 1914-1984, Online Archive of California, University of California