I read this book first 30 years ago in college. It became one of my favorite books ever even after all these years. This is not your typical apocalyptic novel with undercurrents of aliens or walking dead. It is a straightforward tale of a man who lives his life on the earth almost devoid of human life. It describes in detail the gradual decay of all that humankind built over 5000 years as the earth reclaims its own. It also tells the story of a small group of individuals that make a life and even a community amid the vestiges of a bygone world of machines and remnants of mankind's achievements. It truly is a book that will stick with you for the rest of you life.
I value intelligent stories with characters I can relate to. I can appreciate good prose, but a captivating plot is way more important.
Post-apocalyptic fiction is my favorite genre. So many aspects of the story of the world after civilization captivate me, that I always find something fascinating in every telling. In this novel, Stewart's real novelty and strength is in the observations of the end of the world through a thoroughly scientific mind. Bonus points for waxing philosophic and providing unexpectedly thoughtful details.
Stewart shines in his detailed symphony of decay-- he gives thought to infrastructure and nature and mankind themselves. It is a long journey, and I understand how some people could find the book tedious. I enjoyed the plodding pace because so often it sent my mind to wander in new directions.
The book has several minor flaws, and a couple of unforgivable flaws:
The minor flaws involve the scientific details like failing to realize that gasoline goes stale after a time, Ish's failure to ever experience grief of any kind, and the complete omission of what happened to the hundreds of millions of corpses that should have been lying around.
The first major flaw that very nearly ruined the book for me was Ish's and the Tribe's thoroughly unrealistic failure to educate their children. This flaw is so central to the story that had I been in a different mood, I may just as easily have given this book a rating as low as two stars.
Here's the problem: Ish, a man of superior intellect, is surrounded by adults who are not as smart as he is-- but beyond their failure to qualify as intellectuals themselves, they actively laugh at Ish's repeated pleas to steer the Tribe and it's children back towards a civilized life style.
Even this unlikely reaction may have been believable had the author justified it with dialog, and laid the fault firmly at the feet of the idiot Tribe adults. But that never happens. Ish never delivers a compelling argument to the group. He never gets outraged with them.
Nor are the other Tribe adults ever described as insufferable morons-- instead we are repeatedly reminded that they are all just average folks. As if average folks wouldn't care that they were letting the torch of civilization burn out?!
Anyway, the author quickly writes away about 20 years, noting some landmarks along the way-- and so it is almost easy to miss the fact that 20 years is a long, long, long time. Plenty of time to educate children. Plenty of time to realize that not educating the children is a ridiculously stupid failure. Plenty of time to encounter problem after problem after problem, whose solutions could easily be found in books, which future generations really should know how to read.
So we have the impotent Ish, and the other Tribe adults sitting around, doing nothing but breeding ignorant offspring. Even when basic plumbing and water supplies fail, the adults are unmoved. Never mind that they could set up cisterns, or move to an area with a hand-pump well to get fresh water. Oh, and rather than fill toilet tanks manually from a bucket or something, or rig a clever plumbing solution, they choose to use outhouses instead. Yeah. Right.
Eventually Ish decides that way to educate the young is to teach them basic hunter-gatherer skills, so that when civilization's scraps are used up, they'll be able to survive on their wits. So, what does he do? He teaches them how to make bows and arrows, and how to start fires from scratch... and ... that's it. He teaches them literally nothing else. Nothing about farming, metallurgy, medicine, weather prediction (seriously, he doesn't even teach them how to use the barometer that he is hold), etc.
The Tribe breeds like bunnies, with every generation getting more ignorant. Ish notices that they are becoming superstitious, and losing skepticism and critical thinking skills. He attempts to fix the problem for a total of one minute, decides it's hopeless, and subsequently spends the rest of his life reinforcing the idea that his hammer is magical and that he is a god. He makes no attempt to explain scientific method-- arguably the one concept that could save the future from hundreds or thousands of years of ignorance.
The other major flaw in the novel was that there were clearly a lot of humans still alive, but the Tribe never seeks to join them. Early in the novel Ish found dozens of people without too much effort. Now, Ish's goal was to keep civilization alive. To that end, the obvious first step is to gather enough people together that they can start to specialize. In little groups, all you can really worry about is feeding yourself, but in larger groups, you can designate farmers to do the cultivating, and you can have other members of society do useful things like restore a power plant, learn medicine, TEACH CHILDREN HOW TO READ, and so on. This idea is never even mentioned by the author.
In Stewart's small view of the world, Ish is the "Last American"-- while as a reader I can enjoy the novel's ending only if I imagine that just a few hundred miles away a sizable group of humans have gathered and managed to keep their children educated. I choose to imagine that one day they will run into Ish's bow & arrow-wielding descendants, and mow them down with machine gun fire.
Me, myself, and I.
I've read a lot of science fiction, but few novels have impacted me as deeply as this one. Stewart's description of a post-apocalyptic society and, more importantly, the relationship between man and Earth, is nearly unparalleled in scope and depth. This one has me looking at roads, bridges, and other man-made scars upon the face of the planet in an entirely different way. Recommended for anyone who wants to journey into the impossibly possible.
I clearly remember reading this book for the first time, well over twenty years ago. I picked up a paperback version of this book about six years ago and read it again. I'm so pleased I felt compelled to buy and download the Audible version of this wonderful book. I just could NOT stop listening, even though I knew how everything was going to turn out. This also speaks to the truly exceptional narration by Jonathan Davis and Connie Willis!
If you enjoy books like, "Alas, Babylon" by Pat Frank, "I Am Legend" by Richard Matheson, "The Wild Shore" by Kim Stanley Robinson, "Eternity Road" by Jack McDevitt or "The Postman" by David Brin - you WILL enjoy this book.
I thought this book was absolutely awesome. It touched me on so many levels.
Highlights of the book:
-The ache of loneliness and memories
-Life in the vacuum of real leadership and vision
-How easy it is to sacrificing the future because of present conveniences (water, reading)
-Small things can make a big difference (arrows)
-Growing old and the hope and disappointment in the next generations (Joey, Ish IV)
-Love and companionship can make help on face even the most horrific situations. (Em)
An old broad that enjoys books of all types. Would rather read than write reviews though. I know what I like, and won't be bothered by crap.
This book was written 60 years ago but for the most part is current for today. Can you imagine being one of the last survivors on earth?
The narrator was excellent and the story is at times sad and other times hopeful.
The only things I cringed at were the fact that the survivors still were eating canned goods and medicine that was over 20 years old. Obviously the author didn't realize that they would degrade.
This was one of my first listens and made me want to join the club for ever!
This book is for all Armaggedonites. I enjoy end-of-the-World scenario books and "Earth Abides" is supreme. Written 60 years ago, the story is somewhat predictable but holds up beautifully in a today's completely new culture. Stewart whisks through 20 years of post-apocalypse time, which he needed to grow his population, but it is nicely done by naming each year for significant events.
I love this book and it shall become a favorite along with "Lucifer's Hammer" and "The Stand." Worth double the price.
I am very much into post-apocolyptia, as my Dad calls it, but I also just love a good story; from Earth Abides to Art of Racing in The Rain
This book is amazing! It paints a clear visualization of the earth, the Bay Area in particular, and how it weathers after a disease has wiped out much of mankind. My Geography professor assigned this book as part of our reading, and I thanked him afterward. This is a must read, thoroughly enjoyable!
I read this book more than 30 years ago...
and it is Still one of the greatest books I ever read.
Way ahead of its time...
It makes you think... and will make you think about it for ALONG time.
Clearly the inspiration for THE STAND and Many Many Other books...
The audio Presentation of this Classic is Very Fine.
even if a couple of the words were Strangely pronounced....
(like "coupe") lol
I feel like this was one of the best buys on this site.
I Just may listen to it again right away.
the book is some times called "the saddest book"... but I do not see it that way.
In the intro, the women says you will read this book and never forget it, well she is right. I have truly enjoyed this book and found it was not what I thought it would be but so much more. Read it and enjoy, it will go on your best book list for sure.