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Publisher's Summary

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.

NOTE: This 60th anniversary edition of Earth Abides includes a special introduction written and read by Hugo Award-winning writer Connie Willis.

©2006 Del Rey (P)2009 Audible, Inc.

Critic Reviews

  • 1951 World Fantasy Award, Best Novel
  • All-Time Best Science Fiction Novels (Locus Magazine)

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars

Brilliant, beautiful, sad, terrifying

Earth Abides is one of the most important books I have ever read. This is not an adventure novel or a thriller. There are no zombies and no roaming bands of cannibals. Instead, its focus is on the Earth in the wake of humanity's destruction and on the remaining humans who inhabit this bleak new world. It is a carefully honed experiment in anthropology and sociology. Its depth and complexity is astounding and it deserves to be ranked as one of the best novels of the twentieth century. It can be boring at times but it is truly brilliant, beautiful, sad, terrifying, and entirely worth the trouble. And the narrator is excellent and adds enormous value to the story.

The main character, Isherwood "Ish" Williams, watches as the world of man falls apart. He is an intellectual and an anxious man who fears that his tribe of survivor's easy lifestyle, thriving on the remains of the past, will cause humanity to revert into a primitive state. Ish takes upon himself the burden of maintaining human knowledge, building new traditions, a new state, and even a new civilization. His tribe, on the other hand, is content to live in an idyllic world where food is plentiful, disease is unknown, and there is little to fear.

Much of the novel is Ish's internal dialogue and the narrative tends to veer off on tangents. I occasionally found myself lost and had no idea what the author was talking about. And Stewart's attention to detail often gives the reader the sense that something is about to happen when, in fact, nothing does. Then there are other passages that the reader knows are going nowhere, such as the description of scenery, and reading feels like a chore.

Despite its flaws, Earth Abides is filled with so much wisdom regarding human psychology and the state of man in nature and in civilization, that it should be required reading for any college student studying sociology, anthropology, or even political science. This is a novel that I will remember forever.

58 of 59 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

Thought provoking and entertaining

This sci-fi/post Armageddon book was written in 1949, and I hesitated to buy it from Audible because of its publication date. A terrible disease wipes out most of the human population of earth leaving only a few stragglers to continue the race. Ish (the protagonist, Ishram Williams) is in the mountains during the epidemic, and thanks to a rattlesnake bite (he believes), he survives the plague though he is very ill.
Ish's attempt to guarantee the success of mankind over future generations is the direction of the book. His success (or lack thereof) is what makes the story work. I kept trying to think of it as it would be written today, but really there isn't much difference. The libraries have real card catalogs, things are not so dependent on electronics, vehicles don't work the same way, but all in all, the story doesn't have that feel of obsolescence I was expecting.
I laughed, I cried, I suffered with Ish in his realizations about humanity. There are scenes in that book I will never forget -- the deserted University library, the rusting and abandoned Golden Gate Bridge, the little dog begging Ish for recognition. Stewart dealt with racial barriers in a way that is completely unexpected in a book written in 1949. His concerns with the future of mankind are clear and obvious (and still as pertinent as they were 60 years ago).
This is an intense book, not a light read, but it is entertaining and thought provoking. I find myself wondering how I would react in a world nearly devoid of people with no running water or electricity. Curse it, it makes me think.

67 of 70 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

"Men Come and Go, but the Earth Abides"

If you are looking for a page-turning, violent-action-packed post-holocaust story like in the movies Road Warrior or I Am Legend, look elsewhere. Stewart's Earth Abides is much more quiet, poetic, beautiful, and thoughtful, though it surely packs many emotional punches and has plenty of suspense, once you submerse yourself in his world and characters.

I like Ish (Isherwood Williams), Stewart's protagonist. He's humane, thoughtful, sensitive, honest, and brave as he tries to live "creatively" in a world in which humanity has been almost completely wiped out via a quick-acting virus. Ish's attempts to find surviving kindred spirits and to rebuild civilization are moving. Stewart's detailed descriptions of the processes by which nature reclaims or transforms the traces of human civilization like roads, buildings, and cultivated flora and fauna are vivid; his speculations (through Ish) about human nature, civilization, race, gender, religion, love, life, and death are stimulating; his use of symbols like Ish's hammer, the university library, and the Bay Bridge are rich. The novel possesses a biblical (Old Testament) grandeur and pathos leavened by quiet humor. Despite being published in 1949, it doesn't seem dated. As other reviewers have noted, many scenes remain with you long after you close the book (or turn off your player).

The introduction by Connie Willis is heartfelt, interesting, and concise.

Finally, Jonathan Davis does a great job reading this book (as he does with The Windup Girl), infusing Stewart's detailed story with plenty of wit and emotion and humor and generally speaking in a pleasing reading voice that amplifies the text without trying to dominate it.

27 of 28 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
  • Michael
  • Walnut Creek, CA, United States
  • 10-24-13

Classic in Every Sense

Some might argue this is novel is dated. Perhaps in some ways it is, but if only as one of the first great post-apocalyptic fiction novels it is worth a listen. Yet it is more than that. This novel has a subtle greatness. It is one of the relatively few novels that continues to affect me days, weeks, months and even years later. I first listened to Earth Abides years ago right after finishing Ordeal by Hunger: The Story of the Donner Party which impressed me as being both detailed and touching. Earth Abides is also well written and humanistic and was also much better, a Sci Fi classic. Beyond that, Earth Abides transcends its genre approaching true greatness. This is not to say the novel has no faults, I see the faults, yet I can’t bring myself to point them out. I highly recommend Earth Abides. The narration is excellent adding to the experience.

24 of 25 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

One of the all time great sci-fi novels ...

I have read this book ... in print ... many times over the years and have owned many copies of it, passed along to friends and acquaintances who presumably passed it along to yet others.

I think what is MOST wonderful about the book is not, as I have heard some reviewers comment, that it is the "the original disaster story," but rather that it is a book of enormous hope.

Civilization may come and go, but Earth Abides. It's in the title.

I was listening to Connie Willis' introduction to the book and realized that she had missed something because, well, she doesn't read or speak Hebrew. I do, if badly, speak and understand Hebrew so I knew that "Ish" (pro: eesh) means, in Hebrew "Man, and in some contexts, "husband" while Emma (in Hebrew, pro: eema) means "Mother." Is it a bizarre coincidence the the two characters who begin the rebuilding are thus named?

I think not.

So in this book, though all the things of mankind perish when most humans are rather tidily eliminated, Earth does indeed abide and humankind reinvents civilization as it has before and quite probably will again.

It is a disaster (certainly for all those who died), but it is the beginning of everything too.

It is a wonderful book and despite the lack of computers and other electronic gadgets, the book is not particularly dated. How long, after all, would the internet function without people to fix downed servers, electronic glitches etc. How fast would our cell phones cease having service?

As science fiction goes, this is one of the greatest. As philosophy goes, it's not bad either! Also, incidentally, very well written and rather poetic.

35 of 37 people found this review helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
  • Rick
  • Urcuqui, Ecuador
  • 03-21-15

A Thinking Man’s Apocalypse

Sixty-five years after its publication, “Earth Abides” remains fresh in its singular view of what might happen after most of the world’s population is wiped out by a fast-moving plague. The premise is a familiar one. Stephen King, for one, credits the work as an inspiration for his hugely successful “The Stand.” But his took off in an entirely different direction.

“Earth Abides” follows the post-pandemic life of Isherwood “Ish” Williams and what becomes a small group of survivors who cluster together in Berkeley, California as the world they knew steadily crumbles. The electricity fails, and years later the water supply. In between, everything changes. George R. Stewart, a serious academic, provides insights that are often surprising in this, his first and only science fiction novel.

There is the rise and fall of species—first ants, then rats, cattle, grasshoppers, and mountain lions. It is the constant cycle of animals that overbreed as they react to the rise and fall of their supply of prey and predators, then practically die out again.

And then something like it starts happening to the culture of the people. The little community of survivors—“the tribe,” as they increasingly call themselves—have children. Over the decades, the children marry and produce more children. But they don’t learn to read, or retain much sense of all the human history that was so recently lost. They don’t care about ice, for example, since they’ve never had it, so ice is one of those myriad achievements of civilization they feel no compulsion to recreate. They use matches, but couldn’t make one. After all this time, they don’t know how to fabricate things, or build things, or raise domesticated animals for food. They have become complacent scavengers in a land of incalculable plenty, thanks to thousands of abandoned stores, and they don’t realize how much they have forgotten.

Superstition rises to fill the space where knowledge belongs. Ish becomes something of a reluctant demigod.

This is not the way post-apocalyptic books usually go. They tend to be filled with renegade bad guys and warring factions whom the survivors must fear—zombies in the latest versions. Here the survivors themselves have become their worst enemy, or so it seems for a time. The whole of human civilization that separates them from savagery turns out to be an ephemeral thing.

In a way, it is an illustration of the theory that humans are never more than a generation away from atavism, as was illustrated in “Lord of the Flies.” But viewed differently, it’s not quite that, but rather the fact that in a slimmed-down world, the trappings of civilization are not particularly useful. In a tribe of 30 people, there’s very little urgency about preserving the science of plastics manufacture. There’s no need to make ammunition when a bow and arrow will do nicely.

They have all the civilization they need.

If Stewart set out to create an abiding volume, he couldn’t have done it better. There are very few clues within the book as to its real age. There are comments about records and record players, and incidents of careless use of the DDT that would be banned in 1972, but most of the book is timeless. There is never a mention of any specific year. It does have a formal, slightly dated writing style which constantly uses “which” when “that” would do, and there are no contractions.

The narration by Jonathan Davis is engaging and warm, and the audiobook is an affecting experience. Except perhaps for the truly devoted science fiction fan, however, the strident introduction by Connie Willis is a distraction.

8 of 8 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Jorden
  • DrontenNetherlands
  • 08-24-09

A deeply moving and fascinating book

First of all, this is not the Stand, and no post apocalyptic horror story. To be honest, I was kind of hoping Earth Abides would be like that, but when I started the book I realized this book is not comparable to the Stand.

Humanity is wiped out except for a few, and the story is about Ish and some other survivors who start a new civilization. To me, the story is realistic and sometimes harsh, and I was really curious how it all would end. The narrator has a pleasant voice, and I wasn't bored once throughout the book. At the end I was left with awe, and I'm sure I'll never forget this book.

32 of 35 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

A Great Book!

The premise of this book reminded me of "The Road" but not so graphic. The book revolves around a man "Ish" who lives through a epidemic that wipes out almost the whole world. Though he does not witness the epidemic, he emerges from living in solitude in a cabin in northern California to see it's after effects. No one is around. He proceeds to slowly build a small community over the ensuing 40+ years. A very well written account of life, starting over. The book was written in 1949, as such there is no graphic content and the story shines through. Highly recommended and very well narrated.

21 of 23 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

The End of the World As We Know It

Audible puts this book in the sci-fi category, but if you're not a sci-fi person, don't let that scare you off this amazing book. The narration is done incredibly well and the story of the fall and rise of civilization feels so authentic I didn't want to leave these characters behind after the book was over. Highly recommended 'listen'.

21 of 23 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
  • Sarah
  • Ossining, NY, United States
  • 05-15-12

Unbelievable gift of non-fictitious fiction

What did you love best about Earth Abides?

This story, so well performed, intrigued, touched and inspired me to question as few others have, I would recommend it to anyone; gifts of insight into the natural world, humanity, and the reality within which they co-create one another are indispensable in these days wherein so much is taken for granted, assumed and accepted.

6 of 6 people found this review helpful