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TEotWaWKI Book Review: Earth Abides

Earth Abides by George R. Stewart
Earth Abides by George R. Stewart

by George R. Stewart

I have a stack of old school TEotWaWKI books written long before SHTF. If this book is any indicator of quality, I'm in for a long haul if I follow through on my intention to read them all. My problems with this book lie not just in the advice offered, but primarily in the fact that the characters are extremely boring.

The author posits a world brought to its knees by a virus. The main character, Isherwood Williams, was laid low by a snake bite when the pandemic swept away most of mankind, so he was not around to witness the unfolding catastrophe. Upon recovery, he stumbles through the world like a drunk waking up from an epic bender. The book follows him as he embarks on an odyssey from California to New York and then back to the west coast, where he settles and lives out the remaining decades of his life. The only reason I did not toss this book unfinished, is that I found the window into 1950s America to be fascinating, if somewhat repugnant.

First of all, do NOT look to this book for advice. You will find nothing here worthwhile. Some of the lessons taught:

  • Canned food lasts forever, so don't bother with farming or hunting/gathering.
  • Do not look to the library for reference material should you actually set out to improve your life. A real man can figure it out on his own.
  • Whatever you do, do not accept the mentally defective into your group. If you are stuck with one, you should kill or run the person off.

Ish would frequently give impassioned speeches about something that they must do, but there would be no follow up. As long as folks' immediate needs were being met, nobody did anything to improve their future prospects. For example, the water flowed freely from everyone's faucets: fine, dandy, what do we need to worry about? Water mains start breaking: no problems, some people still get water. Slowly but surely, their options dwindled until they were forced to gather water from streams. This process was repeated time and again with food, shelter and other necessities. No wonder their civilization ceased to exist.

To call this anti-intellectualism would be to imply an active opposition to thought. It is true the they discouraged their children from reading too much because it might make them think too much. For the most part, though, it was just laziness. Combine this with their opposition to anything sensual and you have a recipe for death by ennui. In addition to the above mentioned lack of desire for good food, sex was only for procreation. Anyone who seemed to exhibit desire, was castigated, labelled a bad person.

It's a wonder, given this window into life half a century before the true end of the world, that we didn't experience it much soon.

4 thoughts on “TEotWaWKI Book Review: Earth Abides

  1. Bill Drinkmore

    It pains me, truly, to say "Don't read this." However, given the large number of similarly themed books, at least put this at the bottom of your to read list.

  2. PeterM

    Although I agree that the book is a slow read, and takes some awkward jumps in time at various points, I came away with a different interpretation of his point. I don't think what you say is 'advice' was really his point. I felt it was just the opposite: his opinion was that, in a world with very few capable people left (a random set of survivors, with random abilities and psychological 'strengths'), and with a lot of left over food and tools, people would naturally drift into a lazy, easy existence. And, that this would happen even if someone with some level of vision and drive to maintain the knowledge of the path, made every effort to avoid it. My first sentence aside, I did find it interesting to watch how Ish tried, and failed, to make an impact against the downward momentum of the group. From a similar beginning, Steven King in The Stand, ended up in a completely different place, but only because he created two forces of good and evil that pulled people together into two cities, and gave them a motivation to re-develop the old technologies.

    1. Bill Drinkmore

      I agree. I can see that the time in which the story was written (mid-20th century) and the cause of the end-of-the-world would contribute greatly to the nature of the tale. If you take a look at Lucifer's Hammer, a book written 2-3 decades later and involving an extremely violent proximate end, the folks react very differently.

      Ish may have had ideas about what to do, but never followed up on them. It felt like getting along with the group was far more important. And that usually (not always!) ends in disaster.

      Thanks for taking your time to comment.

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