Earth Abides [NOOK Book]



The cabin had always been a special retreat for Isherwood Williams, a haven from the demands of society. But one day while hiking, Ish was bitten by a rattlesnake, and the solitude he had so desired took on dire new significance.
He was sick for days — although, somehow, he never doubted that he'd live through the ordeal. Often delirious, he did awake at one point to find two strangers peering in at him from the cabin door. Yet oddly, instead...
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Earth Abides

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The cabin had always been a special retreat for Isherwood Williams, a haven from the demands of society. But one day while hiking, Ish was bitten by a rattlesnake, and the solitude he had so desired took on dire new significance.
He was sick for days — although, somehow, he never doubted that he'd live through the ordeal. Often delirious, he did awake at one point to find two strangers peering in at him from the cabin door. Yet oddly, instead of offering help, the two ran off as if terrified.
Not long after that, the coughing began. Ish suffered chills followed by fever, and a measles-like rash that had nothing to do with snake bite broke out on his skin. He was one of the few people in the world to live through that peculiar malady, but he didn't know it then.

Ish headed home when he finally felt himself again—and noticed the strangeness almost immediately. No cars passed him on the road; the gas station not far from his cabin had an air of abandonment; and he was shocked to see the body of a man lying by the roadside near a small town.

Without a radio or phone, Ish had no idea of humanity's abrupt demise. He had escaped death, yet could not escape the awesomeness of the catastrophe—and, with an eerie detachment, he found himself curious as to how long it would be before all traces of man's civilization faded from the Earth.

At the same time, he couldn't help wondering whether others had survived, and whether even a handful of human beings would

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780547593708
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Publication date: 1/1/1976
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 368
  • Sales rank: 4,981
  • File size: 598 KB

Meet the Author

George R. Stewart (1895-1980) taught for more than fifty years at the University of California, Berkeley. He is the author of Pickett's Charge, Earth Abides, and numerous other books of history, biography, and fiction.
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Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1.

. . . and the government of the United States of America is herewith suspended, except in the District of Columbia, as of the emergency. Federal officers, including those of the Armed Forces, will put themselves under the orders of the governors of the various states or of any other functioning local authority. By order of the Acting President. God save the people of the United States. . . .

Here is an announcement which has just come in from the Bay Area Emergency Council. The West Oakland Hospitalization Center has been abandoned. Its functions, including burials at sea, are now concentrated at the Berkeley Center. That is all. . . .

Keep tuned to this station, which is the only one now in operation in northern California. We shall inform you of developments, as long as it is possible.

Just as he pulled himself up to the rock ledge, he heard a sudden rattle, and felt a prick of fangs. Automatically he jerked back his right hand; turning his head, he saw the snake, coiled and menacing. It was not a large one, he noted, even at the moment when he raised his hand to his lips and sucked hard at the base of the index finger, where a little drop of blood was oozing out.

“Don’t waste time by killing the snake!” he remembered.

He slid down from the ledge, still sucking. At the bottom he saw the hammer lying where he had left it. For a moment he thought he would go on and leave it there. That seemed like panic; so he stooped and picked it up with his left hand, and went on down the rough trail.

He did not hurry. He knew better than that. Hurry only speeded up a man’s heart, and made the venom circulatefaster. Yet his heart was pounding so rapidly from excitement or fear that hurrying or not hurrying, it seemed, should make no difference. After he had come to some trees, he took his handkerchief and bound it around his right wrist. With the aid of a twig he twisted the handkerchief into a crude tourniquet.

Walking on, he felt himself recovering from his panic. His heart was slowing down. As he considered the situation, he was not greatly afraid. He was a young man, vigorous and healthy. Such a bite would hardly be fatal, even though he was by himself and without good means of treatment.

Now he saw the cabin ahead of him. His hand felt stiff. Just before he got to the cabin, he stopped and loosened the tourniquet, as he had read should be done, and let the blood circulate in the hand. Then he tightened it again.

He pushed open the door, dropping the hammer on the floor as he did so. It fell, handle up, on its heavy head, rocked back and forth for a moment, and then stood still, handle in the air.

He looked into the drawer of the table, and found his snake-bite outfit, which he should have been carrying with him on this day of all days. Quickly he followed the directions, slicing with the razor-blade a neat little crisscross over the mark of the fangs, applying the rubber suction-pump. Then he lay on his bunk watching the rubber bulb slowly expand, as it sucked the blood out.

He felt no premonitions of death. Rather, the whole matter still seemed to him just a nuisance. People had kept telling him that he should not go into the mountains by himself—“Without even a dog!” they used to add. He had always laughed at them. A dog was constant trouble, getting mixed up with porcupines or skunks, and he was not fond of dogs anyway. Now all those people would say, “Well, we warned you!”

Tossing about half-feverishly, he now seemed to himself to be composing a defense. “Perhaps,” he would say, “the very danger in it appealed to me!” (That had a touch of the heroic in it.) More truthfully he might say, “I like to be alone at times, really need to escape from all the problems of dealing with people.” His best defense, however, would merely be that, at least during the last year, he had gone into the mountains alone as a matter of business. As a graduate student, he was working on a thesis: The Ecology of the Black Creek Area. He had to investigate the relationships, past and present, of men and plants and animals in this region. Obviously he could not wait until just the right companion came along. In any case, he could never see that there was any great danger. Although nobody lived within five miles of his cabin, during the summer hardly a day passed without some fisherman coming by, driving his car up the rocky road or merely following the stream.

Yet, come to think of it, when had he last seen a fisherman? Not in the past week certainly. He could not actually remember whether he had seen one in the two weeks that he had been living by himself in the cabin. There was that car he had heard go by after dark one night. He thought it strange that any car would be going up that road in the darkness, and could hardly see the necessity, for ordinarily people camped down below for the night and went up in the morning. But perhaps, he thought, they wanted to get up to their favorite stream, to go out for some early fishing.

No, actually, he had not exchanged a word with anyone in the last two weeks, and he could not even remember that he had seen anyone.

A throb of pain brought him back to what was happening at the moment. The hand was beginning to swell. He loosened the tourniquet to let the blood circulate again.

Yes, as he returned to his thoughts, he realized that he was out of touch with things entirely. He had no radio. Therefore, as far as he was concerned, there might have been a crash of the stock market or another Pearl Harbor; something like that would account for so few fishermen going by. At any rate, there was very little chance apparently that anyone would come to help him. He would have to work his own way out.

Yet even that prospect did not alarm him. At worst, he considered, he would lie up in his cabin, with plenty of food and water for two or three days, until the swelling in his hand subsided and he could drive his car down to Johnson’s, the first ranch.

The afternoon wore on. He did not feel like eating anything when it came toward suppertime, but he made himself a pot of coffee on the gasoline stove, and drank several cups. He was in much pain, but in spite of the pain and in spite of the coffee he became sleepy. . . .

He woke suddenly in half-light, and realized that someone had pushed open the cabin door. He felt a sudden relief to know that he had help. Two men in city clothes were standing there, very decent-looking men, although staring around strangely, as if in fright. “I’m sick!” he said from his bunk, and suddenly he saw the fright on their faces change to sheer panic. They turned suddenly without even shutting the door, and ran. A moment later came the sound of a starting motor. It faded out as the car went up the road.

Appalled now for the first time, he raised himself from the bunk, and looked through the window. The car had already vanished around the curve. He could not understand. Why had they suddenly disappeared in panic, without even offering to help?

He got up. The light was in the east; so he had slept until dawn the next morning. His right hand was swollen and acutely painful. Otherwise he did not feel very ill. He warmed up the pot of coffee, made himself some oatmeal, and lay down in his bunk again, in the hope that after a while he would feel well enough to risk driving down to Johnson’s—that is, of course, if no one came along in the meantime who would stop and help him and not like those others, who must be crazy, run away at the sight of a sick man.

Soon, however, he felt much worse, and realized that he must be suffering some kind of relapse. By the middle of the afternoon he was really frightened. Lying in his bunk, he composed a note, thinking that he should leave a record of what had happened. It would not be very long of course before someone would find him; his parents would certainly telephone Johnson’s in a few days now, if they did not hear anything. Scrawling with his left hand, he managed to get the words onto paper. He signed merely Ish. It was too much work to write out his full name of Isherwood Williams, and everybody knew him by his nickname.

At noon, feeling himself like the shipwrecked mariner who from his raft sees the steamer cross along the horizon, he heard the sound of cars, two of them, coming up the steep road. They approached, and then went on, without stopping. He called to them, but by now he was weak, and his voice, he was sure, did not carry the hundred yards to the turnoff where the cars were passing.

Even so, before dusk he struggled to his feet, and lighted the kerosene lamp. He did not want to be left in the dark.

Apprehensively, he bent his lanky body down to peer into the little mirror, set too low for him because of the sloping roof of the cabin. His long face was thin always, and scarcely seemed thinner now, but a reddish flush showed through the suntan of his cheeks. His big blue eyes were bloodshot, and stared back at him wildly with the glare of fever. His light brown hair, unruly always, now stuck out in all directions, completing the mirror-portrait of a very sick young man.

He got back into his bunk, feeling no great sense of fear, although now he more than half expected that he was dying. Soon a violent chill struck him; from that he passed into a fever. The lamp burned steadily on the table, and he could see around the cabin. The hammer which he had dropped on the floor still stood there, handle pointed stiffly upwards, precariously balanced. Being right before his eyes, the hammer occupied an unduly large part of his consciousness—he thought about it a little disorderedly, as if he were making his will, an old-fashioned will in which he described the chattels he was leaving. “One hammer, called a single-jack, weight of head four pounds, handle one foot long, slightly cracked, injured by exposure to weather, head of hammer somewhat rusted, still serviceable.” He had been extraordinarily pleased when he had found the hammer, appreciating that actual link with the past. It had been used by some miner in the old days when rock-drills were driven home in a low tunnel with a man swinging a hammer in one hand; four pounds was about the weight a man could handle in that way, and it was called a single-jack because it was managed one-handedly. He thought, feverishly, that he might even include a picture of the hammer as an illustration in his thesis.

Most of those hours of darkness he passed in little better than a nightmare, racked by coughing, choking frequently, shaking with the chill, and then burning with the fever. A pink measles-like rash broke out on him.

At daybreak he felt himself again sinking into a deep sleep.

“It has never happened!” cannot be construed to mean, “It can never happen!”—as well say, “Because I have never broken my leg, my leg is unbreakable,” or “Because I’ve never died, I am immortal.” One thinks first of some great plague of insects—locusts or grasshoppers—when the species suddenly increases out of all proportion, and then just as dramatically sinks to a tiny fraction of what it has recently been. The higher animals also fluctuate. The lemmings work upon their cycle. The snowshoe-rabbits build up through a period of years until they reach a climax when they seem to be everywhere; then with dramatic suddenness their pestilence falls upon them. Some zoologists have even suggested a biological law: that the number of individuals in a species never remains constant, but always rises and falls—the higher the animal and the slower its breeding-rate, the longer its period of fluctuation.

During most of the nineteenth century the African buffalo was a common creature on the veldt. It was a powerful beast with few natural enemies, and if its census could have been taken by decades, it would have proved to be increasing steadily. Then toward the century’s end it reached its climax, and was suddenly struck by a plague of rinderpest. Afterward the buffalo was almost a curiosity, extinct in many parts of its range. In the last fifty years it has again slowly built up its numbers.

As for man, there is little reason to think that he can in the long run escape the fate of other creatures, and if there is a biological law of flux and reflux, his situation is now a highly perilous one. During ten thousand years his numbers have been on the upgrade in spite of wars, pestilences, and famines. This increase in population has become more and more rapid. Biologically, man has for too long a time been rolling an uninterrupted run of sevens.

When he awoke in the middle of the morning, he felt a sudden sense of pleasure. He had feared he would be sicker than ever, but he felt much better. He was not choking any more, and also his hand felt cooler. The swelling had gone down. On the preceding day he had felt so bad, from whatever other trouble had struck him, that he had had no time to think about the hand. Now both the hand and the illness seemed better, as if the one had stopped the other and they had both receded. By noon he was feeling clearheaded and not even particularly weak.

He ate some lunch, and decided that he could make it down to Johnson’s. He did not bother to pack up everything. He took his precious notebooks and his camera. At the last moment also, as if by some kind of compulsion, he picked up the hammer, carried it to the car, and threw it in on the floor by his feet. He drove off slowly, using his right hand as little as possible.

At Johnson’s everything was quiet. He let the car roll to a stop at the gasoline pump. Nobody came out to fill his tank, but that was not peculiar, because the Johnson pump, like so many in the mountains, was tended on a haphazard basis. He blew the horn, and waited again. After another minute he got out, and went up the rickety steps which led to the room serving as an informal store where campers could pick up cigarettes and canned goods. He went in, but there was nobody there.

From the Trade Paperback edition.
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 82 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 82 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted October 29, 2008

    Earth Abides

    This tale of diaster challenged rather that scared me ... I stayed awake at night wondering what choices I would make in the remaking of a new civilzation. Not only is there the problem of survival and emotional recovery, but also of ethics, morality, and predjudice. I reccomended it to my bookclub and to my teen-age grandsons. I loved "Clan of the Cavebear"but this tale is relevent.

    7 out of 8 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 23, 2006

    The book endures

    Like a previous reviewer, I first read Earth Abides while high school. I am now 64 and have reread the book at least 10 times. Nothing in the genre has come close to it for the detailed and fascinating account of the course mankind takes after almost being destroyed. Each time i read it, I find something new and feel the same excitement and anticipation that I felt when i was 16.

    7 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 9, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    Excellent post apocalypse tale

    Unlike all contagious diseases before this one that traveled over time, this contagion sprung up globally at about the same time. For practical purposes the human race is extinct. Isherwood ¿Ish¿ Williams survives the pandemic, but wonders if he is the last man on earth. --- In what was once called California, Ish eventually meets up with a small rag tag band of shocked survivors. As his cohorts just try to live, they turn to Ish, more an introspective loner, as the leader. Reluctantly he takes charge not knowing what the future will bring or even if there is even going to be a future. --- This is a reprint of a highly regarded post apocalypse tale first released in 1949. The story is actually told over a period of years broken into five major parts of which the above only briefly touches on the first two sections. Ish is a terrific protagonist whose belief in survival changes over time as he observes his little colony mature. Thriller fans will enjoy this strong after the doomsday tale that in some ways shows its pre-information age initial publication, but remains a strong cautionary story. --- Harriet Klausner

    5 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 15, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    This One Will Carry On...

    "Between the plan and the fulfillment lies always the hazard. Between the plan and the fulfillment stands always the frail barrier of a human life" - George R. Martin

    Isherwood "Ish" Williams is one of the last people on Earth! How will he survive, how can he go on?

    "Earth Abides" is a book that I have owned for quite awhile & a book that I have always planned to read next, but never did. Finally I read the book and I was not only thoroughly impressed, I was in awe of George R. Martin's ideas about how it would all end and how we could possibly go on.

    I'm amazed at the amount of the poor reviews for this book, I think most people are expecting more I Am Legend type material. This book is not that at all, there is some violence, not alot, there are no zombies, only people & animals. Many reviewers state that Ish should have done this, he shouldn't have done that, forgetting that this masterpiece was written in 1949. The book is so far ahead of it's time, it's baffling to me how George R. Martin came up with some of these things. Would it be much different it this novel was written today, well obviously yes.

    Martin's theory of how each animal will thrive before it's numbers level off really made me think. The everyday things that you never give a second thought, Martin brings them to the front and makes you think, what do we do now, how do we get past this?

    If you like to read post-apocalyptic novels, if you've read "The Road" and enjoyed it, read "Earth Abides"

    This is the road that no man finishes traveling. Men come and go, but Earth abides!


    4 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 5, 2010

    A strangely hopeful story - a great read

    Of all the post-apocalyptic novels I have read, this is unquestionably the most realistic, thought-provoking, and engrossing. I read it several years ago, on the recommendation of a Sociology professor, who had used it as an entertaining focus for discussion in his classes, but when I bought the new edition this year as a gift for a relative, I just had to read it again. I couldn't put it down. The story is compelling, the description masterful, the main character someone you come to care about and admire, and the premise and plot not far-fetched or melodramatic. It's a story you can imagine yourself in, and its humanity places it above most in the genre. It would be a terrific book group read, and excellent as a supplementary or focus reading for high school or college classes.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 19, 2012

    At first, I thought this book was great and fascinating. I love

    At first, I thought this book was great and fascinating. I love post-apacolyptic stories. Then the auther has the lead character take a poke at Robinson Crusoe and subsaquently Christianity all in one shot. The book continues on for a while and about half way through the book the author's opinions towards religion really start to flow. It's as if this book represents the author/s athiestic fantasies of society being washed away and humanity being reborn without silly religions messing everything up. I'm finding it harder and harder to finish; but i'm giong to anyway. If my opinion changes at the end i'll write another review and recant this one (if i can make it to the end that is).

    3 out of 8 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 25, 2011


    I got this to see what inspired King to write The Stand. Its
    actually an interesting tale but it /is/ a period piece, the
    cultural differences are glaring in spots.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 18, 2011

    Best post-apocalyptic book I've read...

    ... and I've read a lot of them! The characters are well drawn and you can see how later authors have been influenced by this work. This world ends not in a fiery inferno or spasm of violence; it simply ends. The interesting part is what happens afterward, the next year, the next decade, the next half-century. Highly recommended!

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 10, 2011

    Published date incorrect

    The book was published in 1949, which places it in completely different era from the descibed 1976 date listed. The disappointed reviewer missed the part where Em was described as African American which makes the novel somewhat more modern than would be expected. The story remains one of my favorites of all time even if it is from a 'simpler' time.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 21, 2011

    Highly Recommended

    This is an awesome book. Scary, but so possible. I read it in one day. I knew nothing of this author before, but he is great.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 30, 2008

    I Also Recommend:

    I first read this in 8th grade (thanks Mr. Petty) and it has captured my imagination ever since.

    Isherwood Williams survives a snake bite only to find he may be the only one to survive a worldwide disaster. After a cross-country journy (including a stop at a very dissertated Wall Street...which 9/11 gave me a whole new appreciation for the discription Mr. Stewart gives) Ish returns to his home, Northern California. Slowly others are found and children are born, thus a "tribe" is formed. The drama of life is played out through the eyes of Ish and we (the readers) get to speculate as to what we would do if we were in their shoes.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 5, 2006

    Post Plague Boredom

    This is an interesting history piece but not an engaging story. The plot is a standard, the plague wipes out everybody except for a scattered handful. A twist in this one is that post apocalypse survival is too easy and there are no evil forces to combat. There is an abundance of food and resources so, why bother doing anything. That is the theme of the tale. The hero is a young geologist who survives the plague and after traversing the country returns home where boy meets girl and a few others hook up to form a community of the unmotivated. For 1945 the portrayed morality of may have been shocking, even though there is no sex portrayed (lots of kids get borne). Polygamy is ok as is interracial partnering (they where all 100% monogamous), Advanced concepts for the time. Except for our geographer nobody seems motivated to take control of the circumstances of plan ahead. The result for me is unsympathetic characters with a non-struggle attitude. Earth Abides is a book of sociology not of science fiction, it portrays a death spiral of civilization, that to me would not fit the expected behaviors of a modern survivor group. The book may interest cultural historians far more the science fiction or adventure fans. If you like Stirling¿s characters you will hate this group. I found the reading experience interesting but definitely it is a period piece

    2 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 20, 2005

    The Best

    I read this book when I was 15 or 16 yrs old. I am 45 today and this is still the best book I have ever read. Nothing will ever compare to this facsinating novel. Read it. It will stay with you forever.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 13, 2011


    Out of the hundreds of books I've read this one is one of my top 10! George Stewart wrote a classic apocalyptic novel. And to BJStarr, who the heck is George R. Martin?

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 22, 2011

    Avoid this!

    I bought this thinking that it is from a reputable publisher with no strings attached. What I got was a book I paid $7.99 for and received a DRM book that I can only view on my computer. I tried different ways of loading it to my KOBO but it didn't work. Word to the wise. Don't buy it, buy the real thing. I was ripped off. Very poor sales in my opinion.

    1 out of 11 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 31, 2011

    One of the worst books I've read...

    I bought this ebook after reading the "good" reviews and couldn't have been more disappointed. There was a lot of potential for a good story, but it fell rather flat quickly. The main character "Ish" thinks of himself as being the most intelligent man left on earth (after the plague) and everyone else is a simpleton. Ish is constantly thinking about how much superior he is to everyone else, but yet he does the most idiotic things. The other characters in this novel are one dimensional and the writing is horrible. I lost count of how many times the author would just switch to the middle of a situation where I had no clue how the character got to that point. There is one part of the book where Ish comes upon a black family and contemplates sticking around so he could have the black family work for him and he could "live like a king". Ish thinks to himself, "they would do all the work that I needed to have done." It seems to me that the author's racism was showing through quite transparently. There are many unbelievable scenarios (things that work for years after the plague) that just don't pass as being remotely possible. I honestly don't know why anyone would think that this is a good book?

    1 out of 9 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 22, 2010

    Good...but far from great

    I enjoyed this book, but as an avid dystopian fiction reader I was disappointed by the broad views and super fast pace of this book. 45 years in 350 pages? If you're new into the genera this is a good starter book. If you're looking for an in depth post apocalyptic book I wouldn't recommend it.

    1 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 26, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Waste of Time and Money

    I ordered this book anticipating a great post apocolyptic story. So many reviewers have given this story favorable comments.
    However, I hate Ish the main character, and no other characters in the story are ever full developed. Ish himself was arrogant, sexist, racist, lazy, and definatly should have died in the "first kill". He was disgusting. The reflection on the creator of such a person is pretty scary. DON'T waste your time.

    1 out of 8 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 17, 2000

    Earth will Abide

    Daniel O¿Leary Grade 8 Age 13 I thought this book was written incredibly well. Though this is fiction, the author seems to almost be telling the tale from a personal experience. His writing style makes you want to come back and read the book again. The way Ish, the main character, explores the empty world, going from the woods to the city is fascinating. Ish moves from urban neighborhoods to the greatest American cities, seeing all the different ways they have changed. This book is very origional, and written in a style that does not constantly have action going on, but instead focuses on Ish¿s thoughts and experiences. Though the theme of this book is very sad, the overall story is interesting and captivating.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 4, 2000

    George R. Stewart's 'Earth Abides' Possibly The Best Sci-Fi Novel Ever Written

    This is my all time favorite science fiction novel. The story, the characters, and the impact of this novel easily surpasses anything being written by today's crop of science fiction writers. Even the greats of the Golden Age of science fiction never equalled Earth Abides. Nor does Stephen King's 'The Stand' come even close to comparing to this novel. And yet...Earth Abides was written by someone whose name almost always elicits a puzzled 'Who?' In fact, many well-read science fiction fans have never even heard of George R. Stewart. Even so, Earth Abides is the most haunting tale of the end of the world that you will ever read.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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