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Earth Abides

Earth Abides

4.2 84
by George R. Stewart

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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,


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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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.

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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Earth Abides 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 84 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
poetbear More than 1 year ago
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.
harstan More than 1 year ago
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
Martin Hill More than 1 year ago
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.
SavageBS More than 1 year ago
"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! Enjoy~
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is an early work of post-apocalyptic fiction based on a pandemic wiping out a large portion of humanity. The protagonist is a reclusive type, a young university student of some type, who spends long periods of time in his remote cabin. As the scene opens, he is bitten by a rattlesnake, and falls very ill, though he survives. He soon discovers, on re-entering town, that he survived an illness more than just snakebite, and finds everywhere he goes, including his parents' house, devoid of people. What is fascinating about this book is that it was first written in the 30s or so, before much technology was in place (just radios, though electricity and cars are also part of the plot), so it is a neat perspective on what it is like to survive as infrastructure slowly decays and the natural state of Earth takes over. The author deals with a wide variety of thought-provoking topics, such as plants, pests, pets, infrastructure, the role of laws and society, relationships, and even time itself. It is a good read, though it can be slow in a few places, the topics vary enough to keep you going and interested to see what will happen next.
momander More than 1 year ago
... 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!
1984Bruin More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Stewart's Earth Abides has long been considered a classic in the sci-fi genre and a classic apocalyptic novel (it even helped to inspire Stephen King's The Stand). And it is no wonder why. Stewart has a highly believable, excellently written story here. Though it does lose something in the the third part of the book, when Ish is an old man. One you should definately pick up.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
My Dad recommended this book to me when I once asked him what his favorite book was. I read it the first time when I was 15, and I have read it at least 10 other times. It is by far one of the most exciting and compelling stories I have ever read. I think this book should be required in all schools to show us the frailness of the human species, and how lucky we all are to be walking around.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is one of my favorite books of all time. It is ageless, and it is the kind of book that you continue to think about long after the final page. I cannot recommend it more highly.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I would really like to see this on Nook Audio Book Application...I listen to audio-books while I work at my desk all day, and I would pay for this if it was an audio-book on the Nook App where I have all my other books. I don't want a CD or an MP3, I want it in the convenient library in my nook app for my phone.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Ish is the main reason i am having a hard time getting thru it.hes just not likable.pompous ass.the story drags as well.i find myself skimming and bored.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
One of the classics of post-apocalyptic fiction, from which so many later works are derivative. Everyone should read this.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The number of positive reviews surprises me. Ish is a truly despicable person, and seeing the world through his eyes was very unpleasant, which made it difficult to enjoy the book. Ish has no backstory; he is an arrogant snob; it is impossible to empathize with him; and he is more of an unfeeling robot than a human. The writing was also poor. I love apocalyptic novels, but this one is no good. Read "far north" instead.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I read this book for the first time in 1972. It was great then and still wonderful. Doesnt ever seem to go out of date. Could have been written yesterday. Needs to be a movie. Will be great!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I have read some of the reviews and do agree that Ish in some parts is a bad character but the storyline isn't that bad. However, It is a book you may have to read twice to fully understand what is going on. Other than that, good read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
An okay book. Lengthy in some areas. Unbelievable in other areas. There are better books in this genre.
RalphRotten More than 1 year ago
Earth Abides is one of the earliest post apocalyptic novels (a lady wrote the first EOW novel back during the civil war but I dont rremember her name right off the top of my head).  But despite the vintage (it predates WWII) the story is spot on, and represents some very advanced thinking for the time.   This book has influenced a number of top books in ththe apocalyptic genre including The Postman by David Brin, Lucifers Hammer by Niven & Pournel, and Calizona by R.Rotten.  If you like EOW [end of world] stories then all of these are essential reading.