In his amazing predictive authoring, Stewart revived the earth by a plague. Is it here?

The book is available in paperback from Amazon and as an audiobook. I have both versions. I’ve read it (repeatedly) and listened to it (at least another three times, once with Garry, who loved it). I’ve always been surprised it never became a movie, but I can see where it would present some serious cinematic challenges.

Still, it might make an incredible Ken Burns series. If you haven’t read it yet, this is definitely the time to read it. It is NOT depressing because everything works out as it should, though I suppose it helps to be a bit existential about the world, life, and humanity.


Posted on February 11, 2020
George R. Stewart was quite a prophet.

George R. Stewart was quite a prophet.

In his first great work, Ordeal By Hunger, he told the story from an ecological (or Ranger’s) point of view. But he began with the Astronaut’s point of view from Low Earth Orbit. Not bad for a book published in 1936. (It’s still the best book about the Donner Party).

As he prepared for the publication of his ecological novel Fire he sent a letter to a Book-of-the-Month club publicist that prophetically explained:

“I consider the main theme … to be the problem of the relationship of man to his environment. I really think of myself, in most of my books, as what might be called an ecologist. ” (From a letter in the Bancroft Library’s George Rippey Stewart Papers. Published here by permission of the Stewart family.)

In the Third Book of The Years of the City, Stewart pretty well predicted how societies fade away, in a novel that has disturbing parallels for today.

And in his classic work, Earth Abides, he predicted the end of the Anthropocene – the human era – through a disease that spreads rapidly throughout society, decimating most of the human race.

His interest in the idea came from his own experience. After graduation from Princeton University in the Class of 1917 (one of his classmates was F. Scott Fitzgerald), Stewart, like many of his classmates wrapped in patriotic passion by the US’s entry into WW I, enlisted. Like other army soldiers – young healthy men expected to be the most resistant to disease – he contracted the Spanish Flu. It nearly killed him, and it would interfere with his health for decades – eventually leading him to have one lung removed.

The flu infected ONE-THIRD of the human population of the Earth. It may have killed as many as 50,000,000 people. And, like other recent epidemics, it became deadly when some component of a virus jumped from animal populations into a strain of human flu. This is exactly what caused the launch of coronavirus – almost certainly from a live animal market in China. Read about the 1918 epidemic. It killed perhaps 50,000,000.

(An excellent article about the Spanish Flu epidemic, In Flew Enza, focuses on the effects at UC Berkeley — discussing Stewart’s experience, and Earth Abides.)

So far COVID has killed about 6000 and has a 95% cure rate. This is not meant to discourage prudence but to point out that we are far from the 1918 pandemic.

Be prudent. Don’t panic.

If this already frightening disease, coronavirus, should mutate, Stewart’s prophesy could well become (at least partially) true. There are still isolated human populations – as many as 100 tribes, the Sentinelese being the best known – which might avoid the disaster.

Will this be the Earth Abides virus? Hopefully not. At least Stewart helped prepare us with his novel. The book is so widely-read and in so many languages that certainly many of those who are in the leading roles to battle this epidemic have likely read it, and have thus been thinking for decades about what to do if and when such an epidemic should happen. It has in fact been impressive to see how quickly they have begun to respond to it. So we shall wish them well and hope for the best.

In the meantime, you may want to re-read Earth Abide.

POSTSCRIPT, on the first day of spring 2020:

There is major economic and social disruption today – the economic weakening of society, and the isolation of neighbors from each other when cooperation and high social capital are needed but prevented by locking down a town. A city with which I am familiar (as was George R. Stewart) has one case. They have demanded the closure of all businesses except food and drug stores and the hospital. Businesses can’t pay rent or employees; employees can’t pay rent or buy food. For ONE case in a city of more than 50,000.

And there are proposals to close the national parks – the best places for people to get the medical benefits of fresh air and exercise with the best of social distancing.

This would be a good time to consider Rudyard Kipling’s poem IF – especially the first few lines:


by Rudyard Kipling

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too:
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting, …

Let’s also follow the example of the locked-down Italians: Sing songs of hope.

Be prudent, keep your head, keep the faith. And sing from your balcony.

Categories: Book Review, Coronavirus - Covid 19, Ecology, Health, Marilyn Armstrong, reblog, Sci Fi - Fantasy - Time Travel

Tags: , , , , ,

30 replies

  1. sounds like it would be good. although I dont really enjoy science fiction. Pity!


  2. The other day, out with Bear, I thought about how the dolphins are returning the wharves along the Adriatic and Steinbochs (alpine ibex) are strolling the streets of Spanish cities and it occurred to me that this is nature’s way of saying, “OK, look, you guys are idiots. I’m calling a halt to you for now? Forever?” BUT this is where I am pessimistic. I think people are eager to get back to doing what they’ve always done. In a way, I’m savoring this even though I have a lingering current of anxiety all the time.


  3. If I’d only had the foresight to invest in toilet paper …

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Marilyn,

    I’ve never read my uncle’s novels. (😜). My grandmother said he was nuts. According to her, Uncle George was not a very cheerful guy — never smiled, always negative, kinda cranky! — so none in the family took him seriously . . . until now.

    Seriously, you’ve introduced me to an author who seems to have been far ahead of his time and well worth the read. Right now we need a good dose of reality, not vain cheerfulness. I’ve had these thoughts for a long time. We cannot beat nature. It always wins. We can beat back a virus, or think we have, but we can’t beat all viruses. Whether now or at sometime in the future the viruses will win.

    Maybe you have his DNA too! “Look on the bright side of life . . . ” 🤫

    Take good care of each other, and check to see whether there’s a Stewart somewhere in your family tree.

    Grace and peace,


    Liked by 2 people

    • I didn’t know you were related. Now I love you EVEN MORE.

      GRS created the disaster story (and I suppose also the movies) by making the natural even — a hurricane, tsunami, fire — the main character of the book.

      He was learning Hebrew when he wrote “Earth Abides.” I recognized the Hebrew immediately, but most people don’t know any Hebrew so they miss the meaning of the words. He said all the bible reading made him sound a bit biblical and in fact, Earth Abides is different than his other books and he does sound rather biblical. I happen to love it. It’s musical, meaningful, poetic. In short, it’s a GREAT book. His other books are superb too. I couldn’t make it through fire. I was sure I was going to burn while I read it. Disney made it into a short, 1-hour movie, but the film has been lost. I remember seeing it when I was maybe 10 years old and it was so memorable, I still remember it today.

      Earth Abides is not depressing. It really isn’t. It’s the end, but it’s also the beginning. In a way, it’s the world’s saving grace. GRS was an ecologist before there were any. If you have not read anything by him, Earth Abides is a good place to start. It’s pretty gripping, too.

      As for Stewarts in my family, I fear not. Garry might have a few, though. He has a 50% Irish/English in his DNA. We didn’t know until we found his ancestor’s burial site in Sligo. And we didn’t KNOW it was his ancestor’s site until his father said: “Those are OUR people.” Garry wanted to know why no one told him his grandparents were Irish. His father said he was waiting until Garry was old enough to hear the truth.

      Garry was 48 at the time.

      Liked by 1 person

      • 30 years older, now, and still the best man in Innisfree.


      • What a great way to stay home. I didn’t know you loved me! Now that I know, there’s nothing I can do about it. We’re homebound! We’re invalids, and Garry and Kay would be very disturbed to learn that you love me even more! Garry’s Irish temper might flare up. But then he’d remember. At our age, there’s no need to worry.

        Okay, let’s get serious. I hope you and Garry are safe and sound, and that you’ve found some TP. 18 months is a long time!!!


    • Gordon, look on the sunny side of life and let’s sing, ‘Kumbaya’.


      • Garry, Only if Anton will lead us. How about “Once to every man (sic) and nation Comes the moment to decide . . . “?


        • We actually talked to Anton tonight. Garry wanted to know what was happening with his two Minnesota brothers … and how is the choir doing? The choir is gone, probably for the year and the schedule is canceled. But both brothers are OK … and they apparently have enough TP. I actually started re-reading Earth Abides last night and realized how soothing I find it. It’s good to know someone has paper goods.


          • I didn’t know Anton is still in Minnesota. Is he living in Northfield? And what about the choir? Is he still doing the St. Olaf choir? Do he and
            Garry’s other brother have TP? Probably had it delivered from Amazon?

            I have to find a copy of Earth Abides. What about it soothes you?


  5. Thanks, Marilyn. You inspired me to update the post, so you may want to visit it again. Cheers and thanks again, Don S.


    • I updated mine with yours. It did seem more than a little relevant! I had actually been thinking about rereading it — again. We don’t go out much anyway, but since I’ve had major heart surgery, even a really bad cold could do me in. There is not a big chance of catching it around here. We are rural and lightly populated. Yet STILL there is no toilet paper. The hoarding is rather bizarre and way beyond anything reasonable or sensible. I don’t even know where people are putting all that stuff. I don’t have room for more even had I the money to buy it, which I don’t.

      What a bizarre chapter in this insane world, eh?


  6. I really like the sound of this, Marilyn, and have added it to my TBR. I had not heard of it but the premise is great, especially now, and I just love dystopia. I hope Garry and you are both keeping well and enjoying your time out in isolation. I am home schooling my boys at the moment and working from home at the same time. Now I know why I didn’t want to be a teacher [smile].


    • I’m surprised you haven’t heard of it. It was published in 1948, but it has never been out of print. All of Stewart’s books are as relevant today as they were when written, but right now, this one in particular. It’s brilliant, relevant, and is, in its own way, an optimistic look at a dystopian future. Comes as an audiobook AND in print.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thanks Marilyn. I have discovered, since I started blogging, that I am far more familiar with English writers and books than those from the US. Possibly because South AFrica was a British colony and because my parents are English. I have discovered a whole new world of books out there.


  7. Thanks, I haven’t heard of this novel so going to look it up now!


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