Since the dawn of history, every community has had its fair share of preppers and survivalists that worry about the end of the world.
Whether it was the wrath of the gods, the Second Coming of Jesus, black plague, world war, the atomic bomb, or Elvis, the concept of preparing for a SHTF event is not new.
But over time, the concept of survival has evolved.
For most of human history, preparing for the end of the world meant a certain adherence to the spiritual world while maintaining the individual’s connection to the land. After all, it wasn’t until after the great wars that modern society lost touch with the basics of daily survival (i.e. farming) and solidified its reliance on the industrialization of basic human needs like food production.
It was precisely the period immediately after World War II that saw Western Society begin to lose its grip on the basic knowledge that our elders used to live on. And it is precisely this lost knowledge that drives the content for the majority of the modern Survival Industry’s books, blogs and retailers.
In addition, the last 40 years have been pretty consistent when it comes to end-of-the-world scenarios (world war, nuclear war, asteroids, environment, etc.). But for the introduction of zombies, there are not a lot of new threats for writers to explore.
For these reasons, a book like “Earth Abides” by George R. Stewart might feel like we’ve heard it all before. But given that this book was published in 1949, it holds a rare position as one of the foundational pieces of today’s survival movement.
And, as one of the influencers that created modern survivalism, it deserves its place on the bookshelf of every prepper and fan of self-reliance.
Set just past World War II and opening outside of San Francisco, “Earth Abides” is an epic thriller that covers a number of generations after the world succumbs to a mystery virus that wipes out most of mankind.
While it’s safe to say that few people living in the Atomic Age and recovering from World War II would have bet on a disease to kill the vast majority of humanity, it fits Stewart’s worldview that should be a staple of any survivalist’s mindset.
“The trouble you’re expecting never happens; it’s always something that sneaks up the other way,” he said at the time. “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.”
For man (and readers), the good luck ends quickly as the book wastes no time getting on with the end of the world. Written in the first person, the protagonist, Isherwood “Ish” Williams, is introduced to readers as he recounts the scary, but brief, bout he has with the fateful world-ending illness while staying in a remote cabin in Northern California.
For some reason Ish survives the disease, and as he exits the cabin to discover a new world, the story unfolds in an effective and engaging way.
Readers will experience a full spectrum of emotions that comes with the fear, paranoia and hunger in the immediate aftermath of the disease and as the character discovers the end of civilization. We tag along with Ish as he takes small steps towards long-term survival in this brave new, back-to-basics world.
Of course, while the character’s fear and reaction to many events won’t match today’s sensibilities, it will be educational, even aspirational, for readers.
A good example of the difference between then and now is that while Ish is a big city dweller, he has enough knowledge of the old ways to figure out his formula for survival. That said, while he spends no time searching for an open McDonald’s, he does have enough modern reliance on things to struggle.
The good news for those worried about reading an older survival book is that there is still new ground that few have copied. Most notable was Ish’s experience with the population rise and fall of various animals. Without man, how will the domesticated dog survive, or rats, or the other predators that have been pushed back by civilization and now lives without the threat of man’s encroachment?
The book is divided into three basic sections: World Without End, The Year 22, and The Last American. Throughout Stewart delivers an epic story on a grand scale. And while his characters don’t “jump off the page,” they do unfold and grow with the reader. We follow Ish has he explores the country, finds a mate (his Eve) and begins to struggle with survival in a world going more and more primitive. We witness Ish change from a young overly confident intellectual to something more basic all while using his book smarts to provide.
Stewart’s writing is good enough, and the story has more than enough feeling, to make the reader connect with Ish and his experiences. And readers should not be surprised if the ending of the book provides a true bittersweet experience.
As for its place in the pantheon of apocalyptic survival books, several Survival Industry bloggers and authors give credit to “Earth Abides” as one of their introductions to the world of prepping and back-to-basics living. And for that, along with the fact that it’s a very good book, it should be a staple for anyone interested in survival.
“Earth Abides” by George Stewart is available at Amazon and other booksellers.