George R. Stewart: The Man Who Named the Storms
These pages are dedicated to the work of George R. Stewart, best-selling novelist, historian, inventor of book-types, and author of Earth Abides.
George Rippey Stewart was a Professor of English at the University of California at Berkeley. He spent a lifetime wandering the American landscape, wondering about its geography and history, and writing books about it. He was an exceptional scholar-author, described by his friend Joseph Henry Jackson as a “poet and precisionist.” During his long career, Stewart composed some of the most remarkable works of the 20th century, inventing several types of books along the way — road-geography book, micro-history, micro-novel, place-name history, ecological history, and the ecological novel. The popularity and influence of his works is widespread: One of his works, Earth Abides, has been in print for 60 years and is now available in twenty languages. Another, Storm, is the book which popularized the practice of naming storms. Since he named his storm “Maria,” we have had the movie and catchphrase “They call the wind Maria.”
Stewart also worked out a new paradigm for literature. He wove human and natural sciences and history into his books, thus creating works with a multi-disciplinary perspective on events and places. And long before humans had actually seen it, Stewart’s books often included the view from space. So although the first Earth Day was not celebrated until 1969, Stewart was writing “Whole Earth” books decades earlier.
He had a great influence on other authors and artists, and scientists. Authors Stephen King, Greg Bear, Kim Stanley Robinson, Page Stegner, Ivan Doig, and Keith Ferrell have acknowledged Stewart’s influence on their work. Creative people in other fields, including NASA-JPL’s Dr. James D. Burke, painter and Stewart scholar Steve Williams, Bancroft Library Archivist Anthony Bliss, Grammy-nominated composer and pianist Philip Aaberg, and Geographer Paul F. Starrs comment on Stewart’s role in shaping their work. (Aaberg even composed “A Soundtrack for Earth Abides.”) William Least Heat Moon includes several chapters about Stewart’s U.S. 40 in The Road to Quoz: An American Mosey. Pulitzer Prize-winning author Wallace Stegner wrote a definitive essay,“George R. Stewart and the American Land,” about Stewart’s work. And poet-novelist James Sallis has written a fine essay about Stewart’s great ecological novel: "Earth Abides: Stewart’s dark eulogy for humankind.”
Stewart wrote in the mid-twentieth century. Several of his books have become literary classics and continue to sell well. Stewart’s great post-apocalyptic novel Earth Abides has been in continuous print (and twenty languages) since its first publication in 1949. The novel won the 1951 International Fantasy Award (the classic Chesley Bonestell/Willy Ley The Conquest of Space won the award in the non-fiction category). Recently, it was number eight on the Amazon sales list for twentieth century U.S. fictional literature.
Visit our biographical pages for more on Stewart’s Life and Work, and our “books” page for images and descriptions of his published books.
U.S. 40: Cross Section of the United States of America
Stewart’s U. S. 40 is a fine example of his work. It uses the highway as a self-guiding interpretive trail to the geography of a “cross-section of the United States.” Click here for our discussion of this book, and its importance to Stewart.
Stewart’s Hammer: Earth Abides, His Best-Known Book
Wikipedia says, about Earth Abides:
“Earth Abides is a 1949 post-apocalyptic science fiction novel by American writer George R. Stewart. It tells the story of the fall of civilization from deadly disease and its rebirth. Beginning in the United States in the 1940s, it deals with Isherwood “Ish” Williams, Emma, and the community they founded. The survivors live off the remains of the old world, while learning to adapt to the new. Along the way they are forced to make tough decisions and choose what kind of civilization they will rebuild.”
What gives George R. Stewart’s Earth Abides its force? Let’s investigate.
Donald Scott's biography of Stewart: The Life and Truth of George R. Stewart
Don Scott's biography of Stewart is out, and available from Amazon, many other retailers, and the publisher. Here's a linked image of the cover; click the image to go to the description and order page. If you click the small image there, you can look at a much larger version of the cover through the zoom box. Or, you can visit McFarland's catalog page for more information.
Information Links: George R. Stewart
- The Earth Abides Project, also known as Don Scott's blog about everything about George R. Stewart. There is no substitute.
- The Wikipedia page about Stewart [the next two links following are quoted from that page]
- U. C. Berkeley Special Collections has extensive transcribed interviews with Stewart
- Guide to the George Rippey Stewart Papers at The Bancroft Library
- UNR’s Special Collection of books by Stewart
- Frank Brusca’s U. S. 40 pages have a short bio of Stewart by Don Scott and some links to related material about him. You can use his Search box to find hidden gems. Check out his Rephotography program for sites shown in the original edition of U. S. 40.
- Christine Smallwood's essay on Stewart and Names on the Land, in the November 19, 2008 issue of THE NATION
- Patrick Reardon's short commentary on Stewart in the February 4, 2016 CHICAGO TRIBUNE
- David Pringle's interesting discussion of a modern post-apocalypse novel in the context of both Stewart and the Kroebers' work with Ishi
- Stewart was one of the key cultural influences that led to the creation of the Prelinger Library in San Francisco. Link to their home page.
- Paul Starrs' detailed review and summarization of Don Scott's book about Stewart
- Fine illustrated article on Stewart and the Donner Summit (as in Ordeal by Hunger) at the website of the Donner Summit Historical Society.
- A description and backgrounder on the George R. Stewart interpretive sign now at Donner Summit.
- Jan Null, forty-year veteran weatherman in the SF Bay Area, and conductor of the Golden Gate Weather Services blog comments, "'STORM' by George R. Stewart should be REQUIRED READING if you are a meteorologist, meteorology student, deal with or communicate California weather on a regular basis, or anyone whose day-to-day activities in California are impacted by the weather. I have just finished rereading it for probably the 5th time and couldn't put it down." He adds separately, "Besides my own fond memories...I have heard from dozens of other meteorologists who were influenced by Storm."
All uncredited or unattributed material on this website © Donald M. Scott.
Don Scott's book about George R. Stewart and his work is available from McFarland, and from retailers everywhere.
Update history: This page created 10 March 2011; latest update 17 March 2017.
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Books by George R. Stewart
Earth Abides, in print in the U. S. in softcover editions: Trade Paperback.
Earth Abides in print in the U. S. in softcover: Mass Market Paperback Edition
The naming of the storms came from this book. Trade paperback edition.
U. S. 40, currently out of print, but available used in hardcover.