George R. Stewart, Author, Teacher, Historian, Geographer


George Rippey Stewart, Author, Teacher, Historian, Geographer

Final Stewart Residence: 100 Codornices Road

George R. Stewart was a member of the faculty of the University of California, Berkeley from 1923 to his death in 1980. Although his professorship was in English and he taught subjects ranging from Chaucer to Stephen Crane, his most enduring impact was in Western American history and literature. At the University he was also a president of the Faculty Club, an active leader in the Academic Senate, and a leading defender of academic freedom and faculty rights during the “Loyalty Oath” controversy at the end of the 1940s.

After a boyhood in a small Pennsylvania town, he became an adventurer and scholar, hitchhiking historic roads and riding his bicycle 3800 miles through post-WW I Europe. He received a B.A. in English from Princeton and his Ph.D. in English from Columbia, with a stint at Berkeley in-between to earn a Masters. He arrived to settle permanently in Berkeley, as a young University instructor, just in time for the Berkeley Fire of 1923. The next year he brought his wife, Ted (Theodosia), on an adventurous honeymoon by auto to Berkeley. After moving from house to house, they found a woebegone foreclosure high in the Berkeley hills on San Luis Road, bought it, and settled down. There Stewart wrote his most famous and influential books: Ordeal by Hunger, Storm, Fire, Names on the Land, and the great classic Earth Abides.

Ordeal by Hunger is the first “Whole Earth” history, beginning with a view from orbiting in space and descending into the ecosystem of the planet to tell its story. Storm is the first ecological novel and the book from which we get the practice of naming storms. Names on the Land has never been equaled in its explanation of how Americans named places throughout our history.

The house on San Luis Road would enter legend as Ish’s home in Earth Abides. Never out of print, in 20 languages, the book was judged by novelist/poet James Sallis to be “not only among the greatest science fiction, but among our very best novels,” placing it alongside the greatest works of art such as Joyce’s Ulysses and Beethoven’s symphonies. The novel inspired musicians – Jimi Hendrix and Philip Aaberg— and is the foundation of Stephen King’s The Stand.

The Stewarts counted many literary greats among their friends – C.S. Forester, Robert Frost, Carl Sandburg, Anthony Boucher (who wrote Stewart into a radio script), Bruce Catton, and Wallace Stegner (who often wrote about him). C.S. Forester and the Stegners were frequent guests.

With the increased income from book sales and movie rights, the Stewarts eventually built a new home on Codornices Road in Berkeley. There, they entertained family and literary friends. After Earth Abides, George R. Stewart wrote another 16 books, for a total of 28 novels, histories, and other forms, many of which were best-sellers. Stewart died in 1980; Ted in 1989. Ish’s house still stands, substantially modified.

Contributed by Don Scott and Steven Finacom, 2016

  • Stewart Residence, 100 Cordornices Rd. (2016) photo R. Kehlmann

  • George R. Stewart (1938), Courtesy Anna Evenson, George R. Stewart Family Photo Collection

  • Professors at Sather Gate (ca. early 50s), Courtesy Anna Evenson, George R. Stewart Family Photo Collection

  • George and Ted with his first car (1923), Courtesy Anna Evenson, George R. Stewart Family Photo Collection

  • Ish's House (1937), Courtesy Anna Evenson, George R. Stewart Family Photo Collection

More information:
Donald M. Scott, The Life and Truth of George R. Stewart, McFarland (2012).
The Earth Abides Project
George R. Stewart
Patrick Reardon on George Stewart
The James Sallis Web pages

Photo credit abbreviations:
BAHA: Berkeley Architectural Heritage Assn.
BHS: Berkeley Historical Society