In an interesting and thorough manner, Donald Scott has put into print a book that needed to be written. He has included the lives of the Stewarts from the earliest possible times, including their schooling, marriage and careers. Witness the honeymoon picture on the front cover of the book: the soft-spoken professor of English, George Rippey Stewart, and his outspoken, irrepressible bride, Theodosia, usually referred to as Ted. Extensive interviews with both offspring (Jack and Jill) and grandchildren give insights into daily life and much larger projects in preparation for writing and publication. Son Jack Stewart's observations on his father's thorough pursuit of scientific information about locations in the Black Rock Desert of Nevada for Sheep Rock and driving across country on US 40 for that book stressed his dad's accuracy of observation and lack of everyday conversation. As a geologist, Jack appreciated the former; as a companion he'd hoped for a bit more of the latter.
The Bancroft Library contains materials from Stewart's research on each of his books, which Scott relates. The most intriguing were those on Earth Abides. Science Department colleagues advised him on which domestic animals would thrive and which would disappear. They also gave an estimate of the demise of water pressure, electricity and trans-continental highway structure. Manufacturers predicted the length of life of gasoline in tanks, tires on cars, and probability of car engines working without maintenance. From local hardware stores, he estimated the end of ammunition for guns being exhausted there, with a shift and development of bow and arrow in its place. Thus protagonist Ish can drive across the country to find out who has survived the plague and can continue to do so. Local cattle provided a consistent food source. A bow and arrow for class entertainment became the eventual replacement for firearms. The book's concluding sentence sets the tone for much of Stewart's work: "Men come and go, but earth abides."
Scott also stresses the impact of Storm (1946)on both sides of the Donner Pass, which has been repeated several times over, including passenger train stoppage, emergency decisions on potential Sacramento basin flooding and air flight interruption in spite of satellite weather prediction. Stewart even rode a cowcatcher on a locomotive to the top of Donner Pass in the snow for accuracy in his description in the book. For Fire he signed on with San Francisco bar flies as part of a crew for the reaction of such people on an actual fire line. Ordeal by Hunger is still for sale in the shop at the top of Donner Pass; the tall tree trunks showing the depth of the snow the Donner Party faced are still there. Stewart's favorite of his books was Names on the Land.
Scott has skillfully put together the best parts of Stewart's Scottish heritage and philosophy (The Scottish Enlightenment) and lessons to be learned from mankind's successes and failures in Years of the City, a book about the creation, success and eventual failure of an imaginary Greek City. The enlightened atmosphere of the University of California at Berkeley, especially the English Department, also plays a large part in Stewart's and the book's development. The books still in print are better known than the author of over 30, many of them best sellers in numerous editions. The Life and Truth of George R. Stewart should rectify that.