George R. Stewart
George Rippey Stewart was a Professor of English at the University of California at Berkeley, starting in the 1920's. He used his excellent knowledge of literature to compose some of the most remarkable works of the 20th century. In those works, many still in print, Stewart worked out a new paradigm for knowledge, applicable to the 21st Century.
He was born in Sewickley, Pennsylvania, in 1895. Shortly, the family moved to Indiana, Pennsylvania, where Stewart spent his boyhood. When he was 12, the family moved to Azusa, California, where they had acquired an orange ranch. Stewart developed a passion for California's history, natural history, and landscapes.
Stewart spent a lifetime, wandering and wondering. He loved to travel, by foot or road. When his mother insisted that he attend Princeton, he traveled there by riding the rods. After he married the daughter of the President of the University of Michigan, Theodosia Burton, he decided - in 1924 - to drive them back to his new job at UC Berkeley. This first cross-country trip was perhaps the most adventurous, since it happened before there were many roads, but it was not the last. Stewart wrote his favorite journeys into his books.
Stewart was a prodigious author, called by his friend Joseph Henry Jackson a 'poet and precisionist.' He worked at UC Berkeley that being one of the most remarkable wellsprings of ideas and institutions this world has ever known: the National Park Service, founded by UC graduates, had its educational headquarters there; Lawrence split the atom; Starker Leopold would write the classic report on wildlife in National Parks; Carl Sauer was establishing new directions for geography; and so forth. Stewart learned well from his colleagues, then wove the knowledge into his works.
His great paradigm was that of a multi-disciplinary perspective. He wove human and natural sciences and history into remarkable 'Whole Earth' works long before Earth Day. His works included, often, the perspective from space - again, long before humans had been there. The popularity and influence of his works is widespread: One of his works, Earth Abides, is now in 27 languages. Another, Storm, is the book which popularized the practice of naming storms. So everyone knows what Stewart did, although not many know his name.
U.S. 40, by Stewart, is a fine example of his work. It uses the highway as a self-guiding interpretive trail across the United States, a trail which interprets humankind and the geography of this land. The book has already produced an outstanding 'descendant' work, U.S. 40 Today, by Tom and Geraldine Vale.
- Donald M. Scott
© 1996 by Donald M. Scott
As Don's biography mentions, George Stewart left quite an imprint on the genre of highway writing in America. His 1953 U.S. 40: Cross Section of the United States of America (Houghton Mifflin) provides readers with 92 photographic and narrative essays depicting life during the Golden Age of Automobiling. Stewart used two cross country treks to study the highway and life along its right of way, one in 1949 with his wife Theodosia and the second in 1950 with his son Jack. During his two field trips, Stewart snapped about 1,000 pictures, recording the details of each scene in a collection of 3x5 pocket notebooks.
Stewart followed U.S. 40 with a sequel of sorts - N.A. 1 (1957, Houghton Mifflin). That book provides the same coverage for the road that extends from Circle, Alaska to Costa Rica - the drivable limits of the mid 1950's.
For followers of U.S. 40, a comprehensive update is in the works. I am completing a book that provides a retrospective look at life along Route 40 since the introduction of the Interstate Highway System. All 92 essays and 114 photographs are updated in the new work, as well as material edited out of the original book.
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Last updated: 2011-04-05 16:15:30