No wonder this is a classic. It's a wonderful book. It's one of those books that tells a story with such a logical progression that it seems that anyone could have written it (but didn't). Yet, the wisdom this novel contains is the wisdom it takes the main character a lifetime to learn.
In the novel, a plague falls upon the earth, leaving behind a scant few survivors. Our hero, Ish, is one of the few survivors. One of his first inclinations is to travel across the US from California to New York to see who else has survived. Finding people (but nobody of like mind), he goes back home to San Francisco. If it would have been me, I would have searched the city for the nicest house to live in and scavenged the city for the nicest furnishings. However, Ish simply goes back to living in his parents' home.
Over the course of time, people join Ish, he takes a wife, he has grandchildren and great grandchildren, and the world goes on, living off the leavings of the Old World. Ish is initially saddened that the people who make up this new tribe are not intellectually inclined as he is. They're ordinary folks with no great skills or inclinations toward religion. The tribe initially tries to keep connections to the past with church and school. However, these things fall away just as America has. When Ish asks the kids who they think made the world, they say that The Americans did. And they refuse to touch Ish's security-blanket-esque hammer because they see Ish as an American, one of the Old Ones, and perhaps a god. The new generations have primitively replaced religion with a set of new taboos and superstitions much like those people of early pre-history civilizations once did.
While there is a logical progression to the book, people's logic can often be shocking. There is a point in the book where the tribal elders make a unanimous decision by secret ballot about the solution to a problem. The decision is based on fear and extreme conservatism. While the solution is a logical one, it bothers them on a moral level. And when disaster falls soon after, the elders first wonder if this is a punishment from god for their horrendous yet logical decision.
I'm trying so hard not to give away the entire story here, but there are just so many great parts in this seemingly simple novel. In the end, you find yourself realizing the same things its taken Ish a lifetime to learn. What's really important in a civilization? Is it intelligence and invention or is it adaptability and happiness? Are intellectual people really more valuable than regular people in society? Is it better to bring back what was lost or is it better to forge a new future?