the only thing i knew about i am legend when i picked it up is that it's about vampires, and there is a movie based on the novel starring will smith. also- i was reading justin cronin's the passage and had to put it down in the middle due to frustration and boredom [more on that later]. legend is meant to be the book that started it all. the idea of a virus that wipes out much of the human race, giving rise to packs of vampires in a post apocalyptic landscape was conceived by richard matheson in the 1950s before george romero, stephen king, guellermo del torro, or justin cronin wrote a single line. it's pretty much a classic- an ur-text of sorts when it comes to modern vampires and zombies for that matter.
while all the tropes the genre is now known for are there, it's still a damn good read. the discovery of the virus, the aftermath, and the behavior of the vampires themselves are certainly intriguing. but what makes the story especially compelling to me, is the abject despair and loneliness we see in our hero, robert neville. he is the last man on earth and the psychological aspect of this is what tears at him most intensely. the horror of the vampires beating down his door every night only breaches the superficial level of the darkness neville faces. what he finds almost impossible to live with is himself and the fear that there will only ever be himself.
i think for this reason, legend is a far superior story to much of what has proceeded it. it gets at the thing that we may fear more than monsters and violence and death- which is being alone.
image from near dark, 1987, directed by katherine bigelow