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Death of Grass Paperback – 10 Dec 1970

136 customer reviews

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--This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 191 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd; New impression edition (10 Dec. 1970)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140013008
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140013009
  • Product Dimensions: 17.8 x 10.9 x 1.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (136 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 2,824,980 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Sam Youd was born in Lancashire in April 1922, during an unseasonable snowstorm.

As a young boy, he was devoted to the newly emergent genre of science-fiction: 'In the early thirties,' he later wrote, 'we knew just enough about the solar system for its possibilities to be a magnet to the imagination.'

Over the following decades, his imagination flowed from science-fiction into general novels, cricket novels, medical novels, gothic romances, detective thrillers, light comedies ... In all he published fifty-six novels and a myriad of short stories, under his own name as well as eight different pen-names.

He is perhaps best known as John Christopher, author of the seminal work of speculative fiction, The Death of Grass (today available as a Penguin Classic), and a stream of novels in the genre he pioneered, young adult dystopian fiction, beginning with The Tripods Trilogy.

'I read somewhere,' Sam once said, 'that I have been cited as the greatest serial killer in fictional history, having destroyed civilisation in so many different ways - through famine, freezing, earthquakes, feral youth combined with religious fanaticism, and progeria.'

In an interview towards the end of his life, conversation turned to a recent spate of novels set on Mars and a possible setting for a John Christopher story: strand a group of people in a remote Martian enclave and see what happens.

The Mars aspect, he felt, was irrelevant. 'What happens between the people,' he said, 'that's the thing I'm interested in.'

Product Description


'The Death of Grass sticks with commendable perseverance to the surface of the earth we know... John Christopher has constructed an unusually dramatic and exciting tale' Daily Mail 'I know and admire The Death of Grass. It was published at roughly the same time as The Day Of The Triffids. In my judgement, it is by far the better book. The characterisation is better and the mood uniformly cold. It is a thrilling and sensible work' - Brian Aldiss 'Gripping ! of all science fiction's apocalypses, this is one of the most haunting' Financial Times --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

About the Author

John Christopher (pen name of Sam Youd) was born in 1922 in Liverpool. His novels were popular during the 1950s and 1960s, most notably The Death Of Grass. In 1966 he started writing science-fiction for adolescents. The Tripods trilogy, the Prince in Waiting trilogy (also known as the Sword of the Spirits trilogy) and the Lotus Caves are still widely read today.

Robert Macfarlane is the author of Mountains of the Mind (2003), which won the Guardian First Book Award and the Somerset Maugham Award, and The Wild Places (2007), which won the Boardman-Tasker Award. Both books have been adapted for television by the BBC. He is a Fellow of Emmanuel College, Cambridge, and writes on environmentalism, literature and travel for publications including the Guardian, the Sunday Times and The New York Times.

--This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

21 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Keen Reader TOP 50 REVIEWER on 21 April 2013
Format: Paperback
Having recently read the Tripods books, and discovered others of the author's books, I was keen to try this one.

This is an absolutely brilliant book, of the calibre which I have come to expect from the author of A Wrinkle in the Skin. Once again, the author has taken a situation which to most of us would seem insurmountable and broken it down into a day-by-day narrative of small actions that lead to bigger successes. In a world where grass and all related wheat and rice products can no longer be grown, how does mankind survive? In an England where law and order has broken down and the government plans drastic action to secure survivors, two men try to save their families and retreat to a place of safety far in the North. Along the way they meet people, honourable and dishonourable, and must make harsh and brutal decisions in a world that rapidly spirals out of anyone's recognition.

I had a look at the 1- and 2-star reviews of this book, and found them quite annoying. One reviewer felt that the book failed because it didn't give a breakdown of society's deterioration. No, it didn't - the story was that of one man and his associates, his family and his personal struggle. This is the type of story that John Christopher specialises in; not global broad societal change, but the change that comes to and from within one or two people. That's why the narrative is so gripping, and so demanding of attention.

I think it's important to remember that this book was first published in 1956. The men in the book, as indeed the men of the time in which this was published, had just served by the millions in a World War. They were not unused to the idea of death, of destruction, of survival by the fittest.
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84 of 92 people found the following review helpful By Peter Davidson on 6 Feb. 2003
Format: Paperback
...... do we revert to the Year Zero of the Pol Pot era in Cambodia? This novel is perhaps one of the best treatments of the ecological disaster theme, written with both intelligence and a clear understanding of the human condition when faced with life-threatening circumstances.
The storyline starts out with the news that a deadly, resilient plant virus known as the Chung-Li virus has virtually wiped all cereal crops, including rice, in China. Due to an initial Chinese government decision to suppress details of the ensuing famine, the full scale of the disaster is not made known until it is quite too late. Vaccine developed hastily by Western countries proves ultimately to be ineffective and before long, the virus has rapidly spread, reaching Europe including England and wiping out all the cereal crops (with the exception of potatoes) and grass of that particular region. Life in England starts breaking down with catastrophic consequences and the story then focuses on the attempts of the protagonist John Custance, his family and close friends, to reach safety in northern England where his brother has a farm newly set up for potato farming.
Initially the reader may gain the impression of the novel being a THE DAY OF THE TRIFFIDS clone but as the story progresses, it is clear that this is not the case. Whereas John Wyndham attempted to portray English middle-class values as being the best defence against total societal breakdown, John Christopher provides no such assurances. The transformation of Custance from comfortably middle-class Londoner through a deterioration of personality to that of a feudal clan chieftain is indeed very disturbing and the atmosphere throughout the novel is one of constant potential violence as people prepare to wage war on one another .... for a scrap of food.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Maciej TOP 500 REVIEWER on 26 Oct. 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Although quite old (first published in 1956) and not very long (barely two hundred pages), this is a very good "post-apocalyptic" novel, which didn't age much and still packs an impressive punch.

As the title indicates, the story develops in a time when a deadly virus decimates all kinds of grass on the whole planet - and that includes all the main crops... This causes a worldwide collapse of modern society and this book describes those times in Great Britain, on the example of tribulations of a group of people gathered around an architect named John Custance. The small band travelling through the country to find a safe refuge includes Custance's friend Roger Buckley (a civil servant), a certain Harold Pirrie (a somehow aged gun shop owner - a particularly interesting and important character) and their families.

The story of their trek through a country where all civil order quickly collapses is an excellent study on the fragility of complex and advanced societies when the situation forces people to focus on the most basic priority - physical survival of themselves and their families, at all price, in an extremely hostile environment, in which every error, hesitation and/or weakness means a horrible death. All involved will find in themselves surprising ressources and will do - finally quite easily - things they wouldn't even believe possible barely a week before. The transformation of John Custance and his small tribe during this voyage is almost incredible and the way it is described constitutes the reason why this book didn't really age. I believe "Death of Grass" will be still as relevant and interesting in AD 2056 (one hundred years after its first publication) as it is today...
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