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The Death of Grass (Penguin Modern Classics) Paperback – 2 Apr 2009

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Product details

  • Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics (2 April 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0141190175
  • ISBN-13: 978-0141190174
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 1.2 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (125 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 75,440 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

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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

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.

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Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

15 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Keen Reader TOP 100 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 William Hadcroft on 10 Dec. 2009
Format: Paperback
A novel depicting a world where a staple food stock dies out leaving mankind struggling to survive - sounds like a warning tale for the 21st century, doesn't it? And yet as current as it sounds, John Christopher's "The Death of Grass" was originally published in 1956. Present day worries about ecological mismanagement and what it could lead to make the decision to resurrect the book as "A Penguin Modern Classic" unsurprising, but welcome.

John Custance is an architect living with his wife and children in London. When news of a pandemic sweeping Asia and Europe reaches his ears, his family and friends find it hard to believe it will touch Britain. But touch Britain it does. All grass based foods die out. Then the sheep and the cattle die out. Rumours of government plans to drop atom bombs on the main cities set Custance and his family on the move.

Custance has a brother living in a peaceful isolated part of the Westmorland valley. It becomes paramount that he transports his family there before chaos reigns over the once united kingdom. But getting there isn't easy with children and a couple of untrustworthy friends in tow, and having to travel on foot dodging other groups and looters in search of a new place to settle.

But all this is backdrop for what the story is really about, as John Christopher focuses on the need to survive and what that need does to his characters. Once civilised and comfortable with their lot, John Custance and his right hand man Pirrie will stop at nothing to acquire food and traverse the land to reach their imagined utopia. All of society's rules go out of the window as survival becomes vital.
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