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on 15 September 2007
Nuclear war viewed through the eyes of a small isolated Florida community.

It seemed to me from reading the blurb that any story that didn't move location in its entirety must be somewhat lacking in its lasting appeal to the reader. Oh how I was wrong.

First off, I am a big sucker for this kind of apolcalyptic tale, stories where a small group of people watch society fall apart around them are perfect for portraying not only the often overlooked fragility of modern life but also the inherent animal strength of mankind forced to survive in a world torn apart.

Because of this Alas Babylon is one of my favourite ever novels, vying with the Day of the Triffids for that crown but where that story is fantastical and science fiction this is oh so real and chillingly possible.

I could go on for pages praising this book and its author but I won't! Suffice to say, this is an incredible novel. Not for fantastical settings or powerful character dynamics but for the simple and yet effective style in which it illustrates the world we know (albeit a somewhat old fashioned world) being blown apart and an average guy striving to look after those he loves.

For anyone who ever looked at the world around them and thought... What if? What if suddenly everything we rely on and base ourselves on was stripped away. Would I survive? Read it and find out.
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on 18 August 1999
I have an affinity for post-apocolyptic novels. I was hesitant to purchase this novel because I was afraid that it would be too dated for me to enjoy. As it turned out, Alas, Babylon IS dated, but not so that it interfers with the story.
What I enjoyed the most was recognizing the context of the times that this story was written and the writer's attempt to address social issues of that era. Pat Frank made an obvious attempt to give women power; the President is a woman and a young girl saves the day by catching fish when no one else could. This is interesting because the battle for passage of the Civil Rights Amendment hadn't really begun when this book was written. Although I did find his discription of the women's need to have a man to take care of rather outdated. But, it was interesting because I can't imagine someone writing those types of stereotypes today. Also, the writer touches (however slightly) on southern segregation. I felt that he tip-toed around this subject a little too lightly, but I don't think that he was writing about that subject so his light treatment of racism and segregation didn't bother me too much.
All in all I enjoyed this novel immensly. I wouldn't be put off by the fact that it was written forty years ago either.
Now, can anyone recommend any other post-apocolyptic novels to me? Please send any recommendations to:
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 29 December 2015
I found this interesting but I give more credit to the interesting subject than to the writing itself, which disappointed me in several ways.

Even allowing for the time it was written, the ignorance and naivete the author assumes in his readers is extraordinary. He explains the concept of survival of the fittest and the self preservation instinct as though to a ten-year old. He even explains what a placebo is. The characters in the book are equally ignorant. Even in 1959 people stockpiling food for an apocalypse would have the wit to think that it is better to buy canned food than fresh meat. And when the power went out they would go straight to the freezer to work out how to salvage as much as possible, rather than leave the contents to rot because they forgot that freezers don't work without power.

My final frustration is perhaps a matter of personal taste. I found the generosity, the patriotic spirit, the determination to be fair and civilised through everything, and the conviction that America would win the war and civilisation would be saved, unrealistic. It felt to me that the characters behaved rather too much like The Waltons and not enough like the people in Cormac McCarthy's The Road.

It may help if I give a few examples of the tone:

He said aloud but speaking to himself rather than the others, "survival of the fittest"
"What do you mean?" Lib said.
"The strong survive, the frail die. The exotic fish die because the aquarium isn't heated. The common guppy lives, so does the tough catfish. The house cat turns hunter and eats the [bird] If he didn't, he'd starve. That's the way it is, and that's the way it's going to be."
Florence had stopped crying. "You mean with humans - you mean we humans are going to have to turn savage...Well I can't do it, I don't want to live in that kind of world."

"It couldn't be a sort of epidemic, could it?" Randy asked.
"No it couldn't. Radiation's not a germ or a virus. You can eat or drink radioactive matter... it can fall on you in rain, it can sift down on you in dust or in particles you can't see... But you can't catch it by kissing a girl."

Randy thought how he would feel if someone killed and ate [his dog] He was revolted and yet it was a matter of manners and mores. In China, men for centuries had been eating dogs stuffed with rice. It happened in other meat-starved Asian countries.
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on 19 July 1999
I thought this book would be dated but when you read it you realize that human nature and the will to survive is never dated material. Neither is a good book! You come to know and care about the characters - what is happening around the world is secondary to what is happening to them directly. This is their story - not a story of how the world is coping. Read it and enjoy it for what it is - a scary, but uplifting story.
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on 12 March 2006
'Alas, Babylon' is a novel that falls into the post disaster category, being about a Florida community trying to survive the aftermath of a nuclear war. It could be acccused of being a 'cosy catastrophe' - despite a continental holocaust little really bad happens to the main character and he actually seems to benefit from the experience in many ways. However, it is well written and since it was originally published in 1959 it gives an insight into the politics and societial structures of the time. If (like me) you've enjoyed the catastrophe literature of John Wyndham and John Christopher it's certainly worth a look......pity about the really flimsy covers of this edition though........
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on 4 March 2009
Written in 1959 and one of the first influential apocalyptic novels about the threat of nuclear holocaust, the tale follows the decisions of Randy Bragg, a Korean War veteran and failed local politician, who is warned of the coming war by his brother, an Air Force colonel. The outbreak of war is almost an accident - one 'minor' incident quickly escalates - but there is an air of inevitability about it. Two armed camps are facing up to one another, there is a gunslinger mentality (not to mention bombers) in the air, and there's a macho itch needs scratching ... someone, somewhere has to discover who is the fastest gun in the West, or maybe East.

Bragg is left with other survivors in a small town. No one knows what has happened. It seems clear there have been nuclear strikes against most major US cities and missile bases, but none of the survivors know what has happened. Has the war ended? Is it still going on? Is there anyone else still alive? Bragg takes a lead in organising people locally.

There is something reassuring about the novel, and therefore something glaringly unrealistic. While the nuclear exchange between the USA and Soviet Union has destroyed their urban areas and killed countless millions, somehow the US government manages to continue functioning ... the surviving senior politician takes charge and tries to reorganise the nation and its government. Neville Shute's "On the Beach" portrays the few survivors of nuclear war waiting for the fallout cloud to kill them, "Alas Babylon" suggests that the end is far from nigh. Indeed, one of its concluding paragraphs poses the question, "Who Won?"

It's an entertaining enough and well enough written novel, but it does suffer from its harrowing sense of optimism ... or is that blind nationalism? Rather than a bleak, truly apocalyptic warning of the dangers posed by nuclear war, "Alas Babylon" offers not merely a conviction that survival is possible, but an appeal to 'American values' ... Bragg seizes the initiative locally and sets about rebuilding his community in a parody of the American Western.

The novel presents post-apocalyptic images of recolonisation, of the hardy settlers forging law and order out of the wilderness (Bragg shoots and lynches a number of outlaws). There is no genocidal removal of the native population - we assume the Soviets have all been killed, we do not know if anyone else in Europe (or Asia, or elsewhere) has survived, or, indeed, has been involved in the war. The novel is purely about survival of the USA and recovery (albeit it with a depleted population). Rather than serve as a warning, rather than appear as a radical piece of science fiction, it can be seen as glib in places, leaving major questions unanswered and the central issue of the potential nuclear destruction of the planet treated as ultimately escapable and survivable.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 28 October 2015
I liked this old classic about nuclear war and its aftermath. Written in 1959 it aged a little, but still is a GREAT read. Below, more of my impressions, with some limited SPOILERS.

Randy Bragg lives in the small Central Florida town of Fort Repose. He is not a very successful guy, in fact he is mostly content with eating his inheritance... One day however his much more formidable brother, Colonel Mark Bragg, USAF, sends him a telegraph ending in the words, "Alas, Babylon", a pre-established code between the brothers warning of impending disaster. It appears quickly, that this disaster is a HUGE one...

This was one of the very first novels to describe the occurence and the consequences of an all-out nuclear war. The much darker and much more pesimist "On the beach" was published two years earlier and the equally dark and pesimistic "Canticle for Leibowitz" was published in 1960. "Alas Babylone", a much more realistic thing than those other two classics, made quite a splash when it was published. Unlike so many others, the author, whose real name was Harry Hart Frank, knew what he was writing about. He served in military during WWII and watched Korean War as journalist, he studied a lot about the nuclear weapons and it shows in this book.

The novel deals less with the nuclear war itself, than with what happens next. There are, quite obviously, survivors, in fact quite a lot of them, but the organised society as we know it initially collapses - the description of this process is quite fascinating. Then, as always, people regroup and re-organise themselves, facing challenges and solving problems. This is an uphill battle, but life always ultimately triumphs over death...

Author very wisely states in this book, that it is not the strength of American nuclear arsenal that is the problem - it is the weakness of USA that causes Soviet union to attack, as Moscow believes it can win a nuclear war. It is a very important point showed in this book: in some circumstances a nuclear war CAN be won - it becomes only imposible if BOTH sides have enough primary and back-up fire power to always fully incinerate the enemy, no matter how total the initial surprise and how big the first-strike damage. On another hand, one thing totally absent here is the "nuclear winter", and a mighty good thing too, as it is a total nonsense...

This book can be also read as a kinf of post-apocalyptic SF, albeit slightly more optimistic than most of such works. Left-winged people and peaceniks will almost certainly hate this book - which is another point in its favour...

I don't want to provide spoilers here so I will keep this review short. This is an important book, still a good read and a thing that makes one think, in fact think a lot. I am glad that I bought and read it. ENJOY!
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Randy Bragg is living an unspectacular late 1950's existence in well-named Fort Repose, Florida. Things begin to change when he is contacted by his brother Mark, an Air Force Colonel. Mark uses their long-standing code for trouble, a phrase from the Book of Revelations. Mark explains that war is imminent, and leaves his family with Randy for safekeeping. His predictions prove accurate. The brief nuclear exchange that follows swallows Mark and a large proportion of the country's population. It leaves Fort Repose in the middle of a radiation-free zone, safe but cut off from the outside.

Much of what follows has since become standard in "after the big war" stories. Randy and his community cope with the absence of civilization. As electricity fails, they use candles for light and fire for cooking. As canned food supplies dwindle, they rediscover fishing, hunting and planting. They learn to repair, then make simple tools like bows and arrows that are now needed to survive. Many authors have covered this ground, but Pat Frank was one of the first. And he does it well.

What sets this story apart is the focus on people. We see contrast between the town's banker, who cannot adjust to a world without money, and other Fort Repose citizens who form a working barter economy. Some former neighbors steal from each other, while others become closer--cooperating to catch fish, find a new source of salt, and even have community social gatherings. Randy emerges as a leader, organizing use of community resources, access to medical care, and defense against marauding outlaws.

The book also explores subtle currents in the relationships between its characters. Randy's sister-in-law Helen, for example, has to deal with the attachment she forms to Randy. Although this attachment is more domestic than romantic, it complicates Randy's growing romance with his neighbor, Lib McGovern. These explorations of personal and community relationships set the book apart from more traditional post-war science fiction of this time, such as Earth Abides. Readers who enjoy this human element will recognize similar themes in the darker On the Beach by Nevil Shute. There are also elements of post-disaster community-building in John Wyndham's The Day of the Triffids. Pat Frank's book has a strong dose of both.

This book his highly recommended to fans of post-apocalyptic science fiction, students of 1950's opinions about surviving nuclear war, and readers who simply enjoy a good story with interesting characters.
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on 3 April 2010
I bought this book having read recommendations by other people. Alas, Babylon consistently features in top 10 recommendations for post-apocalyptic fiction and it is not difficult to understand why. Written in 1959 the subject of nuclear war is as relevant today as then and the issue of basic survival post-attack remains the same.
This book really got me thinking about "what if?" What can I do to ensure my survival? When you look around your surroundings you realise how little use any of your possessions are in these circumstances. The book asks of the reader at the beginning..."could you survive without food or water, light, power or transportation while completely surrounded by deadly radiation?" Aside from the thought provoking subject matter the characters are engaging and their actions believable throughout the book.
Alas, Babylon is not that easy to find. The copy I recently purchased is well used and printed in 1970. It is set in an America that is still coming to terms with racial desegregation. I would encourage anyone interested in reading this book to go ahead and purchase any copy they can get. I certainly will not be parting with mine and will be urging friends and family to read.
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on 2 August 2000
This book is excellent. One has only to think of Yugoslavia or the worst-case-scenarios of the Y2K problem to see how timely this book really is. It is a study of survival What makes it unique amongst such stories is that the focus is on the survival of the community as a whole, not just an individual. Most stories of the collapse of civilization are about its effect on one individual. The collapse of civilization becomes nothing more than a backdrop for exciting and heroic personal adventures. This novel was first published during the Cold War (in 1960) nearly 40 years ago. Since the Cold War is over, isn't it hopelessly out of date? Sadly, it is not. One has only to watch the evening news to see how grimly relevant it is.
Pat Frank states in the Foreword that his purpose was to show realistically how terrible a nuclear war would be. His theme is stated and restated, that there will be no winners, no victors in such a war. All will be destroyed. Ironically, this is the one area where the book is out-of-date. It was written before we knew about nuclear winter. Also, too many atomic bombs fall. The radiation level would be much higher than he portrays. Realistically, there would be no survivors.
This flaw is what makes the book relevant and valuable. Forget a nuclear war between two superpowers. The true subject of the book is to look at what happens to a small town that is suddenly and totally isolated. What happens to the ordinary citizen? What happens to Randy, his family and his friends?
Alas, Babylon is utterly realistic. The town has to learn to defend itself -- so that it can then cope with the truly serious problems of survival. I'm not going to say what solutions are found.
I am going to recommend reading this book.
One only has to watch the news to realise how real this story is. It could happen anytime, you only have to look at the Middle East and Yugoslavia to see how real this book is.
Read it!
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