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Alas, Babylon (1959)

by Pat Frank

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
4,2591332,040 (3.99)1 / 223
When a nuclear holocaust ravages the United States, a thousand years of civilization are stripped away overnight, and tens of millions of people are killed instantly. But for one small town in Florida, miraculously spared, the struggle is just beginning.
  1. 120
    On the Beach by Nevil Shute (lisanicholas)
    lisanicholas: On the Beach is another novel that picks up just after a worldwide nuclear war in the 1960s -- this time, in Australia, as the survivors await the arrival of the radioactive cloud that will doom them. Bleaker in outlook than Alas, Babylon, Shute's novel focuses on how individuals deal with the almost certainty of their own imminent annhilation.… (more)
  2. 83
    The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood (Ruth72)
  3. 61
    The Road by Cormac McCarthy (BookshelfMonstrosity)
  4. 62
    Lucifer's Hammer by Larry Niven (saltmanz)
  5. 20
    Lights Out by David Crawford (ajwseven)
  6. 20
    The Postman by David Brin (sturlington)
    sturlington: The Postman was influenced by Alas, Babylon.
  7. 10
    Earth Abides by George R. Stewart (sturlington)
    sturlington: These are two classic early post-apocalyptic novels.
  8. 10
    Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel (benjclark)
  9. 00
    Arslan, or A Wind from Bukhara by M. J. Engh (infiniteletters)
  10. 00
    Swan Song by Robert McCammon (sturlington)
  11. 00
    Forbidden Area by Pat Frank (BeckyJG)
  12. 00
    Level 7 by Mordecai Roshwald (HenriMoreaux)
  13. 01
    The Dog Stars by Peter Heller (benjclark)

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» See also 223 mentions

English (132)  Polish (1)  Italian (1)  All languages (134)
Showing 1-5 of 132 (next | show all)
A solid classic read. It ages fairly well with a couple exceptions- the classification of other ethnicities and the overall viewpoint on women. Those gave me some cringe worthy parts but I tried to keep in mind the time it was written and also by a man at that time. That said it was a page Turner once the big drama started. In spite of the sexism and inappropriate cultural notes I recommend for anyone who enjoys a good apocalyptic/post-apocalyptic story. Well written and worthy of it's place among the classics. ( )
  Spiceca | May 24, 2021 |
This was the first book I can remember reading in my public education career. I'm not sure if that is good or bad or sad.
  LuckyWitter | Apr 22, 2021 |
They say say write what you know. And the best books transcend their time and reach deeper. This book shows that by writing what you know and sticking with your time, you can reach a vision so clear and pure that it is timeless. 53 year later, still the best post apocalyptic book out there. ( )
  frfeni | Jan 31, 2021 |
Perhaps the most well-balanced of the 1950s post-apocalyptic fiction boom, Pat Frank's Alas, Babylon is certainly a fine counterpart to the meticulous apocalyptic saga Earth Abides by George R. Stewart and the more mundane and literary On the Beach by Nevil Shute (I've not yet read A Canticle for Leibowitz, the other oft-mentioned title in this company). Whereas those other books have their odd elements that the reader has to push through in order to appreciate them, Alas, Babylon is the closest to being a crowd-pleaser. That is, if 'crowd-pleaser' is something you can say about the depiction of a nuclear holocaust and its aftermath, something that was terrifyingly plausible to Frank's first generation of readers.

On such a, well, apocalyptic scale, Frank's book works because it invests in its characters. Though sometimes a bit obvious in its drivers and its flashpoints (leadership pressures, food, security, companionship), these character conflicts work. We invest in Randy Bragg's rise to become leader of his isolated community; we share Mark's fatalism as the impending nuclear war enters its first stages; we even care about Dan's medical tools and Alice's travails at the library. Each of the characters, even the minor ones and the minors (i.e. the children), get their moments to shine, and we get PoV chapters from them to help with this. The big moments are well-staged and well-written, and the small details (such as the message from Jacksonville stopping instantaneously (pg. 112)) can be disturbing. Horror and hope and everything in between are delivered ably by the author.

If Alas, Babylon sometimes feels routine in its reading, it's because the post-apocalyptic genre has been done to death since Frank's book was published in 1959. This can hardly be said to be a mark against the book, for Alas, Babylon is one of the originators of all those tropes: the sober gut-punch of the nuclear flash as the world ends; the survivalist tropes of getting clean water and sustainable food; the problems of defending against bandits; the sense of purpose as unlikely candidates rise to the challenge of rebuilding their community.

The author's background as a journalist and political commentator sometimes comes through. Frank intended the book to be a public service, a warning against atomic brinkmanship and M.A.D., as well as a basic guidebook on how to prepare for the aftermath, how to find a good water source and be aware of radiation and so on. To this end, certain passages can feel didactic, with Frank directing the story towards scenes where his characters can become his mouthpiece, delivering a pointed opinion or educatory example. That said, this never grates, for Frank has invested in his characters and his writing ability is enough to smooth the edges of these inserts and asides.

When you take a step back, the book can look quite unremarkable, but when you are turning its pages you appreciate every moment of it. It is an easy, character-driven story that also gets across the strange horror of atomic destruction and the regenerative hope that can be found in the people who survive it. Whereas most post-apocalyptic stories focus on the misery, the destruction and the degeneration of law and order, Alas, Babylon argues that "the world changes… [but] people don't" (pg. 197). For all that the book can seem routine in retrospect, it is this optimistic tack which places it on a different footing to all the post-apocalyptic imitators that came after it. ( )
1 vote MikeFutcher | Dec 31, 2020 |
Realistic. Engaging. Down-to-earth. Surprisingly contemporary, reminding me of Stephen King's style minus the adolescent humor, potty mouth and typically bad ending. ( )
  habeus | Jul 24, 2020 |
Showing 1-5 of 132 (next | show all)
Doom-minded and Cassandra-speaking, this author, who touched off the play in Mr. Adam in comic vein, and continued his warnings in Forbidden Area (1956) here looks at an all-out bombing that freezes and contaminates most of the United States. What happens to Fort Repose in central Florida- which escapes the worst -- becomes an account of survival when, slowly learning that all props are out from under, some few citizens work out a make-do, or die, program. Heading up a colony that manages to exist is Randolph Bragg, whose Air Force brother gives him the word and the little chance to prepare for the disaster of Russian attack, and, with his brother's wife and children, some neighbors -- white and black -- he finds out many ways to circumvent encroaching death. Death through lack of medicine, electricity, communications, through the threats of epidemic, mob attack, highway marauding, decline of authority and the sudden regression that results from the loss of ""civilization"". Bragg's efforts -- and those of his group -- pull them through when yesterday's history becomes archaic and changed rules must govern changed conditions. When hope comes -- of rescue and victory -- does it matter -- to those who have survived? Contemporary Robinson-Crusoeing.
added by Lemeritus | editKirkus Reviews (Mar 20, 1959)

» Add other authors

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Frank, PatAuthorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Patton, WillNarratormain authorsome editionsconfirmed
Brin, DavidForewordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Frank, PatForewordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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I have an acquaintance, a retired manufacturer, a practical man, who has recently become worried about international tensions, international missiles, H-bombs, and such.
In Fort Repose, a river town in Central Florida, it was said that sending a message by Western Union was the same as broadcasting it over the combined networks.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Wikipedia in English (1)

When a nuclear holocaust ravages the United States, a thousand years of civilization are stripped away overnight, and tens of millions of people are killed instantly. But for one small town in Florida, miraculously spared, the struggle is just beginning.

No library descriptions found.

Book description
The story of a group of people who rely on their own courage and ingenuity to survive in a small Florida town that escaped nuclear bombing.
Haiku summary
The nukes fall on Florida
Soon after so does technology
And the honor of men

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