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Alas, Babylon

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“An extraordinary real picture of human beings numbed by catastrophe but still driven by the unconquerable determination of living creatures to keep on being alive.” — The New Yorker The classic apocalyptic novel by Pat Frank, first published in 1959 at the height of the Cold War, with an introduction by award-winning science fiction writer and scientist David Brin. “Alas, Babylon.” Those fateful words heralded the end. When the unthinkable nightmare of nuclear holocaust ravaged the United States, it was instant death for tens of millions of people; for survivors, it was a nightmare of hunger, sickness, and brutality. Overnight, a thousand years of civilization were stripped away. But for one small Florida town, miraculously spared against all the odds, the struggle was only just beginning, as the isolated survivors—men and women of all ages and races—found the courage to come together and confront the harrowing darkness.

323 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1959

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About the author

Pat Frank

28 books357 followers
"Pat Frank" was the lifelong nickname adopted by the American writer, newspaperman, and government consultant, who was born Harry Hart Frank and who is remembered today almost exclusively for his post-apocalyptic novel Alas, Babylon. Before the publication of his first novel Mr. Adam launched his second career as novelist and independent writer, Frank spent many years as a journalist and information handler for several newspapers, agencies, and government bureaus. His fiction and nonfiction books, stories, and articles made good use of his years of experience observing government and military bureaucracy and its malfunctions, and the threat of nuclear proliferation and annihilation. After the success of Alas, Babylon, Frank concentrated on writing for magazines and journals, putting his beliefs and concerns to political use, and advising various government bodies. In 1960 he served as a member of the Democratic National Committee. In 1961, the year in which he received an American Heritage Foundation Award, he was consultant to the National Aeronautics and Space Council. From 1963 through 1964 the Department of Defense made use of Frank's expertise and advice, and this consultancy turned out to be his last response to his country's call. His other books include Mr. Adam and Forbidden Area.

Biography courtesy of HarperCollins.com

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Profile Image for Alissa.
145 reviews107 followers
August 11, 2016
This book was published in 1959, and it feels like it every step of the way. The plot is compelling enough, but the writing is incredibly wooden. I actually laughed out loud at some of the passages, and not in a nice way. The author drags us through 100 pages of rising action, which is annoying because it adds nothing to the plot, and we all know the bomb is going to hit before we even read the blurb on the back cover.

The racism and sexism are also pretty terrible. Even after the freakin' nuclear holocaust, the "Negroes" are doing all the housework. When the electricity goes out and they need to cook all the meat in the freezer, they can't decide whether to throw a "mixed party." People! The world just ended, and you can't decide whether or not to let black people come to your BBQ?

Also, this: "The more he learned about women the more there was to learn except that he had learned this: they needed a man around." First of all, find a synonym for "learn," please. Second, this was after the aforesaid male practically threw up at the sight of blood, ran out of the room, and one of the women had to take care of the injury. We may need you, buddy (after all, no electricity for vibrators in this grim future), but you need us too.

If you're thinking of reading this book, check out "The Road" instead. Same idea, but the execution is about 1000x superior.
Profile Image for Jeffrey Keeten.
Author 3 books248k followers
February 7, 2019
”And the kings of the earth, who have committed fornication
and lived deliciously with her, shall bewail her, and lament for
her, when they shall see the smoke of her burning,
Standing afar off for the fear of her torment, saying,
Alas, alas, that great city Babylon, that mighty city! for in one
hour is thy judgment come. “ Revelations

 photo AlasBabylon1stEd_zps41442c8f.jpg
The cover art of the American First Edition from 1959.

Randy Bragg comes from a long line of prestigious individuals. He, unfortunately, has never found a way to live up to the family name. He has some ambition. He isn’t a wastrel. He just isn’t sure what he is supposed to do with his life. He served in Korea and came back with his uniform weighed down with medals. He recently ran for a political position, but was soundly trounced. His family name would have won it for him, but his honesty about his liberal politics in a conservative Central Florida district made him easy pickings for his opponent.

He is floundering.

And then he receives a telegram from his brother Mark who is currently assigned to a strategic air base in Omaha.

Alas Babylon

The code word they’d used since they were young lads to indicate that something was seriously wrong.

Mark sends his family to be with Randy. Like a bone reader or a truth sayer Mark has assembled the pieces of information he has collected from conversations, field reports, and radio frequency chatter. A war is coming.

”Within the pillar and the cloud, fantastic colors played. Red changed to orange, glowed white, became red again. Green and purple ropes twisted upward through the pillar and spread tentacles through the cloud.

The gaudy mushroom enlarged with incredible speed, angry, poisonous, malignant. It grew until the mushroom’s rim looked like the leading edge of an approaching weather front, black, purple, orange, green, a cancerous man-created line squall.”

 photo alasbabylon_zps0c813368.jpg

The Soviet Union and the United States have done the unthinkable.

Cities wink out one by one as both sides hit the other with everything they have.

In Fort Repose it becomes very real after the electricity goes out.

”In four months,” Randy said, “we’ve regressed four thousand years. More, maybe. Four thousand years ago the Egyptians and Chinese were more civilized….”

There is a run on the bank. Merchants have vaults full of cash after they sell all their merchandise, but you can’t eat money. It has about the same value as Confederate script or a year old newspaper. Everyone tries to think about what they will need.

Food of course.



But do you think of tires or coffee or medicine?

Fort Repose as it turns out is strategically located far enough away from the big cities that received these megaton explosions. They were also lucky the wind blew in the right direction. They have fruit and nut groves, so nature will provide them with a source of food. There are fish in the river and crabs if you know where to find them.

Did you think about salt?

If you are a doctor who can you save? People who need medicine to survive are quickly winnowed out of the population. People who can’t cope are committing suicide. Instead of having babies women are having miscarriages. Nature is making some decisions.

”It is said that nature is cruel. I don’t think so. Nature is just, and even merciful. By natural selection, nature will attempt to undo what man has done.”

Carpe Diem! Seize the Day as the recently departed Robin Williams extorted his students to embrace in Dead Poets Society. There is a dark side to this concept and that would be those people who live for today and don’t worry about tomorrow. They have to seize everyday by stealing from those that have planned for a future, killing those that oppose them, and for entertainment raping those they desire. This works for a while, but fortunately most people prefer a civilization where they can plan for a future and can exist in a reasonable modicum of safety. Randy Bragg finds himself in the leadership position he tried to win through the ballot box. He forms a vigilante group and starts to win back control of a future for all by taking it away from the few willing to use violence to intimidate.

 photo PatFrank_zps2fecc115.jpg
Pat Frank looking very studious.

This was a hugely influential book when it was published in 1959. It continues to be listed as one of the best science-fiction books of all time. The fifties spawned a lot of great apocalyptic novels because the threat of our imminent demise from those “crazy” Russians was on everyone’s mind. There are moments of violence, but for the most part Fort Repose feels more like a small town that has been cut off from everything rather than a town in the midst of a terrifying post-apocalyptic situation.

In 1959 I’m sure it was very unnerving to read, but for me in 2015 it felt more like a jaunt in Winesburg, Ohio. I do think that Pat Frank had a tiger by the tail and he brought it home, put it in a cage, started feeding it, and turned that tiger into a house cat. There was the potential for a truly great novel that transcends the genre, but everything wraps up with a wiffle rather than a bang.

If you wish to see more of my most recent book and movie reviews, visit http://www.jeffreykeeten.com
I also have a Facebook blogger page at:https://www.facebook.com/JeffreyKeeten
Profile Image for Matt.
918 reviews28.3k followers
April 1, 2022
“Terrified at her torment, they will stand off and cry: ‘Woe! Woe to you, great city, you mighty city of Babylon! In one hour your doom has come!’”
- The Book of Revelation 18:10

“[Y]esterday was a past period in history, with laws and rules archaic as ancient Rome’s. Today the rules had changed, just as Roman law gave way to atavistic barbarism as the empire fell to Hun and Goth. Today a man saved himself and his family and to hell with everyone else…”
- Pat Frank, Alas, Babylon

“We can’t do this. Every man for himself is not going to work…If we can’t live together, we’re going to die alone.”
- Matthew Fox as Jack Shepherd, Lost (Season 1, Episode 5)

When I picked up Pat Frank’s Alas, Babylon, I didn't have super high hopes for its quality. It was curiosity, mostly, that led me to it. The novel, published in 1959, tells the story of the Florida town of Fort Repose, which is spared a direct hit during a nuclear war, and must then survive the aftermath. (Fans of the short-lived television series Jericho will find this setting familiar). As someone with an interest in the Cold War, as well as nuclear arms and strategy, Alas, Babylon promised to provide some insights into the contemporary thoughts and fears of people living through that period. It’s one thing to read a nonfiction volume on the evolving atomic arsenals, strategies, and diplomatic brinkmanship of the United States and Soviet Union. It’s another thing entirely to see how those realities manifest themselves within ordinary citizens otherwise powerless and forgotten against a vast geopolitical backdrop.

Maybe it was the managed expectations, but I was genuinely surprised at how much I liked it, and on how many levels.


Roughly the first hundred pages of Alas, Babylon are devoted to the lead-up to war, which I found fascinating. I’ve read my share of nuclear war novels, and many of them skip this part entirely. Books such as Cormac McCarthy’s The Road or William Brinkley’s The Last Ship focus almost entirely on the aftermath of war, referring to precipitating incidents only elliptically, if at all. Frank uses a different tactic. He shows us life in small Fort Repose, introducing us to a handful of characters we will get to know under duress. Meanwhile, he occasionally breaks away to the Mediterranean or Strategic Air Command to give us fleeting images of the rising tension between the U.S. and U.S.S.R.

It’s arguable, I suppose, whether Frank needed to devote nearly one-third of this relatively short novel (just 316 pages) to setting up a war we know is going to happen. But I liked it. There is a difference, as Hitchcock would agree, between surprise and suspense. Here, the outbreak of nuclear war is not a surprise, yet there is still plenty of suspense to be had, waiting for the bombs to go off. Frank does a good job of presenting the creeping dread that must have been palpable during events such as the Cuban Missile Crisis (still in the future, when this was published). He demonstrates how helpless people must have felt in the face of such a catastrophe. Like many people, I have control issues. Can you imagine the desperation you’d feel if men you’d never met, in locations you’d never been, for reasons entirely unknown to you, were making decisions that might end the world? Frank imagines it, and it’s effective.


Once the bombs start falling and the missiles flying, the central character, a military veteran named Randolph Bragg, has a back row seat to the end times (it should go without saying that those with a front row seat were incinerated):

A stark white flash enveloped their world. Randy felt the heat on his neck. Peyton [Randy’niece] cried out and covered her face with her hands. In the southwest, in the direction of Tampa, St. Petersburg, and Sarasota, another unnatural sun was born, much larger and infinitely fiercer than the sun in the east…A thick red pillar erected itself in the southwest, its base the unnatural sun. The top of the pillar billowed outward. This time, the mushroom was there. There was no sound except Peyton’s whimpering. Her fists were pressed into her eyes. A bird plunged against the screen and dropped to earth, trailed by drifting feathers. Within the pillar and the cloud, fantastic colors played. Red changed to orange, glowed white, became red again. Green and purple ropes twisted upward through the pillar and spread tentacles through the cloud. The gaudy mushroom enlarged with incredible speed, angry, poisonous, malignant. It grew until the mushroom’s rim looked like the leading edge of an approaching weather front, black, purple, orange, green, a cancerous man-created line squall…

After the attack, Frank writes, “civilization in Fort Repose retreated a hundred years”:

When nuclear fireballs crisped Orlando and the power plants serving Timucuan County, refrigeration stopped, along with electric cooking. The oil furnaces, sparked by electricity, died. All radios were useless unless battery powered or in automobiles. Washing machines, dryers, dishwashers, fryers, toasters, roasters, vacuum cleaners, shavers, heaters, beaters – all stopped. So did the electric clocks, vibrating chairs, electric blankets, irons for pressing clothes, curlers for hair. The electric pumps stopped, and when the pumps stopped the water stopped and when the water stopped the bathrooms ceased functioning.

From there, Alas, Babylon takes on the form of something very familiar and timeless. It is tale of survival and adventure, The Swiss Family Robinson mixed with elements of Fallout and The Walking Dead (though lacking any mutants or zombies). Randy and the people around him (among them: his sister-in-law; her kids; a doctor; a retired admiral) must find a safe water supply, stockpile food, trade supplies, and protect themselves from the human wolves traveling over a ravaged countryside.

Alas, Babylon works splendidly on this level. Ordinary people have to band together. Problems need to be solved. Society has to be reordered. Courage must be found. Hope must be maintained. Whether you set this story in a post-Armageddon township or a deserted island or an island you think is deserted but actually is not, there is plenty of drama to be found.


As I mentioned above, Alas, Babylon has other levels. Most obviously, it operates as what the sci-fi author David Brin has called a “self-preventing prophecy.” Like Nevil Shute’s On the Beach and Eugene Burdick’s Fail Safe, Frank’s purpose in writing this was to warn people. He wanted to get the attention of the masses, and by extension, the attention of their elected officials. It is pretty neat, with the hindsight that comes from the world not ending in the fires of a thousand suns, to catch a glimpse of the 1959 mindset. For instance, Frank is quite concerned with the so-called “missile gap” that John Kennedy trumpeted on his way to the White House. We know now that this gap did not exist. But knowing this after the fact does not change how it must have felt at the time to believe it did. Frank unwittingly captures that.


It should be noted that Alas, Babylon is a product of its time in ways that go beyond its knowledge of Civil Defense preparations and the shortcomings of the Conelrad emergency broadcasting system. It is set in the South, five years after Brown vs. the Board of Education, so its racial views are a bit complicated. Certain of the characters express abhorrent thoughts and use abhorrent language that was typical of the time and place (I say this without meaning to imply that this has magically disappeared from the world).

To Frank’s credit, Randy is not an out-and-out white supremacist. He is described as abiding by the Supreme Court decision in Brown, so at the least he is not a segregationist. He has black neighbors who play prominent roles in the story. They are stereotyped, to be sure, but most of the characters are stereotyped to an extent, taking on the shorthand roles we expect from this type of tale (e.g., the virtuous doctor, the spunky kid, the selfish hoarder).

There is also a strain of paternalism running through the novel. The story features several female characters, some of whom are relatively well-rounded (as already noted, this is not a character study; with the exception of Randy, no one is plumbed for depth). However, there is more than one occasion where a character muses how the womenfolk would survive without their men (answer: probably just fine, since there would not have been a nuclear war to start).


The tone of Alas, Babylon is one of grim hopefulness that stands in contrast to the fatalism of The Road or On the Beach. The stark realities of a ruined world are made visible (it is terrifying how quickly they run out of booze), but Frank’s characters seldom lose heart. He presents the classic tableau where the worst of mankind is balanced by the best of mankind; where man’s ingenuity for destruction is matched by an ingenuity for rebuilding.

There are more themes to touch on, more elements to discuss, but in the end, strange to say, Alas, Babylon works because it is fun to read. There is something fundamentally enjoyable about watching disparate men and women come together under unimaginable stress to solve problems. They are, in a sense, MacGyver-ing a new country for themselves with shoe strings, paper clips, and elbow grease. In the face of an unimaginable horror, they must discover new sources of sustenance, heal themselves without modern medicines, and - perhaps most importantly - find a way to distill their own liquor.
Profile Image for Stephen.
1,516 reviews11k followers
July 9, 2011



4.5 to 5.0 stars. I think the above pictures and quotes express a lot better than my words ever could what I would like to say in this review about the power and eloquence of Pat Frank's 1959 story about the folly and danger of Nuclear war. I can not imagine a better novel about the immediate after-effects of a global nuclear war than what is presented here.

True, the fact that anyone is left alive after the war does tend to make the novel anachronistic. But since, a “war begins and everyone is dead” novel would last about 10 pages, I am willing to forgive Frank’s optimism given that this novel was written at a time when most people believed a nuclear war could be survived. However, I do want to go on record and say.......IT CAN’T!!!.

The book tells the story of the lead up to and then aftermath of a preemptive nuclear strike by the U.S.S.R. against the United States of America. The focus of the book is then on how various groups of people deal with the attack and the loss of basic services that results.

I thought that the author did a brilliant job of pacing by giving the reader about 50 to 60 pages of pre-attack set up of both the characters and the world situation. I think this allowed the attack’s aftermath to be felt much more deeply when it finally came.

After the attack, the small town of Fort Repose, Florida appears to be one of the few places in Florida left standing after the attack and is completely cut off from the rest of the Country. It becomes a microcosm of the breakdown of society and shows both the inner strength and the hidden depravity of humanity, side by side fighting it out for survival. In trying to describe what the aftermath environment is like, I would stress that it is NOT in the MAD MAX category. If I had to create a description, I would say it is much more in the vein of “Hoosiers plus nuclear bombs” or “Steel Magnolias plus World War III.” We are talking small town people and values suddenly thrust into unimaginable circumstances.

I was pulled into the narrative from the very beginning and came to care about the characters deeply. I thought the book showed the devastation and folly of nuclear war, while still maintaining a positive, hopeful message about humanity in general. A very tough thing to do I might add.

I am very interested in talking to people who have read this book because the last page BLEW ME AWAY and I think it was an incredibly powerful commentary on mankind in general and I am wondering whether others feel the same. Sorry for that tease for those who haven’t read it, but I don’t want to give away a major spoiler...plus it is a nice incentive to read the book which I HIGHLY RECOMMEND!!!!

Overall, a terrific read, an important read, a special book, a powerful message and a thought-provoking ending. Yeah....it's pretty damn good (and as the quotes above illuminate, Pat's vision is shared by many of good conscience).
Profile Image for David Putnam.
Author 16 books1,515 followers
December 9, 2019
Read this book in high school and it had a major impact on me not only emotionally but it happened to spark a need to find and explore books of all genres, this my first foray into the postapocalyptical. I reread this one just a couple of years ago and even though it wasn't at all how I remembered it, the story and characters still held up and I loved it. That kind of benchmark says a lot about a book.

Profile Image for karen.
3,979 reviews170k followers
June 5, 2020
another great survival book! this one was surprising because it didn't feel dated at all, even though it was written in 1959. i wish there were maybe 200 more pages, particularly about rita, who is how i would want to be in the aftermath: shotgun. high heels. stockpiles. i love the image, but the reality is that i would more likely be holed up in the library, probably rereading this book for tips. meta. to sum it up in a few words: armadillos, glasses, honey, kaboom. and two things i learned, to continue my lists: do not pick up jewelry after the blast, and buy extra glasses. helpful review?? nope, they never are...

come to my blog!
Profile Image for Charles  van Buren.
1,713 reviews179 followers
January 3, 2023
A progenitor of modern dystopian fiction

"Alas, alas, that great city Babylon, that mighty city! For in one hour is thy judgment come"

Review of Kindle edition
Publication date: June 4, 2013
Publisher: Harper Perennial
Language: English
Amazon.com Sales Rank: 283
371 pages

As I write this, there are 1,436 reviews on Amazon. About 70% five star and 20% four star. Most of the one star reviews are complaints about lack of proof reading and typographical errors in the Kindle edition. Most of those errors seem to have been corrected. There are also a few complaints about condition of used hard copies purchased from third party sellers. However, there are very few criticisms of the novel itself.

For those who do not already know, the title is based on Revelation 18:10: “Alas, alas, that great city Babylon, that mighty city! For in one hour is thy judgment come.” In the novel the first inkling of serious trouble comes in the form of a telegram from Colonel Mark Bragg ending with the words Alas Babylon. His brother Randy immediately recognizes the code for danger dating from their childhood. Eventually the danger becomes clear - nuclear strikes against the U.S.

The novel contains considerable social and political commentary on such issues as race relations, but if all there was to it was the exploration of such issues, I doubt that the book would have remained in print these last 50 years. The essential attraction is the entertaining story of adventure and survival in the aftermath of a devastating nuclear strike. Pat Frank wrote a novel which continues to appeal on a variety of levels despite its age. Some friends, unfamiliar with the history of the novel, have read it without ever suspecting that it was written about 50 years ago.
Profile Image for Michael.
1,094 reviews1,509 followers
May 2, 2013
UPDATED below--in honor of a GR reading group

A satisfying account of a community surviving a nuclear Holocaust in isolation from the rest of the world. It was written in 1959, so it set a precedent for all the apocalypse literature that followed. Instead of the perhaps more plausible temporary survival of human society in Nevil Chute's "On the Beach", this tale of a rural central Florida community blessed with favorable winds on the day the missiles fly makes the story one of a successful long term survival.

Special skills and resources of individuals in the community are all brought nicely to play in contributing to group survival. An idea of humankind is a hero. The hero's planning and leadership skills are needed, and what he learned as a soldier becomes important. This man miraculously has skills learned while farming, hunting, fishing, and doing engineering which the community needs for food and shelter challenges. In the time since Armageddon, the forces of evolution have been intense, and these winners at survival are the cream of the human crop.

Community teamwork assumes a promising form, in some senses a utopia of collaboration. Problems are being solved, and these descendents of survivors look pretty good at it. Key tasks of civilization include keeping transportation operational for the doctor, power for a shortwave radio, and library operations for entertainment/education. Finding a source of salt and new sources of food (such as armadillos) are successful innovations. Defense against mauraders is a minor, but important part of the tale. course there is a love story behind the scenes. By the time the remnant government in Colorado contacts the community, they feel confident of continuing on. This isn't great literature, but a worthwhile part of the body of science fiction on human response to apocalypse.


So what happened to Frank? Why was he a one-hit wonder? On the 50th anniversary of Alas Babylon's publication, in 2009 (the year I read and wrote the review) a nice story came out profiling the gifts of Frank. His early demise (at 57) had contributions from excessive alcohol intake. His background included work as reporter in FLorida, then as a war correspondent who also did intelligence tasks for the CIA precursor OSS>.

He is depicted as victim of his own success (and perpetrator of his decline) from too much of the high life. A quote from his brother is forgiving: “He was bigger than life,” says his daughter, Perry Frank, “bigger than the problems he had.” Florida Times Union story

So how does this early post-apocalyptic tale fare in the lineup of outstanding books in this genre (that I have happened to be noursished by). Of the 29 I read, Alas Babylon, on my pleasure-meter was in the middle. Good bedfellows at 4 stars was The Windup Girl and On the Beach. So what moved me to 5 stars?

Since you asked, they were Engine Summer (1983) and a bunch more recent efforts (why did I not even think to list 1952's When Worlds Collide): Oryx and Crake, Ship Breaker, Blindness, Cloud Atlas, Railsea, and Railsea.

So "Alas Babylon" has some lasting value for me, but there has been a lot of creative juices at work in this genre since 1959. I'm sure you have some other favorites. Apocalyptic means zombies these days, but I missed a lot of those ("World War Z" did not appeal and "The Passage" untried).

Profile Image for RJ - Slayer of Trolls.
765 reviews179 followers
December 8, 2019
This post-apocalyptic cautionary tale was published in 1959 in the post-Sputnik, pre-Cuban Blockade era when many Americans suspected we might be losing the Cold War arms race and that a nuclear holocaust was inevitable. Author Frank was interested in exploring not only the no-win outcome of a atomic war but also the utter lack of preparedness for such an event by the government and the general population. There's not much in the way of character arcs or even a solid plot, other than daily survival in the collapse of civilization as we know it, but the story has staying power, permeating and influencing many cultural touchstones in even today's media (hint: The Walking Dead).
Profile Image for Jim.
Author 7 books2,029 followers
October 22, 2014
Review May2013 Reading again with the "Books, Movies, TV and Life" group. It's been 4 years since I last read this. That's more often than I probably should, but I'll see how it goes.

Frank provides a very short introduction to the novel that is interesting. He was a journalist & had more than a passing knowledge of our strategic thinking of the time. His Wikipedia entry is quite brief.

I was born the year this novel came out, yet the times & mind set seem very, very familiar. Frank paints the picture very well in the first couple of chapters. It's hard for anyone not of my generation or older to understand the pervasive fear that nuclear attack held over us at this time, but I soaked it up from birth. I loved the movies & novels of the time, was raised on them. Some of my fondest memories prior to age 5 are of watching "The Outer Limits", "The Twilight Zone", & movies like Dr. Strangelove, or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love The Bomb with my father. He'd also read to me out of his SF pulp magazines. The theme of nuclear destruction was very common.

The fear of The Bomb was everywhere. JFK's push for the space program wasn't just for scientific knowledge, but to give us a strategic advantage that we had lost to the USSR. JFK was elected shortly after this book was published, so it fits into that scary time. Not that the times afterward were any less scary.

In elementary school, we used to practice for bomb raids by hiding under our desks, later out in the halls. The alarm bell for these was different than that of the fire drills. I think we stopped in the late 60's when it was obvious to even the densest person that MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction) made such drills ridiculous. Both the US & USSR had enough bombs to blow up the world 100 times over each. Strange times & a strange way to live.

The second half of the book really brings to mind just how much we take for granted. Medicine, electric, clean water, salt, flour & so much more. The heartache of not knowing, possibly never knowing, how other family members fared. Our society is a rather fragile thing. Our survival is dependent on so many other people & processes, too.

The ending is just perfect & really drives the point home. I can't recommend this book highly enough. It's short, well written, & makes me appreciate even more what I have.

Review 12May2009
Wow! I read this years ago, but had forgotten it. As I started to get into it, I recognized the story vaguely & expected it to be dated. It was written the year I was born, so is 50 years old, but I found it wasn't as dated as I thought. I did take some trips down memory lane; radios with tubes in them & a few other minor items. The small town, rural life weathered time very well, though. The lack of electricity is a hardship & they felt it. We'd feel it more today, so the story actually engaged me more as I thought of more items I would miss.

The Cold War tensions when we feared a global nuclear war are gone. They've been replaced with a more diverse threat - terrorism. The lack of electricity to power water pumps, refrigerators & more would be even harder on us today. It's very easy to project that from this story. What we imagined as the major threat back then, radiation poisoning, is mentioned, but is not critical to the story.

One thing which is dated is the racial aspect, thankfully. Blacks are definitely second class citizens, but even this is used well. The 'second class' citizens rely less on technology & have more to offer toward survival than the elite - a not so gentle nudge for equality definitely pervades the book.

Ultimately, the book is about the people & how they cope with the situation. That's well done & makes it a pretty timeless survival story.
Profile Image for carol..
1,536 reviews7,875 followers
April 18, 2016
Alas, Babylon was one of the more perplexing literary experiences I’ve had this year. Written by Pat Frank, it’s the story of Randy Bragg and a small Florida town, Fort Repose, after America and the Soviet Union declare war in the late 1950s.

Randy’s doing nothing much in the family house in Fort Repose, Florida except drinking and charming local women–with the exception of his neighbor Florence, who suspects him of being a Peeping Tom–when his brother sends a cable with their code phrase, Alas, Babylon.

“As the minutes and hours eroded away, and no word came from Moscow, he became more and more certain that a massive strike had been ordered. He diagnosed this negative intelligence as more ominous than almost anything that could’ve happened.”

Randy begins grocery shopping while Mark packs up his family in Omaha to send them to Randy’s house and together with the neighbors, they navigate survival after a missile strike.

“The sight of war’s roseate birthmark on the sky choked back their words.”

A Review in Three Parts

The Time Traveler’s Version: five stars

Most likely, the ideal way to experience this book published in 1959 was to be born in 1935-1945. Much of the story has a strong philosophical tone best contextualized by the time period. I found it fascinating that Frank is partly aware of the influence of cultural epoch: “The incident was important only because it was self-revelatory. Randy knew he would have to play by the old rules. He could not shuck his code, or sneak out of his era.” However, there’s so much contained that is commentary on the conflicts of the era: the tiniest beginnings of Civil Rights and Equal Rights reflected in Randy’s relationships with women and the black family living next door remain strongly influenced by his chivalry and paternalism. Then there’s the general confidence people have that there is an ‘after,’ as in ‘after the government comes and restores everything," and the hope that nuclear strikes are survivable. In the decades since, our confidence in systems has diminished while belief in the survival of the strong has grown.

Nonetheless, it was an influential book during its time, and one of the few early apocalyptic that have the feel of reality as people then understood it. Frank was a career journalist who worked in New York and Washington and as a war correspondent during WWII and during the Korean War, and I felt like Mark’s experiences at the command post sounded real.

The Audio Version: five stars

The second best way–to those lacking access to Kemper’s time-mower–is to listen to the Audible version read by Will Patton. It won a well-deserved Audie in 2012 and was even more enjoyable than my reading. Patton is a fabulous voice actor and brought each word to life. Although it is mostly from Randy’s point of view, there are other view points, along with specific and general dialogue. Patton nailed almost every one, with the only exception being a “Boston Radcliffe” accent. The southern inflections sounded genuine and even a ten year-old girl was done well, but my favorite were his variations on the radio. From the verbal swagger of a radio jockey to the clipped tones of a Civil Defense broadcast, I too felt like I was listening to a broadcast. When Patton voiced Randy’s thought, “squashed his face like a potato,” I laughed out loud at a line I hadn’t noticed when reading. Clearly, a superior reader who won me as a fan.

The Modern Version: three and 1/2 stars

I tend to skim a lot, particularly toward the end of a book. It’s been a lifelong habit and likely one of the reasons I enjoy re-reading books. My first read through was done at my normal pace and I finished the book feeling satisfied. I started over with the audio, listening to Will Patton reading. I loved his voice acting–but started to hear the words more clearly. Frank is clearly ambivalent about equality of many kinds, and it is demonstrated in Randy’s philosophical musings, in privileged interaction with others, and with authorial choices in plotting. Let’s just say that in 2016, you wouldn’t give the black kid a spear and the white kid a gun, or have so many discussions about “going back to our Neolithic days.” While women get a whiff of equality in Randy's girlfriend, Liz, half-proposing and a woman being left in control of the United States, there's a lot ofne of Randy’s former lovers, Rita, who is basically characterized as an “exotic” “man-collector.” Then there's the bizarre episode where Mark's wife Helen has a 'mental break' and is psychoanalyzed by Liz and the Doctor.

I do believe none of the characterization is ill-intentioned, but as a modern reader, its the same-ol’ ‘-isms, and just because they seem benevolent doesn’t mean they aren’t tiresome. Further, we are now an audience that is fairly well educated on disasters, so some of the mistakes we witness Randy and the community make seem laughable.

My suggestion is to read it, but it’ll work best if you borrow a time-mower (keys hanging on a hook in the shed) or listen to Will Patton.

Many, many thanks to the people who suggested it when I was looking for an apocalypse, and a thousand thanks to Naomi who shared her audio copy.
Profile Image for Michael || TheNeverendingTBR.
468 reviews161 followers
February 13, 2022
As it was one of the first apocalyptic novels ever written, I wasn't expecting it to be brutal such as the likes of The Road by Cormac McCarthy but it was still a good story regardless.

I will say though that I think it was very unrealistic, like the rest of America is devastated with nuclear weaponry and the survivors in Florida are upbeat about it and very well prepared with dealing with everything. Like surviving, rebuilding and organising their resources is something they've been practicing, there doesn't seen to be much struggle.

Having said all of this, I did like it, it was a quick read and it was a good story and I can appreciate the fact that this book influenced a lot of great books in the Post Apocalyptic genre.
Profile Image for Florence (Lefty) MacIntosh.
167 reviews508 followers
January 18, 2014
Published in 1959 the classic apocalyptic novel that stunned the world! Late to the party I’ve read very little classic Sci-Fi, a wonderful introduction. Bit of a slow build-up but persevere, not until the bomb drops does it really get interesting. Then it’s all action played out by a diverse group of characters, plenty worthy of rooting for.
Because she shared my name I couldn’t help but love the gossipy old biddy that worked for Western Union & new everybody's business. "Florence is a guppy, a nice, drab little guppy. That's why she'll survive." More than the heroes I preferred the imperfect characters. An idealistic doctor turned bitter by a wanton wife. Rita the femme fatale who had the audacity to combine high heels with costume jewelry, shorts and halter top - her hobby was men. His choice of bad guys was pretty interesting, the bonding & teamwork after catastrophe hit made for an inspirational rather than depressing read.
We’re not talking great lit. While the writing style is simplistic the message is not and every bit as relevant as the day it was written there are no real winners in a nuclear war.
There are undertones of racism, guess that’s to be expected given when it was written - mixing of races was still a radical concept back then, in fairness kudos to the author for writing it into the story line. Women don’t fair any better “The more he learned about women the more there was to learn except that he had learned this: they needed a man around’ a personal favorite. Kept in perspective you’ll enjoy a novel both entertaining and thought provoking.
Out of my comfort zone I wouldn’t have read this without a push from my GR buddy Jim. Highly recommend as a group read. With Jim at the helm we had a blast - half of us now hoarding tins of coffee & cans of gasoline.

Cons: The main protagonist a bit of a caricature, the love interests a little too flat.

Link to Jim’s review: “http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/...
Profile Image for Bradley.
Author 6 books3,972 followers
May 1, 2018
Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition!

Honestly, I'm of two minds. For a nuclear holocaust dystopia from 1959, it's probably top notch. A lot of fans attest to it. It's also full of good characters and solid 1959 survivability thought. No complaints about the science, either. In fact, the whole situation and character feel is quite a bit like the Walking Dead. Solid.

So what's my complaint?

This outcome could only have happened in 1959 and it was egregiously optimistic to boot. The nuclear stockpiles and deployment might not have made it to total annihilation levels by then so lobbing all the arsenal might not have been an all or nothing thing at this point in history. Plus there was still a lot of the previous generation (read pre-electricity) tools available to peeps at this time, even if they were getting rather old.

That, and it was mild as hell compared to most dystopian books I've read or even movies. Again. 1959. And the totally unbelievable optimistic ending? Yeah. 1959.

But that's just it. It's hard to activate my magical belief hoodie after having lived through so many dystopians and expecting something even as grand as Fallout.

At the very LEAST, however, it shows me how much society has changed since then. 60 years. Now, all we do is expect unending rapes and mass murder when the world ends. This book tells the opposite and optimistic story. Despite the mass death. *shakes head*

Props for its time, though! Want some Nuka Cola?
Profile Image for Apatt.
507 reviews781 followers
September 7, 2018
“The blast and sound wave covered them, submerging all other sound and feeling. Again the kitchenware and glasses and china danced. A delicate vase of Viennese crystal crumpled into powder and shards on the mantle. The glass protecting a meticulous and vivid still life, a water color by Lee Adams, shattered in its frame with a loud report.”

This book is a classic of the “post-apocalypse” genre, a granddaddy I suppose. First published in 1959, still in print today, with loads of online study guides for perusal. Not too shabby! The most exciting part of Alas, Babylon is the nuclear attack. Don’t worry, this is not a spoiler, it is the whole basis of the book. The attack happens early in the narrative and the rest of the book concerns the post-apocalypse life after this attack.

The novel starts off portraying the mundane lives of the residents of Fort Repose, a small town in Florida. If I had not read the synopsis beforehand I would not have known where the book was going and why it is labeled as sci-fi. This becomes clearer as the main characters struggle to adapt to a post-apocalyptic life. Fortunately for them, Fort Repose was not directly nuked and escapes the worst of the radiation; they even have electricity and plumbing for a few days.

I like the believable development of the post-civilization hardship. Money becomes worthless, hunting and fishing become necessary, homemade soap, beverages etc. begin to be concocted, even “stand and deliver” highwaymen become a thing again. Some people even find more meaning and fulfillment in their hitherto uneventful lives after the attack. While this book is categorized as science fiction, there is nothing particularly “sci-fi” about it. No futuristic tech, spaceships, extraterrestrials etc. Science is only used for expositions, how radioactivity can seep into objects, the effect of radioactive poisoning, how an irradiated ring affects the skin etc.

The details of post-apocalyptic life here are very well thought out by the author. Life would be hell, but good people can persevere, pick up the pieces and slowly rebuild. It is a very interesting read but if you are looking for a “thriller” this ain’t it. It is more of a realistic exploration of life under such dire circumstances. Some of the main characters are fairly well developed but they do not really come alive off the page for me. Authors like Octavia Butler can breathe life into their characters in just a few paragraphs but I don’t think this is Pat Frank’s forte; this makes the narrative a little less compelling for me. Nevertheless, we should all be grateful to Mr. Frank for penning this cautionary tale and hope that enough people take heed of the caution.
m cloud
• The pastoral post-apocalyptic landscape reminds me of The Long Tomorrow.
• John Lennon was much disturbed by this book and it led to his anti-war fervor (thank you Wikipedia!). He must have imagined all sorts of things…

“Still, there was no sound quite like a siren wailing its air-raid alarm to spur people to constructive action-or paralyze them in fear.”

“With the use of the hydrogen bomb, the Christian era was dead, and with it must die the tradition of the Good Samaritan.”

“His theory of challenge and response applies not only to nations, but to individuals. Some nations and some people melt in the heat of crisis and come apart like fat in the pan. Others meet the challenge and harden.”

“He swam in a sea of money, and when money was transmuted back into paper he was left gasping and confused, and he died.”

“Dozens of people killed themselves for the same reason. They created and lived in an environment of paper profits, and when paper returned to paper they had to kill themselves, not realizing that their environment was unnatural and artificial.”

“Treasury in Washington, Wall Street, and Federal Reserve banks everywhere, all were now radioactive ash.”

“It was strange, she thought, pedaling steadily, that it should require a holocaust to make her own life worth living.”
Profile Image for Althea Ann.
2,232 reviews1,016 followers
October 5, 2014
A re-read - but, at my best guess, I previously read this just about exactly 30 years ago. It was a ubiquitous presence on library and bookstore shelves. (The paperback with this cover: https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1327598...)

I couldn't have told you the details, but re-reading (for post-apocalyptic book club, of course), it was striking how certain images came back to me with such clear familiarity - the radiation burn around a woman's finger from irradiated jewelry, for example.

In style, the book reminded me quite a lot of Nevil Shute's 'On the Beach,' which was published two years earlier (1957). https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...
Objectively, I think that 'On the Beach' is a better work of fiction, but 'Alas, Babylon' is not without its appeal. It is funny though, that in Pat Frank's introduction, he mentions that his main reason for writing this book was to convince people how very disastrous a nuclear conflict would be. However, compared to 'On the Beach' (which he must've been aware of), this is a sunny and optimistic novel. It definitely falls into the sub-category of post-apocalyptic fiction that focuses on people coming together and re-building, with unbroken spirit.

The writing and attitudes shown here definitely reflect the time period. It could definitely be argued that it is quite racist and sexist. Ironically, however, I think that it is more than probable that Pat Frank himself felt that he was very progressive in his attitudes. He clearly made an effort to treat his black American characters with dignity and respect, and to create what he felt to be strong, educated women. However, a modern reader will most likely not feel that he was successful in these endeavors. I simply decided to look at it as a snapshot of American social attitudes in the 1950's - and, as such, it is really quite fascinating and illuminating.

The plot? It deals with one man, who, after a nuclear war, finds himself in a position of leadership in his small Florida town. Miraculously, the town is in a 'pocket' relatively free of radioactive fallout, and the book is largely taken up by the daily minutiae of what happens, and what the various townsfolk have to do to survive. There are many details that one could quibble with - would 'x' really be such an issue? Logically, would 'y' really work that way? - but overall, it keeps the reader's attention.

Profile Image for Zach.
285 reviews273 followers
August 2, 2010
Well first off I have no idea why Day of the Triffids is always held up as the poster child of the cozy catastrophe phenomenon, because that is kind of this book's whole raison d'etre. What we have here, in fact, is a kind of anti-modern ode to the traditionally-minded small town communities of America, brought about (how else?) by means of the USSR removing the major cities of the nation and replacing them with smoking radioactive craters.

Did I mention this was published in 1959?

As a novel, this is mostly a failure: the coziness of the catastrophe is mostly laughable, the plot kind of plodding, the characters stale and flat, the racism and sexism casual and blatant.

As a historical document, though, this is fascinating. For example, Frank clearly thinks of himself (and kind of was, for the time) as a racial progressive: the collapse of civilization quickly renders racism untenable, he tells us: food grown by a black man is just as edible as that provided by a white man, for example. Racism, he understands, is a social construct, and not a function of biology. This doesn't stop him from having his white characters constantly boss his black characters around, though, or writing the dialogue of the latter in broken grammar, and etc.

Frank's forward thinking didn't really extend to gender, though. There's a scene toward the end where the protagonist's love interest suggests a plan involving a truck to the men, and then says it would be best if she were the driver. "Like hell you will," says the main character. "It isn't safe for a woman." Now after the past three decades or so, this is a pretty cliche setup that pans out like so:

1. woman has idea
2. men run with idea but tell woman she has to stay behind for safety
3. dumbass men get into trouble
4. woman, who has sneakily disobeyed them, saves the day
5. men apologize to woman for chauvinist behavior
6. characters and audience alike convince themselves that sexism is dead.

This is how it plays out in A,B:

1. woman has idea
2. men run with idea but tell woman she has to stay behind for safety
3. woman stays behind like she is told

This is to say nothing of the constant griping about bureaucracy and modernism that the characters indulge in ("No tax. No alimony. Let us count our blessings. Never thought I'd see the day.") or the fact that several characters are killed off by radioactive consumer commodities (!) or the continual reminder that what keeps the characters alive after The Day is the knowledge and tools left behind by their pre-modern ancestors.

If novel-as-history doesn't appeal to you, I can't really imagine this would be a book worth reading in 2010.
Profile Image for Marvin.
1,414 reviews5,325 followers
December 23, 2011
Alas, Babylon was written in 1959 and is part of what I call the Trifecta of Nuclear Cold War novels. The first is Fail Safe which addresses how Nuclear War can be easily triggered though human error and simple stupidity. The second is On the Beach which deals with the possible end of humankind due to nuclear war. The third is Alas Babylon which takes play immediately after a first nuclear attack and deals with the hardships of surviving a nuclear attack. All three together adequately portrays the fear and apprehension of people in the 50s. Alas Babylon is the most optimistic of the three in the sense that we in the 50s did not yet understand how devastating Nuclear War could actually be. Nuclear Winter and other results of a nuclear holocaust were not yet know, or at least not publicly known. Yet the devastation of all-out nuclear war was still quite alarming. Alas, Babylon, in its way, is a classic novel, one of the best of its era. It focuses on a small Florida town immediately following the start of a war between the US and the Soviet Union. The author beautifully sets up the sociopolitical environment but wisely keeps the focus on the actiona of the townspeople. Faced with radiation fallout, a loss of law enforcement, isolation, diseases and famine, among other things, they do as well as they can, never knowing if they are facing the end of civilization. Some reader may think the author is too optimistic and they may be right. Yet I think the author caught the time and mood realistically. My one complaint would be the inherent racism throughout the novel yet this may be on of those books that you may need to keep the period in mind and overlook some disturbing comments and assumptions. Nonetheless, Alas Babylon can be read as an historical document of the the cold war mentality and as a testament to the hope of survival in war time, even when hope is elusive.
Profile Image for Werner.
Author 3 books579 followers
December 21, 2013
Even as a kid and a teen, I've always had a keen interest in fictional and dramatic post-apocalyptic scenarios; I've never tried to analyze why, but perhaps the appeal of this kind of speculation is that it speaks to deep-seated modern fears and concerns about the future that all of us feel. It's a theme that's been around in science fiction since the early 19th century. In the aftermath of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and under the tension of the Cold War, fear of nuclear war was pervasive, not only in the SF community but among the general public, and nuclear holocaust became the typical agent of apocalypse in this sub-genre during that era. This is one of the earliest and best novels with this premise.

There's some set-up of our small-town setting (Fort Repose, Florida) and introduction of important characters at the beginning of this novel, and some treatment of the nuclear war itself. But it's over in less than a day; the concern of the author is how people cope in the aftermath. Not a military target, Fort Repose wasn't bombed. But overnight, the electrical power grid is gone, the economic infrastructure that brought in food and fuel, etc. from outside the community is gone, and paper money is worthless. Deadly radiation is a potential problem. Food (not to mention insulin for diabetics) can't be refrigerated anymore. If you want to get anywhere, you walk or pedal a bike. Most of these conditions would exist in any small American town in the event of a technological collapse today; so for a 1959 book, it's surprisingly relevant to present possibilities. (The main difference, of course, is that in Fort Repose there are no computers and no Internet to disrupt, so that isn't an issue.)

This is sociological science fiction at its best, a revealing look at how individuals and a community might cope with unprecedented challenge and hardship. (Or fail to cope --some people commit suicide or descend into madness.) For some people, it's an opportunity to turn into murderous brigands. Not everybody who tries to survive sanely and decently will live to do so. But others rise to the challenge of day-to-day survival and find strength to go on. And for our protagonist, hard-drinking and rather feckless young lawyer Randy Bragg, the crisis is the catalyst that brings the latent leadership abilities and sense of responsibility he didn't know he had to the fore. For all the survivors of Fort Repose, the lesson of their harsh new world is that to overcome, the things you need most are cooperation, community, family loyalty, guts, capacity to take adversity without whining and self-pity, and willingness to work hard. Those are the virtues we most need in any setting. One of my Goodreads friends called the book "depressing;" other reviewers have complained that it's too "cheery," in that it's not pessimistic enough (since Frank refrains from annihilating the whole human race, or doesn't kill off enough characters). But I wouldn't use either term. It treats the horror of the situation too realistically to be Pollyanna-like. But the author's trust in the capacity of human nature to meet the challenges facing it keeps the reader from despair.

Set as it is in the Jim Crow South (at what, in the real world, was the cusp of the Civil Rights movement), race issues play a role in the novel. Frank, and through him Randy, both exhibit relatively enlightened attitudes for white Southerners of that era (at least, I'm surmising that Frank was a Southerner, since he evokes his setting with the ease of someone who was apparently at home there). It's interesting, and one of the better messages of the novel, to see some of the segregationist attitudes of the book characters dissolve in the face of the common peril and need. Though this isn't a Christian novel, religion is treated respectfully here (one character is a black preacher) and the role of faith in the community is portrayed positively. There's not much bad language, no explicit sex (and no glorification of loose sex; the romantic content promotes serious, committed love), and no graphic violence, though violence takes place. I really liked it, and would give the author high marks. The only reason I didn't give the full five stars was that, even though Randy was well-drawn, (as were the other, supporting characters) I found him a tad hard to relate to, and I'm not sure why. Maybe differences in social background was part of it, though I'm not usually that much influenced by demographics. (Despite the gender difference, the one character I identified with the most was Alice, the town librarian.)

If you're a fan of post-apocalyptic fiction, this should be on your reading list. Ditto if you just like character-driven fiction with a compelling plot and a good set of messages!
8 reviews1 follower
June 7, 2008
This is a letter I wrote to our family after reading this book. This book definitely gives you a lot to think about even if there isn't a nuclear holocaust, we could definitely find ourselves without resources for a number of other reasons. The people in the book had done no planning ahead, but managed to adapt. I think it is important to plan for the worst and hope for the best. Thus came the letter I drafted for our family....

Our Dearest Family,

Current events have given us a good reason to stop and look carefully at our finances and plans for the future. As we have watched the events happening all over the world, we have asked ourselves if we would be prepared for a disaster if one were to occur in our area. FEMA encourages families to get together and come up with a plan for what they would do if a disaster were to occur in their area as well as emergency kits to use in case of a disaster.

The emergency plan should include things such as:
• Escape routes
• Evacuation plans
• Family communications
• Utility shut-off and safety
• Insurance and vital records
• Special needs
• Care for pets
• Safety skills

Prophets and leaders in our church have counseled families to prepare a year’s worth of food storage to have in case of an emergency. Of course, this food storage is not just for disasters, but also can be used in case of financial difficulties within a family.

In 1995, Elder L. Tom Perry of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles taught:
"Acquire and store a reserve of food and supplies that will sustain life. . . . As long as I can remember, we have been taught to prepare for the future and to obtain a year's supply of necessities. I would guess that the years of plenty have almost universally caused us to set aside this counsel. I believe the time to disregard this counsel is over. With events in the world today, it must be considered with all seriousness" ("If Ye Are Prepared Ye Shall Not Fear," Ensign, Nov. 1995, 36).

This counsel was given over 10 years ago. As we watch the prices rise continuously at the gas pump and then see the effects of this go to our grocery stores and other items we purchase, we can see that this counsel was not given in vain. Diesel prices are even higher thus posing a problem for truckers who bring in weekly supplies of food, drugs, and other supplies into our valleys. This year, we have felt an urgency to become more self-reliant and prepared in case of a disaster. We know that these preparations will give us a freedom as we will be able to take care of ourselves if we do struggle financially as well as if there came a time when basic utilities (electricity and water) were not available as it is now. We believe that even if circumstances don’t lead us to needing take advantage of these preparations right away, our preparations will lead to a cut in utility bills and healthier living. We would like to extend an invitation to the rest of our family to join us in this quest for self-reliance.

We would love to set up a time to have a meeting with each family outside of our own to discuss preparations of 72 hour kits, emergency plans, evacuation plans, gardening, and other skills that lead to self-reliance. We would like to work together as it is always good to have others working with you towards a similar goal.

We’d also like to encourage everyone to take some time and do some research on their own. There are some excellent websites to help us begin our quest both from the Church and from our government.






We would like to hope that our preparations will not ever be necessary, but we do believe that it is important to plan for the worst and hope for the best. History shows that stable times do not last forever and current events suggest that stable times are soon coming to an end. This can mean a risk to our jobs, limited access to food and electricity, and a lack of ability to live as we are used to living. We have come to a point where we are too reliable on the outside world for our everyday living. Do we want to be prepared if those outside resources suddenly become available, or do we want to find ourselves unable to take care of our most basic needs? We want to be prepared and again, are inviting you, our family, to join us.

Lee and DeEllen Stowell

Profile Image for Rob.
511 reviews107 followers
October 23, 2018
The first thing that a reader, new to this book, has to remember is that it was first published in 1959, that’s nearly 60 years ago. This was when the world was in the grip of the, so called, cold war between the USA and USSR. During the Cold War the populous of the world lived in the shadow of a nuclear war. If you are of an age that you can remember the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 then you will know what that shadow felt like. At that time, two men, President John F. Kennedy of the USA. and Mr. Khrushchev of the USSR, held the power to obliterate the entire globe. We of that generation held our collective breath waiting for the bomb to drop and then collectively breathed out when the USSR back down. Crisis averted.

Alas Babylon takes a similar scenario but, on this occasion, the crisis is not averted and the bombs do drop.

The first thing that occurred to me whilst reading this book was ‘the more things change the more things stay the same’. The holocaust is sparked into being by antagonism between Turkey and Syria. Does this sound familiar to you? It’s now 2018 and they are still at it.

The small township of Fort Repose, Florida is somehow spared from total annihilation. Far enough away from major cities and the prevailing wind sending the fallout further north the people of Fort Repose have to come to terms with life in a post nuclear, apocalyptic world. They have to quite literally reinvent the wheel.

Living with the populous of Fort Repose for the duration of the book I became totally immersed in their struggle to survive.

There is a reason why certain books become classics, it’s because they are bloody good. And this book, believe me, is bloody good.

5/5 star recommendation.
419 reviews35 followers
March 25, 2015
This was probably one of the very first "end of the world" novels I read and it is still one of the best.

At the very end, one characters asks "Who won?" and another replied "why, we did" and "turned to begin the thousand year night". So much for winning a nuclear war.

Very scary and depressing, and unfortunately all to real on what life would be like after a nuclear exchange.
Profile Image for Linda Robinson.
Author 4 books134 followers
December 26, 2012
Frank's book was included in an article on the best post-apocalypse books, and it was the only one I'd not read. The characters are well written, which is what we hope for when the scenario is a given: nuclear holocaust causes chaos. How people react is all there is to write about when the power is out, salt, liquor, batteries, coffee and potable water are history. In this book, ammunition is still around late in the post-game, which seems weird, there's a firefight on a bridge that maybe needed to be hand to hand. Frank published this in 1959, so there are words I'd prefer never to hear again, and the women are drawn only slightly more powerful than most 50s prototypes, but we're all a product of the time we're set in. The girl Peyton pouts a little about getting female assignments, but she figures out how to overcome. That alone is forward thinking by the author. There are other indications Frank either had hopes for his own offspring, or for humanity in general. I watched The Hunt for Red October this week. Skip Tyler, benched sub driver, remembered helping his father build a bomb shelter in the backyard in the decade set in Alas, Babylon. I remember that time, too. Imagining the book in our neighborhood, I wonder who would have emerged as our clan leader, our inventor; who would have gone rogue, and if I could have taken a role as a young girl I could be proud of today. And I wonder if the bomb shelter in the LaLondes' backyard is still operational, or if the new home owners even know it's there.
Profile Image for Dylan.
434 reviews87 followers
April 4, 2022
An excellent, believable post-apocalypse novel set in the run up to and aftermath of a nuclear war. Compelling characters and shows its age less than I expected/feared. Kind of reads like a significantly condensed version of The Stand, I imagine King was heavily inspired by this. Surprisingly positive ending, which was a pleasant surprise.
Profile Image for LaCitty.
761 reviews129 followers
September 27, 2020
Di questo romanzo ho apprezzato moltissimo la prima parte: la descrizione di una guerra improvvisa, lo sgancio di alcune bombe atomiche che distruggono alcune città e lasciano i sopravvissuti privi di energia elettrica, benzina, beni di prima necessità e di tutto ciò che normalmente diamo per scontato. Ho apprezzato la descrizione degli stati d'animo, le reazioni dei vari personaggi.
La seconda parte, centrata sul modo in cui i sopravvissuti cercano di riorganizzare la loro vita, mi è piaciuta meno e il finale rassicurante non mi ha convinta del tutto.
È comunque una lettura molto scorrevole che, soprattutto nella prima parte, fa riflettere su qualcosa che (speriamo di no) potrebbe capitare.
Profile Image for Ioana.
274 reviews349 followers
January 1, 2018
2.5 stars, rounded up
As a historical relic, Alas, Babylon is fascinating. Written just as things were heating up during the Cold War, it displays a level of paranoia that seems outrageous/laughable today, depending on your disposition. Still, I have no doubt it's accurate as a gauge for the mood of swaths of the public at the time (I'm old enough to remember the 80s from the "other side" of the world - in Bucharest, we lived in fear of nuclear fallout from any bombings unleashed on the USSR, and that was when the Cold War was winding down).

The quick synopsis: the USSR bombs the US to pieces, and there are enclaves of people trying to survive in these "contaminated areas", without electricity, trash collection, trade, communications, etc. The writing is good, the pace is excellent, the story is spell-binding, the characterizations are realistic.

I actually enjoyed Alas, Babylon quite a bit (I might even say a 5/5), but I have other important criteria too, like novelty, creativity, lyricism, profundity, etc.

This book is incredible as a historical window into the past, but Frank adheres to all known stereotypes as he presents a United States imagined by the most shallow, inane, unthinking, sheep-like indicators available. It's like if a person in the year 3000 found a copy of the Life of the Kardashians; it'd probably be a fascinating period study into our time, but not the most illuminating of our potential for human thought and possibility.

Some examples: as a book written in 1959 about the deep south (Florida), Alas, Babylon is pretty blatantly racist. Though, at least, not militantly so, at a time when violence against non-whites was common; Frank does present his white characters as tolerant, and writes about their solidarity with the black inhabitants of Fort-Repose. Still, this "tolerance" is quite paternalistic and thus, condescending; he's like those people today who "have black friends" so they don't consider themselves racist... Second, ditto on women. Frank goes to some lengths to portray women as independent, yet in the next breaths pats himself on the head for being so forward-looking while restating how women still "need" men.

In both dimensions of race and gender, Frank probably was indeed "ahead" or at least in line with the times - he recognizes non-whites and women are people, have (or should have) equal rights, and should be treated with dignity, yet his very tone undermines his points. Like the white guy who says, almost surprised, "she's a woman, and she's so independent and strong" or "he's black, and he's so responsible and intelligent"...

Then, of course, there's the paranoia, as mentioned previously, the absolutely blinding patriotism and misapprehension of "The Other". And, throughout it all, we are bombarded with typically heart-warming, cliched, interpersonal moments of connection and fierce moments of American independence. We can do it, together! We can rebuild! We will work as the independent idealists that we are to make America great again! And so on, and the like. This is like, PERFECT Cold War propaganda.

Also, unrelatedly to any critical analysis, the book also seemed quite superficial because it skimmed over so much time. Alas, Babylon paints a vague portrait of a post-apocalyptic world, but there's not quite enough there to get a solid sense of the entire picture, and the reader is left craving so much more in the end.
Profile Image for Sandi.
510 reviews278 followers
May 18, 2008
I read "Alas, Babylon" during a vacation to Mammoth at the end of August, 2005. We had no TV, no newspapers and no radio for 4 days. When we got home, we learned about the destruction caused by Hurricane Katrina. As I watched news reports about the aftermath, I kept thinking back to the incidents in this book. It was just a bit spooky and it made me realize how unprepared I am for a major disaster. It also made me wonder if it's even possible to be truly prepared for a disaster. Maybe it's your character and intelligence that determines if you survive and how you live afterwards.
Profile Image for WarpDrive.
272 reviews388 followers
March 4, 2016
This is a compelling, atmospheric book about the physical, social and emotional consequences of nuclear war in a small Florida community.
This book was written in 1959, when the dangers of a nuclear conflagration were not negligible, but it feels surprisingly modern and relevant to modern sensibilities.
The crescendo of tension bringing to the actual trigger of the nuclear catastrophe, as well as the description of the event itself, are quite memorable and feel very realistic – unsettlingly so. The description of the immediate after-effects of a global nuclear war, although a tad optimistic in my opinion, is also quite realistic and unsettling in its ordinariness.
On the not-so-positive side, the initial build-up is at times a bit slow, the ending is a bit underwhelming and too optimistic for my taste, and there are a couple of moments where the 50's culture comes to the surface, in the form of open sexism that, sadly, was still quite present in society at the time: this statement by the main character: "The more he learned about women the more there was to learn except that he had learned this: they needed a man around" caused literally to boil my blood.
Overall, however, it is a well written, compelling, recommended SF classic that is still now one of the best examples of this particular post-apocalypse survival story genre. 3.5 stars, rounded up to 4.
Profile Image for Dawn F.
495 reviews65 followers
September 25, 2020
Following a small Florida community’s survival after an atomic bomb ravages their Florida state homes, this is a surprisingly uplifting piece of post apocalyptic fiction. Don’t expect to read a real life account of living with the horrific effects of the bomb, as their area is pretty much on the outskirts and sheltered from radiation and the severe consequences thereof, even if it’s briefly mentioned. Horrible things do happen, but they’re off-screen or on-sceeen brought on by the people who live around our MCs. They don’t really have any political view on who did this to them or why, nor is the focus of the story. However, it’s written in 1959, and while it shows, it’s definitely also a piece of speculative fiction trying to burst out of of the limitations of its time, and I admire that a lot. The novel is a great, unsentimental testiment of community among human beings brought together by circumstance, how they are willing to help and provide for each other. I found it very engaging and matter-of-factly written which is how I seemingly prefer it.
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