Review: Alas, Babylon

Alas, Babylon - cover
Author: Pat Frank
Publisher: Harper Perennial
Published: 1959
Pages: 323

As part of my ongoing interest in the Second World War (evidenced by my World War 2 tag) I have been looking for books, both fiction and non-fiction, that told stories, not merely presenting facts like The Necessary War. Not that there’s anything wrong with the latter either, but I like to get a balance. So I discovered Alas, Babylon in a bookstore and, after looking it up on my phone, knew I had to have it. * * *Alas, Babylon highlights an incident, and the aftermath, in the Cold War period following World War 2. It takes place in Fort Repose, central Florida. The book’s title is reference to a code phrase used between brothers to communicate an incoming nuclear catastrophe. Sure enough, The United States and the Soviet Union start flinging nukes at each other. Numerous parts of Florida are hit, and the town is remarkably spared yet cut off from the outside. No food or supplies coming in, and no communications with the outside world.

The book starts up a bit slow. Things start really happening at about a hundred pages in. At that point, it becomes one thing happening after another. Numerous challenges arise from the lack of food and communications. Some of humanity’s ingenuity shines through here, as well as the ability to work together to resolve communal problems. Some of humanity’s darker side shows as well, including slavery, sexism, looting, and murder. Some of the societal attitudes that were prevalent at the time are very noticeable. At the ending, we find out a little bit about what happened at a greater scale following the event. Unsatisfyingly thin on details, but it does provide a bit of closure. Overall I enjoyed reading Alas, Babylon. I was a bit taken aback by the blatant racism and other unfortunate societal tendencies of the time. Once the pace picks up, it becomes a good survival story. Having read the book, I better appreciate what it might have been like to live back in the the Cold War era, what with the tensions over nuclear attacks and post-apocalyptic survival.