Alas, Babylon by Pat Frank was written in 1959 and is one of the first nuclear apocalyptic fiction novels ever published. Written at a time when the Cold War was in full swing, the book demonstrates a very real fear, and the possible fate for our country. Often used terms like “Mutually Assured Destruction” the launch of the Soviet satellite Sputnik a few years previous to the book’s release, only reassured the public that an atomic cataclysm was a possibility. Looking back now, we see that we passed safely through the Cold War. But to generations past, the threat of a nuclear strike was very real. This book reflects that fear and gives us the first written word scenario of the future that could have been.
Alas, Babylon takes its title from The book of Revelations 18:10. Throughout history, this passage has been repeatedly used by clergy as a warning to great cities who were considered corrupt and sinful. The passage reads “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.” And in this book, that is exactly what happens to the great United States.
The book centers on a small Florida town. The protagonist in the book, Randy Bragg, a former soldier, is fortunate enough to receive a day’s warning of an impending attack from his brother with high military clearance. Bragg tries to warn the townspeople and goes about desperately preparing until the attack happens. He buys supplies and gathers those he trusts to wait for the impending doom.
After the attack, when the dust settles, the town goes about wildly trying to gather supplies and money. There is a rush on the bank and supermarket. Convicts escape from a nearby prison. Gasoline becomes scarce. Tourists are trapped. People are killed. People commit suicide. People try to leave town, only to never return or to return with horror stories of radiation sickness and lawlessness. The town realizes that there is nothing left and nowhere to go. Orlando and Miami are obliterated and their small town is now the safest place anyone can be.
Bragg takes over and martial law is established. Under his military leadership and training, the town organizes to find a way to survive. People with fruit trees and gardens become important. A neighbor with honey from his beehives finds that he is now powerful. People begin to teach each other what little they know of food production, building construction, medicine, and so on. The residents learn to fish, garden, and trade with each other for what is needed. Small, taken for granted items, like needles, thread, safety pins, and soap become luxury items. And although times become tough, the people of the town learn to coexist and come together to protect their town from the convicts and lawless men who are outside their boarders.
Finally, a tentative government is reestablished in Colorado and Bragg is sent word that the people of his town can relocate to the new center of the United States. Surprisingly, none of the citizens wish to leave their town. It is decided that they know enough to give survival a chance where they are. It then comes to light that the small town is the new center of civilization in Florida, as most of the state had been wiped out.
This book is on the reading list for most high school juniors and seniors. It usually coincides with American history classes when the curriculum moves into the Cold War era. At 336 pages long, the book is a quick read and delves deeply into the survival aspect of what it would take to rebuild enough for people to survive. Alas, Babylon is moving, detailed, and a bit scary. The book is worth the time to read, There are no well known actors on the cover, no Oprah stickers, no soon to be a major motion picture headers on the first page, but there are words there that will make you think. And maybe make you wonder. And hopefully remind you what it is to fall back in love with reading.