Alas, Babylon

Alas, Babylon

by Pat Frank


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"Alas, Babylon." Those fateful words heralded the end. 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, as men and women of all backgrounds join together to confront the darkness.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780060741877
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 07/05/2005
Series: Perennial Classics Series
Edition description: Reissue
Pages: 352
Sales rank: 36,122
Product dimensions: 5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.79(d)
Age Range: 14 - 18 Years

About the Author

Pat Frank (1908–1964) is the author of the classic postapocalyptic novel Alas, Babylon, as well as the Cold War thriller Forbidden Area. Before becoming an author, Frank worked as a journalist and also as a propagandist for the government. He is one of the first and most influential science fiction writers to deal with the consequences of atomic warfare.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

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. This was not entirely true. It was true that Florence Wechek, the manager, gossiped. Yet she judiciously classified the personal intelligence that flowed under her plump fingers, and maintained a prudent censorship over her tongue. The scandalous and the embarrassing she excised from her conversation. Sprightly, trivial, and harmless items she passed on to friends, thus enhancing her status and relieving the tedium of spinsterhood. If your sister was in trouble, and wired for money, the secret was safe with Florence Wechek. But if your sister bore a legitimate baby, its sex and weight would soon be known all over town.

Florence awoke at six-thirty, as always, on a Friday in early December. Heavy, stiff and graceless, she pushed herself out of bed and padded through the living room into the kitchen. She stumbled onto the back porch, opened the screen door a crack, and fumbled for the milk carton on the stoop. Not until she straightened did her china-blue eyes begin to discern movement in the hushed gray world around her. A jerky-tailed squirrel darted out on the longest limb of her grapefruit tree. Sir Percy, her enormous yellow cat, rose from his burlap couch behind the hot water heater, arched his back, stretched, and rubbed his shoulders on her flannel robe. The African lovebirds rhythmically swayed, heads pressed together, on the swing in their cage. She addressed the lovebirds: "Good morning, Anthony. Good morning, Cleo."

Their eyes, spectacularly ringed in white, as ifembedded in mint Life Savers, blinked at her. Anthony shook his green and yellow plumage and rasped a greeting. Cleo said nothing. Anthony was adventurous, Cleo timid. On occasion Anthony grew raucous and irascible and Florence released him into limitless freedom outside. But always, at dusk, Anthony waited in the Turk's-cap, or atop the frangipani, eager to fly home. So long as Cleo preferred comfortable and sheltered imprisonment, Anthony would remain a domesticated parrot. That's what they'd told her when she bought the birds in Miami a month before, and apparently it was true.

Florence carried their cage into the kitchen and shook fresh sunflower seed into their feeder. She filled Sir Percy's bowl with milk, and crumpled a bit of wafer for the goldfish in the bowl on the counter. She returned to the living room and fed the angelfish, mollies, guppies, and vivid neons in the aquarium. She noted that the two miniature catfish, useful scavengers, were active. She was checking the tank's temperature, and its electric filter and heater, when the percolator chuckled its call to breakfast. At seven, exactly, Florence switched on the television, turned the knob to Channel 8, Tampa, and sat down to her orange juice and eggs. Her morning routine was unvaried and efficient. The only bad parts of it were cooking for one and eating alone. Yet breakfast was not her loneliest meal, not with Anthony ogling and gabbling, the six fat goldfish dancing a dreamy oriental ballet on diaphanous fins, Sir Percy rubbing against her legs under the table, and her cheery friends on the morning show, hired, at great expense, to inform and entertain her.

As soon as she saw Dave's face, Florence could sense whether the news was going to be good or bad. On this morning Dave looked troubled, and sure enough, when he began to give the news, it was bad. The Russians had sent up another Sputnik, No. 23, and something sinister was going on in the Middle East. Sputnik No. 23 was the largest yet, according to the Smithsonian Institution, and was radioing continuous and elaborate coded signals. "There is reason to believe," Frank said, "that Sputniks of this size are equipped to observe the terrain of the earth below." Florence gathered her pink flannel robe closer to her neck. She glanced up, apprehensively, through the kitchen window. All she saw were hibiscus leaves dripping in the pre-dawn ground fog, and blank gray sky beyond. They had no right to put those Sputniks up there to spy on people. As if it were on his mind also, Frank continued:

"Senator Holler, of the Armed Services Committee, yesterday joined others of a Midwest bloc in demanding that the Air Force shoot down Sputniks capable of military espionage if they violate U.S. air space. The Kremlin has already had something to say about this. Any such action, the Kremlin says, will be regarded the same as an attack on a Soviet vessel or aircraft. The Kremlin pointed out that the United States has traditionally championed the doctrine of Freedom of the Seas. The same freedom, says the Soviet statement, applies to outer space."

The newsman paused, looked up, and half-smiled in wry amusement at this complexity. He turned a page on his clipboard.

"There is a new crisis in the Middle East. A report from Beirut, via Cairo, says that Syrian tanks of the most modem Russian design have crossed the Jordanian frontier. This is undoubtedly a threat to Israel. At the same time Damascus charges that Turkish troops are mobilizing..."

Florence flipped to Channel 6, Orlando, and country music. She did not understand, and could not become interested in, the politics of the Middle East. Sputniks seemed a closer and more personal menace. Her best friend Alice Cooksey, the librarian, claimed to have seen a Sputnik one evening at twilight. If you could see it, then it could see you. She stared up through the window again. No Sputnik. She rinsed the dishes and returned to her bedroom.

As she wrestled with her girdle, Florence's thought gravitated to the equally prying behavior of Randy Bragg. She adjusted the venetian blinds until she could peer out. He was at it again. There he was, brazenly immodest in checked red and black pajamas, sitting on his front steps, knees akimbo and binoculars pressed to his eyes. Although he was perhaps seventy-five yards distant, she was certain he stared directly at her, and could see through the tilted louvers. She ducked back against the bedroom wall, hands protecting her breasts...

Reading Group Guide

Plot Summary
"In Fort Repose, a river town in Central Florida," an early December Friday dawns warm and peaceful. There are rumblings of potential crisis from the outside world--"The Russians had sent up another Sputnik, No. 23, and something sinister was going on in the Middle East"--but the citizens of Fort Repose bask in their small-town peacefulness. Then Randy Bragg, the younger son of a prominent local family--lawyer, Korean War vet, and unsuccessful candidate for the state legislature--receives a Western Union cable from his older brother, Mark, a colonel in the Strategic Air Command. Mark's cable includes a code phrase used by the brothers since childhood to indicate imminent disaster: "Alas, Babylon." Randy correctly concludes that nuclear war between the United States and the Soviet Union is in fact imminent. On Saturday morning, The Day, Randy wakes to "a long, deep, powerful rumble" and a second sunrise glow to the south. So begins the struggle of Fort Repose to survive the unimaginable. Against all the odds, the citizens of this small town are spared the immediate and worst effects of nuclear attack. But they escape neither the secondary consequences nor their own human limitations. As staples and services disappear--first the phone lines, then money, then gas, then electricity, then food and medications, then running water--they cope with a world in which, in a single day, a thousand years of civilization have been stripped away. In his large home just outside town, Bragg gathers together family members and friends, black and white, in a mutually supportive battle against disaster. Eventually Randy, as a lieutenant in theArmy Reserve, will have to assume command of the entire town. In the meantime, through the year that follows The Day, all the human strengths and frailties come into play, with the fates of ordinary people hanging in the balance. Pat Frank's classic post-apocalyptic novel remains "an extraordinarily real picture of human beings numbed by catastrophe, but still driven by the unconquerable determination of living creations to keep on being alive." --The New Yorker

Topics for Discussion
1. Why do you think Frank selected a phrase from The Revelation of John as the title of his book? To what extent do you think he intended the references to Babylon in Chapters 17 and 18 of The Revelation to apply to the United States of the 1950s? To what extent might they apply to the United States today?

2. What instances are there of people being in positions of power or public authority who should not be, before and after The Day? How does Randy's exercise of authority contrast with that of others, from the pilot Peewee to Bubba Offenhaus, Edgar Quisenberry, and Porky Logan?

3. What details reveal the specifics--and the inanity--of race relations in the American South during the late 1950s? Does the novel suggest any way of resolving the race issue? How does Randy's relationship with the Henrys go against his community?

4. In Chapter 4, Helen points out that her children, and all children in the late 1950s, "have lived under the shadow of war--atomic war. For them the abnormal has become normal." Do children today live under a comparable shadow or shadows? If so, what are the possible consequences for them?

5. What are the consequences--for Randy himself, for his family and friends, and for all of Fort Repose--of Randy's decision, in Chapter 5, that "he would have to play by the old rules"? In what ways do Randy and others subsequently act in accordance with or in opposition to "the old rules"?

6. What is the sequence of the escalating breakdown of "normal" order, institutions, and public services? How do people react to the sudden absence of services and procedures that they--we--take for granted? Would reactions today be different or similar? What do you think is the most serious loss?

7. In Chapter 5, Frank writes of bank president Edgar Quisenberry that "He had forgotten the implacable law of scarcity." How would you define/describe that law? How does it come into play for the people of Fort Repose, and what effects does it have?

8. Is Helen's "inventory of necessities," in Chapter 6, realistic and appropriate? What would be included in your inventory of necessities in the case of a similar catastrophe? Why?

9. What factors of character and circumstance justify Randy's assuming responsibility for and authority over Fort Repose? Is his thought in Chapter 7--"When you had the responsibility you also had the right to command"--explanation enough?

10. To what extent does "survival of the fittest" apply in Fort Repose after The Day? What do Randy and the others understand that phrase to mean? What do you understand it to mean?

About the Author: "Pat Frank" was the pseudonym adopted by the American writer, newspaperman, and government consultant, Harry Hart (1907-1964), 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.

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Alas, Babylon 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 220 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This version is not the original book. Huge and VERY IMPORTANT sections of the original story have been removed. The rest is poor edited. Pat Frank would be rolling in his grave. Whoever it was who decided to offer this awful rendition has certainly done so only for the money
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is one of my favorite books. I have read it a dozen times! A quarter of the book is missing!! The editing is horrible!!! DO NOT BUY THIS RENDITION!!!!!!!!!!!!
TheUbermensch More than 1 year ago
My father introduced me to this book about a year ago, and I have found it so engaging that I have already read it three times. After writing this review, however, I have a strong feeling that I will be tempted to start over again. The book takes place in a very realistic (especially now) post-nuclear war scenario, written amidst the paranoia associated with the peak of the cold war. It has a wide variety of well, rounded characters that fit their roles exquisitely. After the Russians bomb a small city in Florida, Randy Bragg, his neighbors, and his brothers wife and children must show that the human spirit is able to endure even the most horrible of atrocities, which can be the only thing used to describe the tragedy of nuclear war, a very realistic possibility, especially today. It is obvious, from this book, that Mr. Frank was extremely politically active. The attention to detail that he gave to making the nuclear war scenario realistic is almost unparalleled. All elements were in concert with everything else, and the book meshed beautifully. As a side note, he made excellent use of the third-person omnipotent point of view by accurately, and effectively giving us a view in to the troubled minds of the protagonist, and even many side-characters. It's shockingly realistic, and shows many different interpretations of the human condition, exemplified by the characters reactions. The protagonist (Randy) shows leadership by enforcing Marshall Law and regulating the city, and bringing his small community of neighbors out of the rapidly spiraling chaos of the squalid, vile, main city, and in to a state of relative prosperity. If I didn't know any better, I would have assumed this was fact. It was so epically written, well thought out, and realistic that to not have assumed it had really happened would be the act of a mad man. It's enthralling, so much so that every time I put it down, I would always leave my finger on the exact word I was on so that I could begin reading again as soon as I possibly could. "Alas, Babylon" is incredibly addictive, and realistic. It shows how the human spirit is able to overcome human error. Everyone who reads this book will undoubtedly have a greater understanding, if not, a greater appreciation, for the very real possibility on nuclear war, and the genuine effects it could have on indisputably real people. Pat Frank is an extraordinary author, avid politician, and a prophet, in the true sense of the word (someone who tells uncomfortable truths or truths that are not easily accepted). His book, no, his gift to the world, is one of the best I have ever read, or recommended to anyone. An extremely wonderful book, a classic, and a must read. It has stood the test of time, and remains just as wonderful a book as it was when it was written decades ago. The reality of it may have even increased.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I had to read this for my freshman honors english class and the i thought it was a wonderful book!! i would definitly recommend reading this book, and i am not a person who likes to read either
LadyHester More than 1 year ago
This is a classic story that still holds relevance and stirs the heart of the reader. Alas, Babylon gives a glimpse into a what if future where the cold war escalated to nuclear war resulting in terrible and terrifying consequences. The undeniable appeal of the story lies with the main character. He is so vivid and real that you can almost reach out to touch him through the pages. His struggle to survive and protect his family and adapt to a horrifying new world is vividly portrayed. The greatest message within the book is hope. Hope for the reader that such a world could never exist and hope for the fictional characters as they live through adversity.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I read this book many years ago as a teenager, and had the chance recently to re-read this book. It is still as powerful today as it was when I was younger. Having grown up during the ' Cold War ' era this book is a scary look at what could have been real life instead of fiction. The setting for this drama is Florida, and now that I live in this state, the story really hits close to home. This book is a classic, if you have not read this book , you are missing a real treat !!!! If you are a fan of the television show JERICHO, you will want to add this book to your collection.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This was a great story! I've read it before and I'm not sure about sections missing from the original but I would believe it, the story seemed to wrap up pretty quickly. The editing is awful though, so many wrong letters or words that just aren't right! Not bad for 2 bucks but I wouldn't pay more.
AFSOC1stSgt More than 1 year ago
An at least once a year read for me, this is a book that both saddens me and at the same time builds my faith in the ultimate ability of humankind to adapt and overcome. I grew up in Central Florida, including several years in the (then) small town of Pinecastle mentioned in the book as Randy Bragg leaves his meeting with his brother at McCoy Air Force Base. By the way, if you've ever flown into Orlando Internatinal Airport on you r way to Disney Land you might have noticed the airport ID code on your luggage is MCO from the time when Orlando International was actually McCoy Air Force Base. In addition to the central theme of survival in a post-atomic war setting, the 1950's social norms are an eye-opening reality check.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is so confusing
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Four stars for the writing but negative four stars for the editing and proofing on the Nook version. If typos, incorrect word placement and other grammatical errors bother you, then don't purchase the Nook version. Otherwise, great writing and plot. A must read for those who are into doomsday scenarios. I must agree with the other comments regarding a chunk of the book missing  but again, save youtself the aggravation and don't buy the Nook version; go old school and get the book. I made the mistake of not listening to the comments about that and ended up regretting spending my money on a version that was so poorly proofread. Seriously, there is a typo on every single page it's insane. 
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This story is a good example of the kinds of things you might be faced with should there be a breakdown of society. This breakdown might occur from enemy attack (as in this story), economical meltdown, a natural disaster, or a combination of many things. NOW is the time to get prepared for any such emergency. Randy Bragg, the hero of this story, did not have the internet available to him for reference. Neither will we, once the disaster is underway. Research now!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Thought provoking and frightening, very real. Great read. I couldn't put it down.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The only reason why I take oof a star is because there is some bad language in it though seem to remember that it was kind of smattered.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I read this book when I was in school...liked it then, but in rereading it 20 years later I like it even more. It is shockingly relevant despite the era in which it was written.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Must read !
cmmurray74 More than 1 year ago
This is one of my favorite books. Everyone should read it. I was so happy when it was finally released on the nook.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I just read this on my Nook - the book was great, but it was FULL of typos...probably from when they converted it to digital format. Not a huge deal, but not good considering how much it cost. Just order a used copy on amazon.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A real classic in the disaster/survival genre! Must read for all fans of these kinds of books!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I read this book when I was in High School years ago. I loved it so much that I went out and bought the book. I still have it to this day 25 years later!!
jacksmomJM More than 1 year ago
I first read this book in 1971, in my 11th grade English Literature class. At that time it was required reading--I loved it then and just recently bought it and have devoured it again. I shared it with my sister and she LOVES it. A great story!!!!!
yarnspinner More than 1 year ago
very good, this book will make you analyze how you are living and ask yourself "am i prepared for a break-down of society and if so, how would i handle it"
Laceyrose More than 1 year ago
This is one book, that I have read and re-read many many times, and it seems that every time Ive read Alas Babylon, it is as though I have read it for the very first time. Im an avid fan of Human Survival / Apocalyptic books. So when a friend suggested this book to me when I was in High School, and the fact that the area is based on where I have lived my life and grew up in..Florida, I decided to read it. I read the book in one day. I could not seem to put it down. I like how the author blended in all of the chrs in this book, and how, and what they did to survive. He tells of their hardships without overkill. And showed us the softer points too. If your a Survivalist reader like I am, then I strongly suggest getting your copy of it. You won't regret it.
barry2B More than 1 year ago
I just reread this book for the 3rd time. While the threat of Nuclear war is different today that it was back in the 60's and 70's, the story still resonants for me. The suddeness of the attack and how quickly basic services cease should be a message for us all. Threats still exist today and while I think an all out nuclear war isn't very likely today a biological attack by a determined enemy could have the same dramatic effect. If you had to read this as required reading in High School, it is just as good of a read today (maybe better with no homework).
Leirda More than 1 year ago
This book takes place right before and after an apocalypse. The premise of the story is to take you through that journey, from what's happening to cause an apocalypse, to what happens after. I personally love the post-apocalyptic genre, and if you do too, you'll love this book.
CafeRandy More than 1 year ago