Book Review: Alas, Babylon

Full Disclosure: I didn’t finish the book I was planning to review today in time, so I’m digging up one of my all time favorites to feature instead. I’ve read Alas, Babylon many times, and highly recommend it.

It might be hard to imagine now, but there was once a time where thermonuclear war between the United States and the Soviet Union seems like an eventuality. Following the Second World War, the two super powers grew increasing at odds, while simultaneously building up the most destructive force of weapons ever conceived by man. Peace was only possible by the constant threat of mutually assured destruction.

Published in 1959, Alas, Babylon tells the story of when that threat just isn’t enough to maintain civility, and the cold war ends in a horrific tumult of nuclear annihilation. In a small Florida town, a relatively aimless man named Randy Bragg receives a cryptic but frightening warning of the upcoming conflict from his brother in the Air Force, as well as his brother’s wife and children. Early the next morning, the Soviet Union attacks, with a US counter-attack following soon after.

The novel doesn’t address much of the global thermonuclear war (although we get a quick summary of what happened at the end), instead focusing on the handful of survivors in that small Florida town, cut off from the world. Despite being safe from the atomic weapons, things quickly devolve into panic in the town. There is a run on the bank, the grocery store is ransacked, and the threat of starvation and anarchy is very real.

Out of this threat, Randy emerges as the calm voice of reason in the chaos, organizing his own neighborhood first, and then the community. He is supported by an aging doctor, Dan Gunn, his girlfriend Elizabeth, sister-in-law Helen, and their neighbors who run a farm.

Together they face the odds and unite the town. The face a number of challenges which have now become staples of post-apocalyptic literature

As mentioned above, Alas, Babylon was written in the late 1950s, and that really comes through in the writing. Women and minorities are treated very differently than they are now. While the author appears quite progressive, he’s still a product of his time, and this comes through in a number of fascinating and troubling ways. In fact, this is one of my favorite aspects of the book, and a reason I think it should be used in classrooms.

As a survival tome, there’s a lot to like about Alas, Babylon. Randy focuses on community and communication instead of just trying to be a lone survivalist with piles of guns, ammo, and spam. He protects himself when he needs to, but it much more interested in bringing people into the community and expanding their skill sets and abilities.

Alas, Babylon is my second favorite apocalyptic/post-apocalyptic work (The Road is my all-time favorite), and I can’t recommend it highly enough. While many might find that it suffers a bit from having been written in the 1950s, when the world was a very different place, I love the fact that the book has suck a unique historical voice.

Grade: 5 zombie heads out of 5



Hah, I’d highly recommend the book Calicade. It’s outstanding.


Awesome book, I read it for the first time when I was in 10th grade and the threat of a US/Soviet nuclear war was still very real. (1984)


Oh, that’s really cool. You got to experience the book from a whole different perspective.


Yeah, it was a different time. Whats really funny is that I work with several Russian guys about my age now and we like to compare stories that we used to hear as kids about the kids in the other country. Like I used to hear how Soviet boys started para-military training at 10 though their schools and were forced to run half-naked in the winter to toughen them up. From the other side they would hear that most American kids were addicted to drugs in elementary school and that poor people were forced into slavery.

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