Book Review: Alas, Babylon by Pat Frank

How’s this for a book review…. Alas, Babylon was written over fifty years ago (1959) by Pat Frank. I actually read it for the first time as a… sixth grader? seventh grader? … Anyway, I’m sure I did a book report on it then. Wouldn’t that be a fun read?

AB, set in Florida during the early Sputnik days when the fear of nuclear war was rampant, tells the story of a rural community that struggles to deal with the impact of an apocalyptic nuclear war through the eyes of Randy Bragg and his neighbors. As a kid, I remember this book particularly well because I actually read it backwards. I have always been fascinated by apocalyptic literature, and I was so eager to see how it ended that I went directly to the last page, figured out who won, and then skimmed through the book backwards to find stories I thought were interesting.

In the last few months, AB hit my reading list again (how, you might ask. How else? I was trying to find some other apocalyptic literature….), and I was reminded of that during a recent trip to our friends in Idaho. Jeff just happened to be reading the book, and both Courtney and I stole an hour with it.When we got home, we grabbed it from the library and both conquered it the next day.

It’s just as enjoyable as I remember.

Frank, a delicious if slightly immature author in style, paints a compelling and consistently timely picture of an apocalyptic world by focusing not on the destruction of physical communities but on the destruction of emotional and relationship communities. The degradation of society is both believable and understandable. Though Frank certainly makes many mistakes in what might actually be missed and lost should such a calamity happen, as a reader, I came away with a particular understanding that there are a great many things that would be missed and lost. In fact, reading the book inspired Courtney and I to take a long second look at our own emergency preparations and long-term food storage and make some changes.

Compared to other apocalyptic literature, much of which I would not recommend to youth readers due to content, AB is appropriate, comfortable, and approachable for a wide audience. The story is as compelling as it was fifty years ago and although, like I said, some of the writing is somewhat amateurish, it still works. The book carries weight, ponderous thoughts, and plenty of introspection.

About the highest compliment I could pay to any book would be the desire to give it an honored place on a bookshelf where it would be shared and consumed by others. AB is not a feast to leave you full, bursting at the seams but a pleasing and completely satisfying stop on the tour of apocalyptic fiction.

3.5 out of 4 stars!

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