Book Review: Alas, Babylon

AlasBabylonby Anniel7/21/15
Author: Pat Frank. Publication Date 1959; Electronic Edition (Kindle): November, 2012  •  I had read this apocalyptic novel when it was first published and found it compelling then in the midst of the Cold War. I decided to read it again recently and thought I would find it dated. It is surprisingly so relevant in our world that I was pleasantly surprised. For instance, the following news broadcast heard two days before the nuclear war begins would be at home quite easily today:

. . . Turkey had approached the UN for an investigation of border penetration by Syria. Syria charged Israel with planning a preventive war. Israel accused Egypt of sending snooper planes over its defenses. Egypt claimed its ships, bound from the Black Sea to Alexandria, were being delayed in the Straits, and charged Turkey with a breach of the Montreaux Convention.

Russia accused Turkey and the United States of plotting to crush Syria, and warned France, Italy, Greece and Spain that any nations harboringAmerican bases would be involved in a general war, and erased from the earth.

Some things never change. The big difference in the book is that the money crunch comes after the attack, not before.

This novel is a refreshing break from the formulaic thrillers we are inundated with today. Pat Frank’s writing and characterizations are excellent. The people seem real. The hero, Randy, is a man, both strong and weak, prepared and unprepared, flawed as are we all, who has to change and grow in a hurry. That growth does not turn him into a superman, just into a MAN equipping himself to do the job that needs doing. A man you’d want on your side. The people who live around him could be your own crazy neighbors, whom you both laugh at and love.

The breakdown of society following a nuclear war is both graphic and thought provoking as you see what it takes to survive. There are some folks who blind themselves to what is happening around them, they are inept and unable to cope or offer any aid to anyone else. A few of these people commit suicide and some die because they simply stop living. Others help only themselves at the expense of those near them. And there are some who turn into primal animals in their need to get what they want and so harm anyone and everyone.

As Randy grows and learns to be the leader his town needs in order to help everyone live and succeed, it is interesting to note how his leadership makes others discover and become more sure of their own skills.

This is a story of PEOPLE, male and female, black and white, once rich and poor, educated and not, suddenly reduced to equality of need, relying on and trusting each other in order to survive. Some of the bad guys live and some of the good guys don’t, just as in real life. It’s a story that could become real tomorrow.

Could you be a survivor without losing your humanity? Are you even minimally prepared with the REAL necessities to give your family and neighbors a chance for survival? Are your children being taught the mindset they need to be strong and helpful in such a situation?

This book makes many of the questions of living in a broken society clear. The answers differ from place to place, and from person to person.

Read or reread this book. Maybe it will make you think and help you prepare before times get terribly tough. It certainly left me with a lot to consider. • (1078 views)

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14 Responses to Book Review: Alas, Babylon

  1. Glenn Fairman says:

    I read this in the 60’s and it’s storyline still resonates. Thanks for the memory.

  2. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    Could you be a survivor without losing your humanity? Are you even minimally prepared with the REAL necessities to give your family and neighbors a chance for survival? Are your children being taught the mindset they need to be strong and helpful in such a situation?

    So many movies and books have dealt with that scenario. With government being blow away and the law now in the hands of the individual, it will be a libertarian paradise.

    Words such as “keep your humanity” are a luxury. Those with food stashed away (or the means to produce it) and the guns and manpower to protect it will survive. Those brought up on “diversity” and “niceness uber alles” will be passed around like females.

    • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

      With government being blow away and the law now in the hands of the individual, it will be a libertarian paradise.

      We will be able to see how the libertarian inner-city experiment will work on an expanded basis.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      The book is set around a small town in Florida, which has some agricultural land available. In addition, Randy’s brother had sent him a coded message that a nuclear war might be imminent, and had sent his family to shelter with him (a good sign of just how dangerous it was). This enables Randy to pick up some extra supplies, and this (combined with some farming and fishing) enables him to survive as the leader of a small group (including a doctor, conveniently, even if he does have vision problems).

      In discussing the situation with a neighbor whose goldfish had just been eater by her now-feral cat, Randy notes that at such a time, there’s no place for a showy goldfish. There’s a place for guppies (such as the neighbor), and for catfish (which he has to be).

      • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

        Well, your added info makes this book sound even more interesting.

        • Timothy Lane says:

          I believe I’ve mentioned one of my favorite scenes from the book (which I read at the recommendation of a friend of mine who has since died). It’s a radio address by the new president — formerly the Secretary of HEW, who by chance happened to survive the war. In it, she lists the contaminated zones — such as the New England states and the state of Florida, as well as the areas around most major cities.

  3. Anniel says:

    Lack of communication was one of the things I found interesting in the book. Not to even know what was happening in towns and cities near your home or in most of the world would be awful. The hero was able to figure out some ways to get info in a rudimentary way, but we wouldn’t have access to most of those ways today when we are so dependent on high tech. In the book they didn’t even know who started the war, nor who actually won it until the end of the book.

    Establishing some form of law in their area was wrenching, especially when it came to capital punishment. Inner cities would be a horror to live in.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      Of course, the communication starts breaking down early. I can remember the banker seeking policy standards from the Federal Reserve, and the telegrapher informing him that they aren’t sending messages to anyplace north of Jacksonville. Then communication with Jacksonville goes down — and Palatka, presumably the next station south, reports seeing what looks like a mushroom cloud over the larger city.

  4. Anniel says:

    Oh, also forgot the troubles with marauding gangs and the junkies willing to kill anyone for a fix. That was then, how much worse would it be now?

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      Too much law, no good. (Statism. Totalitarianism. Utopianism.)
      Too little law, no good. (Libertarianism. Anarchy.)

      Big events such as a nuclear apocalypse give one an appreciation for law…even bad law…even too much law. Laws can be changed. A person who shows up at your doorstep with a pitchfork cannot be reasoned with.

      It’s interesting that *via law* (and other methods of persuasion) a kind of social anarchy is being intentionally instigated by the Left — often in the form of too much law. It’s an interesting contradiction. Anarchy via too much law? But laws that mean to overthrow time-tested social norms can’t help but produce anarchy. And because reality and “what works” are not so easily blotted out, that takes a lot of law to try to overcome what we used to term “common sense” but that is not so common anymore. I hope I haven’t made any libertarian heads explode via these complex thoughts.

      I might pick up this novel and at least read the Kindle sample. It will be a break from the (at least in the early going) trailer-trash life of Frank Sinatra. Oy vey. What we can be sure of is that those with stocks of food, guns, and a tight community-minded relationship with an extended family or tribe will get along better than most. We will return to the law of the jungle and have to first and foremost be buttressed against it.

      A sort of wonderful fantasy (which I do consider now a fantasy) is that men’s better natures will break out and significant numbers of people will not lose their humanity. The problem with that premise is that it requires people to already be anchored to something deeper than the state. The Japanese people, for example, did not devolve into anarchy after their defeat in WWII. They were anchored in Japanese tradition that was engrained far longer than the recent spurt of national militarism. And, give General McArthur his due, he was aware of this and used it constructively. The same could be said for the Germans.

      But the culture we are fomenting now in America and Europe is one whereby people relate their deepest hopes and wishes to the ethics that ultimately come from the state. This is, in essence, one of the prime elements of fascism, for example. It’s when people not just identify with the state (for there is nothing inherently wrong with identifying as an American or a German) but who seek to find transcendent and uplifting meaning through the state. That’s why I go on and on about “Smiles, everyone, smiles” because such transcendence can only ever be superficial, at best…a shared delusion. And it is why all Leftist states must eradicate religion. It’s naked proof that these kinds of states mean to be a de facto religion.

      If you wipe out the state under these circumstances, there is no tribe to come home to. In fact, I would predict that a nuclear apocalypse would quickly wipe out liberalism, but conservatism would gain ascendency. Conservatism would be the only known force that could organize against anarchy (the law of the jungle) and win. Liberalism couldn’t. It can’t even now deal with reality as it is.

      • Timothy Lane says:

        This peculiar combination of anarchy and statism has been noted before. I remember reading tihs many years ago in Conservative Chronicle. Government control is the goal, but (for various reasons) liberals have no real interest in blocking ordinary street crime (most of the criminals are liberal clients).

  5. Anniel says:

    This may be as good a place as any to bring up a subject that I have wanted to address for a long time – hospitals. Timothy mentioned the good doctor in the book, who is terribly near-sighted and gets ambushed and beaten by a gang of marauders. His glasses are destroyed in the attack and he loses the supplies he was carrying. His hospital itself had already been destroyed. He had to make do in terrible situations.

    As most of you know, we have had a lot of experience around hospitals. Pretty early in the game I saw that all medical supplies come in “kits” now. No auto-claves, no way of doing any real sterilization of tools or anything else. You want to take out stitches these days? The kit you use is brought out, placed on a table, opened carefully by gloved hands, betadine from the kit sponged over the removal area, surgical grade scissors and tweezers all in the kit. When the procedure is complete, every single item, including the scissors and tweezers, are gathered up and disposed of in a contaminated materials chute down to a furnace for burning.

    One day a doctor just needed a piece of draping material for what she was doing. She had to open a whole kit for it. When they were ready for clean-up she asked me if I would like to keep the other drapes because “they are the best cleaning cloths in the world.” When I asked about the unused scissors and tweezers she gave me those, too.

    We became friendly enough that I asked her what would happen at the hospital in an emergency situation. She found a private place to talk and told me she was a member of the Emergency Management Team. Medical supplies and medicines are delivered to the hospital several times a day, and she frankly confessed that two days would deplete everything and that a workable plan for an emergency was not in existence. They probably would be reduced to boiling water in pots and pans in the cafeteria.

    Because of the threat of rampant infection, her advice was not to bother with a hospital in a general emergency. And in war-torn countries the enemy frequently destroys hospitals first.

    Hate to be a downer on this subject, but that’s what I was told.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      Looks like when the Apocalypse comes, I’ll be removing that appendix with a little grain alcohol and a rusty knife. Better to pray for the health of your loved ones because I don’t suppose that we’ll see anything but the further deterioration of competency in the health care industry. Also, it wouldn’t hurt to move into the same neighborhood as a doctor and make friends…should the Apocalypse come.

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