The Norman Transcript

N-town reviews

July 7, 2014

Dystopian societies in the pages of ‘Divergent’ and ‘Alas, Babylon’



Read if: You like The Hunger Games, parkour and capture the flag.

Don't read if: You're afraid of heights or teenagers.

“Alas, Babylon” (1959)

The premise of Harry Hart Frank's 1959 classic "Alas, Babylon" will be familiar to many readers. The dangerous powder keg of American-Russian relations finally ignites. Russia strikes with nuclear missiles, and in the space of an hour hundreds of American cities are burned from the face of the earth.

Frank meant to give America a warning by painting a vivid picture of a holocaust too big to be imagined. He tried to show personal fear through the eyes of a small town that survives the first flames of war but slowly strangles in a world bereft of order. His work strikes deeper than he intended. "Alas, Babylon" is not a book about war but a book about people, one that transcends time and place to show how individuals break down or grow up as civilization crumbles to ash around them. Readers will recognize their friends, neighbors and selves as the citizens scrabble for food and security in a world where money and the rule of law mean nothing.

The worst threat the town faces is not starvation, radiation or rampant disease -- it is each other. In the face of war, some men become dogs, which makes "Alas, Babylon" an uncomfortable read in more ways than one. The book is unflinching in its portrayal of racial tension and male attitudes toward women in the 1950s, lines that are sharply revealed as desperation strips away the civilized veneer.

"Alas, Babylon" is raw, passionate and moving. It was one of the first post-apocalyptic novels about nuclear warfare, and decades later it's still in print and on Amazon's best-seller list. Anyone who reads it will see why.

Read it if: You've ever wondered how war would affect you personally.

Don't read it if: You enjoy censored books.

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