Alas, Babylon tells the story of what would have happened if the Cold War did result in a nuclear attack, set entirely in the small town of Fort Repose, Florida, which is based on the real city of Mount Dora, Florida. The novel was published in 1959, making it one of the first apocalyptic novels of the nuclear age. To this date the novel is still extremely popular with science fiction and apocalyptic literature fans. The name of the book is taken from the Bible passage Revelation 18:10.
According to Frank himself, a simple question asked by a friend inspired this work. "What do you think would happen if the Russkies hit us when we weren't looking—you know, like Pearl Harbor?" Frank's recent experience working with the government and military during the World War II meant that things of this nature were constantly on his mind, and he used his expertise while writing this novel.
In a forward for the novel written in 2009, American scientist and science fiction author David Brin discussed the historical context of the novel and why it instantly touched a nerve for people living during its publication time. 1959 was just after the Soviet satellite Sputnik was launched, and in the middle of the Soviet Union's domination in space and orbit. Americans were all quite scared, particularly at this time, that a nuclear attack was imminent and they would have no means of defense or retaliation.
Other than themes of war, this novel also illustrates themes of survival, cooperation, community, perseverance, and perhaps most importantly, hope. Most of the novel takes place in the aftermath of the attack, and the characters constantly face the problems that constantly surface head-on, utilizing their skills and resourcefulness in the hopes that things will get better soon. Though war is a terrible thing, Alas, Babylon tells of optimism in the face of it, a message that hit home for contemporary citizens and continues to do so for those in modern-day.
The novel has had an enormous influence on other notable figures since its publication, too. John Lennon, after spending an entire night reading the book, claimed that this profoundly influenced his anti-war fervor. Author William R. Forstchen spoke of its influence on his novel One Second After. An adaptation of Alas, Babylon was broadcast in 1960 as an episode of the Playhouse 90 series.