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10 thoughts on “Alas, Babylon

  1. Jeffrey Keeten Jeffrey Keeten says:

    ”And the kings of the earth, who have committed fornication
    and lived deliciously with her, shall bewail her, and lament for
    her, when they shall see the smoke of her burning,
    Standing afar off for the fear of her torment, saying,
    Alas, alas, that great city Babylon, that mighty city! for in one
    hour is thy judgment come. “ Revelations

    The cover art of the American First Edition from 1959.

    Randy Bragg comes from a long line of prestigious individuals. He, unfortunately, has never found a way to live up to the family name. He has some ambition. He isn’t a wastrel. He just isn’t sure what he is supposed to do with his life. He served in Korea and came back with his uniform weighed down with medals. He recently ran for a political position, but was soundly trounced. His family name would have won it for him, but his honesty about his liberal politics in a conservative Central Florida district made him easy pickings for his opponent.

    He is floundering.

    And then he receives a telegram from his brother Mark who is currently assigned to a strategic air base in Omaha.

    Alas Babylon

    The code word they’d used since they were young lads to indicate that something was seriously wrong.

    Mark sends his family to be with Randy. Like a bone reader or a truth sayer Mark has assembled the pieces of information he has collected from conversations, field reports, and radio frequency chatter. A war is coming.

    ”Within the pillar and the cloud, fantastic colors played. Red changed to orange, glowed white, became red again. Green and purple ropes twisted upward through the pillar and spread tentacles through the cloud.

    The gaudy mushroom enlarged with incredible speed, angry, poisonous, malignant. It grew until the mushroom’s rim looked like the leading edge of an approaching weather front, black, purple, orange, green, a cancerous man-created line squall.”


    The Soviet Union and the United States have done the unthinkable.

    Cities wink out one by one as both sides hit the other with everything they have.

    In Fort Repose it becomes very real after the electricity goes out.

    ”In four months,” Randy said, “we’ve regressed four thousand years. More, maybe. Four thousand years ago the Egyptians and Chinese were more civilized….”

    There is a run on the bank. Merchants have vaults full of cash after they sell all their merchandise, but you can’t eat money. It has about the same value as Confederate script or a year old newspaper. Everyone tries to think about what they will need.

    Food of course.



    But do you think of tires or coffee or medicine?

    Fort Repose as it turns out is strategically located far enough away from the big cities that received these megaton explosions. They were also lucky the wind blew in the right direction. They have fruit and nut groves, so nature will provide them with a source of food. There are fish in the river and crabs if you know where to find them.

    Did you think about salt?

    If you are a doctor who can you save? People who need medicine to survive are quickly winnowed out of the population. People who can’t cope are committing suicide. Instead of having babies women are having miscarriages. Nature is making some decisions.

    ”It is said that nature is cruel. I don’t think so. Nature is just, and even merciful. By natural selection, nature will attempt to undo what man has done.”

    Carpe Diem! Seize the Day as the recently departed Robin Williams extorted his students to embrace in Dead Poets Society. There is a dark side to this concept and that would be those people who live for today and don’t worry about tomorrow. They have to seize everyday by stealing from those that have planned for a future, killing those that oppose them, and for entertainment raping those they desire. This works for a while, but fortunately most people prefer a civilization where they can plan for a future and can exist in a reasonable modicum of safety. Randy Bragg finds himself in the leadership position he tried to win through the ballot box. He forms a vigilante group and starts to win back control of a future for all by taking it away from the few willing to use violence to intimidate.

    Pat Frank looking very studious.

    This was a hugely influential book when it was published in 1959. It continues to be listed as one of the best science-fiction books of all time. The fifties spawned a lot of great apocalyptic novels because the threat of our imminent demise from those “crazy” Russians was on everyone’s mind. There are moments of violence, but for the most part Fort Repose feels more like a small town that has been cut off from everything rather than a town in the midst of a terrifying post-apocalyptic situation.

    In 1959 I’m sure it was very unnerving to read, but for me in 2015 it felt more like a jaunt in Winesburg, Ohio. I do think that Pat Frank had a tiger by the tail and he brought it home, put it in a cage, started feeding it, and turned that tiger into a house cat. There was the potential for a truly great novel that transcends the genre, but everything wraps up with a wiffle rather than a bang.

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  2. Alissa Alissa says:

    This book was published in 1959, and it feels like it every step of the way. The plot is compelling enough, but the writing is incredibly wooden. I actually laughed out loud at some of the passages, and not in a nice way. The author drags us through 100 pages of rising action, which is annoying because it adds nothing to the plot, and we all know the bomb is going to hit before we even read the blurb on the back cover.

    The racism and sexism are also pretty terrible. Even after the freakin' nuclear holocaust, the Negroes are doing all the housework. When the electricity goes out and they need to cook all the meat in the freezer, they can't decide whether to throw a mixed party. People! The world just ended, and you can't decide whether or not to let black people come to your BBQ?

    Also, this: The more he learned about women the more there was to learn except that he had learned this: they needed a man around. First of all, find a synonym for learn, please. Second, this was after the aforesaid male practically threw up at the sight of blood, ran out of the room, and one of the women had to take care of the injury. We may need you, buddy (after all, no electricity for vibrators in this grim future), but you need us too.

    If you're thinking of reading this book, check out The Road instead. Same idea, but the execution is about 1000x superior.

  3. Stephen Stephen says:




    4.5 to 5.0 stars. I think the above pictures and quotes express a lot better than my words ever could what I would like to say in this review about the power and eloquence of Pat Frank's 1959 story about the folly and danger of Nuclear war. I can not imagine a better novel about the immediate after-effects of a global nuclear war than what is presented here.

    True, the fact that anyone is left alive after the war does tend to make the novel anachronistic. But since, a “war begins and everyone is dead” novel would last about 10 pages, I am willing to forgive Frank’s optimism given that this novel was written at a time when most people believed a nuclear war could be survived. However, I do want to go on record and say.......IT CAN’T!!!.

    The book tells the story of the lead up to and then aftermath of a preemptive nuclear strike by the U.S.S.R. against the United States of America. The focus of the book is then on how various groups of people deal with the attack and the loss of basic services that results.

    I thought that the author did a brilliant job of pacing by giving the reader about 50 to 60 pages of pre-attack set up of both the characters and the world situation. I think this allowed the attack’s aftermath to be felt much more deeply when it finally came.

    After the attack, the small town of Fort Repose, Florida appears to be one of the few places in Florida left standing after the attack and is completely cut off from the rest of the Country. It becomes a microcosm of the breakdown of society and shows both the inner strength and the hidden depravity of humanity, side by side fighting it out for survival. In trying to describe what the aftermath environment is like, I would stress that it is NOT in the MAD MAX category. If I had to create a description, I would say it is much more in the vein of “Hoosiers plus nuclear bombs” or “Steel Magnolias plus World War III.” We are talking small town people and values suddenly thrust into unimaginable circumstances.

    I was pulled into the narrative from the very beginning and came to care about the characters deeply. I thought the book showed the devastation and folly of nuclear war, while still maintaining a positive, hopeful message about humanity in general. A very tough thing to do I might add.

    I am very interested in talking to people who have read this book because the last page BLEW ME AWAY and I think it was an incredibly powerful commentary on mankind in general and I am wondering whether others feel the same. Sorry for that tease for those who haven’t read it, but I don’t want to give away a major it is a nice incentive to read the book which I HIGHLY RECOMMEND!!!!

    Overall, a terrific read, an important read, a special book, a powerful message and a thought-provoking ending.'s pretty damn good (and as the quotes above illuminate, Pat's vision is shared by many of good conscience).

  4. David Putnam David Putnam says:

    Read this book in high school and it had a major impact on me not only emotionally but it happened to spark a need to find and explore books of all genres, this my first foray into the postapocalyptical. I reread this one just a couple of years ago and even though it wasn't at all how I remembered it, the story and characters still held up and I loved it. That kind of benchmark says a lot about a book.


  5. karen karen says:

    another great survival book! this one was surprising because it didn't feel dated at all, even though it was written in 1959. i wish there were maybe 200 more pages, particularly about rita, who is how i would want to be in the aftermath: shotgun. high heels. stockpiles. i love the image, but the reality is that i would more likely be holed up in the library, probably rereading this book for tips. meta. to sum it up in a few words: armadillos, glasses, honey, kaboom. and two things i learned, to continue my lists: do not pick up jewelry after the blast, and buy extra glasses. helpful review?? nope, they never are...

    come to my blog!

  6. Matt Matt says:

    “Terrified at her torment, they will stand off and cry: ‘Woe! Woe to you, great city, you mighty city of Babylon! In one hour your doom has come!’”
    - The Book of Revelation 18:10

    “[Y]esterday was a past period in history, with laws and rules archaic as ancient Rome’s. Today the rules had changed, just as Roman law gave way to atavistic barbarism as the empire fell to Hun and Goth. Today a man saved himself and his family and to hell with everyone else…”
    - Pat Frank, Alas, Babylon

    “We can’t do this. Every man for himself is not going to work…If we can’t live together, we’re going to die alone.”
    - Matthew Fox as Jack Shepherd, Lost (Season 1, Episode 5)

    When I picked up Pat Frank’s Alas, Babylon, I didn't have super high hopes for its quality. It was curiosity, mostly, that led me to it. The novel, published in 1959, tells the story of the Florida town of Fort Repose, which is spared a direct hit during a nuclear war, and must then survive the aftermath. (Fans of the short-lived television series Jericho will find this setting familiar). As someone with an interest in the Cold War, as well as nuclear arms and strategy, Alas, Babylon promised to provide some insights into the contemporary thoughts and fears of people living through that period. It’s one thing to read a nonfiction volume on the evolving atomic arsenals, strategies, and diplomatic brinkmanship of the United States and Soviet Union. It’s another thing entirely to see how those realities manifest themselves within ordinary citizens otherwise powerless and forgotten against a vast geopolitical backdrop.

    Maybe it was the managed expectations, but I was genuinely surprised at how much I liked it, and on how many levels.

    Roughly the first hundred pages of Alas, Babylon are devoted to the lead-up to war, which I found fascinating. I’ve read my share of nuclear war novels, and many of them skip this part entirely. Books such as Cormac McCarthy’s The Road or William Brinkley’s The Last Ship focus almost entirely on the aftermath of war, referring to precipitating incidents only elliptically, if at all. Frank uses a different tactic. He shows us life in small Fort Repose, introducing us to a handful of characters we will get to know under duress. Meanwhile, he occasionally breaks away to the Mediterranean or Strategic Air Command to give us fleeting images of the rising tension between the U.S. and U.S.S.R.

    It’s arguable, I suppose, whether Frank needed to devote nearly one-third of this relatively short novel (just 316 pages) to setting up a war we know is going to happen. I don’t agree with that position. There is a difference, as Hitchcock would agree, between surprise and suspense. No, the outbreak of nuclear war is not a surprise. However, there is still suspense to be had, even though we know what’s coming. Frank does a good job of presenting the creeping dread that must have been palpable during events such as the Cuban Missile Crisis (still in the future, when this was published). He demonstrates how helpless people must have felt in the face of such a catastrophe. Like many people, I have control issues. Can you imagine the desperation you’d feel if men you’d never met, in locations you’d never been, for reasons entirely unknown to you, were making decisions that might end the world? Frank imagines it, and it’s effective.

    Once the bombs start falling and the missiles flying, the central character, a military veteran named Randolph Bragg, has a back row seat to the end times (it should go without saying that those with a front row seat were incinerated):

    A stark white flash enveloped their world. Randy felt the heat on his neck. Peyton [Randy’niece] cried out and covered her face with her hands. In the southwest, in the direction of Tampa, St. Petersburg, and Sarasota, another unnatural sun was born, much larger and infinitely fiercer than the sun in the east…A thick red pillar erected itself in the southwest, its base the unnatural sun. The top of the pillar billowed outward. This time, the mushroom was there. There was no sound except Peyton’s whimpering. Her fists were pressed into her eyes. A bird plunged against the screen and dropped to earth, trailed by drifting feathers. Within the pillar and the cloud, fantastic colors played. Red changed to orange, glowed white, became red again. Green and purple ropes twisted upward through the pillar and spread tentacles through the cloud. The gaudy mushroom enlarged with incredible speed, angry, poisonous, malignant. It grew until the mushroom’s rim looked like the leading edge of an approaching weather front, black, purple, orange, green, a cancerous man-created line squall…

    After the attack, Frank writes, “civilization in Fort Repose retreated a hundred years”:

    When nuclear fireballs crisped Orlando and the power plants serving Timucuan County, refrigeration stopped, along with electric cooking. The oil furnaces, sparked by electricity, died. All radios were useless unless battery powered or in automobiles. Washing machines, dryers, dishwashers, fryers, toasters, roasters, vacuum cleaners, shavers, heaters, beaters – all stopped. So did the electric clocks, vibrating chairs, electric blankets, irons for pressing clothes, curlers for hair. The electric pumps stopped, and when the pumps stopped the water stopped and when the water stopped the bathrooms ceased functioning.

    From there, Alas, Babylon takes on the form of something very familiar and timeless. It is tale of survival and adventure, The Swiss Family Robinson mixed with elements of Fallout and The Walking Dead (though lacking any mutants or zombies). Randy and the people around him (among them: his sister-in-law; her kids; a doctor; a retired admiral) must find a safe water supply, stockpile food, trade supplies, and protect themselves from the human wolves traveling over a ravaged countryside.

    Alas, Babylon works splendidly on this level. Ordinary people have to band together. Problems need to be solved. Society has to be reordered. Courage must be found. Hope must be maintained. Whether you set this story in a post-Armageddon township or a deserted island or an island you think is deserted but actually is not, there is plenty of drama to be found.

    As I mentioned above, Alas, Babylon has other levels. Most obviously, it operates as what the sci-fi author David Brin has called a “self-preventing prophecy.” Like Nevil Shute’s On the Beach and Eugene Burdick’s Fail Safe, Frank’s purpose in writing this was to warn people. He wanted to get the attention of the masses, and by extension, the attention of their elected officials. It is pretty neat, with the hindsight that comes from the world not ending in the fires of a thousand suns, to catch a glimpse of the 1959 mindset. For instance, Frank is quite concerned with the so-called “missile gap” that John Kennedy trumpeted on his way to the White House. We know now that this gap did not exist. But knowing this after the fact does not change how it must have felt at the time to believe it did. Frank unwittingly captures that.

    Alas, Babylon is a product of its time in ways that go beyond its knowledge of Civil Defense preparations and the shortcomings of the Conelrad emergency broadcasting system. It is set in the South, five years after Brown vs. the Board of Education, so its racial views are a bit complicated. Certain of the characters express abhorrent views and use abhorrent language that was typical of the time and place (I say this without meaning to imply that this has magically disappeared from the world). To Frank’s credit, Randy is not an out-and-out white supremacist. He is described as abiding by the Supreme Court decision in Brown, so at the least he is not a segregationist. He has black neighbors who play prominent roles in the story. They are stereotyped, to be sure, but most of the characters are stereotyped to an extent, taking on the shorthand roles we expect from this type of tale (e.g., the virtuous doctor, the spunky kid, the selfish hoarder). There is also a strain of paternalism running through the novel. There are several female characters, some of whom are relatively well-rounded (to be fair, this is not a character study; with the exception of Randy, no one is plumbed for depth). However, there is more than one occasion where a character muses how the womenfolk would survive without their men.

    The tone of Alas, Babylon is one of grim hopefulness that stands in contrast to the fatalism of The Road or On the Beach. The stark realities of a ruined world are made visible (it is terrifying how quickly they run out of booze), but Frank’s characters seldom lose heart. He presents the classic tableau where the worst of mankind is balanced by the best of mankind; where man’s ingenuity for destruction is matched by an ingenuity for rebuilding.

    There are more themes to touch on, more elements to discuss, but in the end, strange to say, Alas, Babylon works because it is fun to read. There is something fundamentally enjoyable about watching disparate men and women come together under unimaginable stress to solve problems. They are, in a sense, MacGyver-ing a new country for themselves with shoe strings, paper clips, and elbow grease. In the face of an unimaginable horror, they must discover new sources of sustenance, heal themselves without modern medicines, and - perhaps most importantly - find a way to distill their own liquor.

  7. Michael Michael says:

    UPDATED below--in honor of a GR reading group

    A satisfying account of a community surviving a nuclear Holocaust in isolation from the rest of the world. It was written in 1959, so it set a precedent for all the apocalypse literature that followed. Instead of the perhaps more plausible temporary survival of human society in Nevil Chute's On the Beach, this tale of a rural central Florida community blessed with favorable winds on the day the missiles fly makes the story one of a successful long term survival.

    Special skills and resources of individuals in the community are all brought nicely to play in contributing to group survival. An idea of humankind is a hero. The hero's planning and leadership skills are needed, and what he learned as a soldier becomes important. This man miraculously has skills learned while farming, hunting, fishing, and doing engineering which the community needs for food and shelter challenges. In the time since Armageddon, the forces of evolution have been intense, and these winners at survival are the cream of the human crop.

    Community teamwork assumes a promising form, in some senses a utopia of collaboration. Problems are being solved, and these descendents of survivors look pretty good at it. Key tasks of civilization include keeping transportation operational for the doctor, power for a shortwave radio, and library operations for entertainment/education. Finding a source of salt and new sources of food (such as armadillos) are successful innovations. Defense against mauraders is a minor, but important part of the tale. course there is a love story behind the scenes. By the time the remnant government in Colorado contacts the community, they feel confident of continuing on. This isn't great literature, but a worthwhile part of the body of science fiction on human response to apocalypse.


    So what happened to Frank? Why was he a one-hit wonder? On the 50th anniversary of Alas Babylon's publication, in 2009 (the year I read and wrote the review) a nice story came out profiling the gifts of Frank. His early demise (at 57) had contributions from excessive alcohol intake. His background included work as reporter in FLorida, then as a war correspondent who also did intelligence tasks for the CIA precursor OSS>.

    He is depicted as victim of his own success (and perpetrator of his decline) from too much of the high life. A quote from his brother is forgiving: “He was bigger than life,” says his daughter, Perry Frank, “bigger than the problems he had.” Florida Times Union story

    So how does this early post-apocalyptic tale fare in the lineup of outstanding books in this genre (that I have happened to be noursished by). Of the 29 I read, Alas Babylon, on my pleasure-meter was in the middle. Good bedfellows at 4 stars was The Windup Girl and On the Beach. So what moved me to 5 stars?

    Since you asked, they were Engine Summer (1983) and a bunch more recent efforts (why did I not even think to list 1952's When Worlds Collide): Oryx and Crake, Ship Breaker, Blindness, Cloud Atlas, Railsea, and Railsea.

    So Alas Babylon has some lasting value for me, but there has been a lot of creative juices at work in this genre since 1959. I'm sure you have some other favorites. Apocalyptic means zombies these days, but I missed a lot of those (World War Z did not appeal and The Passage untried).

  8. RJ from the LBC RJ from the LBC says:

    This post-apocalyptic cautionary tale was published in 1959 in the post-Sputnik, pre-Cuban Blockade era when many Americans suspected we might be losing the Cold War arms race and that a nuclear holocaust was inevitable. Author Frank was interested in exploring not only the no-win outcome of a atomic war but also the utter lack of preparedness for such an event by the government and the general population. There's not much in the way of character arcs or even a solid plot, other than daily survival in the collapse of civilization as we know it, but the story has staying power, permeating and influencing many cultural touchstones in even today's media (hint: The Walking Dead).

  9. Charles van Buren Charles van Buren says:

    Review of Kindle edition
    Publication date: June 4, 2013
    Publisher: Harper Perennial
    Language: English
    ASIN: B00CD360ZQ Sales Rank: 283
    371 pages

    As I write this, there are 1,436 reviews on Amazon. About 70% five star and 20% four star. Most of the one star reviews are complaints about lack of proof reading and typographical errors in the Kindle edition. Most of those errors seem to have been corrected. There are also a few complaints about condition of used hard copies purchased from third party sellers. However, there are very few criticisms of the novel itself.

    For those who do not already know, the title is based on Revelation 18:10: “Alas, alas, that great city Babylon, that mighty city! For in one hour is thy judgment come.” In the novel the first inkling of serious trouble comes in the form of a telegram from Colonel Mark Bragg ending with the words Alas Babylon. His brother Randy immediately recognizes the code for danger dating from their childhood. Eventually the danger becomes clear - nuclear strikes against the U.S.

    The novel contains considerable social and political commentary on such issues as race relations, but if all there was to it was the exploration of such issues, I doubt that the book would have remained in print these last 50 years. The essential attraction is the entertaining story of adventure and survival in the aftermath of a devastating nuclear strike. Pat Frank wrote a novel which continues to appeal on a variety of levels despite its age.

  10. Jim Jim says:

    Review May2013 Reading again with the Books, Movies, TV and Life group. It's been 4 years since I last read this. That's more often than I probably should, but I'll see how it goes.

    Frank provides a very short introduction to the novel that is interesting. He was a journalist & had more than a passing knowledge of our strategic thinking of the time. His Wikipedia entry is quite brief.

    I was born the year this novel came out, yet the times & mind set seem very, very familiar. Frank paints the picture very well in the first couple of chapters. It's hard for anyone not of my generation or older to understand the pervasive fear that nuclear attack held over us at this time, but I soaked it up from birth. I loved the movies & novels of the time, was raised on them. Some of my fondest memories prior to age 5 are of watching The Outer Limits, The Twilight Zone, & movies like Dr. Strangelove, or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love The Bomb with my father. He'd also read to me out of his SF pulp magazines. The theme of nuclear destruction was very common.

    The fear of The Bomb was everywhere. JFK's push for the space program wasn't just for scientific knowledge, but to give us a strategic advantage that we had lost to the USSR. JFK was elected shortly after this book was published, so it fits into that scary time. Not that the times afterward were any less scary.

    In elementary school, we used to practice for bomb raids by hiding under our desks, later out in the halls. The alarm bell for these was different than that of the fire drills. I think we stopped in the late 60's when it was obvious to even the densest person that MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction) made such drills ridiculous. Both the US & USSR had enough bombs to blow up the world 100 times over each. Strange times & a strange way to live.

    The second half of the book really brings to mind just how much we take for granted. Medicine, electric, clean water, salt, flour & so much more. The heartache of not knowing, possibly never knowing, how other family members fared. Our society is a rather fragile thing. Our survival is dependent on so many other people & processes, too.

    The ending is just perfect & really drives the point home. I can't recommend this book highly enough. It's short, well written, & makes me appreciate even more what I have.

    Review 12May2009
    Wow! I read this years ago, but had forgotten it. As I started to get into it, I recognized the story vaguely & expected it to be dated. It was written the year I was born, so is 50 years old, but I found it wasn't as dated as I thought. I did take some trips down memory lane; radios with tubes in them & a few other minor items. The small town, rural life weathered time very well, though. The lack of electricity is a hardship & they felt it. We'd feel it more today, so the story actually engaged me more as I thought of more items I would miss.

    The Cold War tensions when we feared a global nuclear war are gone. They've been replaced with a more diverse threat - terrorism. The lack of electricity to power water pumps, refrigerators & more would be even harder on us today. It's very easy to project that from this story. What we imagined as the major threat back then, radiation poisoning, is mentioned, but is not critical to the story.

    One thing which is dated is the racial aspect, thankfully. Blacks are definitely second class citizens, but even this is used well. The 'second class' citizens rely less on technology & have more to offer toward survival than the elite - a not so gentle nudge for equality definitely pervades the book.

    Ultimately, the book is about the people & how they cope with the situation. That's well done & makes it a pretty timeless survival story.

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Alas, Babylon ❮Reading❯ ➽ Alas, Babylon ➶ Author Pat Frank – Alas, Babylon Those fateful words heralded the end When a nuclear holocaust ravages the United States, a thousand years of civilization are stripped away overnight, and tens of millions of people are Alas, Babylon Those fateful words heralded the end When a nuclear holocaust ravages the United States, a thousand years of civilization are stripped away overnight, and tens of millions of people are killed instantly But for one small town in Florida, miraculously spared, the struggle is just beginning, as men and women of all backgrounds join together to confront the darkness.

  • Paperback
  • 323 pages
  • Alas, Babylon
  • Pat Frank
  • English
  • 24 February 2018
  • 9780060741877

About the Author: Pat Frank

Pat Frank was the lifelong nickname adopted by the American writer, newspaperman, and government consultant, who was born Harry Hart Frank and who is remembered today almost exclusively for his post apocalyptic novel Alas, Babylon Before the publication of his first novel Mr Adam launched his second career as novelist and independent writer, Frank spent many years as a journalist and informati.