Post-apocalyptic fiction books aren’t just good entertainment. You can sometimes learn a lot of important survival skills from them, and improve your mental preparedness while enjoying them.
So, if you’ve already checked out these non-fiction survival books and enjoyed these top doomsday movies, you might want to give these post-apocalyptic books a read.
*I realize that everyone has different tastes when it comes to books. I wanted to make sure this list went beyond my personal preferences (I tend to prefer stories about natural disasters and plagues over sci-fi heavy alien and zombie books).
So, I compiled the list based on my favorites plus top recommended books found in forums online.
Feel free to add your favorite titles and a small description in the comments!
These dystopic end-of-the-world books might be older, but the themes still ring true!
Childhood’s End – Arthur C. Clarke (1952)
Alien’s invade the earth. At first, they seem to help humanity by eliminating disease and bringing about a Golden Age. But at what cost when the alien overlords do away with human culture and identity.
Engine Summer – John Crowley (1979)
This book takes place long after the apocalyptic event has occurred. The main character explores how the world has been reduced to tribal communities. It won the 1980 National Book Award for Science Fiction.
The Book of the New Sun Series – Gene Wolfe (1980-1983)
This is a very heavy series, but incredibly engrossing. Through the four books, it tells the story of how society emerges after an apocalyptic disaster. (vols 1&2 pictured)
A Canticle for Leibowitz – Walter M. Miller Jr. (1960)
The story takes place 600 years after nuclear disaster has destroyed civilization. All educated people have been killed as part of a “Simplification.”
The story centers around an engineer who strives to save books which could save mankind.
Lucifer’s Hammer – Larry Niven (1985)
Unlike many other post-apoc books, this one takes you through the entire cycle of pre, during, and post-disaster.
It is very realistic and deals with a lot of tough questions, like how would you distribute your supplies? Would you keep someone in your group alive?
The Sheep Look Up – John Brunner (1972)
The world has been destroyed by corruption and pollution. Now, humans struggle through turmoil, military rule, birth defects, and lack of resources.
The Postman – David Brin (1985)
You might have seen the movie version of this book. It shows a post-war America trying to rebuild civilization. There is a lot of symbolism and sci-fi in the book, if you like that kind of thing. The book won loads of awards.
On the Beach – Nevil Shute (1957)
Written in the peak of thecold war, this book deals with a world that has been destroyed by fallout. It is very emotional and shows how everyday people would react during a disaster.
Empty World – John Christopher (1977)
A plague has destroyed almost all of the earth’s population. A young boy struggles to survive in this brutal world.
The Last Ship – William Brinkley (1988)
This book is a lot different than the TV series loosely based on it. It revolves around soldiers who launch a nuclear attack. After the attack, they find the world a very different place. The character development is great in this book.
Emergence – David R. Palmer (1984)
Also winner of many awards, Emergence revolves around the effects of bio plague. A girl name Candy, who is a type of superhuman called hominem (humanity’s next evolutionary step) attempts to stop survivors from killing off the hominems.
Must-Read Post-Apocalyptic Books
These books made the list because they are either incredibly popular or influential. You’ll want to have them under your belt to be versed on the genre.
Oryx and Crake – Margaret Atwood
This one always gets listed as one of the best post-apocalyptic fiction books. It is the love story of two young people who might be the last humans.
You will also want to check out The Year of the Flood and Madd Addam by Atwood.
The Girl with all the Gifts – M.R. Carey
A fungus has invaded the world and caused humans to lose their mental capacities. A 10-year old girl and a group of others somehow manage to retain their IQs. She must protect herself from being dissected by scientists looking for a cure.
It has been made into a movie, but I haven't seen it yet.
One Second After – William Forstchen
This book blurs the lines between fiction and non-fiction. It goes into surprising detail about what could happen if an EMP weapon wiped out the grid and took us back into the dark ages.
The Road – Cormac McCarthy
Winner of the Pulitzer Prize, even people who don’t like post-apocalyptic stories will enjoy this book.
It is a highly-emotional story of what happens when a father and son journey across a devastated land with just a gun to protect them.
Station Eleven – Emily St. John Mandel
Not your usual dystopian novel! It starts out with an actress witnessing the effects of a plague. Years later, the actress and her theatre troop are traveling around the raged country making plays about life before the pandemic.
The Day of the Triffids - John Wyndham
Lethal plants stalk the world following a freak cosmic event. This is one of the most famous catastrophe novels of recent times and well worth a look.
Popular Post-Apocalyptic Books
These are some of the top names and best-selling books in the post-apocalyptic genre. They might not be classics (yet), but they are great reads and highly recommended.
The Passage – Justin Cronin
Without giving away too much of the plot, I can tell you that this book deals with a girl who grew up in a government facility. She knows all about the experiment that they are up to which will wipe out civilization – and only she can stop the end from coming.
Metro Series – Dmitry Glukhovsky
Regardless of what you think about Russian politics, you’ve got to admit that they have some amazing literature. This story takes you on a twisted tale of survivors living in the Moscow underground.
Maze Runner Series – James Dashner
These books are insanely popular and have been turned into a TV series and a movie due this year. It doesn’t deal much with end-of-the-world themes, but it does get deep into the survival mentality.
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep - Philip K. Dick
In this story, civilization has been destroyed by war. Robots have taken over and one man’s mission is to destroy them before they destroy the rest of humanity.
Silo Series – Hugh Howley
I might as well just say “any book by Hugh Howley” because he is one of the best-known post-apocalyptic authors out there.
The level of suspense in his books is great, as well as the imagination which goes into his end-of-the-world scenarios.
Lesser-Known and Other Worthy Mentions
In case the list above isn’t enough dystopian fiction for you, here is a list of some more great post-apocalyptic books. Some of them you probably haven’t heard of yet.
CyberStorm – Matthew Mather
Set in New York, this book gives a realistic take on the consequences of a massive cyber attack. One man and his family struggle to survive in the ruined city.
Swan Song – Robert McCammon
Classic good vs evil story somewhat reminiscent of a Stephen King novel.
Follows various characters across the US as they try to survive the aftermath of a nuclear war.
Alas, Babylon – Pat Frank
One small town in Florida is miraculously spared following a nuclear holocaust.
This is the tale of how a group of ordinary people fight to stay alive.
The 5th Wave – Rick Yancey
Strange mix of horror, suspense and comedy. This is a teen novel that touches on some diverse subjects; alien invasion, EMP attack, plagues.
Seveneves – Neal Stephenson
A science fueled saga that spans millennia. This is an epic book covering 5000 years of humanity's future following a catastrophic meteor shower.
The Dog Stars – Peter Heller
A tale of global disaster and survival which was nominated for the Arthur C Clarke award in 2013.
Explores the aftermath of a global flu pandemic.
California – Edan Lepucki
The usual stuff about the breakdown of modern society. This one takes an interesting angle and looks at it through the eyes of a married couple.
Dies the Fire – S.M. Stirling
Follows various characters as they try to come to terms with an EMP style attack where all modern technology is rendered useless.
Blindness – Jose Saramago
An epidemic of blindness hits a city, only one person is spared and the story is told from her perspective as mankind descends into chaos.
The Death of Grass – John Christopher
A vision of the world following a mass famine. One man and his family attempt to survive as the world plunges into barbarity.
Fail Safe – Eugene Burdick
Fictional work from the cold war era. More of a thriller than a post apocalyptic book. Still an interesting read which looks at the build up to a potential nuclear apocalypse.
Survivors: A Novel of the Coming Collapse – James Wesley Rawles
Bestseller about survival following a total collapse in the economy. Hyperinflation cripples all commerce and infrastructure fails indiscriminately.
The Core of the Sun – Johanna Sinisalo
Unique book from a Finnish author reminiscent of some of Margaret Atwood's work.
Set in an alternative present it explores what makes a society and how it can be manipulated by an all powerful government.
Lights Out – David Crawford
Action packed, survival story, follows the main character as he tries to survive following a lights out event across the free world.
Eternity Road – Jack McDevitt
Set 1000 years from now, the original world having been destroyed by plague, we follow an expedition that sets out to find the technological wonders of the old world.
The Long Tomorrow – Leigh Brackett
A novel of post nuclear America. All technology is now considered evil and large cities are banned. Follows the two main characters as they search for more meaning in their shattered lives.
Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang – Kate Wilhelm
Story of an isolated community trying to save itself post holocaust. Deals with the subject of cloning as the community becomes desperate to survive.
What are your favorite post-apocalyptic books? Any that I missed? Feel free to add your favorites in the comments below!