Readers are often fascinated by stories about the end of civilization, making post-apocalyptic fiction an incredibly popular subgenre. Post-apocalyptic books showcase what life may be like after facing a cataclysmic event, although that may hit a little close to home these days. Thanks, Covid!
With hundreds of books in this subgenre, deciding what to read next is not a simple task. But don’t worry, while you are scraping by trying to survive, we’ve done the research and compiled the 35 best post-apocalyptic books you should read before the world ends.
35. The Last One
by Alexandra Oliva
The Last One throws a group of characters into a survival reality TV show. Unbeknownst to the group, a pandemic breaks out while they are shut off from society. They must learn to survive in a world that is dying around them.
The book is full of tension, dread, and detailed descriptions of the bleak atmosphere surrounding the characters.
34. The Children of Men
by PD James
The Children of Men starts in the middle of a slow apocalypse. Humanity has become infertile, with the last child born 18 years before the start of the novel. Civilization is crumbling.
The book sends its lead character on a journey that could be the key to the survival of humans. While some readers may find the book a little slow, it paints a vivid picture of a dark dystopian nightmare.
33. The Windup Girl
by Paolo Bacigalupi
The Windup Girl is another bleak, post-apocalyptic story set in a future where food is scarce. The main character scours the streets of Thailand searching for rare food items when he comes across a discarded robot. In the world of The Windup Girl, robots are used as toys and slaves for the wealthy.
The book was published in 2009 and won many awards, including the Nebula Award and Hugo Award for best novel.
32. Everyone Says That at the End of the World
by Owen Egerton
Everyone Says That at the End of the World is a madcap story involving clones of Jesus, a prophetic hermit crab, and a couple expecting their first baby in the final four days of Earth’s existence. The novel was written by Owen Egerton and published in 2013 to wide acclaim, thanks to the humor and bizarre plot.
by Kurt Vonnegut
Galapagos is a post-apocalyptic novel by Kurt Vonnegut that was published in 1985. It tells the story of a group of survivors who are shipwrecked on the Galapagos Islands when a disease leads to the end of humankind.
The survivors must then repopulate the Earth, allowing Vonnegut to reflect on the merits of humanity and whether humans are worth saving.
30. On the Beach
by Nevil Shute
On the Beach is a 1957 novel by Nevil Shute that takes place in and around Melbourne a year after World War III.
The characters await the deadly radiation sweeping across the globe as they attempt to come to terms with their potential demise. It is a surprisingly uplifting novel, as the characters try their best to enjoy their remaining time.
29. The Postman
by David Brin
The Postman by David Brin was published in 1982 and adapted into a movie of the same name in 1997. The novel is set in a post-apocalyptic America and follows a survivor that stumbles across an old US Postal Service uniform. It has a distinctly Western flair, as the main character must protect a community from an external threat.
by Chuck Wendig
Wanderers is a terrifying novel published in 2019 by Chuck Wendig that follows a group of sleepwalkers and their “shepherds” as they travel across a post-apocalyptic America.
The group faces constant threats, including a violent militia that wants to eliminate them. Despite the bleak setting, the novel contains humor and humanity.
27. One Second After
by William R. Forstchen
One Second After presents a realistic post-apocalyptic scenario, making the novel by William R. Forstchen even more suspenseful.
It revolves around a man trying to keep his family alive after the U.S. loses the third world war and technology stops working due to a massive electromagnetic pulse (EMP) weapon. It is a quick read and followed by two more books in the After Another trilogy.
26. Good Morning, Midnight
by Lily Brooks Dalton
Good Morning, Midnight is a novel about the end of the world and the quest for humanity. It follows an aging astronomer traveling a frozen landscape with a mysterious child and a space crew returning from deep space. It is a relatively short novel full of elegant writing and detailed passages.
25. The Passage
by Justin Cronin
The Passage by Justin Cronin is one of many post-apocalyptic novels that takes its characters on a journey across a devastated United States. However, the suspense and action help it stand out in a crowded subgenre. It follows a former FBI agent as he attempts to protect a young orphan from the scientific project that led to the apocalypse.
24. Earth Abides
by George R. Stewart
Earth Abides by George R. Stewart is a post-apocalyptic novel about a group of ordinary people trying to survive after the end of civilization.
The characters avoid the reality of their situation until they begin to lose knowledge of the past, and their community begins to revert to hunter-gatherer practices. Unlike most other novels in this subgenre, it is unique because it focuses on the gradual regression of humanity due to the lack of technology.
23. The Chrysalids
by John Wyndham
The Chrysalids was published in 1977 and written by John Wyndham. It is a horrifying story about the inability to accept people who are different.
It takes place in a world where 50% of children are born with defects or mutations that make them outcasts. The novel is about acceptance and a must-read for fans of post-apocalyptic fiction.
22. Oryx and Crake
by Margaret Atwood
Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood is a post-apocalyptic novel set in a future where genetic engineering has led to the extinction of homo sapiens – other than the main character.
The hero travels a dystopian landscape searching for answers in a society populated by flawless individuals with no sense of jealousy or creativity.
21. The Year of the Flood
by Margaret Atwood
The Year of the Flood is another post-apocalyptic novel by Margaret Atwood featuring genetics run amok. In this story, lions and lambs interbreed, and pigs are born with human brain tissue. It also centers on the last survivors after a natural disaster wipes out most of civilization.
20. Life as We Knew It
by Susan Beth Pfeffer
Life as We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer is about the existential dread that people face during an impending apocalypse.
A meteor hits the moon, sending it closer to earth, which triggers a series of devastating natural disasters. The story is told in the form of journal entries as a young woman and her family attempt to cope with the end of the world.
19. The Knife of Never Letting Go
by Patrick Ness
The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness takes place after a germ kills off all females. The main character is a boy in a town full of men with a dark secret, which leads him to flee the life he knows in search of something better.
Along the way, he stumbles across what may be the last living girl. It is a dramatic novel that may make you shed a tear or two.
18. Bird Box
by Josh Malerman
Bird Box is a post-apocalyptic horror novel by Josh Malerman. It takes place five years after terrifying creatures cause the downfall of civilization. Anyone that catches a glimpse of one of the creatures is instantly driven to extreme violence, forcing the characters to survive mostly with their eyes closed. It is a scary page-turner that you may not put down until the last page.
17. Lucifer’s Hammer
by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle
Lucifer’s Hammer by Larry Niven is about what happens after a gigantic comet hits the earth, causing major tidal waves thousands of feet high. Cities are instantly turned into oceans, and the oceans become steam.
As with other novels from Niven, it is entertaining and fast-paced yet profound and vast in scope.
16. The Day of the Triffids
by John Wyndham
The Day of the Triffids is another post-apocalyptic novel by John Wyndham. It was published in 1951 and is now a cult classic. This novel stands out for featuring a unique threat. The Triffids are a species of strange plants that can grow up to seven feet tall and uproot themselves to walk and kill humans.
by Jose Saramago
Blindness by Jose Saramago envisions a frightening scenario where an epidemic that causes blindness sweeps through the country. The blind people are rounded up and quarantined, but the threat spreads. The story is terrifying but features moments that capture the human spirit and the will to survive.
14. The City of Ember
by Jeanne DuPrau
Fans of young adult (YA) fiction should check out The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau. It takes place in the underground city of Ember. As resources start to dwindle, the story’s heroes uncover a secret that may bring hope to the survivors in this dystopian society. It is a fun, short book and the first in a series.
13. A Canticle for Leibowitz
by Walter M. Miller, Jr.
A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller Jr. is set in a radioactive wasteland after World War III. Several monasteries are all that remain of civilization. The story spans several centuries as the monks gradually attempt to rebuild the world.
12. The Road
by Cormac McCarthy
The Road is a bleak, post-apocalyptic novel by Cormac McCarthy that follows an unnamed father and son as they attempt to reach the Atlantic Ocean.
The father/son duo spend most of their time walking and occasionally encounter cannibals and other threats. It is often considered one of the most depressing post-apocalyptic books, which should appeal to fans of the genre.
11. Station Eleven
by Emily St. John Mandel
Station Eleven follows a troupe of actors in post-apocalyptic America. The group roams the wasteland in the hopes of providing art and humanity to the remaining survivors. Written by Emily St. John Mandel and published in 2014, the novel jumps between the past and present to weave together a captivating mystery.
10. Sea of Rust
by C. Robert Cargill
Sea of Rust by C. Robert Cargill is an original take on the post-apocalyptic subgenre as it takes place in a world without humans. The story is set 30 years after humans lost a war against machines.
The main character is a robot that scavenges the wastelands looking for spare parts. The ending may be a little anticlimactic, but the journey is entertaining.
9. The Gunslinger
by Stephen King
The Gunslinger is the first book in Stephen King’s Dark Tower series. The book introduces Roland of Gilead, the last gunslinger. Roland endlessly searches a barren world in search of the Man in Black. It includes a post-apocalyptic setting that exists in parallel to our own world, along with other supernatural and fantasy elements.
by Clifford D. Simak
City is an interesting novel from Clifford Simak that includes a series of connected stories told by dogs. The dogs recount the end of human civilization and how they learned to speak.
The novel was initially published in 1952 and includes elements that may seem outdated or child-like by today’s standards. However, it is an original and ambitious novel that fans of the subgenre should enjoy.
7. I Am Legend
by Richard Matheson
I Am Legend is an influential post-apocalyptic novel written by Richard Matheson and published in 1954. It has been adapted into film three times and was an inspiration for Night of the Living Dead.
The story follows the only survivor after a pandemic wipes out most of the population and turns the rest into nocturnal vampires.
6. World War Z
by Max Brooks
World War Z by Max Brooks was the inspiration for the much different movie of the same name starring Brad Pitt. It is a post-apocalyptic zombie novel written as a collection of individual reports from a scientist working for the UN.
The descriptions are often detailed and include medical and scientific terminology. The unique structure and clinical writings make this one of the most original novels in the post-apocalyptic subgenre.
5. Alas, Babylon
by Pat Frank
Alas, Babylon is a 1959 science fiction novel by Pat Frank. It was one of the first books of the nuclear age to explore apocalyptic themes as the story follows the aftermath of a nuclear war. The plot focuses on the residents of a small town in Florida attempting to survive without outside resources.
by Hugh Howey
Wool is a post-apocalyptic novel featuring a short story of the same name and four sequel novellas. The stories take place in the Silo, a subterranean city that holds the last survivors in a post-apocalyptic world. Most of the story follows the sheriff of the Silo as he deals with various threats.
3. Cat’s Cradle
by Kurt Vonnegut
Cat’s Cradle is a satirical novel by Kurt Vonnegut, published in 1963. It features science fiction elements due to the presence of a substance called “ice-nine” that eventually freezes the world’s oceans and causes the downfall of civilization. However, most of the story takes place in the lead-up to the catastrophe and is full of dark humor.
2. Parable of the Sower
by Octavia E. Butler
Parable of the Sower is a 1993 novel by Octavia E. Butler and the first in a two-book series. It is a commentary on social inequality and climate change that follows an African-American teenager attempting to survive a chaotic wasteland. It was later adapted into both an opera and a graphic novel.
1. The Stand
by Stephen King
The Stand is arguably one of Stephen King’s most famous works. Most people are aware of this book even without having read it.
Originally published in 1978 and later revised for an uncut edition in 1990, The Stand contains over a thousand pages. It follows a diverse group of survivors after a plague wipes out 99.4% of humanity. Along with a post-apocalyptic setting, it features supernatural elements and lots of suspense.