Best Apocalypse Books (a/k/a Dystopian Fiction, Collapse, Apocalyptic, Post-Apocalyptic, TEOTWAWKI, Zombiepocalypse)
My List of the Best Books About the Apocalypse
I've always been an avid reader, but my genre of choice has evolved over the years. I've always been very interested in history (especially military and war history). But over the past five years, I've gotten heavily into reading Apocalyptic and Post-Apocalyptic Fiction. While this genre became a favorite of mine in my mid-to-late 20's, my first exposure to books about TEOTWAWKI ("the end of the world as we know it"), my first exposure to a TEOTWAWKI work was Stephen King's epic novel, The Stand. As a young child, I liked Stephen King books generally, but this book in particular (and the made-for-TV movie of the same name) really fascinated me. I kept picturing myself in an "end of days" scenario and wondering what I would do to survive.
Despite having loved The Stand, I wasn't well-equipped to easily find similar books in the same genre, because back then the internet was in its infancy and service was not widely available to the general public. I didn't even try to find similar books, as the only way someone would have been able to get me to put the time and effort into going to the library would have been at gun-point. However, at a CLE (Continuing Legal Education) conference I attended about 3 or so years ago, a fellow attorney and long-time friend who had previously told me about a book entitled The Road by Cormac McCarthy gave me his copy after he finished reading it.
I'm generally a very busy guy, but I barely needed 3 days to finish The Road, which instantly became one of my favorite books of all time. Since then, with the assistance of the internet that wasn't available back when I read The Stand, I loaded up on as many books in this genre as I could find.
So, without ranking one book above the other, here is a list of my favorite Apocalypse/Post-Apocalypse/TEOTWAWKI books I've read (some with a brief summary and/or a few words to simply describe the scenario which caused the societal collapse):
Refuge, by Richard Herley (after a super-virus wipes out the vast majority of mankind, one man in post-apocalyptic England thinks he is the last living human on Earth. His whole world is turned upside down twelve years or so after TEOTWAWKI, when a "fresh" dead body, clearly the victim of foul play, washes up on the bank right outside his home).
The Stand, by Stephen King (global pandemic kills 99.9% of the world's human population; survivors break down into "good" or "evil" and slowly form communities in Boulder, Colorado and Las Vegas, Nevada, respectively).
The Road, by Cormac McCarthy (the disaster which brought upon the apocalypse and the collapse of civilization is never disclosed; father and son struggle to survive in a world that is slowly dying, and that includes everything - plants, animals, the oceans, vegetation, etc.).
World War Z, an Oral History of the Zombie War, by Max Brooks (while I wouldn't necessarily call it a literary masterpiece, I really enjoyed reading it and it was, for lack of a better word, "fun").
On the Beach, by Nevile Shute (the Cold War becomes "hot" in around the mid-1950s, and so much radioactive by-products are produced in the ensuing "Mutually-Assured Destruction" scenario that a toxic, radioactive cloud is slowly covering the remaining parts of the globe which weren't incinerated earlier. Those who are left behind wait for the cloud to slowly come their way in Southern Australia).
World Made by Hand, by James Howard Kunstler (this might be my favorite of all; the event that causes the collapse of society is the global economic and societal ramifications of reaching "Peak Oil"; a small group of those lucky enough to have avoided the immediate fall-out in more populated areas slowly rebuilds in upstate New York, but does so in a way that makes their community and standard of living much more closely resemble America in the late 1700's / early 1800's).
*Second novel in the WMBH series: Since I created my list, James Howard Kunstler released a second novel in the World Made by Hand series, entitled The Witch of Hebron. I enjoyed this book and as of the date of this edit (April 10, 2014), I am looking forward to the third book in the WMBH series.
Lights Out and Collision Course by David Crawford: These books involve very different characters and scenarios. In Lights Out, the story focuses on a community coming together for mutual protection against the outside marauding hordes (reminiscent in many ways to the plot in Forcstchen's One Second After [see below]), and I absolutely loved Collision Course (compared to Lights Out, Collision Course spends more time making the reader intimate with the central characters and I was genuinely surprised at how the plot unfolded).
77 Days in September by Ray Gorham is one of my favorites in this genre. Put most concisely, it is a story about a husband and father who is stranded at an airport many miles from home and his journey to reunite with his family.
Apocalypse Drift by Joe Nobody is another book I thoroughly enjoyed. It is a very solid TEOTWAWKI novel that tells the story of a group of people who try to ride things out in a flotilla of civilian boats. As is the case with many books in this genre, the writer has an unambiguous political bias which works its way into the plot, but by no means does it do so in a manner which annoyed this reader (despite my less-than-full agreement with the author's political philosophies presented in this book). I think what takes the sting out of the political slant is that - unlike the majority of such books peppered with the author's real-world political beliefs - this book goes about presenting the author's beliefs by presenting them in a positive manner (as compared to attacking liberals and Democrats as being daft and causing or contributing to society's downfall for being in favor of gun control, etc.)
One Second After, by William R. Forstchen (every square inch of the United States is simultaneous subjected to an EMP [Electro-Magnetic Pulse that is emitted with the use of nuclear weapons], and this book is about the chaos that ensues thereafter, a large community in the mountains banding together to retain some semblance of law and order and security from millions of refugees from more populated areas and roaming bands of loosely-organized cannibals largely comprised of prisoners who escaped after the EMP attack).
A Canticle for Leibowitz, by Walter M. Miller (the setting of this novel is in the depressing and dreary far-future; following a global nuclear war which annhiliated nearly all vestiges of civilization to crumble, some centers of power have emerged on what was the Continental United States. The book takes place at a monastery whose cardinal purpose is to preserve books and knowledge from before the cataclysmic nuclear war and protect them from angry mobs who wish to destroy them because they blame the world's destruction on knowledge and advance technology).
Earth Abides, by George R. Stewart (in the mid-1900s, a global pandemic wipes out the vast majority of the earth's population, leaving an infinitesimal number of survivors who roam the continental United States search for food, shelter, and other survivors; this book goes into a great deal of detail regarding what will happen to the world without man, such as the effects on animal populations [e.g., with man's former cities slowly wearing down, wild animals move in, and domesticated animals struggle to survive and adapt] our infrastructure [e.g., bridges, power grid, buildings, highways, etc.], after man is no longer around to maintain them).
The Hunger Games and The Girl Who Was on Fire, by Suzanne Collins (I originally wasn't sure if this book belonged on this list, but I've decided it does belong here. Society on the mainland United States has reorganized following a series of global catastophes [unexplained, but I would guess that it was a series environmental nightmares such as earthquakes, shifting land-masses and other environmental disasters were briefly mentioned at one point early in the first book]. The center of power is "the Capitol District", where the well-fed citizens live comfortable lives, and the majority of the population resides in one of 12 surrounding "Districts" [the 13th District was destroyed decades prior after the Districts rose up in arms against the Capitol's oppression]. As part of the oppressive and one-sided terms upon which the conflict between the Capitol and the 12 surviving Districts was ended, the citizens of the Districts must watch 2 of their children each year [1 boy and 1 girl from ages 12-18 selected at random] compete in "The Hunger Games", which is a battle to the death until only one child is left. The Games are televised for the viewing pleasure of the well-to-do citizens of the Capitol).
The Passage, by Justin Cronin (human beings world-wide are turned into vampire-like mutations who spread the mutation to unaffected humans following a Jurassic Park-like "science experiment gone bad". What I liked most about this book was how it described in great detail how society collapsed as human beings and their military protectors were slowly overwhelmed, City-by-City, across the United States. Many years later, a small colony survives - barely - and much of the book consists of an interested description of their unique method of staying alive [e.g., harvesting food, although maintaining electricity is even more important, as the ability to power huge, incredibly bright lights is all that really can keep the vampire-like creatures from killing everyone in the colony).
Alas, Babylon, by Pat Frank (one small town in Florida is spared the direct wrath of an apocalyptic nuclear war, and this is their story. I liked this book, as it was an easy read but still somewhat detailed and in-depth about how the survivors cope in their new daily lives).
Lucifer's Hammer, by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle (this is one of my absolute favorites in this genre. A small hodge-podge community of survivors tries to get by after a massive comet smashes into the earth with incredibly devastating consequences not only for mankind, but for the earth itself, as much of the world's topography has changed in an instant. The survivors must protect themselves in a small, semi-isolated compound-type community from roving bands of cannibals who have organized into an impressively-organized fighting force [many were ex-military]).
Down to a Sunless Sea, by David Graham (in some ways similar to On the Beach in that a nuclear holocaust creates a massive cloud of radioactive waste, and in a limited way similar to World Made by Hand in that prior to the onset of nuclear war, this book describes an America that is almost totally incapacitated due to the ramifications of having reached "Peak Oil". The survivors were in-flight on a flight from New York to England when TEOTWAWKI occurs, creating a desperate search for a safe haven).
Redaction (3-book series) by Linda Andrews (the mysterious Redaction Virus devastates the planet and the almost non-existent living carcass of the United States government tries to help the remnants of society survive to one day start over).
So, that's my list thus far. I created this list purely from memory, so if I find any additional favorites in this genre I will add them to the list!
I've found that the best way to find the right type of Post-Apocalyptic book that suits my tastes is to get suggestions from friends or to search the internet, so I hope this list helps! Please let me know what you think of my list, and also let me know if there are any books in this genre that I have to have.
World Made by Hand
77 Days in September
The Road by Cormac McCarthy
Refuge by Richard Herley
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