There’s a long list of things that draw us to post-apocalyptic stories – it’s the sense of danger and the thrill of survival against the odds, as well as the big questions of what happened? and what’s going to happen?
On top of that is the constant mental battle for morality and humanity, since characters in post-apocalyptic novels often have the toughest decisions to make, revealing who they really are and what they’re willing to do.
And it’s fair to say that we all love great character development that causes our jaws to drop.
If you love post-apocalyptic stories, you’re definitely not the only one. There are tons of page-turning post-apocalyptic novels out there, but I’ve rounded up the nine best post-apocalyptic books that you need to read.
If you haven’t read the following, you’re missing out!
9 Best Post Apocalyptic Books
Author: Stephen King
Publication Date: 1978
The Stand is a post-apocalyptic novel that arguably influenced every other post-apocalyptic book that came after it.
Written by Stephen King (yep, the King of Horror), The Stand is a must-read dystopian story for its huge cast of characters and underlying good-versus-evil plot that culminates in one big final showdown.
The Stand is not a short book by any means (think Bible-thick) but, despite that, you’re sure to fly to the end right from page one.
Like all Stephen King novels, each character is well-fleshed-out and relatable, with twists and turns that you just won’t expect.
In fact, with its massive character cast, The Stand is almost like diving into a TV series. And that’s what makes it such a page-turner.
There’ll be characters you’ll like, as well as characters you’ll hate, with plenty of riveting moments as the characters cross paths.
Author: Cormac McCarthy
Publication Date: 2006
The Road sets the mood from the first page. The mood? Despair. Yet you’re pulled in because you want nothing but for the two main characters, a father and son, to survive – despite the fact that they’re not even named.
It’s Cormac McCarthy’s raw, stripped-down narration that makes The Road such a fascinating read from start to finish.
The sentences are deliberately short and the dialogue isn’t written in speech marks, so reading The Road comes with a palpable sense of hopelessness – the feeling that something bad is going to happen at any given moment.
So even if you’ve watched the movie starring Viggo Mortenson and Kodi Smit-McPhee, The Road is a bleak post-apocalyptic book that’s well worth reading.
Author: Max Brooks
Publication Date: 2006
You might have seen the blockbuster movie, World War Z, starring Brad Pitt, but the book is nothing like it. In other words, you should probably read it if you haven’t done so yet!
So while the movie took the book’s name, World War Z, written by Max Brooks, does not follow a main protagonist seeking a cure to the zombie apocalypse.
In fact, the book is a collection of individual stories that led to the end of the world, each with its own characters, themes, and strengths.
And it’s fascinating. World War Z often ranks high among the best zombie/post-apocalyptic books ever written, thanks to its multiple gripping accounts of what went wrong and how it could have been prevented in different ways.
Author: Richard Matheson
Publication Date: 1954
Forget the blockbuster movie with Will Smith (actually don’t, as everyone loves great stories that involve dogs), because Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend is far from being the same as the film.
In fact, while the movie involves zombie-like hordes that hide by day and roam the streets by night, the enemies in I Am Legend are vampires. So if you love vampire stories, this post-apocalyptic book will be right up your alley – even if you’ve watched the movie!
Another big difference in the book is that the vampires know where the protagonist lives and attempt to infiltrate his house each night. In other words, the sense of danger is ramped up to eleven, making Matheson’s I Am Legend a gripping must-read.
Author: Robert R. McCammon
Publication Date: 1987
Swan Song is a classic. It’s as long as Stephen King’s The Stand, set in a post-apocalyptic world where a nuclear bomb has left civilization in tatters. Despite that, it’s also caused humans to evolve.
With a strong cast of characters, compelling conflict, and enemy encounters that will have you biting your nails and turning the pages at breakneck speed, Swan Song is an intense yet thought-provoking story with fantasy elements and powerful themes.
And if the title of the book doesn’t give it away, expect an emotional ending that will stay with you for life.
Author: Josh Malerman
Publication Date: 2014
One of the newer post-apocalyptic books on this list (which you might recognize due to the popular Netflix adaptation starring Sandra Bullock), Bird Box is an engrossing read – impressive considering it was Josh Malerman’s first book, which he also won two high-profile awards for.
Combining flashbacks with three separate time periods, Bird Box is a book that will have you glued to the pages constantly wondering what will happen next.
The setting is a post-apocalyptic United States where everyone’s in hiding, afraid of an enemy that can’t be looked at (think Medusa) as it will result in death.
Like all books adapted for the big screen, Bird Box is packed full of meaningful details and scenes that aren’t in the movie. So it’s definitely worth reading.
Author: James Dashner
Publication Date: 2009
From the very start of James Dashner’s The Maze Runner, you know some kind of apocalypse has happened, but you don’t know what or why.
In fact, you don’t fully find out until the second book, The Scorch Trials, which makes The Maze Runner trilogy an exciting read thanks to each book’s dramatic change of setting.
The Maze Runner might be classed as a young adult book, but there’s a lot for older readers to love here.
The strong, albeit sometimes reckless, main character is interesting to follow, especially since his mysterious backstory is revealed as the story progresses.
All in all, The Maze Runner is another post-apocalyptic book that all dystopia fans definitely should read.
Author: Suzanne Collins
Publication Date: 2008
Everyone knows The Hunger Games, but not everyone’s read the book.
The four-part series follows heroine Katniss Everdeen as she becomes a strong symbol of a rebellion in a corrupt post-apocalyptic world in which young individuals are selected to compete in a battle royale-style game (yep, like the cult classic novel written by Koushun Takami) until there’s just one person standing.
As a typical YA book, The Hunger Games is written in first person with all the expected clichés – so it isn’t for everyone.
Despite that, it’s still one of the best post-apocalyptic books out there (the movies are huge, after all), so it’s one that everyone should read.
Author: Margaret Atwood
Publication Date: 2003
Oryx and Crake is a dystopian speculative fiction novel, so while it might not be 100% grounded in reality, it’s a post-apocalyptic book that breaks the mold and offers up food for thought with elements of science fiction and fantasy.
Oryx and Crake follows three main characters (despite the title of the book), Snowman, Oryx, and Crake, as they navigate a post-apocalyptic world destroyed by the uncontrolled pharmaceutical engineering of greedy corporations.
Although speculative fiction, Margaret Atwood crafts a world that feels real and plausible in the future.
It’s this imaginativeness and creativity that also makes Oryx and Crake a fascinating read from page one.
Paperback Vs Hardback Vs Kindle
Books typically come in three formats: paperback, hardback, and Kindle (e-books).
And if you’re not sure which one to get, you should opt for a paperback if you want a physical copy that’s affordable, a hardback copy if you want durability, or a Kindle version if you have an e-reader device and want the portability that comes with it.
That wraps up my list of the nine best post apocalyptic books that you need to read.
If you haven’t read the above books, each book depicts a unique post-apocalyptic world with believable settings, investable characters, and thought-provoking themes.
After all, post apocalyptic books offer some of the most compelling stories, often filled with impossible dilemmas, black and white characters, and antagonists who, in most cases, are also just trying to survive!
So whether you’re just getting into post-apocalyptic books or looking for your next page-turning dystopian novel, the above books won’t disappoint.
Frequently Asked Questions
What Are Post Apocalyptic Novels?
Post-apocalyptic novels are books with stories set after a catastrophic or apocalyptic event, often resulting in the collapse of society, such as nuclear war or a global pandemic.
What Are The Main Themes In Post Apocalyptic Books?
The main themes in post-apocalyptic books include perseverance, hope, morality, humanity, family, friendship, trust, isolation, fear, compassion, law, good versus evil, and leadership.
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