How To Read Thomas Harris’s Hannibal Lecter Books In Order

Whether you have read any of the books, seen any of the movies, or none of the above, it is very likely that you have heard the name ‘Hannibal Lecter’ at some point in your life.

How To Read Thomas Harris’s Hannibal Lecter Books In Order

This is a very famous character that most people are familiar with for two reasons:

  • He was played by Anthony Hopkins.
  • He’s a serial killer/cannibal.

Most people are familiar with The Silence of the Lambs, but there are 4 books in total that make up the Hannibal Lecter book series.

If you were to read the books in order of release, the timeline goes back and forth through the years, starting out in the 1980s in Red Dragon, and ending during WWII in Hannibal Rising.

In this article, we have listed the chronological reading order of the Hannibal Lecter book series, allowing you to follow Hannibal’s story as his life progresses from being an orphaned child to a cannibalistic adult.

About Thomas Harris

The birth of Dr. Hannibal Lecter, one of the most renowned fictional serial killers of modern literature, is due to Mr. William Thomas Harris III, a Tennessee-born horror writer.

He is better known to the public as Thomas Harris.

There is not a lot that is known about Harris’s personal life, as he avoided being in the public eye for several decades.

Even when sales of his novels were at their highest, he resisted giving in-depth interviews and stayed out of the spotlight.

Harris finally gave his first major interview in 2019, following the release of his novel, Cari Mora.

This interview took place almost 4 whole decades following the release of his first Hannibal novel, Red Dragon.

While the world may not be all too familiar with Harris as a person, many are familiar with his work, whether they are fans of his books, or the many movie and television show adaptations that have followed.

Harris has released 6 novels between 1975 and 2019, with 4 of those books being part of the Hannibal Lecter series.

The 2 outliers are Black Sunday (1975) and Cari Mora (2019).

Out of all his publications, he is most well known for his Hannibal series.

Containing themes including psychopathy, death, torture, and, of course, cannibalism, this particular psychological horror series has captivated thousands of readers over the decades.

The Hannibal series comprises Red Dragon, The Silence of the Lambs, Hannibal, and Hannibal Rising.

Hannibal Lecter Books In Order

Altogether, Thomas Harris has written and published 4 novels that follow the story of Dr. Hannibal Lecter, with the series having been released over the course of two decades.

If you were to read each of Harris’ books in order of their release, you would read them in this exact order:

  • Red Dragon (1981)
  • The Silence of the Lambs (1988)
  • Hannibal (1999)
  • Hannibal Rising (2006)

However, if you are reading this article, you may be wondering in which order you should read these four books in order to experience the narrative in a chronological timeline.

Below, we have listed each of the four books that make up the Hannibal Lecter series, each in chronological order.

If you would rather follow the story in order of the events that take place, this would be the best way to do so.

Hannibal Rising (2006)

Hannibal Rising

It is rather intriguing because this novel will either be the first book you read in this particular series, or the final book, depending on the order in which you decide to read the publications.

Despite being published 15 years after Red Dragon, Hannibal Rising is a prequel to its three predecessors.

Beginning in 1941, when Hannibal and his family were hiding from German forces in the midst of World War II, this book chronicles Hannibal’s early years.

It focuses on his relationship with his sister, and his first run-ins with cannibalism, both of which had a significant impact on his psyche as an adult.

The book received a mixed reception from critics when it was released.

Despite this, the majority of fans were happy with being given an insight into Hannibal’s upbringing, and how he came to become the man (and monster) that we know today.


  • Hannibal Rising gives the reader insight into how Hannibal became who he is.
  • Thrilling and gory, with plenty of twists and turns to keep you hooked.


  • Some critics thought that the novel humanized Hannibal too much, detracting from the series’ earlier volumes’ suspense.

Red Dragon (1981)

Red Dragon

Once you have finished Hannibal Rising, you will want to move on to Red Dragon, the first publication of the series.

This is the novel that elevated Harris to true fame, although his name was already known through the release of his first publication, Black Sunday.

Red Dragon, however, was the book that introduced the world to Dr. Hannibal Lecter.

Hannibal only plays a minor role in this story.

The protagonist is Will Graham, a retired forensics expert who successfully apprehended Hannibal years before, leading to his imprisonment.

After being convinced by an old friend, Will sets off to take down another serial killer.

At the time of release, and through the many years that have followed, Red Dragon has been met with a grand number of positive reviews.

Despite Hannibal not being the main character in this story, he left a lasting impression on the readers.


  • Despite only revealing snippets of Hannibal’s character, his presence is strong enough to contribute greatly to the story overall.
  • A vivid and intriguing read that will stick with you long after you have turned the final page.
  • Red Dragon is a true classic, having won several awards over the years.


  • Hannibal is a minor character in this novel… therefore, a reader who only wants to learn about him could potentially skip this book.

The Silence Of The Lambs (1988)

The Silence of the Lambs

The acclaimed novel that is well-known to everyone in the world—whether they have read the book, watched the movie, or are just aware of pop culture—should be perused next.

The Silence of the Lambs focuses on Hannibal more than its predecessor, allowing the reader to get to know him better as a character.

Clarice Starling, who is just beginning her career with the FBI, is the protagonist of the book.

Clarice is urged to collaborate with an imprisoned Hannibal to gain psychological insight into the motives of a serial killer that is on the loose.

This book, as we’re sure you are already aware, achieved great success from its initial publication, becoming one of the most successful and well-known novels of all time.


  • The Silence of the Lambs is a critically acclaimed thriller that still remains one of the greats to this day.
  • A modern-day masterpiece filled with twists and turns.
  • This book has won and been nominated for, several awards.


  • Critics have labeled the novel ‘insensitive’ and ‘transphobic’ due to the portrayal of the main villain. This content may be triggering to some readers.

Hannibal (1999)

Hannibal: A Novel

Hannibal is the penultimate novel in the series, according to release dates, but the final piece of the puzzle chronologically.

Taking place 7 years after the Buffalo Bill case was resolved, Hannibal depicts the return of Clarice and Hannibal.

This time, Mason Verger is out for vengeance after suffering physical disfigurement as a result of Hannibal’s actions.

Verger is a violent pedophile but is kept safe by a corrupt DoJ (Department of Justice) agent.

With Clarice’s assistance, Hannibal concentrates on eliminating the one seeking retribution against him.

Hannibal is, perhaps, the least liked out of the series, with many readers disliking the ending overall.

It’s difficult to explain why without spoiling the ending, but in short, a lot of fans thought Clarice’s character had shifted excessively since The Silence of the Lambs, rendering this book implausible.


  • Hannibal wraps up the entire series, providing an ending with all loose ends tied for both Dr. Hannibal Lecter and Clarice.
  • This book is filled with fast-paced action scenes, and plenty of gore and thrilling aspects to keep you on the edge of your seat.


  • Many readers feel dissatisfied with the ending, along with the ‘mismatched’ character arcs of certain characters.

Final Thoughts

If you wanted to read the Hannibal Lecter book series in order, you would need to start with Hannibal Rising, followed by Red Dragon, Silence of the Lambs, and Hannibal.

However, it is significant to remember that each of these novels could be read as individual stories, as each plot is independent in its own rights.

This is why many people will have only read The Silence of the Lambs or Red Dragon.

We recommend that you read all four of these books, in either chronological order or the order of release, to fully follow Hannibal’s character development.

Frequently Asked Questions

Does Clarice Fall In Love With Hannibal?

At the conclusion of the book series, Clarice and Hannibal escape to Argentina together, despite the fact that none of the movie adaptations follow this plot.

By this point, they have fallen for each other, and are officially a couple.

Can I Read Silence Of The Lambs First?

While Silence of the Lambs is the second book released out of the series, and the third book chronologically, there is no reason why you should not begin with this book to start off your journey.

Each of Harris’s books can be enjoyed as one-off narrative, therefore it is not required to finish the series and read every book as a whole.

YouTube video
Noah Burton