Monday, October 15, 2012

The Ultimate Apocalypse Reading List : Dystopian Books of the 20th Century - With Reviews

This list of dystopian fiction and non fiction is a work in progress.
If you have suggestions, please suggest them!

Compiling this list is a labor of love. It is based upon our private collection of dystopian and self-sufficiency books. Many of these books are widely available, but not at your local big-box bookstore or library. If you'd like to borrow my copy or want to know how to find these books locally, please ask.

I am an independent book seller by day and a small-scale homesteader by night. Though I don't hold a degree in dystopian literature, I think this list has more than enough gravitas to be taken seriously. These are not just books about zombies and plagues, and ecological disasters. These books take a close look at how people suffer, fail, survive and thrive in the face of disaster.

My goal is to share this list with others.
I don't profit from this blog, but I would appreciate credit to this blog if you share this list with friends.

These books are sorted by genre, and are listed in alphabetic order by the author's surname.

(( Last Updated 1.3.2014))

Adult Fiction

The Living Dead edited by John Joseph Adams
  Making good use of the zombie craze, this zombie anthology features stories by Clive Barker, Neil Gaiman, Stephen King, Joe Hill (King's son), George R. R. Martin and Poppy Z. Brite. It was a big-box bookstore bestseller. and clocks in at just under 500 pages.

Fallout by Kevin J. Anderson and Doug Beason
  A "hard science fiction" novel about a future America, in which militia groups have gained control and are hell-bent on destroying us all. Published by Ace in 1997.

But What of Earth? by Piers Anthony and Robert Coulson
  "The Earth of the not-too-distant future is a dying world - overcrowded, polluted; its resources are almost exhausted; its people grow sickly. Then, at the eleventh hour, an amazing scientific breakthrough makes possible the impossible - escape to the stars! The stampede to leave - to open up new worlds and found new civilizations creates a heady delirium for most. But What of Earth? Those left behind must build a life for themselves out of the shambles of their world... or die." A 1976 Laser Books publication (#44), with strange cover art by Kelly Freas.

Nightfall and Other Stories by Isaac Asimov
  A collection of 20 stories by Asimov, focusing on the civilization of Earth in various scenarios which threaten our culture and safety. Published by Fawcett in 1969.

What If You Were the Last Man on Earth edited by Isaac Asimov, Greenberg and Waugh
  A collection of stories by various science fiction authors, about various solitary Earthlings and their time on a ravaged planet far beyond the control of the human race.

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood

The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood

Maddadam by Margaret Atwood

The Crystal World by J. G. Ballard

Through Darkest America by Neal Barrett, Jr.
An oft-overlooked coming-of-age tale that morphs into a dystopian nightmare. America, post-WWIII. Not for the squeamish!

Shiva Descending by Gregory Benford and William Rotsler
  Published by Avon in 1980.

The Inevitable Hour by Martyn Boggon
  "Chicago destroyed... radiation spreads... vast Russian areas devastated... California death toll millions... Washington hit... peace is dead!" Award Books, 1968.

Planet of the Apes by Pierre Boulle

Day by Day Armageddon by J.L. Bourne
  Published by Permuted Press in 2007, at the beginning of the zombie craze. This novel is one man's story of day-to-day survival as zombies spread across America and the world. 

After the Rain by John Bowen
  Published in 1959.

Year of Wonders: A Novel of the Plague by Geraldine Brooks
  A beautifully written, award-winning historical novel of the Black Plague, and those who suffered.

World War Z by Max Brooks
  The ultimate zombie thriller.

Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler
GREAT BOOK. Published in 1993. The compelling story of a unique heroine struggling to survive in California as society crumbles around her and her tight-knit community. I'll read the sequel, Parable of the Talents, as soon as I get my hands on a copy!

Ecotopia by Ernest Callenbach
  A novel of future America - a personal favorite. 

Psychedelic-40 by Louis Charbonneau
A "frighteningly prophetic novel" about the world in 1993 - one ruled by super-powered men with the ability to read the minds of ordinary people. A true piece of alarmist fiction that "shows you the U.S.A. as it could become under the rule of irresponsible, power-mad politicos" published in 1965.

No Blade of Grass by John Christoper
  You'll never look at a plant the same way, ever again. This tale of ecological horrors was published in 1959. They made this into a movie in the 1960s, but I haven't been able to track down a copy. This is not a book you will easily forget.

The Long Winter by John Christopher

The Heirs of Babylon by Glen Cook

Dark December by Alfred Coppel

  Millions are killed in an atomic World War III. Major Kenneth Gavin - one of few survivors - must now live with his choices in this new and suffering world. Published by Fawcett in 1960.

Thirty-four East by Alfred Coppel
  This 1974 international bestseller offers a chilling vision of a world in chaos, terrified of global atomic warfare.

A Journal of the Plauge Year by Daniel Defoe
  First published in 1927, this is the tale of London during the Black Plauge in the 1660s.
The Penultimate Truth by Philip K. Dick
  "The time is 1982, the story is a unique blend of genius and madness - of men and machines gone berserk in a world they created." Most people have moved underground - literally - after the fallout from World War III. Though the war ended 10 years ago, most are not aware of it's closure. A few men live upon the surface, where they help to continue the fake "reality" created by the men in power. Published by Belmont in 1964.

Alas, Babylon by Pat Frank
  "The day after the bomb dropped the thousands of years of 'progress' that had covered the treacheries and weaknesses of ordinary man with a thin veneer of civilization were dissolved and melted like snow on the desert's dusty face. Then - the law of the jungle reigned but in the wrekage a few courageous survivors, men and women with the guts to have hope, were determined to build a new and better world on the ruins of the old. This is their story." Published in 1959, this is one of the best dystopian novels in existance, and a favorite in our collection.

Apocalypse Wow!: A Memoir for the End of Time by James Finn Garner
  A a charming, tongue-in-cheek parody of zombies and conspiracy theories by one of the funniest writers alive.

The Last Days of the Late, Great State of California by Curt Gentry
  Published in 1968.

Down to a Sunless Sea by David Graham
  "1985: The dollar has plummeted so low it can't be given away, and full-scale rationing is in effect. Meanwhile, airports are being raided by mobs of civillians desperate to leave the country - and the military has orders to shoot to kill. Then suddenly a bigger disaster strikes, spinning the entire globe into cataclysm. Now only 600 survivors remain - and it's up to them to keep the human race alive..." Published by Fawcett Crest in 1981.

Extinction by Ray Hammond
  Destruction by nature is the name of the game in this ecological disaster novel of the near future, published in 2005. 

Eden by W.A. Harbinson
  Published by Dell in 1987.

The Deadly Messiah by David Campbell Hill and Albert Fay Hill
  A doomsday plague is unleashed on the world. Will the President's team of extraordinary thinkers reverse the plague and save 40 million lives? (Probably.) Published by Avon in 1977.

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

The Stand by Stephen King

Berserk by Tim Lebbon


Shelter by Dan Ljoka

The Chameleon Variant by Carol K. Mack and David Ehrenfeld
  In this 1980 novel a fast-moving epidemic spirals out of control, turning innocent people into violent and unpredictable monsters.

The Bridge by D. Keith Mano
  "The time is the near future. Humanity has lost its will to live. Everywhere primeval nature is reclaiming the earth from the species that has for so long dominated it. The government itself has abandoned the struggle and has even decreed the suicied of civilization." Published by Signet in 1974.

I Am Legend by Richard Matheson

Swan Song by Robert McCammon
A post-apocalypse epic published in 1987.

A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller

Eden: A Zombie Novel by Tony Monchinski

Hater by David Moody
  "It occurs without warning - sudden, vicious, and lethal attacks. Why are people attacking their friends, their family, even complete strangers? Is it a virus, is it a terrorist attack, or is it something more primal? An overwhelming terror has gripped the country and there's no one to trust - not even yourself. In the tradition of H.G. Wells, Anthony Burgess, and Richard Matheson, Hater is one man's story of his place in a world gone mad - a world infected with fear, violence and HATE."

The Time of the Hawklords by Michael Moorcock and Michael Butterworth

The 40 Minute War by Janet and Chris Morris
  Washington, D.C. is wiped off the face of the map by a nuclear blast in this 1984 novel.

The Wine of Violence by James Morrow


The City, Not Long After by Pat Murphy
This book rocks. Find a copy and don't let go! 
Dystopian California, long enough after the fall that society is beginning to reform. Interesting dichotomy: artists vs warriors. It's all quite brilliant.


1984 by George Orwell


Dying to Live: A Novel of Life Among the Undead by Kim Paffenroth

City Wars by Dennis Palumbo
  A novel of doom and destruction in Chicago and its battle with New York, published by Bantam Books in 1979.

Meteorite Track 291 by Gary Paulsen
  Published by Dell in 1979.

The Executioner: Plague Wind (Mack Bolan - Power Trilogy Book II) by Don Pendleton
 Many of the Executioner and Mack Bolan adventures deal with saving the world from certain destruction. This novel focuses on the threat of Ebola, and the consipracy to use it as a weapon against the people.1998, Gold Eagle Adventure.

The 11th Plague by L.T. Peters
  The US suffers from a mysterious, malicious bacteria in this 1973 novel - similar to The Andromeda Strain.

Jem by Frederik Pohl
"In a time when there are no nations on Earth, only mutually hostile power blocs, suddenly a new inhabited planet is discovered: Jem." First published in 1979.

Oath of Fealty by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle
  "A few years after tomorrow, above a ruined Los Angeles where crime, violence, pollution and poverty still rule the streets, a Utopia rises. Todos Santos. A thousand-foot-high single-structured city. The perfect blend of technology and humanism, offering its privileged dwellers everything they could want in exchange for their oath of allegiance and their constant surveillance. But there are those who would see Utopia destroyed. Those who would tear down the hope of tomorrow in violent act after violent act. And they have just entered Todos Santos..." One of Sean's favorites, published in 1981.

Patriots, Survivors and Founders by James Wesley, Rawles
  These three companion novels take place in modern-day America, after a severe socio-economic meltdown called "The Crunch". After local economies and communities crumble, millions succumb to illness and unpreparedness. These three Christian novels tell the tale of those who remain, and what becomes of America after the end. They're chock-full of good (and bad) ideas for the fledgling or experienced prepper. The overt focus on weaponry and military survival tactics was off-putting, at first. I thought they weren't my style, but after reading these books I consider myself a fan of Rawles, and eagerly await the next installment!

Plague of the Dead: The Morningstar Strain by Z.A. Recht
  "When a massive military operation fails to contain the plague of the living dead it escalates into a global pandemic. In one fell swoop, the necessities of life become much more basic. Gone are petty everyday concerns. Gone are the amenities of civilized life. Yet a single law of nature remains: Live, or die. Kill, or be killed." This 2006 publication has a military focus, and was one of the first titles in Sean's zombie collection.

Level 7 by Mordecai Roshwald
  "A horrifying, prophetic document of the future - the diary of a man living 4000 feet underground in a society hell-bent on atomic self-destruction." Published in 1959.

The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell

The Texas-Israeli War: 1999 by Jake Saunders and Howard Waldrop
  "Rebellious Texans have kidnapped the president of the U.S.A. His future - and indeed the future of the country - depends on a band of fearless Israelis whose courage has been tested in other wars!" Published by Ballantine Books in 1974.

The Book of Dave by Will Self
  A dystopian fantasy set in post-apocalyptic London, full of relegious allegories and mystery, which pays homage to pop culture greats from Monty Python to Jonathan Swift.

The Last Breath by Eugene Carl Shaffer
  This novel of a troubled planet Earth was published by Papillon Books in 1974, and is a well-researched warning from the author.

The Purple Cloud by M.P. Shiel
  One of the great early apocalyptic novels, first published in 1930. Shiel's novel received fabulous reviews from H.G. Wells and other esteemed writers, and continues to be a favorite within the genre.

On the Beach by Nevil Shute

Epidemic! by Frank G. Slaughter
  "A chilling account of germ warfare when America's enemies unleashed a plague of Black Death in New York City." Published in 1961. 

Doomsday Wing by George H. Smith
  This American tale of military destruction was published by Monarch Books  in 1963.

Earth Abides by George R. Stewart
  A classic! First published in 1949, this novel has withstood the test of time and is widely considered to be the best dystopian science fiction novel of the 20th century. Though older than most books on this list, Stewart's masterpiece is the first book I recommend to customers looking for a good read. Check out some of my favorite quotes and an image of the first paperback edition.

Out There by Adrien Stoutenburg
  A tale of ecological destruction in 21st century America, published in 1972.

Warday by Whitley Strieber and James Kunetka
  An alternate history of America in the late 1980s and early 1990s, after the world as we know it has been destroyed. Another of Sean's favorites.

The Apocalypse Reader edited by Justin Taylor
  An apocalyptic anthology of thirty-four doomsday scenarios. This collection features stories by Neil Gaiman, Michael Moorcock, Edgar Allan Poe, Joyce Carol Oates and others..

Red Planet by Peter Telep
  A novel based on teh story by Chuck Pfarrer and the Warner Brothers movie of the same title, this movie tie-in tells the tale of a ruined Earth in 2050 and the hope for a new beginning on Mars.

The Colony by Mary Vigilante
  "The nuclear war was over in an afternoon. Both sides lost. Now a young woman alone faced teh brutal society of the survivors..." Published by Manor Books, 1979.

Only Lovers Left Alive by Dave Wallis


Death on a Warm Wind by Douglas Warner
  "No one listened to Colston when the physicist predicted a warm wind would carry death and to the large resort and the happy vacationers there, making love, swimming, watching their children play. A tough politician has silenced Colston for his own reasons. Now, he was again trying to shut the old man up, although Colston's awful prediction had come true. A warm wind is blowing toward London, the same mysterious wind, Colston raved, that had maimed and killed at the resort. It took a young newspaperman to uncover the politician's motive. But he couldn't stop the wind..." Published by Belmont Books in 1968.

Children of the Light by Susan B. Weston
  "Accidentally marooned in a ravaged future, nineteen-year-old Jeremy Towers is almost literally the last man on earth. He is one of the very last sexually fertile men in a world populated by women subsistence farmers, wandering mutants and a few sterile males. A cast-away from the Time of the Light - pre-holocaust America - Jeremy becomes not merely the key to the survival of the species bu tthe principal pawn in the political battle to create a new - and perhaps different - world." Published by St. Martin's Press in 1985.

Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang by Kate Wilehelm

Quick Fall of Light by Sherrida Woodley
This recently published (2010) award-winner chronicles a world-wide flu epidemic and one woman's struggle. It's an environmental thriller unlike the other books on this list, and is often overlooked though it has fabulous reviews from respected writers and environmentalists.

We by Yevgeny Zamyatin
  This Russian tale of the downfall of the human race, similar to Brave New World and 1984, was translated into English by Mirra Ginsburg and published  in 1972.

Youth Fiction

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

The City of Ember and The People of Sparks by Jeanne DuPrau

The Girl Who Owned a City by O.T. Nelson
  This was the first dystopian novel I recall reading. It was part of the curriculum at my  public middle school in Michigan, until parents cottoned on. Some angry mommies made a stink, and the books were taken away. I was sick during this scuffle, and was lucky enough to finish reading this riveting novel before I gave it back to the teacher. This story of urban American children much like ourselves, left to fend for themselves after all adults succumb to a mysterious illness, has stuck with me ever since. Finding a copy of this novel can be challenging, but it's well worth it.
Please read my Kiddie-Lit'er Review for more about this great YA novel!

The Big Empty by J.B. Stephens
  A handful of teenage survivors in a world ravaged by a mysterious plague, eking out their existence in an America controlled by military dictators and barbaric survivors.

Prepper Books

The Formula Book by Norman Stark
  This handy underground bestseller was published by Avon Books in 1975. It won't help you defeat the zombies, but it is a handy reference for making every-day products at a fraction of the price, like mouth wash, furniture polish, suntan lotion and soap.

Non Fiction


Chemical and Biological Warfare: America's Hidden Arsenal by Seymour M. Hersh
  This Doubleday publication was marketed as a political science book upon publication in 1969. It is a comprehensive, documented look at America's role in the development of weapons of destruction during the Cold War and in Vietnam.

No High Ground by Fletcher Knebel and Charles W. Bailey II
  First published in 1960, this is the "true" story of the first atomic bomb and the men who made it. "It is the whole, never-before-told account of experiments in heavily-guarded laboratories, of bitter arguments in top-secret White House conferences, of frantic, doomed peace negotiations. It is the story of men - big and little, famous and anonymous, conqueror and conquered - all caught up in the single, cataclysmic event that profoundly changed the direction of history and the shape of our world!"

Killer Germs by Pete Moore, BSc, PhD
  A book about new and emergent diseases and their threat to Americans in the 21st century.

The Crazy Iris and Other Stories of the Atomic Aftermath edited by Kenzaburo Oe    
  A Japanese collection of short stories about the tragedy of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

The Demon in the Freezer by Richard Preston

The Hot Zone by Richard Preston

Panic in Level 4 by Richard Preston

Voltaire's Bastards: The Dictatorship of Reason in the West by John Ralston Saul

The Doubter's Compainon: A Dictionary of Agressive Common Sense by John Ralston Saul

Rising Plauge by Brad Spellberg, MD
"The global threat from deadly bacteria and our dwindling arsenal to fight them." Published by Prometheus Books in 2009.

Miscellaneous (Fictional Non Fiction, Graphic Novels and Other Stuff)

Blackgas by Warren Ellis
  Vicious zombies, in graphic novel form.

The Walking Dead by R. Kirkman, C. Adlard and C. Rathburn
  A long and frightening graphic novel series - don't skip this one!

The Zombie Combat Manual: A Guide to Fighting the Living Dead  by Roger Ma
 Published by Berkley Books in 2010, to capitalize on the popularity of zombies in pop culture.

1 comment:

TJ Jordan said...

Hey,
Great list. Thanks so much!
TJ