Best Dystopian Books! – Top Five Apocalyptic Novels!

So now, here’s five awesome apocalyptic
stories that I want to recommend to you highly. These are ones that have been read again and
again. These are stories, my friends, that, out of many – there are tons and tons of apocalyptic
books, novels, stories, short stories, etc, – these are ones that over the years, I’ve
kind of culled together as my favorites, so I hope these are helpful for you. So my first
recommendation is perhaps for you, if you’re thinking right now, “yeah, but I’m not
sure I’d be into this apocalyptic literature, it just seems a little bit heavy, bla bla
bla,” well, my first recommendation is: Wastelands: Stories of the Apocalypse.
And here’s the great part – they’re short stories. These are volumes that contain many,
I think something like twenty-some stories in each volume, where they present a new author
in every story and they tell a unique perspective on some apocalyptic situation. So this is
a great way to kind of introduce you to the genre. You can just read a short story at a time,
read one maybe before you go to bed at night, or one once a week or something
and finish the book in a month, who knows. But here’s a great collection of short stories
written by some of the best authors in the field. You’ve got people like Nancy Cress,
Orson Scott Card, Stephen King, Hugh Howey, Junot Diaz, and even George R.R. Martin in
Volume 1 of Wastelands has an amazing short story that’s in there. These are some great
great authors and they present this world to you in a way that’s exciting and very
accessible. The next book I want to recommend to you is One Second After by William R. Forstchen.
This is a newer book – it came out recently, just in the past several years. This is the
story of how an electromagnetic pulse bomb basically cuts out and destroys all electronics
for the entire North American continent, and what happens because of that. It’s amazing.
It’s told in a way that follows this one particular family, where they live, and how they
survive, what happens in the surrounding areas. It gets really intense. And what’s
wild about this story is, they actually present it in a way – the author in the foreword talks
about how this is something that could really happen in the United States. These EMPs are
not science-fiction, they’re real, they could actually happen. So it’s kind of,
if you will, a forecast, if something ever that bad were to happen, and Lo – God forbid.
The next apocalyptic literature book I want to recommend to you is On the Beach,
by Neville Schute. This is a book that’s considered a classic. It’s been around for a long time,
and it’s just as powerful today as it was back then, I’m sure. The story takes place
in Australia, although it does describe an entire world-ending event. But what’s interesting
about this story is, it’s about the people and how they deal psychologically with the
fact that they’re going to die. They know the world is ending, they know that their
time is drawing shorter every single day, and it’s about what they do, how do they react,
what do the relationships do. And it’s super interesting, very well told, and I highly
recommend this one to you. The next book is Swan Song, by Robert McCammon. This book is
apocalyptic literature with a fantasy, almost magical side to it; it’s very very interesting.
Not only do you have the world coming to an end in this nuclear holocaust type situation,
but you have how society continues on after that, those people that survive, with this
other element – I don’t want to give too much away, but there’s a, shall I say a
spiritual element, or a deeply metaphorical Evil vs. Good, capital G, capital E, and it’s
super interesting. Highly recommend it, it will surprise you, and it’s not what you
think. The next book I want to mention to you is probably one you’ve heard of, you might’ve
even seen the film, it was a popular film. And that is, The Road, by Cormac McCarthy.
Apocalyptic literature? Absolutely. It’s about the end of the world and this father
and son, and how they are trying to survive, one day at a time, on this road getting to
this destination that they’re trying to go to. Beautiful story, it’s haunting. I saw the
movie as well, very well done, but I would recommend reading the book first,
because the book of course gets a lot more into the inner thoughts of the characters
and what they’re going through, and it’s pretty intense. But if you want kind of a
nice primer to this whole entire genre, start there, The Road. And the last book that I
want to share with you is Alas, Babylon, by Pat Frank. This is a book that is very well
received, it’s considered kind of a classic in certain circles, and it’s more of a traditional
story of the world’s gonna come to an end – I won’t tell you how it is, but there’s
this little community that’s able to survive, but it’s interesting, because it’s how
do they survive? How do they establish a new law and order, how do they get clean water?
It’s more of the nuts and bolts, the nitty gritty of survival after the end of the world.
And it’s very very interesting, it’s a great introduction to the brass tacks, the
bottom line of, “Okay, here’s the new world we live in. We have to try to survive,
what do we do, what’s day one?” And it goes through all of that, it’s very interesting.
So, I hope that these books sound interesting to you. I highly recommend them, that’s why
I’m talking about them. I think apocalyptic literature is one that is very fitting for
the world in which we live, not because I think the world’s coming to an end, but
because I believe that it gives us a medium to discuss these types of issues, where we
see tremendous evil happening around us all the time, and yet we’re trying to survive,
we’re trying to have normal lives, normal relationships. These books help us explore
those ideas, and bring them out, and ask our own questions about our own lives, how are
we doing, what ways are we surviving well and where are we cutting corners? These are
the types of things that I think books bring out in us and give us a chance to think about
and to talk about with those we love. So thank you very much for watching, again
my name is Jeremy, this is MathomBooks. You might think that we’re new but we’ve been
around for awhile, we’re just back after a long hiatus. Please comment, subscribe, like this
video if you enjoyed it. Most importantly we want to hear from you. Give us your thoughts.
Have you read any of these books, have you seen any of the movies that were made?
Talk to us about it. We’d love to hear your ideas and thoughts in the comments.
Go, Find Your Voice. [violin music] So it’s kind of a, if you will, a forecast, if something
ever that bad were to happen, and, Lo – God forbid. They’re short stories, these are volumes
that contain many, I think something like twenty-some stories in each volume.
Read one maybe before you go to bed at night, or one once a week or something
and finish the book in a month, who knows. That doesn’t make sense mathematically…
[laughing] Hi, how are you.

64 Replies to “Best Dystopian Books! – Top Five Apocalyptic Novels!

  1. Thanks so much for these Jeremy. Really cool list here.
    I think you would really enjoy a recent novel from Nick Totem called A M M.
    The author comes from a medical background and brings his experience into this story which makes it feel really authentic and somewhat unsettling. Sometimes it feels a little too realistic and all too possible but this is what I loved about it. This book has instantly become one of my favorites of all time. I don't think I've ever read through a novel of this size so quickly. Every time I set it down, I picked it back up again within the hour but the hours of sleep lost was totally worth it.

  2. I like your list. But I am surprised you didn't mention *The Postman by David Brin.* The Costner film sucked but the book was great.

  3. ALAS BABYLON SOUNDS IKE IT IS SIMILAR TO THE TV SHOW THE ENDED TO SOON CALLED , I can't remember a small town sheltered in the right place during a nuclear war .

  4. Jeff is right Mathom, The enemy series is ridiculous, especially for a YA-ish (more toward adult) fiction. I highly recommend it man. I was with the character's the whole way through every book brother.

  5. Jeremy,
    I really love your recommendations. I am in the process of writing and filming my own full feature post apocalyptic film where a new government has taken over and they are on a hunt for all the rebels. I was wondering if you had any recommendations of stories that are open source or that possibly a author would allow me to use for filming. I would like it to be around 7-10 minutes so I would need a short story but its going to be a little like " The Road" except with soldiers perusing and I am sure your a lot more read than I in this field and was hoping you would have any further suggestions and or recommendations of stories that have the same feel and are short post apocalyptic films?
    Thank you for the great video. I was getting ready to buy the wastelands book but wasnt sure if they had any short stories that were similar to what I am looking for.
    Thank you again Sir.

  6. A recent entry into the field of apocalyptic fiction: Guns along the Wabash by T.J. McFadden and it's sequel, "Worthington's War" Available worldwide for only 99cents, through Amazon Kindle.

  7. I'm a bit surprised that "The Stand" by Stephen King wasn't listed! I've read "The Stand" as well as "Swan Song" SO many times as I think they are both amazing books. Of course, if you've seen only the movie of "The Stand", it certainly doesn't do the book any justice at all. Thanks for the suggestions!! This as well as Horror fiction is my groove 🙂

  8. I've read swan song 10 times. It's rare I reread a book but Swan Song is so wonderfully written I tend to miss the characters every so often, and have to visit like old friends.

  9. l' autoroute sauvage by Gilles Thomas , very good book but I think it might only be available in french

  10. Readers must give this website “fetching lobon only” (Google it) a go. I can read about all sorts of subjects. A few of the subject areas include medical science, history and contemporary literature. This website is my favorite! It`s really surpassed my expectations. It also has all the materials my son should start reading. It helps a lot.

  11. Hi! I posted my video on dystopian novels and this popped up in my recommendations! I'm so glad I found this, will definitely read One Second Forward! 😀

  12. its the fight between good and evil in a physical and metaphysical sense. Swan song is my all time favorite book. Its incredible

  13. Great Stuff! The Road is on of the few works of literature where the film adaptation did the novel justice! HOWEVER I always beg my fellow Sci/Fi buffs to still read the book, as there are a couple of examples of truly bind-blowing imagery that the flic leaves out!

    I must leave you with my recommendation, Greybeard by Brian Aldiss! Set a half century or so after an atomic disaster has rendered virtually all large sized mammals (including man) sterile, a member of the last generation reflects on life as he watches the world slowly empty! Written over fifty years ago… it's a tad dated in parts! But a very fun read!

  14. Swan Song was one of my all time favorite books. It's often compared to Stephen King's The Stand, but, even as a huge King fan, I found Swan Song the better of the two.

  15. z for zachariah or you could even call the dark tower series apocalyptic….also cant find any book series.(not including the old but classics endworld books,blade series, and deathlands books)

  16. Glad to see that you appreciate the depth and feeling of Swan Song. This is one of my top 10 books. Such rich characters and that makes for one of the best good vs. evil stories I've ever read.

  17. If you liked One Second After, there is a new book with the same event but takes place in a city. All Systems Down by BA Anderson is a look at what a city might be like in days after an EMP event. Interesting list I did not like the Road, but loved Alas Babylon, and One Second After.

  18. Alas, Babylon. I remember it used to be required reading if you went to school in Florida (read the book and you will understand why).

  19. Absolutely love rhis genre and the fact that Swan Song is in this list, it doesn't get near the recognition that it deserves.

  20. Nice! Now I dont have to keep my librarian stuck on his computer serching for books I might like since I love the post apocalyptic chanrae

  21. The road is living proof the genre is dying….a ptential gold mine of a theme….ruined by the limited approach …or in english….not knowing how to exploit it/

  22. Shave your head you would look like a BAD ASS MOTHER FUCKER . Great video . Love the recommendations. Forstchen trilogy is the shit.

  23. Good list. I've read them all except Swan Song. I'd rather not delve into fantasy type apocalypse stories, but what might really happen. I started the Dies The Fire series but it started to get silly.

  24. Re: One Second After, the idea of all unshielded electronics in the country getting fried is only the second-most terrifying aspect of an EMP nuke. The most terrifying, by far, is knowing that an EMP burst is almost certainly going to be momentarily followed up with many more nuclear weapons that will, shall we say, detonate at much lower altitudes. In other words, if you're driving one day and your car dies, and every other car around you dies, you're about to see something spectacular.

    On the Beach: a beautifully written and genuinely shocking novel. You will probably want to hang yourself by the time you get to the end, but I enthusiastically second this recommendation. Made into an equally excellent movie.

    Swan Song: couldn't finish it. I found it to be rather silly. Like King's The Stand, not so much a post-apocalypse tale as a supernatural fantasy that is set in a post-apocalyptic setting.

    The Road: Leave it to Cormac McCarthy to write a book that will leave you even more depressed than On the Beach. That's not a knock against the book, which is one of the Pulitzer-winning novelist's best. It's a warning. Like all his stories this one is brutal and told unvarnished with no attempts to blunt any of the sharp edges. Contains one scene that is the most shocking I have ever read in any fiction in any genre; the one scene so extreme it was cut from the screenplay before they even started filming the movie. It involves a campfire, and if you've already read it you know exactly which scene I'm talking about (but don't spoil it for others, please.) John Hillcoat did a great job with the movie, and it's almost as hard-hitting as the book. I read books that I love multiple times as the years go by. I'm still not ready to re-read this one. It's pretty tough.

    Alas, Babylon: Like a lot of people from my generation I had to read this one in a high school English class. It's one of the books that got me hooked on the genre over forty years ago. Yet for most of my adult life I remembered the book as being a bit juvenile and not at all hard hitting. Then I picked it up again about ten years ago and learned that my memory was a bit faulty. This is an excellent book, maybe the first example of a modern end-of-the-world novel, told straight, that takes the subject seriously. Strong recommend.

    Wastelands: Never heard of it, and that's why I watch videos like this one. I seldom come across any books in this genre that I haven't already read at least once, but I remain ever hopeful. I've read and enjoyed books by most of the authors that contributed to this collection, and will pick it up. Thanks.

    Returning the favor….
    The Last Ship, by William Brinkley: yes, the book the garbage TNT series is supposedly based upon. The book and series do not resemble each other in the slightest, and the book is as good as the series is bad. I only discovered this one myself about eight years ago. Brutal tale, beautifully told. A bit hard to read in spots, as the author doesn't really paragraph as often as he should, but that's the only complaint I have. The language itself is so muscular that the book this one is most often compared to is Moby Dick, not other apocalyptic stories. I will say, though, that the author's descriptive language can be disturbing in places. Specifically in his descriptions of doomed people who barely survived the explosions and aren't surviving the fallout. Those parts of the book will haunt you long after you finish it. Yes, the book centers around a nuclear holocaust, not a pandemic. After reading this book, I'd take the pandemic any day of the week. A must read for anyone who loves the genre.

    A Canticle for Leibowitz, Walter Miller: Easily one of the ten or fifteen best science fiction books ever written. One of the very few science fiction books ever written that could truly be called literary fiction. One of the very few science fiction books that could and should be studied as much for its writing as for the story. A masterpiece that I won't even attempt to summarize, except to tell you that the first third is full of wry humor that will make you laugh out loud. And the final third is very, very grim. You won't be laughing at the end.

    War Day, Jim Kunetka and Whitley Streiber: I truly don't understand why, but this book is the most glaring omission I frequently see on lists like this. Maybe because it was a massive best-seller and not usually included in the SF genre. It is, utterly without exaggeration, the most accurate and compelling book about a nuclear war and the aftermath ever written. A novel as meticulously researched as any non-fiction work yet with wonderful dialogue, characterization, and descriptive language. As far as the accuracy part, a close friend of mine was on a SAC B52 during the early and mid 80s, carrying two to four "city buster" megaton-range gravity bombs, and up to 24 nuclear tipped cruise missiles. He read the book upon my recommendation. He returned it with the comment that it depressed the hell out of him, and "they got it all right. Everything." Meaning the technical stuff. If it can be said that there's one absolute must which should be on every single list of apocalyptic or post-apocalyptic books, it's this one. It is to nuclear war novels what the movie Threads is to films in the same genre. The book was published in 1984, and in one section of the book the character is describing being on a city bus in New York City when the warheads detonate over the city. The following five or ten pages, if read to someone completely without context, would lead them to believe it was a grim description of the hours and days following the 9/11 attacks. The similarity between that section of the novel and an unrelated real event occurring seventeen years later is eerie and unsettling.

    One more suggestion, but this terrifying book is not about a nuclear war. It's about a lethal pandemic that sweeps across the world and kills upwards of a hundred million people in less than a year and a half. I know, I know; there are novels galore about this sort of thing, and most of them suck. Right? The book I'm recommending is The Great Influenza, by John Barry and it's not a novel. It's nonfiction. It really happened. It still puzzles me that people will go to the theater and watch a movie like Contagion, a genuinely frightening movie with a fictitious pandemic virus that leaves over a million dead by the time the movie's over, and the viewers end up wringing their hands in worry for days after. Yet when you tell them that a real pandemic killed as many as a hundred million real people in relatively modern times (1918), and surpassed Contagion's fictional body count in maybe two or three weeks, they just give a blank stare. It's like a nuclear war happened with tremendous loss of life all over the globe, and just a hundred years later nobody remembers. If you want to read about something terrifying, 100% real, and not speculative like a nuclear war, read about this pandemic. There are many good books on the subject, and the one I recommend is one of the best. And while I still maintain that Stephen King's The Stand is more supernatural fantasy set in a post-apocalyptic setting, I'll give him this much credit: The Great Influenza (also referred to as the Devil's Flu or Spanish Flu) is the pandemic he studied for the novel, and it's why the bioengineered pandemic in his novel is a form of the influenza virus rather than something more exotic. His fictional pandemic is entirely within the realm of the possible. The only real difference between the real flu pandemic and the fictional one is scale. If an equally virulent form of influenza emerged today, with much denser populations and rapid travel via jet, the body count could go up to or beyond a billion. Get those flu vaccines folks. And read The Great Influenza.

  25. I read most of those. "The Road" was the most depressing one. I actually wish I had not read that one.

  26. Cool video, but have to MAJORLY disagree with you about Alas, Babylon. While yes the novel is well written and quite a compelling story, it also served as Cold War propaganda. Being a huge best-seller, thousands read this novel of surviving a nuclear exchange and finished the book relieved that everything turned out alright, when in reality, a true nuclear exchange would make Pat Frank's novel seem like an enjoyable fairytale. The novel, written in the 50's or early 60's comes NOWHERE near describing the true extent of radiation sickness nor the extent of total social breakdown (to the level of the Dark Ages, like in the amazing film "Threads") that would occur should the buttons get pushed. If that ever occurs, there will be NO happy ending, unlike Alas, Babylon.

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