The best post-apocalyptic novels that capture the horror of an extinction level event

Bradlee Frazer Author Of The Cure: A Thriller
By Bradlee Frazer

Who am I?

I’ve been fascinated by the end of the world since I was a child, during the Cuban Missile Crisis, and post-apocalyptic fiction helps me see different perspectives on the topic and explores different ways to feel about extinction-level events. I am a lawyer, an MBA, and a published novelist.


I wrote...

The Cure: A Thriller

By Bradlee Frazer,

Book cover of The Cure: A Thriller

What is my book about?

A mysterious new contagion is decimating the population. There is no vaccine, and none is expected, as the virus is protean and elusive. If it remains unchecked and mutates into a more virulent form, it will become an extinction-level event.

Jason Kramer has the disease, known by its nickname “Trips Lite”, but his body produces a unique antibody that kills the viruses inside him. This component in Jason’s blood can be harvested and given to anyone who needs it—his blood can heal. But pharmaceutical magnate Phillip Porter needs to keep people believing that only his expensive drug cocktail will slow Trips Lite down, and so if there’s any chance someone with the disease will live, Phillip Porter must make sure that Jason Kramer does not.

The books I picked & why

Shepherd is reader supported. We may earn an affiliate commission when you buy through links on our website. This is how we fund this project for readers and authors (learn more).

Alas, Babylon

By Pat Frank,

Book cover of Alas, Babylon

Why this book?

This book offers a very practical look at the effects of nuclear war and how society reacts to the blasts and the fallout. It discusses the societal decline and the loss of humanity but it is ultimately hopeful. It does not fear-monger; instead, it teaches and edifies using common post-apocalyptic tropes, like food riots and militarization of the populace.


On the Beach

By Nevil Shute,

Book cover of On the Beach

Why this book?

This book is limited in scope to a narrow cast of characters and focuses on just one part of the world, but it is terrifying and ultimately preaches a strong sermon against nuclear war. It has unusually well-developed characters for this type of book, and you care about them, which makes the ending even more horrific.


I Am Legend

By Richard Matheson,

Book cover of I Am Legend

Why this book?

Many of you are familiar with the movies The Omega Man with Charlton Heston and I Am Legend with Will Smith. But the source material on which those movies are based, the novel I Am Legend by Richard Matheson, is a superior work. Matheson was prolific in the horror and science fiction genres, and this novel well demonstrates his skills in creating a horrific post-apocalyptic landscape. Unlike some of my other entries here, this novel explores the “last man on earth” trope but combines it with classic zombie-type archetypes. Although the monsters here are neither true vampires nor zombies, lovers of those genres will be satisfied by Matheson’s depictions. If you ever feel like the world is too crowded and you wish for solitude, give this classic novel a read for a fresh perspective on that mindset.


The Andromeda Strain

By Michael Crichton,

Book cover of The Andromeda Strain

Why this book?

This novel teaches the doomsday aspects of biological warfare and not nuclear warfare. Great hard science underpinning a very scary story of the government acting in a typical self-serving way to find a better weapon, a project that ends up almost ending life on earth. Crichton leaves open the possibility of a viral apocalypse and teaches us, in his typical science-dense prose, that man should not play God, especially when it comes to germ warfare!


The Road

By Cormac McCarthy,

Book cover of The Road

Why this book?

So hard to read, yet so hard to put down. Dark, horrific, scary, and nihilistic, this novel caused me to have PTSD every time I heard the word “smokehouse.” Oddly, it is ultimately hopeful, but the cannibals and death and oddness of the landscape are all very disturbing. To be clear, this book is disturbing and off-putting, but the writing and the vivid imagery make it worth the trip.


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in survival, nuclear warfare, and extinction events?

5,887 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about survival, nuclear warfare, and extinction events.

Survival Explore 112 books about survival
Nuclear Warfare Explore 21 books about nuclear warfare
Extinction Events Explore 12 books about extinction events

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like Into the Wild, The Second World War, and The War of the Worlds if you like this list.