The best books for imagining life after an apocalypse

Carrie Vaughn Author Of Bannerless
By Carrie Vaughn

Who am I?

I have an idea. A conviction, let's call it, that humanity is not doomed. The Mad Max scenario where civilization collapses, thrusting us into an anarchic hellscape in which the living envy the dead, is totally unrealistic and not likely to happen. So let's imagine a post-apocalyptic scenario in which people come together to help each other, to save what knowledge they can, to build something new and useful. To learn the lessons from the destruction that came before. This is what I tried to imagine in my novel Bannerless, and this is why this topic interests me so much.

I wrote...


By Carrie Vaughn,

Book cover of Bannerless

What is my book about?

Decades after economic and environmental collapse destroy much of civilization in the United States, the Coast Road region isn’t just surviving but thriving by some accounts, building something new on the ruins of what came before. 

Enid of Haven is an Investigator, called on to mediate disputes and examine transgressions against the community. She’s young for the job and hasn't yet handled a serious case. Now, though, a suspicious death requires her attention. The victim was an outcast, but might someone have taken dislike a step further and murdered him? In a world defined by the disasters that happened a century before, the past is always present. But this investigation may reveal the cracks in Enid’s world and make her question what she really stands for.

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The books I picked & why

The World Without Us

By Alan Weisman,

Book cover of The World Without Us

Why did I love this book?

When trying to imagine what would happen if civilization collapsed, you run up against some really basic, logistical details. Like, what actually happens to all our stuff, if no one's around to take care of it? Turns out, it falls apart a lot quicker than you'd think. Anyone who's noticed the grass and saplings coming up through the pavement in an abandoned lot after just a couple of years understands this. Now expand that to everything. Weisman's book asks questions about this post-people world I didn't even know to ask and the answers are fascinating.

By Alan Weisman,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked The World Without Us as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Revised Edition with New Afterword from the Author

Time #1 Nonfiction Book of the Year

Finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award

Over 3 million copies sold in 35 Languages

"On the day after humans disappear, nature takes over and immediately begins cleaning house - or houses, that is. Cleans them right off the face of the earth. They all go."

What if mankind disappeared right now, forever... what would happen to the Earth in a week, a year, a millennium? Could the planet's climate ever recover from human activity? How would nature destroy our huge cities and our…

The Water Knife

By Paolo Bacigalupi,

Book cover of The Water Knife

Why did I love this book?

For my money, nobody does a better job of showing us possible worlds after environmental collapse than Paolo Bacigalupi. Rigorous extrapolation of trends that are happening right now makes his work barely science fiction at all. The Water Knife is about what happens when the western U.S. runs out of water—and make no mistake, this is happening. What does it look like when a community successfully plans for it? And what happens when a community doesn't? Read and find out.

By Paolo Bacigalupi,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked The Water Knife as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From the international bestselling author of the Hugo and Nebula award-winning The Windup Girl, comes an electrifying thriller set in a world on the edge of collapse.


The American Southwest has been decimated by drought, Nevada and Arizona skirmish over dwindling shares of the Colorado River, while California watches.

When rumors of a game-changing water source surface in Phoenix, Las Vegas water knife Angel Velasquez is sent to investigate.

With a wallet full of identities and a tricked-out Tesla, Angel arrows south, hunting for answers that seem to evaporate as the heat index soars and the landscape…

A Song for a New Day

By Sarah Pinsker,

Book cover of A Song for a New Day

Why did I love this book?

So, this is a novel about a world in which a global pandemic means that large gatherings are illegal and everyone has adapted to life at home in isolation. It was published in 2019, and I read it summer of 2020. I'm not sure I've ever read anything that was this spookily, horrifyingly prophetic. That said, it's also really punk and ultimately uplifting. One of the characters is the lead singer of the band who it turns out inadvertently gave the last public concert ever, and she's trying to revive live music with underground concerts. Another character is the virtual talent scout who joins her cause. The story is about how you peel yourself out of trauma and disaster to find community again. Be warned, at this historical moment this one's a bit of a kick in the teeth.

By Sarah Pinsker,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A Song for a New Day as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'In A Song for a New Day, liberty and creative endeavour are compromised by political and socioeconomic reality. Pinsker presents a frighteningly real near-future US [and] movingly charts Rosemary's coming-of-age story as her world and Luce's collide' Guardian

Luce is on the road. Success is finally within grasp: her songs are getting airtime; the venues she's playing are getting larger. But mass shootings, bombings and now a strange contagion are closing America down around her...

Rosemary is too young to remember the Before. She's grown up in a world where proximity to others is not only unusual, it…

Book cover of Scatter, Adapt, and Remember: How Humans Will Survive a Mass Extinction

Why did I love this book?

When you study the long arc of history you begin to suspect that apocalypses aren't just inevitable, they're common. And so is survival, which is a really heartening thought. Human beings are crazily adaptable, and our ability to come together in communities (ideally, when we're at our best, which granted isn't always and is hard to see sometimes) will aid our survival. Annalee Newitz tells us how this is has happened before, and how it can happen again.

By Annalee Newitz,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Scatter, Adapt, and Remember as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A Los Angeles Times Book Prize Finalist in Science & Technology

In its 4.5 billion-year history, life on Earth has been almost erased at least half a dozen times: shattered by asteroid impacts, entombed in ice, smothered by methane, and torn apart by unfathomably powerful megavolcanoes. And we know that another global disaster is eventually headed our way. Can we survive it? How? In this brilliantly speculative work of popular science, Annalee Newitz, editor of, explains that although global disaster is all but inevitable, our chances of long-term species survival are better than ever. Scatter, Adapt, and Remember explores…

On the Beach

By Nevil Shute,

Book cover of On the Beach

Why did I love this book?

While the total nuclear apocalypse presented here seems old-fashioned now, I still found this a powerful thought experiment: how will people respond when faced with inevitable, unavoidable destruction, when it creeps slowly and they can see it coming? Which of course, is the set of disasters we're facing now, unlike that sudden nuclear apocalypse those of us of a certain generation grew up with. This is a tough read, not at all hopeful as most of my other recommendations are, so I hesitated even putting it on this list. But it's reassuring to think that this scenario isn't the one that will likely get us. We have way more options than the characters here do.

By Nevil Shute,

Why should I read it?

6 authors picked On the Beach as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Pearson English Readers bring language learning to life through the joy of reading.

Well-written stories entertain us, make us think, and keep our interest page after page. Pearson English Readers offer teenage and adult learners a huge range of titles, all featuring carefully graded language to make them accessible to learners of all abilities.

Through the imagination of some of the world's greatest authors, the English language comes to life in pages of our Readers. Students have the pleasure and satisfaction of reading these stories in English, and at the same time develop a broader vocabulary, greater comprehension and reading…

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