The best books that make our pandemic look mild

Who am I?

When I was a little kid growing up in rural Ontario, my dad and I often talked about what it might be like to live off the grid for a whole winter. Back then, I loved Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House books, detailing nineteenth-century family life with its constant perils and pioneering spirit. It wasn’t until grad school that I started reading science fiction and realized that apocalyptic literature has a lot in common with those “Little House” historical fictions. I’m an English professor at UConn now, and I regularly teach speculative fiction. Apocalyptic literature allows us to face some of our deepest fears within the comforting (and cathartic) framework of fiction.  

I wrote...

Great Utopian and Dystopian Works of Literature

By Pamela Bedore,

Book cover of Great Utopian and Dystopian Works of Literature

What is my book about?

Utopian and dystopian writing sits at the crossroads of literature and other important academic disciplines such as philosophy, history, psychology, politics, and sociology. It serves as a useful tool to discuss our present condition and future prospects. To examine the future of mankind through detailed and fascinating stories that highlight and exploit our anxieties in adventurous, thought-provoking, and engaging ways. From Thomas More's foundational text Utopia published in 1516 to the 21st-century phenomenon of The Hunger Games, dive into stories that seek to find the best - and worst - in humanity, with the hope of better understanding ourselves and the world.

Great Utopian and Dystopian Works of Literature delivers 24 illuminating lectures which plunge you into the history and development of utopian ideas and their dystopian counterparts.

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The books I picked & why

The Stand

By Stephen King,

Book cover of The Stand

Why did I love this book?

The Stand is a big book. It is big in scope at over a thousand pages (and do read the full version; when the abridged version is 800+ pages, you may as well go all in). It is also big in its treatment of Captain Trips, the fictional disease that kills over 99% of the human population. 

King asks—and answers—pragmatic questions. How would people get the electricity back on? How would they manage the removal of diseased corpses? 

But he also asks—and invites readers to answer—philosophical questions. Are humans fundamentally good or evil? Are there things that go beyond the natural world, the rational mind? In a world where virtually everyone you know has died, what is left to be afraid of? 

The answer to that last question is…so many things.

By Stephen King,

Why should I read it?

17 authors picked The Stand as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Stephen King's apocalyptic vision of a world blasted by virus and tangled in an elemental struggle between good and evil remains as riveting and eerily plausible as when it was first published.

Soon to be a television series.

'THE STAND is a masterpiece' (Guardian). Set in a virus-decimated US, King's thrilling American fantasy epic, is a Classic.

First come the days of the virus. Then come the dreams.

Dark dreams that warn of the coming of the dark man. The apostate of death, his worn-down boot heels tramping the night roads. The warlord of the charnel house and Prince of…

Station Eleven

By Emily St. John Mandel,

Book cover of Station Eleven

Why did I love this book?

This is a beautiful book. The situation is pandemic. Twenty years after the Georgia Flu has killed almost everyone, a troupe of Shakespearean actors tours what was once southern Ontario and northern Michigan, bringing art to the survivors of the apocalypse. The characters include an intergenerational group of people whose ages at the time of the apocalypse completely influences how they see the world.

The treatment of the situation is deeply artistic. Moving between the years leading up to the pandemic and the adventures of post-pandemic travelers who are being targeted for elimination, the novel provides an almost magical interweaving of past and present, of hope and despair. 

This is pandemic beauty—artfully blending anxiety and anticipation—at its very best.

By Emily St. John Mandel,

Why should I read it?

20 authors picked Station Eleven as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'Best novel. The big one . . . stands above all the others' - George R.R. Martin, author of Game of Thrones

Now an HBO Max original TV series

The New York Times Bestseller
Winner of the Arthur C. Clarke Award
Longlisted for the Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction
National Book Awards Finalist
PEN/Faulkner Award Finalist

What was lost in the collapse: almost everything, almost everyone, but there is still such beauty.

One snowy night in Toronto famous actor Arthur Leander dies on stage whilst performing the role of a lifetime. That same evening a deadly virus touches down in…

Doomsday Book

By Connie Willis,

Book cover of Doomsday Book

Why did I love this book?

Doomsday Book is the opening volume of the Oxford time-travel novels, and it packs a huge emotional punch.

Kivrin Engle, a young historian, goes back to the Medieval period, fully vaccinated against the bubonic plague even though she is supposed to arrive twenty years before the outbreak. Things go wrong with the time-travel tech, and Kivrin arrives in 1348, where she witnesses the ravages of the historical Black Death pandemic, which is juxtaposed with a mid-twenty-first-century epidemic that has broken out in Oxford. 

Time travel and pandemic are two of my favorite science fiction tropes, so I love this novel, which has great characters and a lovely mix of pathos and humor.

Also, it’s the only pandemic book I’ve ever read that mentions the shortage of toilet paper (although in a very British way, when Finch says he’s rationing the “lavatory paper”).

By Connie Willis,

Why should I read it?

7 authors picked Doomsday Book as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"A tour de force" - New York Times Book Review

"Ambitious, finely detailed and compulsively readable" - Locus

"It is a book that feels fundamentally true; it is a book to live in" - Washington Post

For Kivrin Engle, preparing an on-site study of one of the deadliest eras in humanity's history was as simple as receiving inoculations against the diseases of the fourteenth century and inventing a bullet-proof backstory. For her instructors in the twenty-first century, it meant painstaking calculations and careful monitoring of the rendezvous location where Kivrin would be received.

But a crisis strangely linking past and…

Parable of the Sower

By Octavia E. Butler,

Book cover of Parable of the Sower

Why did I love this book?

Published in 1993, the novel is set in an incredibly unstable United States of 2024. Parable of the Sower is at once prescient and terrifying. The wealth gap is at an all-time high, California is on fire, disaffected youth are lost in a drug-induced haze, and there is a white supremacist in the White House. 

We follow hyper-empath Lauren Olamina, a young African-American woman who is forced to leave her gated community when the walls come down. Her adventures are compelling, terrifying, and based on Butler’s deep understanding of the darker parts of American history.

Octavia Butler died tragically before she could finish this beautiful and horrifying series, but I highly recommend Parable of the Sower and its more hopeful sequel, Parable of the Talents.

By Octavia E. Butler,

Why should I read it?

20 authors picked Parable of the Sower as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The extraordinary, prescient NEW YORK TIMES-bestselling novel.

'If there is one thing scarier than a dystopian novel about the future, it's one written in the past that has already begun to come true. This is what makes Parable of the Sower even more impressive than it was when first published' GLORIA STEINEM

'Unnervingly prescient and wise' YAA GYASI


We are coming apart. We're a rope, breaking, a single strand at a time.

America is a place of chaos, where violence rules and only the rich and powerful are safe. Lauren Olamina, a young woman with the extraordinary power to…

The Road

By Cormac McCarthy,

Book cover of The Road

Why did I love this book?

This is the best novel I will never read again. Except I’ve said that before. And then I read it again. I like hope, and this post-apocalyptic novel (not a pandemic, but almost everyone is dead, so it’s in the same vein) is short on hope.

And yet. The Road is gorgeous. It’s the story of The Man and The Boy on The Road in a devastated world. They have nothing but a shopping cart with a rearview mirror hooked up so they can get advanced warning of predators.

And they have love. This father and son love each other and they love life. McCarthy gives us a brutal, uncompromising world with very few humans and even less technology, but it is beautiful nonetheless. 

And yeah, it makes our pandemic look mild.

By Cormac McCarthy,

Why should I read it?

25 authors picked The Road as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

NATIONAL BESTSELLER • WINNER OF THE PULITZER PRIZE • A searing, post-apocalyptic novel about a father and son's fight to survive, this "tale of survival and the miracle of goodness only adds to McCarthy's stature as a living master. It's gripping, frightening and, ultimately, beautiful" (San Francisco Chronicle).

A father and his son walk alone through burned America. Nothing moves in the ravaged landscape save the ash on the wind. It is cold enough to crack stones, and when the snow falls it is gray. The sky is dark. Their destination is the coast, although they don't know what, if…

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in dystopian, survival, and good and evil?

9,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about dystopian, survival, and good and evil.

Dystopian Explore 483 books about dystopian
Survival Explore 163 books about survival
Good And Evil Explore 104 books about good and evil

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

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