The best time travel novels about escaping to the past

Why am I passionate about this?

It’s been said — accurately, in my opinion — that the idea of visiting the past is really only attractive to straight, white men. For others, the further back you go, the worse things get. Still, after the last couple of years, with the present problematic at best and the future looking grim, I think most people would jump at the chance to go back at least a few years…maybe even further if you could change things, as opposed to merely being a temporal tourist in yesteryear. With that in mind, here’s a look at five time travel novels in which the past looks like a better tomorrow…

I wrote...

Time Will Tell

By Barry Lyga,

Book cover of Time Will Tell

What is my book about?

Four teens have dug up the time capsule that their parents buried in 1986 and never bothered to recover. But in addition to the expected ephemera of mixtapes, Walkmans, photographs, letters, toys, and assorted junk, Elayah, Liam, Marcie, and Jorja discover something sinister: a hunting knife stained with blood and wrapped with a note. “I'm sorry. I didn't mean to kill anyone."

As the action dramatically alternates between the present day and 1986, the mystery unfolds and the sins of the past echo into today. The teens haven't just unearthed a time capsule: they've also dug up pain and secrets that someone--maybe one of their own parents--is willing to kill for.

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission.

The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Time Traveler's Wife

Barry Lyga Why did I love this book?

OK, this may be cheating a little bit since Henry travels not merely to the past, but also the future, but still — Niffenegger’s debut novel is a sumptuous, gorgeous feast of words, a truly personal and intimate look at the perils and pleasures of time travel. Since Henry’s jaunts align along his own timeline, he is constantly reliving his own past and anticipating his own reactions to his known-but-unavoidable future.

By Audrey Niffenegger,

Why should I read it?

22 authors picked The Time Traveler's Wife as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Now a series on HBO starring Rose Leslie and Theo James!

The iconic time travel love story and mega-bestselling first novel from Audrey Niffenegger is "a soaring celebration of the victory of love over time" (Chicago Tribune).

Henry DeTamble is a dashing, adventurous librarian who is at the mercy of his random time time-traveling abilities. Clare Abshire is an artist whose life moves through a natural sequential course. This is the celebrated and timeless tale of their love. Henry and Clare's passionate affair is built and endures across a sea of time and captures them in an impossibly romantic trap…

Book cover of 11/22/63

Barry Lyga Why did I love this book?

King applies his considerable talents to healing the primal wound of the Baby Boomers — the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Jake Epping has discovered a portal to the past. And here’s the gimmick — it’s a two-way door, but every time you return to the past, you return to the exact same time, September 9, 1958. So Epping decides to relocate to the fifties and work his way toward 1963 and that fateful day in Dallas. But the universe itself seems bound and determined to stop him from saving JFK…and even if he can, will the future be worth returning to?

By Stephen King,

Why should I read it?

13 authors picked 11/22/63 as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Now a major TV series from JJ Abrams and Stephen King, starring James Franco (Hulu US, Fox UK and Europe, Stan Australia, SKY New Zealand).

WHAT IF you could go back in time and change the course of history? WHAT IF the watershed moment you could change was the JFK assassination? 11.22.63, the date that Kennedy was shot - unless . . .

King takes his protagonist Jake Epping, a high school English teacher from Lisbon Falls, Maine, 2011, on a fascinating journey back to 1958 - from a world of mobile phones and iPods to a new world of…

Book cover of I Killed Adolf Hitler

Barry Lyga Why did I love this book?

This delightful graphic novel puts a new spin on the age-old question: If you could travel back in time and kill Hitler, would you? Well, duh! The question is old and the answer is obvious, so our intrepid hero heads to the past to bump off Adolf in 1939. But things go awry — Hitler overpowers his would-be assassin and steals the time machine. Now the assassin has no choice but to live out the decades in order to catch up with the present and complete the mission of killing a now-contemporary Hitler. And if you think you know where this is headed, well, you don’t — because there’s also the killer’s girlfriend to consider!

By Jason,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked I Killed Adolf Hitler as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Unavailable since 2014, I Killed Adolf Hitler is back in print in a newly designed edition!

In this graphic novel, a hitman travels back in time to kill Adolf Hitler in 1939... but things go spectacularly wrong. Full-color illustrations throughout.

Book cover of The Proteus Operation

Barry Lyga Why did I love this book?

Will killing Hitler ever not be the time travel question du jour? Maybe not, but this book takes a different tack, as a group of 21st century elitists, dissatisfied with their utopia, decide that helping Hitler would lead to a world more suited to their tastes. So they send back weapons and advisors to prop up Nazi Germany. This means, of course, that their foes — our heroes! — have to chase their way into the past and prop up none other than Winston Churchill as a counter to the rise of Hitler. The result is both not what you expect and also exactly what you expect.

By James P. Hogan,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Proteus Operation as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In a world in which Hitler was victorious in World War II, a select group of American diplomats, scientists, and commandos journey back through time to 1939 to change the course of the war and history

Book cover of Replay

Barry Lyga Why did I love this book?

This book isn’t just my favorite time travel novel — it might be my favorite novel, period. Jeff Winston, in his forties and trapped in a miserable marriage, dies of a massive heart attack on page one. But don’t worry! By page four, Jeff has opened his eyes again, only to discover that he is in his own nineteen-year-old body, decades in the past, with the full memory of everything that will transpire in the interim. You think you know where this is headed, but you don’t — Grimwood’s tour de force contains a terrific twist on time travel that makes this a story about coming to terms with who you are and who you want to be.

By Ken Grimwood,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked Replay as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 14, 15, 16, and 17.

What is this book about?

At forty-three Jeff Winston is tired of his low-paid, unrewarding job, tired of the long silences at the breakfast table with his wife, saddened by the thought of no children to comfort his old age. But he hopes for better things, for happiness, maybe tomorrow ...

But a sudden, fatal heart attack puts paid to that. Until Jeff wakes up in his eighteen-year-old body, all his memories of the next twenty-five years intact. If he applies those memories, he can be rich in this new chance at life and can become one of the most powerful men in America.


You might also like...

Evil Alice and the Borzoi

By DK Coutant,

Book cover of Evil Alice and the Borzoi

DK Coutant Author Of Evil Alice and the Borzoi

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Professor Cross Cultural Psychologist Dog Lover Traveler Reader

DK's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

Cleo Cooper, a cross-cultural psychology professor, is living the dream on the Big Island of Hawaii. With ocean-dipping weekends, she enjoys her dog, her job, and her boyfriend Ben - until the day she’s on a research vessel and a dead body is caught in the dragline.

The police determine it is murder and set their sights on a gentle former student, Kai. It doesn’t take much urging from Kai’s auntie for Cleo to investigate. But Ben grows distant, and Cleo’s dog grows ill. A couple of accidental deaths later, and someone makes an attempt on her life.

What happened to Cleo’s life in paradise? Can she discover the true killer? Can she stop the killer before the killer stops her?

Evil Alice and the Borzoi

By DK Coutant,

What is this book about?

Paradise is shaken when the body of a young woman is dragged onto a university research vessel during a class outing in Hilo Bay. Cleo Cooper is shaken when she finds her favorite student is on the hook for the murder. Danger lurks on land and sea as Cleo and her friends are enticed to search for the true killer. In between paddling, swimming, and arguing with her boyfriend, Cleo discovers all is not what it seems on the Big Island of Hawaii. But will she figure out the truth before she becomes the next victim?

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in time travel, life satisfaction, and contract killing?

10,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about time travel, life satisfaction, and contract killing.

Time Travel Explore 361 books about time travel
Life Satisfaction Explore 209 books about life satisfaction
Contract Killing Explore 23 books about contract killing