The best books to read as the world crumbles around us

Darrel Perkins Author Of The End Is At Hand
By Darrel Perkins

Who am I?

Like most people, I started to think about the end of the world during the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead of learning how to bake sourdough bread, I read stories and made art about the apocalypse. The true and catastrophic experiences of people throughout history interested me so much that the project turned into a book. My background in printmaking and illustration has formed my approach to visualizing narrative scenes using crisp black and white linocut prints. My current position as a studio art professor has given me practice in providing information concisely. I try to entertain as much as inform. 


I wrote...

The End Is At Hand

By Darrel Perkins,

Book cover of The End Is At Hand

What is my book about?

The End is at Hand is an illustrated history of the apocalypse. People have always concerned themselves with the end of the world. Through a collection of short essays, the book explores how it has all ended before, when we mistakenly thought it would end again, and the ways it could end in the future. Told chronologically, the tales begin with prehistoric extinctions and extend into the distant future when the universe may (or may not) collapse. Nothing lasts forever, including the worlds we inhabit – human society, our planet, and the entire universe.

The books I picked & why

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The Plague

By Albert Camus,

Book cover of The Plague

Why this book?

Let’s start with a classic. This is where it all started for me, as the pandemic locked us down and we all needed something tragic to connect to. A deadly disease spreads across the French Algerian city of Oran, and we observe the different reactions within the population as they feel powerless to the subsequent citywide lockdown. I’ve long been a fan of Camus and his matter-of-fact representation of life, death, and existence. The Plague isn’t my favorite book of his, but if you’re looking for something relatable when the world ends, this is the place to start. 

The Plague

By Albert Camus,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

“Its relevance lashes you across the face.” —Stephen Metcalf, The Los Angeles Times • “A redemptive book, one that wills the reader to believe, even in a time of despair.” —Roger Lowenstein, The Washington Post 

A haunting tale of human resilience and hope in the face of unrelieved horror, Albert Camus' iconic novel about an epidemic ravaging the people of a North African coastal town is a classic of twentieth-century literature. 

The townspeople of Oran are in the grip of a deadly plague, which condemns its victims to a swift and horrifying death. Fear, isolation and claustrophobia follow as they…


Bad Island

By Stanley Donwood,

Book cover of Bad Island

Why this book?

Prefer something a bit more visual as the world falls apart? Stanley Donwood fills a book with full-page black and white linocut illustrations, the same medium I use for my illustrations. Without relying on any text, Donwood is able to use classic sequential art techniques to move us through the continual destruction of a wild and devolving island habitat. You may recognize his work from his decades-long collaboration with Radiohead, but his distinct style of storytelling and art stands alone.

Bad Island

By Stanley Donwood,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Bad Island as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A wild seascape, a distant island, a full moon. Gradually the island grows nearer until we land on a primeval wilderness, rich in vegetation and huge, strange beasts. Time passes and man appears, with clubs, with spears, with crueler weapons still-and things do not go well for the wilderness. Civilization rises as towers of stone and metal and smoke choke the undergrowth and the creatures that once moved through it. This is not a happy story, and it will not have a happy ending.

Working in his distinctive, monochromatic linocut style, Stanley Donwood achieves with his art what words cannot…


Mr. Burns

By Anne Washburn,

Book cover of Mr. Burns

Why this book?

A little levity may be required as we watch the world crumble around us. Anne Washburn’s play reads as a multi-generational game of telephone. Beginning shortly after the apocalypse, with television now obsolete, people gather round a campfire and begin retelling what they remember from random episodes of The Simpsons. In the second act, the retelling has evolved into an oral tradition far from the original. By the third act, we’re eighty years removed from the apocalypse, and the story has become its own bizarre and surreal performance. I read Mr. Burns and saw the play in person years ago, but I still think about it and laugh. It might also somehow be a fairly accurate depiction of our post-apocalyptic world.

Mr. Burns

By Anne Washburn,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Mr. Burns as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

It's the end of everything in contemporary America. A future without power. But what will survive? Mr Burns asks how the stories we tell make us the people we are, explodes the boundaries between pop and high culture and, when society has crumbled, imagines the future for America's most famous family.


The End Is Always Near: Apocalyptic Moments, from the Bronze Age Collapse to Nuclear Near Misses

By Dan Carlin,

Book cover of The End Is Always Near: Apocalyptic Moments, from the Bronze Age Collapse to Nuclear Near Misses

Why this book?

Dan Carlin is here to get the facts straight. The wildly intelligent and passionate historian released this book while I was working on mine, and it was a great resource for me. I’d recommend it to anyone looking to educate themselves on how civilizations fail. Hint: We keep making the same mistakes again. Read this and break the pattern!

The End Is Always Near: Apocalyptic Moments, from the Bronze Age Collapse to Nuclear Near Misses

By Dan Carlin,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The End Is Always Near as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A journey back in time that explores what happened-and what could have happened-from creator of the wildly-popular podcast Hardcore History and 2019 winner of the iHeartRadio Best History Podcast Award.

Dan Carlin has created a new way to think about the past. His mega-hit podcast, Hardcore History, is revered for its unique blend of high drama, enthralling narration, and Twilight Zone-style twists. Carlin humanizes the past, wondering about things that didn't happen but might have, and compels his listeners to "walk a mile in that other guy's historical moccasins." A political commentator, Carlin approaches history like a magician, employing completely…


Encyclopaedia of Hell: An Invasion Manual for Demons Concerning the Planet Earth and the Human Race Which Infests It

By Martin Olson, Tony Millionaire (illustrator), Mahendra Singh (illustrator)

Book cover of Encyclopaedia of Hell: An Invasion Manual for Demons Concerning the Planet Earth and the Human Race Which Infests It

Why this book?

Big plans for the afterlife? Go prepared. Martin Olson’s Encyclopaedia of Hell and its sequel Encyclopaedia of Heaven can answer all your questions about God, the Devil, and whatever mess we’re currently stuck in. Every page is uniquely designed, entertaining, and beautifully illustrated. To remind you not to take the End so seriously, it satirizes the hell out of our world. Like my favorite things in life, it manages to be both dark and funny.

Encyclopaedia of Hell: An Invasion Manual for Demons Concerning the Planet Earth and the Human Race Which Infests It

By Martin Olson, Tony Millionaire (illustrator), Mahendra Singh (illustrator)

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Encyclopaedia of Hell as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A tour de force of darkness, Encyclopaedia of Hell is a manual of Earth written by Lord Satan for his invading hordes of demons, complete with hundreds of unpleasant illustrations, diagrams, and a comprehensive and utterly repulsive dictionary of Earth terms.

Since the customs and mores of humanity are alien and inconceivable to demons, Satan wrote this strangely poetic military handbook for the enlightenment and edification of his demon armies. A masterpiece expressing Satan's hatred for humanity and himself, the Encyclopaedia includes "Techniques of Stalking and Eating Humans," "Methods of Canning Human Pus," and "Dicing and Slicing Orphaned Children."

Why…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in survival, plagues, and the end times?

7,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about survival, plagues, and the end times.

Survival Explore 135 books about survival
Plagues Explore 32 books about plagues
The End Times Explore 29 books about the end times

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like A Journal of the Plague Year, Natural History of Infectious Disease, and Thucydides and the Shaping of History if you like this list.