The War of the Worlds

By H.G. Wells,

Book cover of The War of the Worlds

Book description

But planet Earth was not only being watched - soon it would be invaded by monstrous creatures from Mars who strode about the land in great mechanical tripods, bringing death and destruction with them. What can possibly stop an invading army equipped with heat-rays and poisonous black gas, intent on…

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

Why read it?

12 authors picked The War of the Worlds as one of their favorite books. Why do they recommend it?

Although it is well over a hundred years old, this book is well worth your time to read.

Its insights into the nature of hostile First Contact are far from fictional. H.G. Wells was inspired to write this book after hearing of the genocide of Aborigines in Tasmania, where bounties were put on the heads of natives ($5 for a man, $1 for a child, nothing for women). As Australia was still a British colony at the time, there was a public backlash against the atrocities of these settlers.

This left H.G. Wells wondering what it would be like if…

This is a bit of a cheat too, because it’s not about us exploring space, it’s about creatures from space coming to Earth – in the classic tale of a Martian invasion.

Wells writes beautifully – and the book isn’t too long – but it’s maybe a bit much for readers of my book right now. I include it because I hope they’ll read it when they’re older. It had a big impact on me as a 10-year-old because the Martians land – and start their campaign of conquest and destruction – in the little corner of Surrey, England, where…

In his seminal science fiction masterwork, The War of the Worlds, H.G. Wells created one of the greatest opening sentences of all time. 

Complex, cerebral, and hyperbolic, it is timeless paranoia from the late Victorian era that resonates today more than ever. Here it is in all its purple prose and polysyllabic glory:

No one would have believed in the last years of the nineteenth century that this world was being watched keenly and closely by intelligences greater than man’s and yet as mortal as his own; that as men busied themselves about their various concerns they were scrutinized…

From Jay's list on thrillers that begin with a bang.

You might think this classic was written in the 1930s because of the panic-causing radio drama, but it was actually published in 1898.

How astounding it must have seemed back then, and the tale of Martians causing utter destruction has endured the test of time.

What stood out for me was the difficulty of disseminating information in the late nineteenth century, and the in-depth descriptions of the English landscape, the Martians, and their machines: “…vast spiderlike machines, nearly a hundred feet high, capable of the speed of an express train, and able to shoot out a beam of intense heat.”…

This steam-age portrayal of an alien invasion grabbed my attention when I was in grade school. The author’s description of burning cities and forests painted a picture of ecological horror in my imagination. The impact of that has stayed with me, so much so that I have included the ecological consequences of war in much of what I have written.

From Justin's list on the environmental impacts of war.

That great theme running through so much of sci-fi, alien invasion of the Earth, successful or otherwise, can trace its origins back to this Victorian classic, in which envious, highly advanced Martians launch an invasion of Earth from their dying planet. The novel draws on the cutting-edge science of the day. The American astronomer, Percival Lowell, had popularised the idea that there were canals on Mars, moving water from the poles to irrigate a desert planet. Less well known, perhaps, is that the novel’s denouement also displays a sophisticated understanding of germ theory.

I like this classic as an allegory of colonisation, imperialism, and exploitation, as seen from the viewpoint of the oppressed. War of the Worlds is a commentary on the excesses of empire. Ordinary people are tyrannised by ‘superior beings’; the only response is to flee, hide or covertly resist the superior strength of the invaders.

When all hope appears lost, the solution and relief from the problem occur through an unforeseen accident. Behind the apparent invincibility of an oppressor, a weakness will sometimes emerge, unexpected but beneficial, restoring order to a troubled world.

Many of the problems described in books…

From Owen's list on accessible first contact sci-fi.

When most people think about Orwell’s War of the Worlds, they rightfully think about invasion fiction. But what stands out to me as a food writer is how Orwell uses food—or the lack of access to it— to show us how quickly society would deteriorate in the event of an invasion—an alien invasion, in this case. One of the book’s most telling lines for a foodie like me was the last line of chapter 7. After having raced home to save himself from the invasion and to have dinner with his wife, the Narrator (who isn’t named in the…

What is more terrifying than an alien menace bent on eradicating humanity? One that won’t even say why they are doing it. To me, that’s the most striking thing about this book. In other alien invasion stories, an antagonist often has a particular bone to pick; there’s some failed diplomacy or other motives to make it clear why they are attacking. In War of the Worlds, they just show up and take over without a word. Then, it falls to ordinary people to fight back against or simply survive in the face of a technologically superior foe who won’t…

If you've only seen the movies, you may think you know this classic story. A few iconic scenes make it into every adaptation, but I recommend you read the book. I'm glad I did. This is immortal science fiction from the Victorian era, and remains surprisingly relevant today. Wells’ actual theme is fascinating: complacency is foolish and trusting the government to save you may be fatal.

The ending (which I bet you know, but just in case, I won't spoil it) is so basic to Earth, I've got to shake my head in awe. 

Want books like The War of the Worlds?

Our community of 10,000+ authors has personally recommended 100 books like The War of the Worlds.

Browse books like The War of the Worlds

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in Mars, space warfare, and war?

10,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about Mars, space warfare, and war.

Mars Explore 71 books about Mars
Space Warfare Explore 42 books about space warfare
War Explore 1,813 books about war