The most recommended disaster books

Who picked these books? Meet our 23 experts.

23 authors created a book list connected to disasters, and here are their favorite disaster books.
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What type of disaster book?


Shadowed Ground

By Kenneth E. Foote,

Book cover of Shadowed Ground: America's Landscapes of Violence and Tragedy

Harriet F. Senie Author Of Monumental Controversies: Mount Rushmore, Four Presidents, and the Quest for National Unity

From the list on reconsidering memorials.

Who am I?

I have been writing books on public art and memorials since the early 1990s and served on some major public commissions that select memorials and/or determine the fate of problematic memorials. These markers in our public spaces define who we are as a culture at a certain point in time, even though interpretations of them may evolve. They are our link to our history, express our present day values, and send a message to the future about who we are and what we value and believe in.

Harriet's book list on reconsidering memorials

Why did Harriet love this book?

Given the alarming number of recent deaths by gun violence it is especially illuminating to consider the various ways sites of violence have been commemorated.

Ranging from total disappearance, to informative plaques, and major memorials, communities have reckoned with the aftermath in radically different ways.

I loved this book because it made me think about the content of site - or rather the content we attribute to the ground - where something shocking happened, be it a mass shooting or any other tragic event. 

By Kenneth E. Foote,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Shadowed Ground as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Shadowed Ground explores how and why Americans have memorialized-or not-the sites of tragic and violent events spanning three centuries of history and every region of the country. For this revised edition, Kenneth Foote has written a new concluding chapter that looks at the evolving responses to recent acts of violence and terror, including the destruction of the Branch Davidian compound at Waco, Texas, the Oklahoma City bombing, the Columbine High School massacre, and the terrorist attacks of 9/11.

Everything in Its Path

By Kai T. Erikson,

Book cover of Everything in Its Path

Sharon L. Cohen Author Of Disaster Mental Health Community Planning: A Manual for Trauma-Informed Collaboration

From the list on helping individuals respond to traumatic events.

Who am I?

Sometimes you need to search for the next roads to take in your life; other times these roads approach you. I was looking for new ways to use my long-term communication and mental health advocacy skills and then, sadly, the Sandy Hook shooting occurred. I immediately wanted to help community members ease their pain and assist cities nationwide to greatly improve their disaster mental health response. I never expected a pandemic would arrive only two months after I published, making my book all the more important. Now climate change is exacerbating our already stressful times, and we must act to stem mental health issues before they become out of hand.  

Sharon's book list on helping individuals respond to traumatic events

Why did Sharon love this book?

This classic award-winning book is a must-read for anyone interested in traumatic events. Sociologist Kai Erikson was the first to equate a major disaster with individual and community upheaval, based on the 1976 Buffalo Creek dam flood. He details how this event traumatized individuals and caused a breakdown of community relationships and a rise in crime, unethical behavior, and major out-migration. Many of the emotional and social effects of disasters had not been discussed or treated when this book was written. Much has been learned since. However, Erikson stresses that many of the psychological and sociological problems continue to exist when calamities occur today and must be resolved. 

By Kai T. Erikson,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Everything in Its Path as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The 1977 Sorokin Award–winning story of Buffalo Creek in the aftermath of a devastating flood.

On February 26, 1972, 132-million gallons of debris-filled muddy water burst through a makeshift mining-company dam and roared through Buffalo Creek, a narrow mountain hollow in West Virginia. Following the flood, survivors from a previously tightly knit community were crowded into trailer homes with no concern for former neighborhoods. The result was a collective trauma that lasted longer than the individual traumas caused by the original disaster.

Making extensive use of the words of the people themselves, Erikson details the conflicting tensions of mountain life…


By Neal Stephenson,

Book cover of Seveneves

Ness Brown Author Of The Scourge Between Stars

From the list on sci-fi about space missions gone terribly wrong.

Who am I?

I am an astrophysicist with a passion for narratives that stare unflinchingly at the inherent hostility of outer space. Professionally, I study graduate astrophysics and research the ways high-energy celestial objects impact cosmic evolution. Creatively, I use my training to write science fiction horror exploring the spookiest things the universe has to offer. I particularly love stories that throw wrenches in the best-laid plans of star-faring protagonists, and will never get tired of a good old space mission gone terribly and tragically awry.

Ness' book list on sci-fi about space missions gone terribly wrong

Why did Ness love this book?

In Seveneves the crises start coming and never stop coming.

The sudden, inexplicable destruction of the Moon and the resultant catastrophic rain of debris destroys habitability on Earth. A small population of refugees escapes into space to keep the flame of humanity alight.

Naturally, the inhospitality of interplanetary space and conflicting factions of survivors plunges the journey into resource depletion, rampant cancer, attempted coups, and a population bottleneck, but I found that the ending concludes a surprising story of human connection, even when the definition of human has radically changed. 

By Neal Stephenson,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The astounding new novel from the master of science fiction.
President Barack Obama's summer reading choice and recently optioned by Ron Howard and IMAGINE to be made into a major motion picture.

What would happen if the world were ending?

When a catastrophic event renders the earth a ticking time bomb, it triggers a feverish race against the inevitable. An ambitious plan is devised to ensure the survival of humanity far beyond our atmosphere. But unforeseen dangers threaten the intrepid pioneers, until only a handful of survivors remain...

Five thousand years later, their progeny - seven distinct races now three…


By Sebastian Junger,

Book cover of Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging

Martin Pengelly Author Of Brotherhood: When West Point Rugby Went to War

From the list on brotherhood in war – and sports.

Who am I?

I played rugby union for Durham University and at Rosslyn Park FC in London. Then I became a reporter and editor, for Rugby News magazine and on Fleet Street sports desks. In March 2002, six months after 9/11 and a year before the invasion of Iraq, my Park team played against the cadets of the United States Military Academy. Years later, settled in New York, I decided to find out what happened to those West Point rugby players in the 9/11 wars, and what their experiences might tell us about sports, war, brotherhood, loss, and remembrance.

Martin's book list on brotherhood in war – and sports

Why did Martin love this book?

Junger wrote War, about Afghanistan. But as I found the West Point rugby players’ stories wouldn’t leave me alone, so Junger stayed with those he found in Kunar province.

In Tribe, he considers the ties that bind – notably a focus on the “energy of male conflict and male closeness”. Junger “once asked a combat vet if he’d rather have an enemy or another close friend”. The vet looked at Junger like he was crazy. “‘Oh, an enemy, 100%,’ he said. ‘I’ve already got a lot of friends.’

He thought about it a little longer. ‘Anyway, all my best friends I’ve gotten into fights with – knock-down, drag-out fights. Granted we were always drunk, but think about that.’ He shook his head as if even he couldn’t believe it.”

By Sebastian Junger,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked Tribe as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From the author of THE PERFECT STORM and WAR comes a book about why men miss war, why Londoners missed the Blitz, and what we can all learn from American Indian captives who refused to go home.

Tribe is a look at post-traumatic stress disorder and the challenges veterans face returning to society. Using his background in anthropology, Sebastian Junger argues that the problem lies not with vets or with the trauma they've suffered, but with the society to which they are trying to return.

One of the most puzzling things about veterans who experience PTSD is that the majority…

The Resilience Dividend

By Judith Rodin,

Book cover of The Resilience Dividend: Being Strong in a World Where Things Go Wrong

A.H. Hay Author Of Before the Storm: Exploring Protection Planning and Security Integration

From the list on operational resilience and why it's important.

Who am I?

I practised risk, resilience, and protection of infrastructure systems for 35 years. Mid-career, I became frustrated that we could deliver highly successful projects yet didn't deliver their ultimate purpose. This difference is particularly pronounced in war zones and the developing world, where most of my work has been. My research at the University challenged what I knew: it was as if someone had taken my heuristic understanding and cast the components like a pack of cards into the wind. I have shared some highlights in my journey to gather the cards. I hope you like them.

A.H.'s book list on operational resilience and why it's important

Why did A.H. love this book?

Judith Rodin is one of the more extraordinary influencers of resilience thought and practice. As President of the Rockefeller Foundation, she oversaw the 100 Resilient Cities initiative. The initiative may not have been as "sticky" as many hoped, but the lessons from this experience continue to inform and spur action in cities worldwide. This book gives us a sense of her thinking and vision in driving the initiative. It does not hold all the answers, and many take issue with her perspective. Nonetheless, it is a must-read for anyone thinking about protecting our cities. In an ideal world, I'd love to see Judith Rodin write the next book with Juliette Kayyem, former US Assistant Secretary of Homeland Security, drawing on all that we've experienced over the last tumultuous decade. 

By Judith Rodin,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Building resilience,the ability to bounce back more quickly and effectively,is an urgent social and economic issue. Our interconnected world is susceptible to sudden and dramatic shocks and stresses: a cyber-attack, a new strain of virus, a structural failure, a violent storm, a civil disturbance, an economic blow. Through an astonishing range of stories, Judith Rodin shows how people, organizations, businesses, communities, and cities have developed resilience in the face of otherwise catastrophic challenges: Medellin, Colombia, was once the drug and murder capital of South America. Now it's host to international conferences and an emerging vacation destination. Tulsa, Oklahoma, cracked the…

The Swimmers

By Marian Womack,

Book cover of The Swimmers

Una Mccormack Author Of Star Trek: Picard: Second Self

From the list on speculative fiction crackling with feminist themes.

Who am I?

I’m a science fiction writer who loves my chosen genre for the promises it makes for the worlds that we can have—and the warnings that it offers for the worlds that might be ours if we don’t take care. I’ve picked books for people who like their thinking to be challenged, and who also long for the world to be a much better place. These are the kinds of books I love to readand the kinds of books I try to write. 

Una's book list on speculative fiction crackling with feminist themes

Why did Una love this book?

Earth has suffered devastating environmental collapse and is now a world of jungles and monsters. The last remnants of humanity are split between those clinging to the surface, and those who have removed themselves to the upper atmosphere. We follow Pearl, living in an isolated forest region, suddenly taken to the stars. A vivid and luscious reimagining of Jean Rhys’ Wide Sargasso Sea

By Marian Womack,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

"A richly imagined eco-gothic tale." - The Guardian

"Exquisitely realised." - The Times

After the ravages of the Green Winter, Earth is a place of deep jungles and monstrous animals. The last of the human race is divided into surface dwellers and the people who live in the Upper Settlement, a ring perched at the edge of the Earth s atmosphere.

Bearing witness to this divided planet is Pearl, a young techie with a thread of shuvani blood, who lives in the isolated forests of Gobari, navigating her mad mother and the strange blue light in the sky. But Pearl…

A Paradise Built in Hell

By Rebecca Solnit,

Book cover of A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disaster

Daniel P. Aldrich Author Of Building Resilience: Social Capital in Post-Disaster Recovery

From the list on the importance of community during disasters.

Who am I?

We moved to New Orleans in July 2005. We had six weeks in our first home, filling it with furniture, buying a new car, and taking advantage of my first job. When Hurricane Katrina collapsed the levees holding back the nearby lakes, our home – and those of 80% of the city – filled with water. As I waited for FEMA and insurance to help us, I saw instead it was our friends, friends of friends, and faith-based organizations that helped us get back on our feet. Using our own experiences as a start, I traveled to India and Japan to study how communities around the world survived and thrived during shocks. 

Daniel's book list on the importance of community during disasters

Why did Daniel love this book?

We have all seen disaster movies and TV shows with people screaming and running around as the earthquake, tsunami, or Godzilla strikes. But Rebecca Solnit argues instead that normal people don’t panic during disasters – it is the elite, the wealthy, and the decision-makers who lose their minds. For normal people, altruism and mutual aid help all of us get through shocks, whether fire, car accident or COVID19. Her writing is excellent and she uses examples across time and space, ranging from the San Francisco earthquake at the start of the 20th century to the Mexico City earthquake at its end.

By Rebecca Solnit,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked A Paradise Built in Hell as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"The freshest, deepest, most optimistic account of human nature I've come across in years."
-Bill McKibben

The most startling thing about disasters, according to award-winning author Rebecca Solnit, is not merely that so many people rise to the occasion, but that they do so with joy. That joy reveals an ordinarily unmet yearning for community, purposefulness, and meaningful work that disaster often provides. A Paradise Built in Hell is an investigation of the moments of altruism, resourcefulness, and generosity that arise amid disaster's grief and disruption and considers their implications for everyday life. It points to a new vision of…

The Disaster Diaries

By Sam Sheridan,

Book cover of The Disaster Diaries: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Apocalypse

Christopher J. Lynch Author Of Dark State

From the list on electrical grid vulnerabilities and our survival.

Who am I?

I worked as an industrial electrician for over two decades. At one point during a meeting to discuss an upcoming project, a question was posed about the delivery time of a specific piece of equipment. When the answer was given that it would be about a year away, it got me thinking: what if a specialized piece of equipment—critical to the grid and with an equally long lead time—was destroyed, how would the grid survive? More importantly; how would we survive? That single statement was the spark that ignited the fire in me to learn all about the grid, and to write Dark State.   

Christopher's book list on electrical grid vulnerabilities and our survival

Why did Christopher love this book?

I first heard of The Disaster Diaries from an interview with author Sam Sheridan. While not a book strictly related to a grid failure, it was still about disaster and surviving the breakdown of societal norms. 

What was so amazing about the book—and something that endeared the author to me, was his humility regarding his own lack of preparedness. Here was a man who had been an EMT, a mixed martial arts fighter, a fire-fighter, and a cowboy, and yet he still didn’t feel prepared enough to survive a disaster!

What follows is a unique journey as he learns stunt driving, knife fighting, even how to steal a car, all to help him prepare for “The Big One.” 

By Sam Sheridan,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Sam Sheridan has been an amateur boxer, mixed-martial-arts fighter, professional wilderness firefighter, EMT, sailor, and cowboy, and has worked in construction at the South Pole. If he isn't ready for the apocalypse, we're all in a lot of trouble.

Despite an arsenal of skills that would put most of us to shame, when Sam had his son and settled down, he was beset with nightmares about being unable to protect him. Apocalyptic images filled his head. If a rogue wave hit his beach community, could he get out? If he was forced outside the city, could he survive in the…

The Unthinkable

By Amanda Ripley,

Book cover of The Unthinkable: Who Survives When Disaster Strikes - and Why

Damon P. Coppola Author Of Introduction to International Disaster Management

From the list on expanding your thinking on disaster risk management.

Who am I?

As a professional emergency and risk management practitioner, I’ve spent my career supporting and shaping emergency management policy and practice in every context from the village to global levels. What I’ve found to be most rewarding are those opportunities where I’ve been able to translate this knowledge and practice into training the next generation of emergency managers. The textbooks I’ve written, which include the first comprehensive book on emergency management (Introduction to Emergency Management, currently in its 7th edition) and the first book on homeland security in the United States (Introduction to Homeland Security, currently in its 6th Edition), are currently in use at hundreds of universities worldwide.

Damon's book list on expanding your thinking on disaster risk management

Why did Damon love this book?

This is the obvious recommendation, but a ‘must read’ nonetheless. 

Whereas Cialdini’s text focuses on our response to messaging (on risk or otherwise), Ripley’s book focuses on our response to the incident itself (…and so where the former leaves off, the latter picks up).

The Unthinkable gives readers a deep look into our own psyche to prepare us for how we are likely to response when faced with physical or mortal danger. Nobody knows exactly how they will respond in a high-hazard incident because so many instinctual processes take over.

But as Ripley so effectively explains, it is possible to know what these phenomena look like so that when we are experiencing them we can adjust accordingly to be more effective responders.

Amanda Ripley’s approachable journalistic style effectively turns a collection of meaningful risk management messages into a hard-to-put-down page-turner. 

By Amanda Ripley,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Have you ever wondered how you would react to a disaster? Do you think you would be paralysed with fear, like the diplomat who froze, drink still in hand, as terrorists invaded the Dominican Republic's embassy in Colombia in 1980? Or might you find yourself pretending it hadn't happened, like the 9/11 survivor whose first instinct on feeling the shockwaves of the plane crashing into her building was to stay put? Or then again might you suddenly find hidden strengths in yourself, like Joe Stiley, who not only escaped from a dreadful plane wreck, but also managed to survive thirty…

Book cover of Spy Secrets That Can Save Your Life: A Former CIA Officer Reveals Safety and Survival Techniques to Keep You and Your Family Protected

Cat Connor Author Of [Whiskey Tango Foxtrot]

From the list on to relive the 70’s if you’re surrounded by spies.

Who am I?

Crime and espionage are a lifelong fascination for me. I used to think my dad was a spy when I was young because he didn’t talk about work. Turned out he didn’t think I’d be interested in his day as a Quantity Surveyor, my Grandad was a LEO so talking about work wasn’t really a thing. Or they were both spies. Over the years I have made some good friends in the espionage community and various policing agencies and they’re kind enough to share their expertise with me. I’m a big fan of fast-moving stories with intricate plots and action and hopefully they'll draw you in as well. I hope you enjoy the books.

Cat's book list on to relive the 70’s if you’re surrounded by spies

Why did Cat love this book?

As a writer of a Spy/PI series, this book is super helpful. It’s also good for personal security and I do recommend you get it and read it.

Because of this book, I listen to my gut a lot more when I’m out. I do have a tactical pen on my person whenever I leave home and it is one of the few things that you can have in your handbag on an airplane.
It’s an easy read and you can use it as a reference book like I do. If you want to know how to disappear you can find out just how hard that is in a world where cameras are everywhere. 

By Jason Hanson,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Spy Secrets That Can Save Your Life as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The New York Times bestseller that reveals the safety, security, and survival techniques that 99% of Americans don’t know—but should

When Jason Hanson joined the CIA in 2003, he never imagined that the same tactics he used as a CIA officer for counter intelligence, surveillance, and protecting agency personnel would prove to be essential in every day civilian life.

In addition to escaping handcuffs, picking locks, and spotting when someone is telling a lie, he can improvise a self-defense weapon, pack a perfect emergency kit, and disappear off the grid if necessary. He has also honed his “positive awareness”—a heightened…