The best books about societal collapse

1 authors have picked their favorite books about societal collapse and why they recommend each book.

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The Road

By Cormac McCarthy,

Book cover of The Road

What if the world as we know it came to an end? And what if you had a child to care for in this new merciless land? I'd just become a father when I picked up this book after hearing all the buzz about the novel. A story about a father and son traveling through an apocalyptic world: I read it in one night. The story is heartbreaking and unforgettable. And that's what great stories are supposed to do—they make you feel and bring out unexpected emotions. Author Cormac McCarthy is a master of doing just that.


Who am I?

I love reading and writing "what if" stories. When I came up with the idea for my book, I thought, that's one whopper of an idea. Then I thought, how the heck will I pull this off? An elite military unit sent back in time to when Jesus walked the earth. And one of the members of the unit decides to save Christ. With that crazy concept, the result is my book Save Him, which has won seven writing awards as I write this. As a kid, I always tried to tell the best stories around the campfire, and I guess that's what I'm still trying to do now.


I wrote...

Save Him

By William M. Hayes,

Book cover of Save Him

What is my book about?

Save Him is a seven-time award-winning what-if novel that leaves readers on the edge of their seats.

The book involves a brilliant scientist who accidentally discovers time travel while working from a military base on a project designed to save wounded soldiers in the field. His sister, a nun, tells him that she has received a message from God telling him to go back in time to save Jesus from the cross. Crazy right? I love what-if novels and I’ve gone out of my way to give this one the biggest wow factor possible.

The Collapse of Complex Societies

By Joseph Tainter,

Book cover of The Collapse of Complex Societies

Tainter makes a powerful and almost irrefutable case for complexity as the key to understanding both the rise and the fall of civilizations. In essence, complexity builds and builds until it is no longer manageable, so collapse ensues. That Tainter does not sufficiently appreciate the role that ecological limits, physical constraints, moral decline, and practical bungling can also play in the process does not detract from the power and utility of his argument. For these latter factors, see my own Immoderate Greatness.


Who am I?

William Ophuls served as a Foreign Service Officer in Washington, Abidjan, and Tokyo before receiving a PhD in political science from Yale University in 1973. His Ecology and the Politics of Scarcity published in 1977 laid bare the ecological, social, and political challenges confronting modern industrial civilization. It was honored by the Kammerer and Sprout awards. After teaching briefly at Northwestern University, he became an independent scholar and author. He has since published a number of works extending and deepening his original argument, most prominently Requiem for Modern Politics in 1997, Plato’s Revenge: Politics in the Age of Ecology in 2011, and Immoderate Greatness: Why Civilizations Fail in 2013.


I wrote...

Electrifying the Titanic: The Shipwreck of Industrial Civilisation

By William Ophuls,

Book cover of Electrifying the Titanic: The Shipwreck of Industrial Civilisation

What is my book about?

Innumerable warnings, growing increasingly dire as the years have rolled by, have failed to motivate peoples and nations to take the emerging ecological crisis as seriously as it warrants. What is worse, they have chosen exactly the wrong strategy for dealing with the crisis: instead of remodeling their societies and economies in accordance with ecological imperatives, they are trying to maintain business as usual by substituting solar electricity for fossil fuels. But refitting the Titanic with batteries, even if it were possible at this late date, will not avoid ecological shipwreck.

As a result, we stand on the precipice of radical change, change that threatens to end both the modern way of life and the long period of relative peace since the end of World War II. This work explores the limitations of the human mind that have prevented timely human action and reveals the bleak landscape of the future that our failure to act has now made all but inevitable. 

Earth Abides

By George R. Stewart,

Book cover of Earth Abides

Global pandemics are far more enjoyable to read about than to live through. Probably the most influential novel about a pandemic is Earth Abides, written way back in 1949. The main character, Isherwood Williams, is bitten by a rattlesnake while out in the Sierra Nevada mountains in the west of the USA. After recovering from this, he returns to civilization only to discover that civilization no longer exists because a plague has spread across the world, killing much of the population. The initial chapters of this book are wonderfully evocative and terrifying. Though I must admit that I found the later chapters, when small bands of people try to rebuild society, a bit dull. That’s one of the odd things about this type of fiction – the worse things get, the more fun they are to read about!


Who am I?

“We had to put our money into bowls of vinegar,” my Aunty Mary once told me, “because they thought we’d infect them.” It’s hard to believe that this happened in living memory but in the early 1960s, smallpox came to the Rhondda valleys of South Wales where my family lived. Patients were put into a local isolation hospital. When people from the valleys went to the capital city, Cardiff, some shop-owners insisted that any coins were put into vinegar – a supposed ‘cure’ for the plague that dates back to the Middle Ages. Is it any wonder that I grew up with a fascination for the end of civilization as we know it?


I wrote...

The Snow: A Post-Apocalyptic Survival Thriller

By Huw Collingbourne,

Book cover of The Snow: A Post-Apocalyptic Survival Thriller

What is my book about?

It came with the snow. Overnight the world changed. Bodies lie unburied. Gangs of bestial semi-humans roam the streets hunting for prey. But for one man, the end was a new beginning. Snowbound, in an isolated cottage, Jonathan Richards wakes from illness to discover that the world he knew has gone. He sets out on a perilous journey across Britain, searching for safety – but finding only death, destruction, and danger.

The Snow takes you into a post-apocalyptic world where survival is the only goal. But survival at what cost?

Teeth and Tongue Landscape

By Carlton Mellick III,

Book cover of Teeth and Tongue Landscape

This is a truly bizarre novel that can be read in one sitting, but it’s worth every page. Dripping with creativity, this book is a tour of a truly imaginative world unlike anything else I’ve read. The characters and locations will stick with you long after you finish it and the loss the main character feels resonates in a way you’ll never expect. 


Who am I?

Books that make me feel uncomfortable are usually the ones that have stuck with me most over the years. There’s just something so alluring to me about an author who can effectively bring out that feeling in readers. When I started writing stories, I wanted to make my readers squirm – I wanted to layer the guts and gore with underlying psychological themes that made the violence and trauma that much more impactful. These books that I mentioned acted almost as study guides on how to blend shocking violence with themes of loneliness, depression, and rage. If you layer these correctly, you’re going to effectively be able to make your reader uncomfortable and your stories memorable.  


I wrote...

The Third Parent

By Elias Witherow,

Book cover of The Third Parent

What is my book about?

No one knows where he came from. No one knows what he wants. No one dares ask about his strange physical abnormalities. For a quiet suburban neighborhood, things are about to change. And it starts with a knock at the door. Follow his rules. Don't call the police. Listen to his lessons. That's what Jack and his family were told. Held captive in their own house, they must face a growing storm of mental and physical trauma as they try to just stay alive.

But even if Jack can survive the horror of his childhood, will his tormentor ever leave him alone? And who is he really? Who is Tommy Taffy?

Bats of the Republic

By Zachary Thomas Dodson,

Book cover of Bats of the Republic: An Illuminated Novel

Bats of the Republic is by far one of the most engaging, unique reading experiences I have ever had the delight to enjoy. The breathtaking art decorating every page (and I do mean every page, from the copyright page to the back of the dust jacket) enhances a deep and intriguing story.

One of my favorite parts of this book is that every piece of writing you encounter comes from one of the characters in the story. This makes for a completely immersive experience as you flip through maps, examine drawings of new animal species, and even uncover a few secret messages. Dodson’s incredible art and one-of-a-kind narrative style create a complex, deep world that I couldn’t help but fall in love with.


Who am I?

I’ve been reading and writing stories for as long as I can remember—and the weird ones have always been my favorite. I discovered many of my favorite books by wandering into my local library, telling the librarian about my strange reading interests, and allowing them to set me up with literary masterpieces of the most unusual kind. Once I knew how to bend the rules of genre and form to create something original, I took to creating my own weird stories, and have been doing so ever since in my novels, short stories, D&D characters, and bedtime stories for my bird.


I wrote...

Wyrforra (Wyrforra Wars)

By McKenna Miller,

Book cover of Wyrforra (Wyrforra Wars)

What is my book about?

When an army of unknown invaders attack, the United States - and perhaps the whole world - finds itself woefully unprepared. The deadliest part of the planet-wide assault is not how swift and ruthless the attackers are, but rather the fear that these people aren't quite human.

For a thrilling ride on a post-apocalyptic emotional rollercoaster, dive into Wyrforra and see if humanity is ready for a global attack from within.

Primitives

By Erich Krauss,

Book cover of Primitives

This novel takes place thirty years after a disease has reduced most of the human population to a primitive state. A thriller with exceptional action scenes and tension, the novel features two converging plotlines that are quests through South America and the southern United States when it is almost devoid of uninfected humans. As with a lot of post-apocalyptic novels the real villains of the story are other humans—their greed and need for control. While this book came out two years after mine, it resonated with me. The themes of trust run strong in both our novels, as well as lengthy stretches of landscape without any humans. 


Who am I?

I’ve clocked so many hours on Fallout 3 and New Vegas (and, less so, on Fallout 4) that it’s disgusting, but my real love of wastelands began with T.S. Eliot. His poem (The Waste Land), with its evocative imagery, fascinated me in university. While not about a literal wasteland, it inspired me to seek out stories of that vein. I even have a tattoo with a line from it! What Branches Grow was the focus of my grad certificate in creative writing and has won two awards. I am a book reviewer, writer at PostApocalypticMedia.com, and the author of the Burnt Ship space opera trilogy. 


I wrote...

What Branches Grow

By T.S. Beier,

Book cover of What Branches Grow

What is my book about?

Thirty-five years ago, the world was ravaged by war. Delia, driven from her home in Savannah by loss, travels north in search of a future. Gennero is tortured by his violent past and devotion to his hometown. Ordered to apprehend Delia, he follows her into the post-apocalyptic landscape. The wasteland is rife with dangers for those seeking to traverse it: homicidal raiders, dictatorial leaders, mutated humans, and increasingly violent and hungry wildlife.

An adventure with no-holds-barred action, strange towns, a slow-burn love story, moments of introspection, a Millennial in his 60s, and a survivalist pug, What Branches Grow is an unflinching depiction of life after civilization, where, above all else, trust is the hardest thing to achieve and give.

Autumn

By David Moody,

Book cover of Autumn

Autumn is a two-stage apocalypse story that spills out the horror of the world ending from a mysterious infection, followed up by a second, species-crushing wave of terror as the dead return to life to finish the job the infection began. Autumn is dark, and brutal, and is an older book in the genre, but a refreshing take on the trope of zombies. It’s filled with beautiful imagery and characters with depth and runs into a six-book series.


Who am I?

Chris Philbrook spent almost two decades figuring out he didn’t want to use his business degree for business, and his psychology degree for mental health. Instead, he started writing books about zombies, several of which went on to hit bestseller status, and life has been far better as a result. He has authored over 25 books now, spanning multiple genres.


I wrote...

Dark Recollections: Adrian's Undead Diary Book One

By Chris Philbrook,

Book cover of Dark Recollections: Adrian's Undead Diary Book One

What is my book about?

Dark Recollections follows a middle-aged man named Adrian Ring. Adrian wakes up to the sound of a shotgun going off just outside his condo, and things don’t get better as the day goes on. People have started dying, but they aren’t staying that way, and Adrian soon finds himself desperately fighting for survival, and figuring out what the future could possibly hold in a world overrun by pure evil.

Riddley Walker

By Russell Hoban,

Book cover of Riddley Walker

This novel is set a couple of millennia after the apocalyptic event in what is currently the English county of Kent. It is narrated by the title character in a form of pidgin English that’s difficult to come to grips with. It took me a few goes to get into this book, but am I glad I did.

Riddley’s narration employs phrases like ‘suching waytion’ (situation) and ‘catwl twis’ (catalyst). Neither prose nor dialogue are easy to understand at first, but the perseverant reader grows accustomed to the strangeness of the language. They find themselves so absorbed in the richness and quirkiness and heart-rending awfulness of Hoban’s future world, their earlier struggles are quickly forgotten. This tale haunted me long after I’d finished it. It still does.


Who am I?

Many years ago, I sat down in front of the TV with my dad and watched a film called The Omega Man. I remember how thrilled I felt seeing Charlton Heston enter a department store and pick out any clothes he fancied without having to pay for them. I imagined walking down a deserted high street, calling into shops (usually toy or sweet shops—I was nine), and simply helping myself. A few years later, I watched the BBC TV series The Survivors. It was grey, gritty, and downright miserable, but cemented my love of the genre. It was inevitable that one day I would write my own apocalyptic tale.


I wrote...

The Cleansing: Earth Haven: Book 1

By Sam Kates,

Book cover of The Cleansing: Earth Haven: Book 1

What is my book about?

Seven billion people inhabit this planet in blissful ignorance of imminent annihilation. Destruction comes, not from meteors or nuclear holocaust, but from a source no one even knows exists.

A handful of survivors—traumatised, bewildered—must come to terms with the new reality. And quickly. For the Cleansing is only the beginning . . .

Fever

By Deon Meyer, K.L. Seefers (translator),

Book cover of Fever

South African author Deon Meyer is, in my opinion, the best crime writer in the world. Most of his books are detective stories set in Cape Town, but Fever was a radical departure for him. As an author, I know how important it is for me to keep myself engaged and interested in my writing and not become stale. Deon shook up his readership with this tale of a fictional pandemic (written before Covid 19) and its impact on South Africa. Brilliant and scary and top marks to Deon for leaping out of his comfort zone.


Who am I?

I'm an Australian who fell in love with Africa in my 30s. I've now written 20 thrillers set in Africa and several non-fiction biographies. My wife and I have travelled extensively on the continent and now spend at least half our lives in Africa, and the remainder in Australia. I'm passionate about Africa's people, wildlife, and fragile natural environment. While my books focus on some of the continent's problems – especially the illegal trade in wildlife – I'm a sucker for a happy ending and find no shortage of positive, inspirational people on my travels who serve as the inspiration for the good guys and girls in my stories. 


I wrote...

Blood Trail

By Tony Park,

Book cover of Blood Trail

What is my book about?

Evil is at play in a South African game reserve. A rhino poacher vanishes into thin air, defying logic, and baffling ace tracker Mia Greenaway. Meanwhile, Captain Sannie van Rensburg is investigating the disappearance of two young girls who locals fear have been abducted for use in sinister traditional medicine practices.

But poachers are also employing witchcraft, paying healers for potions they believe will make them invisible. When a tourist goes missing, Mia and Sannie must work together to confront their own demons - which challenges everything they believe in - while following a bloody trail that seems to vanish at every turn.

The Year of the Flood

By Margaret Atwood,

Book cover of The Year of the Flood

The second installment in Atwood’s MaddAddam trilogy, following the dystopian blockbuster Oryx and Crake, proved to be my favorite. Perhaps that’s because the story largely follows the travails of Toby, a fascinating, multi-faceted woman who’s holed up in an erstwhile luxury spa at the end of the world, musing on her recent past as a member of the hippie religious cult God’s Gardeners. Toby is a brilliant and wry guide through this thoroughly immersive ruined world, and Atwood keeps readers on the edge of their seats as we wait to find out what’s left to salvage for the survivors of the waterless flood. 


Who am I?

Increasingly, the fiction I’m most drawn to occupies the space between literary and speculative. This space fascinates me both as a reader and a writer. I love stories set in worlds shifted ever-so-slightly from the familiar, where characters are forced to navigate new ways of existing or find ways to escape. Perhaps that’s why so many of my favorite stories—and my first two novels!—tend to feature women in cults or other cloistered communities, caught between their desire for belonging and the potential annihilation of the self. Where do you excavate for happiness in a hostile world? My characters spend their lives trying to answer this question. 


I wrote...

Disaster's Children

By Emma Sloley,

Book cover of Disaster's Children

What is my book about?

Disaster’s Children tells the story of Marlo, raised in a privileged community of wealthy survivalists on an idyllic, self-sustaining Oregon ranch. The outside world, which the ranchers call "the Disaster," is a casualty of ravaging climate change, a troubled landscape on the brink of catastrophe. For as long as Marlo can remember, the unknown that lies beyond the borders of her utopia has been a curious obsession. But just as she plans her escape into the chaos of the real world, a charismatic new resident gives her a compelling reason to stay. And, soon enough, a reason to doubt--and to fear--his intentions. Now, feeling more and more trapped in a paradise that's become a prison, Marlo has a choice: stay in the only home she's ever known—or break away.

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