Get Ready: The Five Best Post-Apocalypse Books Not Written by Stephen King

Categories: Get Lit

It was the '70s, man.
The Rapture, as has been reported, is coming tomorrow morning. About this there is no doubt, according to some of the most influential and knowledgeable billboards in the nation.

Being bright-side-of-life kinda people, we've offered five terrific results to come from the apocalypse; now, to further assist your transition to the coming End Times, we provide the five best postapocalyptic books.

The type of apocalypse inflicted upon the world varies -- meteors, vampires, nuclear annihilation -- but the results tend to be the same: pretty grim. So enjoy!!

5. Lucifer's Hammer by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle
Easily the cheesiest book on the list, Lucifer's Hammer is entertaining for a number of reasons. Its first half -- the story of an approaching meteor and getting people to believe it's going to hit earth -- is a great time capsule of 1970s Los Angeles and the television news business at the time. The second half is what happens after the thing hits. It involves cannibalism and a fight over a nuclear plant.

4. On The Beach by Nevil Shute
The classic of the genre, if you prefer understatement to cannibalism. A nuclear war has wiped out much of the world's population; a cast of characters in Australia waits for the killing fallout cloud to reach them. Great scenes include a U.S. Navy sub, which had been Down Under when the event happened, traveling to view the emptiness of America's West Coast. This was turned into a solid, slightly stolid, movie starring Gregory Peck and Ava Gardner.

3. Alas, Babylon by Pat Frank
Like many modern readers, we were introduced to this when our kid was assigned it for school and told us it was pretty good. It is, to be sure. As in On the Beach, there are no zombie attacks and not much violence at all; the story concentrates on a small, isolated Florida town and how it reacts to the situation. An easy read, and well-done.

2. The Passage by Justin Cronin
All right, you say, enough with the understated character studies -- let's amp up the violence! The Passage, by Rice professor Justin Cronin, brings the carnage in spades, but it's more than just an action thriller. Military scientists (amazingly) botch experiments intended to incredibly strengthen soldiers, thereby unleashing a cadre of the living dead on the world. They quickly overrun American cities and force the few survivors into isolated camps where they try to survive with crossbows and all-night spotlights (the undead being more or less allergic to light). It sounds simplistic and cartoonish, but it's definitely of a higher quality than that and deserves its bestseller status.

1. The Road by Cormac McCarthy
Destined to replace Alas, Babylon on middle-school reading lists because of its readabiity and easy-to-discuss symbolism, The Road can also be appreciated on much deeper levels. What exactly wiped out most of earth's population is never specified, and danger comes from fellow humans and not vampires, but McCarthy's bold effort here is a rewarding experience. The movie's okay, but no match for the book.

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 Add me in for another vote on St. Leibowitz. Lucifer's Hammer is dishy fun, but MAN is it '70s-tastic. Plenty of usage of the word "honky", plenty of attacks on feminism - it's very definitely a thing of its time. (On the other hand, Ice Cream Sunday is pretty goddamn awesome.)

Also, thank you for reminding me that I need a new copy of Alas, Babylon. Mine's gone missing, and it's been too long since I last read it.


Yes, yes, yes...."A Canticle for Leibowitz" is not only one apocalypse, but how we never learn any lessons and do it all again....the best ever! 

Ryan Clark
Ryan Clark

Great list.  I would add to it Earth Abides by George R. Stewart, the first three novels in the Dies the Fire series by S.M. Stirling.   Honorable mentions for World Made By Hand by Howard Kunstler and The Pesthouse by Jim Crace. 

Seriously, though, A Canticle for Leibowitz should always be on these lists. 


I'm surprised you didn't think of "A Canticle for Leibowitz". Listen to the radioplay, if it's still available.

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