11 books to help prepare for our coming post-apocalyptic future

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11 books to help prepare for our coming post-apocalyptic future

Post-apocalypses are fun. We prepare for them – here’s looking at, you, Petey! – and we love to watch them unfold on The Walking Dead. But they’re not real and probably never will be. So why do we love them so much?

By reading them, we can pretend they really happened and when we’re done we can recall the signs and avoid them. I’ve been writing a post-apocalyptic book this year and thinking a lot about the future for my podcast, Technotopia, so here are 11 of the best books I’ve found on the coming dystopia that we’ve all been promised since the dawn of time and all of them offer advice on how to survive.


1984 by George Orwell

The go-to book about what happens when resistance is quashed. It’s a bit dated now – Orwell didn’t really foresee the Internet – but it’s a great palate cleanser to see how badly things could have gone if bureaucracy and not information had come to rule the day. Remember: when Orwell was writing the impetus of government and education was to reduce the flow of knowledge in order to simplify processes and to turn humans into numbers. We’ve gone in exactly in the opposite direction and turned humans into data. Read…


Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

Ray Bradbury was really good at describing the banality of evil. Everyone in this book makes sense – from the Firemen to the heroes – and the crystalline writing and beautiful imagery make this a masterpiece. Luckily no one can shut down dissenting thoughts these days, right? Read…


A Clockwork Orange

“Yarbles, bolshy great yarblockos to thee and thine.” Burgess writes about the death of a society and the withering of the mind due to an onslaught of the new. A Clockwork Orange is the kind of book that made a huge stir when it came out. Everyone in that era expected the worst and old ways were breaking apart. In this dystopia Russia becomes the defining cultural arbiter and violence becomes the language of the streets. Read…


The Sheep Look Up by John Brunner

Brunner is a hard nut to crack but well worth a look if you’d like to see where our heads were at in the 1960s and 1970s. It’s mostly about the environment – the US is falling into disrepair because of pollution and birth defects – but it’s still pertinent and interesting. Read…


Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood

I wasn’t sure which book to put here – this one or the Handmaid’s Tale – but generally Atwood writes about the horrors that await us with grace and glee. This is one of my favorite books by her and it features an almost whimsical take on the whole “end of the world” thing. Read...


The Road by Cormac McCarthy

A laugh riot! This bleak book features the love of a father and a son, cannibalism, and language that is wrought in titanium. If you have to only pick a single book from this list make it this one. Read…


The Plot Against America by Philip Roth

Roth’s alternative history posits what would happen if a famous racist with no political background, Charles Lindbergh, came to power at a time when America was most vulnerable. Roth recently spoke to the New Yorker about his book. “I wanted to imagine how we would have fared, which meant I had first to invent an ominous American government that threatened us,” he said, describing his goal to create an America that could never come to pass. Read…


The Dog Stars by Peter Heller

This was a sleeper hit of the decade. The Dog Stars was beautifully written, well-plotted, and except for a little bit of silliness near the end, really well done. It tells what happens when the world stops and we’re forced to kickstart it as best we can… and we find we can’t. Read…


Neuromancer by William Gibson

Want to know what happens when corporations run the world? Ninjas, AIs, and hackers happen. This is the seminal cyberpunk book and William Gibson is the best cyberpunk author. It predicted everything that’s happening right now and it only gets more prescient as time passes. Read…


Hope In The Dark by Rebecca Solnit

This book is about how to keep going in the face of adversity. It can help us all see that there is more than meets the eye when it comes to dire predictions. Read…


This Is Water by David Foster Wallace

Why is this in here? Because this book and Hope In The Dark are two books that should stop us from worrying about the apocalypse. Wallace writes from a place of hope and, even though he struggled mightily and failed, he found a way forward while he could.

He wrote:

Again, please don’t think that I’m giving you moral advice, or that I’m saying you’re “supposed to” think this way, or that anyone expects you to just automatically do it, because it’s hard, it takes will and mental effort, and if you’re like me, some days you won’t be able to do it, or you just flat- out won’t want to. But most days, if you’re aware enough to give yourself a choice, you can choose to look differently at this fat, dead-eyed, over-made- lady who just screamed at her little child in the checkout line — maybe she’s not usually like this; maybe she’s been up three straight nights holding the hand of her husband who’s dying of bone cancer, or maybe this very lady is the low-wage clerk at the Motor Vehicles Dept. who just yesterday helped your spouse resolve a nightmarish red-tape problem through some small act of bureaucratic kindness. Of course, none of this is likely, but it’s also not impossible — it just depends on what you want to consider. If you’re automatically sure that you know what reality is and who and what is really important — if you want to operate on your default-setting — then you, like me, will not consider possibilities that aren’t pointless and annoying. But if you’ve really learned how to think, how to pay attention, then you will know you have other options. It will actually be within your power to experience a crowded, loud, slow, consumer-hell-type situation as not only meaningful but sacred, on fire with the same force that lit the stars — compassion, love, the sub-surface unity of all things. Not that that mystical stuff’s necessarily true: The only thing that’s capital-T True is that you get to decide how you’re going to try to see it. You get to consciously decide what has meaning and what doesn’t. You get to decide what to worship…

We read post-apocalyptic books because we are sure they will not come to pass for simple reason that we won’t let them.