Who doesn’t love to sit down with a post-apocalyptic book? While entertaining, plenty of books in the genre are a little too disconnected from reality to be useful. If you’re looking for a realistic post-apocalyptic book that has you considering situations that could really happen, or at least that has practical prepper ideas on top of a crazy scenario, I have a ton of recommendations for you.
I’ve divided this article up into series and stand-alone books so you won’t get wrapped up in a series if you don’t want to. Plus, if you already have a ton of post-apocalyptic books in your prepper library and you’ve heard of all the most famous, you may want to jump down to the last section of this article, where I have listed some newer realistic post-apocalyptic books.
Realistic Post-Apocalyptic Book Series
This series has a cult following among many of us because it really stands out as one of the best post-apocalypticnovels. James Wesley Rawles is a survivalist and former U.S. Army officer who lives off-grid and really knows what he’s talking about. His series focuses on hyperinflation and economic collapse, a scenario few authors touch. If you haven’t already, you really need to check it out. You may also be interested in reading Gaye’s interview with Rawles.
The series title is a little confusing; it starts with Patriots: A Novel of Survival in the Coming Collapse. The next few books are subtitled “A Novel of the Coming Collapse” and then “A Novel of the Coming Global Collapse.” Don’t ask me why you would change the sub-title twice in the same series.
Rawles has many inspirations, but one of the biggest is author Robert A Heinlein. While none of Heinlein’s books are quite post-apocalyptic, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress is really interesting for preppers, especially if you’re already a fan of Rawles (and, admittedly, I’m a huge fan of Heinlein too).
I mean, it takes place on the moon, but it involves homesteading, managing a small community of colonists, rebelling against the government, and much more.
If you think that an Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) scenario doesn’t get enough attention, this is the series for you. The first book, Axis of Evil, describes in quite realistic detail what would happen if the United States was attacked with an EMP. There are two strands in the book: one half is a political thriller in Washington, the other is practical life on a Texas farm.
Plus, you have to love the author’s preparedness mindset. He says, “I believe more of our young people need to lead a preparedness lifestyle. Studies show that our millennials do not have any of the basic survival skills. By writing this series free of vulgarities and gratuitous sexual innuendo, I’ve intended it to be suitable for everyone.”
Akart’s Blackout Series and other books are also worth checking out.
The first installment of this trilogy is a disturbingly real depiction of an EMP attack. The main character, John, is essentially flawless, but this book is more focused on how to deal with this situation than character development.
Those with medical conditions that make prepping tough will be interested in how John deals with his daughter’s diabetes. The second novel is One Year After and the third (which is the weakest of the series) is called The Final Day.
This series is highly recommended by everyone I’ve spoken to. The first book, Going Home is a little focused on gadgetry, but if that’s your kind of thing, you’ll be enthralled. The characters are simple, the plot is interesting, and the discussion of prepper strategy is top-notch and highly detailed. However, the writing is full of grammatical errors.
Everyone makes mistakes here or there, of course. But, the amount of errors in this book is distracting. By the way, there are a few different series called “the Survivalist Series,” but the one you want is by A. American (aka Chris Weatherman). You can also read Gaye’s interview with A. American.
The scope of the first novel in this series is a lot larger than other post-apocalyptic novels. The apocalypse is a combination of terrorist attacks and economic troubles. The series is deeply realistic but still infused with hope, which is a big relief if you’re used to the bleak books this genre has to offer. Like many others on this list, it could use some editing, but it’s not as messy as A American’s.
Fans of the zombie apocalypse genre who are looking for something a little more realistic than their usual fare will love this series. Book one, Incubation has a lot of speculative scientific explanation building up to the zombie reveal.
The science is paired with a fairly action-packed premise as the protagonist, biologist Dr. Brianna Lewis, is taken hostage by a group of terrorists. If you’d rather skip the science and get into the action, start with the second book, Outbreak. The downside of this series is the rather tortured romantic subplot.
Realistic Post-Apocalyptic Books that Stand Alone
Sometimes you don’t want to jump into a long book series. Plus, there are plenty of gems in the stand-alone post-apocalyptic world. You’ll find many of them were published in the 1950s and 60s when our genre first became popular. But, there are modern books to choose from too.
When you ask for realistic post-apocalyptic fiction, this is usually the first recommendation you’ll find. In my opinion, that’s not because it’s the most realistic book in the genre, but because it’s the one that book-lovers are most likely to have read (because it won a Pulitzer prize). In the book, a rather unspecific apocalypse has left the world bleak and resource-starved.
A man is trying to keep his son alive. I’ll try to avoid spoiling you here, but let’s just say that one food source depicted in the novel isn’t exactly a successful strategy. Despite that, there’s no denying that “The Road” is a fantastic book.
This novel takes place twenty years after a pandemic swept through the world. The primary character is in a traveling stage group that performs Shakespeare in various tiny towns—which are the only organization humanity has left.
The book concerns itself less with human survival and more with the survival of arts and culture, and therefore glosses over daily living to focus on the emotional consequences of living through an apocalypse.
Another historical gem, this one from 1949, “Earth Abides” will appeal to the prepper who intends to survive by themselves, or is interested in the idea. There are few characters, and our protagonist is quite capable.
The survival information may teach you a thing or two (though you should always confirm the info is correct and up to date before using it). However, many people dislike the main character in this one.
This book was published in 1960 but still rings true for the prepper crowd. It starts out with a depiction of the American southwest 600 years after a nuclear apocalypse. There, a group of monks is trying to preserve the knowledge from our society.
If you’re Catholic or know some Latin you’ll get even more out of the book. Otherwise, it paints an interesting picture of human nature and what trying to hold onto knowledge has looked like in human history, and might look like again.
Here is another perspective on a nuclear holocaust from last century, this one was published first in 1959. It feels much more modern than “A Canticle for Leibowitz,” and it focuses on the real survival concerns of the remaining humans.
All of the conflicts and concerns feel very real, and there are even some plot twists. It’s definitely one of my favorites. Just don’t buy the e-book version. Apparently, it is full of errors.
If you’re looking for something ultra-realistic, this book will fit the bill. A large comet hits off the coast of California and destroys civilization. The survivors worry about how to make it through winter, how to get along with other people, and so much more. It takes a while to start up (it was written in the 70s), and some characters may feel a little dated, but overall this is a top choice.
I should preface this by saying I’m a huge fan of all of Wyndham’s books, but you may find them hard to get into, seeing as they were written in 1950s England. But, this book offers a unique apocalyptic scenario, that isn’t exactly realistic but does create very realistic survival concerns. The main character has inside knowledge about the disaster that helps boost its realism and explains his survival.
Stephen King combines his usual mystical horror with a pandemic, created by the US government, that wipes out most of humanity. It starts off realistic and slow but hits a fast-paced, completely unreasonable place quickly.
Of course, your feelings for King’s writing will determine if you like this book or not. I’m not a fan, so perhaps I can’t do it justice. Here’s an opinion from a reviewer who liked it: “Stories don’t get much more epic than this, and King does a great job of depicting the meltdown of the world through the stories of a variety of relatable characters.”
New Realistic Post-Apocalyptic Books
This book is new for 2018 and will be part of a series, called “A Great State.” You might be worried about jumping into a series that isn’t yet finished, but this first book is full of promise. Protagonist Julie Atwood is a divorced single mom when the federal government cuts all funding to sanctuary states, including her home Oregon.
To deal with the chaos Julie becomes a stronger person, learning self-defense and other skills. If there’s a reluctant and/or female prepper in your midst, this would be a great gift.
There are two things I absolutely love about this book. First, it follows the Amish through the collapse of civilization, so the characters are actually prepared. Second, it asks how to deal with a violent group as peacefully as possible—a question that the prepper community so often considers.
After civilization collapses, those who are not Amish begin to encroach on Amish property out of desperation. Those who are prepared for long-term collapse will feel a real kindred spirit in the protagonist Jacob, farmer and father, and a real tension over whether Jacob will succeed in protecting his family.
The main strength of this book is its very unusual SHTF scenario: ticks are spreading a deadly disease, and a ring of burned Earth has been formed to keep them at bay. Beyond explaining this unique premise, there’s not much typical prepper content in this one.
It’s interesting, it feels real, but the primary characters are sight-seers, not survivalists. If you’re looking for an unusual thriller with plot twists, this is a good choice.
If you’re a fan of fantasy, you’ll appreciate this interesting mash-up of apocalypse and fairy tale. The scenario is absolutely unrealistic—all of the trees grow to century-old size overnight, ripping up all of the infrastructure in their path.
Those preppers who are concerned about human impact on the environment will find that this book has them reflecting on real-world questions, including how to survive in the brutal natural world. The downside is that the plot is quite slow, so only dig in if fantasy is your thing.
Get Your Read On!
Now you have enough reading material to keep you busy for a while, time to get your read on! Have you read any on the list already? Do you have any suggestions for the best shtf books that should make our list? Let us know in the comments below!