Many people think that books about nuclear war are the foundations of post-apocalyptic fiction, which is why so many people read these books. After all, it was the start of the nuclear age that put the possibility of a disaster right in front of people’s minds. At that time, total atomic annihilation seemed like it was just a button-push away. This “golden age” of post-apocalyptic fiction is when some of the best stories in the genre were written, like Nevil Shute’s On the Beach and James Morrow’s This is the Way the World Ends. For your nuclear fix, I’m going to show you 10 of the best books about nuclear war.
Alas, Babylon – Pat Frank
Pat Frank’s classic post-apocalyptic novel was one of the first “nuclear age” books to talk about the terrible effects of nuclear war. It is still one of the most important stories in the genre today.
As the Soviet Union goes to war with the United States, people in the small town of Fort Repose watch. The story’s main character starts to worry about his brother’s safety when he sees nearby military bases disappear in a flash. Alas Babylon is one of the best-known books about nuclear war, and for good reason. It follows a small group of people as they try to make sense of life after Armageddon.
This Is the Way the World Ends – James Morrow
Bold words at this time: Many books have been written about nuclear war, but “This is the Way the World Ends” is my favorite. JamesMorrow is able to make a book that’s both a heartbreaking story about a father’s love for his daughter and a powerful look at the absurdities of nuclear war. This is the Way the World Ends is a stark reminder that we all play a role in protecting the world for future generations; and when the world ends in nuclear fire, we’re all to blame.
A Canticle for Leibowitz – Walter M Miller
The idea that religion can find new strength in the power vacuum left by nuclear war has been used a lot in the post-apocalyptic genre. Walter Miller’s classic novel, A Canticle for Leibowitz, is the best place to see this idea used.
The story is about how the Catholic church grew after an event called The Flame Deluge. Because of their naivety and desire to progress, the people who live on Earth now could be condemned to repeat the mistakes of their predecessors.
A Gift Upon the Shore – MK Wren
Nuclear Armageddon is etched into the minds of the characters in MK Wren’s post-apocalyptic classic. They are determined to keep the few scraps of knowledge they have and set out to save the Western world’s great books. They get into a fight with a group of religious fundamentalists who want to get rid of the information that led to the Earth’s downfall.
People who are religious “Arkites” agree to take in the few people who are left after a plague wipes out their entire population. In the process, they start the wheels of an unlikely friendship moving forward.
Swan Song – Robert McCammon
There are a lot of stories in these books about nuclear war that make you sad and think about what will happen when you die. But Swan Song takes an entirely different tone.
He is one of the best at writing scary stories. Swan Song is an epic story about survival after a war, and it comes from Robert McCammon, one of the best writers of horror. We follow an unlikely friendship as they make their way across the ruins of post-apocalyptic America. In the process, they meet the Man of Many Faces, and evil itself, as well as the Man of Many Faces himself. Swan Song is McCammon’s best work. The comparisons to Stephen King’s epic The Stand are right on the money.
On the Beach – Nevil Shute
On the Beach is about a group of people who live in Melbourne, Australia, which was one of the few places that didn’t get hit by last year’s nuclear war.
Not only that, but the protagonists of Nevil Shute’s classic post-apocalyptic novel have to watch their fate roll slowly and inexorably toward them as a cloud of fallout moves closer to the continent. This is what happens to them. The story is about how each person deals with their own death, and it gives a deep look into the human side of nuclear war.
Farnham’s Freehold – Robert A Heinlein
It’s no surprise that Robert Heinlein, the author of Starship Troopers, is behind Farnham’s Freehold, which won my award for the weirdest book about nuclear war.
He and his family are thrown back 2,000 years in time when a nuclear bomb hits Hugh Farnham’s bunker right on top of his head. As the family fights to stay alive in their new environment, they realize that they aren’t alone. The planet’s current residents have less than pleasant plans for the family. He and his family must figure out how to stay alive in this (post-)post-apocalyptic world and see if they can ever get back home.
The Long Tomorrow – Leigh Brackett
This book is more mature than some of the classic books about nuclear war: technology is vilified; new religious groups form to fill the void left by the collapse of government, science, and society; and the protagonists find themselves drawn to forbidden technology.
When two young boys leave their religious community, they set out to find a fabled place in the desert where people work to rebuild technology.
Cat’s Cradle – Kurt Vonnegut
As the classic Slaughterhouse-five shows, Vonnegut is a master at using humour and absurd satire to write about some of the most difficult, dark things in the world.
It continues this tradition, and introduces the world to Dr. Felix Hoenikker, who helped make the atomic bomb and came up with the chemical compound called ice-nine. The story is about a hilarious and poignant chase to find Hoenikker and his exploits, in an attempt to save the world from being frozen solid by his legacy. In the process, it makes a powerful point about the madness of atomic war.
The Wild Shore – Kim Stanley Robinson
The Wild Shore is the first book in Kim Stanley Robinson’s “Three Californias” trilogy. It is about people living in a small town on the Pacific Coast after a nuclear war.
Food shortages and harsh sanctions imposed by the war’s winners are enough of a problem, but the protagonist of the story has visions of a bigger goal: one that will help rebuild the country after the war. The Wild Shore is one of the most beautiful and thought-provoking books about nuclear war ever written. It is part frontier story and part post-apocalyptic epic.