For all you dystopian fiction fans who love contemplating societal collapse and structural injustices, here are 50 of the best dystopian novels of all time. This list is based on reviews, critics ratings, goodreads ratings and my personal opinion. Enjoy (and try to stay positive)!
(P.S. The Handmaid’s Tale illustration above is from The Folio’s Society version of The Handmaid’s Tale, with illustrations by Anna and Elena Balbusso.)
What It's About: 1984 has come and gone, but George Orwell's prophetic, nightmarish vision in 1949 of the world we were becoming is timelier than ever. 1984 is still the great modern classic of "negative utopia" a startlingly original and haunting novel that creates an imaginary world that is convincing, from the first sentence to the last four words...Publication Date: June 8, 1949
What It's About: No food, no water, no government, no obligation, no order.
Discover a chillingly powerful and prescient dystopian vision from one of Europe's greatest writers.
A driver waiting at the traffic lights goes blind. An ophthalmologist tries to diagnose his distinctive white blindness, but is affected before he can read the textbooks...Publication Date: October 4, 1999
What It's About: Librarian's note: There is an Alternate Cover Edition for this edition of this book here.
A farm is taken over by its overworked, mistreated animals. With flaming idealism and stirring slogans, they set out to create a paradise of progress, justice, and equality. Thus the stage is set for one of the most telling satiric fables ever penned –a razor-edged fairy tale for grown-ups that records the evolution from revolution against tyranny to a totalitarianism just as terrible...Publication Date: August 17, 1945
What It's About: A searing, postapocalyptic novel destined to become Cormac McCarthy’s masterpiece.
A father and his son walk alone through burned America. Nothing moves in the ravaged landscape save the ash on the wind. It is cold enough to crack stones, and when the snow falls it is gray. The sky is dark...Publication Date: September 26, 2006
What It's About: An audacious, darkly glittering novel set in the eerie days of civilization’s collapse—the spellbinding story of a Hollywood star, his would-be savior, and a nomadic group of actors roaming the scattered outposts of the Great Lakes region, risking everything for art and humanity.
Kirsten Raymonde will never forget the night Arthur Leander, the famous Hollywood actor, had a heart attack on stage during a production of King Lear...See the Full Summary and Review of Station Eleven Publication Date: September 9, 2014
What It's About: Aldous Huxley's profoundly important classic of world literature, Brave New World is a searching vision of an unequal, technologically-advanced future where humans are genetically bred, socially indoctrinated, and pharmaceutically anesthetized to passively uphold an authoritarian ruling order–all at the cost of our freedom, full humanity, and perhaps also our souls...Publication Date: October 18, 2006
What It's About: Sixty years after its publication, Ray Bradbury's internationally acclaimed novel Fahrenheit 451 stands as a classic of world literature set in a bleak, dystopian future. Today its message has grown more relevant than ever before.
"Fahrenheit 451- The temperature at which book paper catches fire and burns...Publication Date: October 19, 1953
What It's About: Life in the community where Jonas lives is idyllic. Designated birthmothers produce new children, who are assigned to appropriate family units; one male, one female, to each. Citizens are assigned their partners and their jobs. No one thinks to ask questions. Everyone obeys. Their community is a precisely choreographed world without conflict, inequality, divorce, unemployment, injustice ...Publication Date: April 26, 1993
What It's About: Offred is a Handmaid in the Republic of Gilead. She may leave the home of the Commander and his wife once a day to walk to food markets whose signs are now pictures instead of words because women are no longer allowed to read. She must lie on her back once a moth and pray that the Commander makes her pregnant, because in an age of declining births, Offred and the other Handmaids are only valued if their ovaries are viable...Publication Date: March 16, 1998
What It's About: A postmodern visionary who is also a master of styles of genres, David Mitchell combines flat-out adventure, a Nabokovian lore of puzzles, a keen eye for character, and a taste for mind-bending philosophical and scientific speculation in the tradition of Umberto Eco, Haruki Murakami, and Philip K. Dick...Publication Date: August 17, 2004
What It's About: What would happen if the world were ending?
A catastrophic event renders the earth a ticking time bomb. In a feverish race against the inevitable, nations around the globe band together to devise an ambitious plan to ensure the survival of humanity far beyond our atmosphere, in outer space...Publication Date: May 19, 2015
What It's About: WINNING MEANS FAME AND FORTUNE.
LOSING MEANS CERTAIN DEATH.
THE HUNGER GAMES HAVE BEGUN. . . .
In the ruins of a place once known as North America lies the nation of Panem, a shining Capitol surrounded by twelve outlying districts. The Capitol is harsh and cruel and keeps the districts in line by forcing them all to send one boy and one girl between the ages of twelve and eighteen to participate in the annual Hunger Games, a fight to the death on live TV...Publication Date: September 14, 2008
What It's About: A patient escapes from a biological testing facility, unknowingly carrying a deadly weapon: a mutated strain of super-flu that will wipe out 99 percent of the world's population within a few weeks. Those who remain are scared, bewildered, and in need of a leader. Two emerge—Mother Abagail, the benevolent 108-year-old woman who urges them to build a peaceful community in Boulder, Colorado;and Randall Flagg, the nefarious "Dark Man," who delights in chaos and violence...Publication Date: August 7, 2012
What It's About: We went to the moon to have fun, but the moon turned out to completely suck.
So says Titus, whose ability to read, write, and even think for himself has been almost completely obliterated by his feed, a transmitter implanted directly into his brain. Feeds are a crucial part of life for Titus and his friends...Publication Date: September 23, 2002
What It's About: When the Time Traveller courageously stepped out of his machine for the first time, he found himself in the year 802,700--and everything had changed. In this unfamiliar, utopian age creatures seemed to dwell together in perfect harmony. The Time Traveller thought he could study these marvelous beings--unearth their secret and then return to his own time--until he discovered that his invention, his only avenue of escape, had been stolen...Publication Date: March 21, 1984
What It's About: In Anthony Burgess's influential nightmare vision of the future, criminals take over after dark. Teen gang leader Alex narrates in fantastically inventive slang that echoes the violent intensity of youth rebelling against society. Dazzling and transgressive, A Clockwork Orange is a frightening fable about good and evil and the meaning of human freedom...Publication Date: May 21, 2019
What It's About: Oryx and Crake is at once an unforgettable love story and a compelling vision of the future. Snowman, known as Jimmy before mankind was overwhelmed by a plague, is struggling to survive in a world where he may be the last human, and mourning the loss of his best friend, Crake, and the beautiful and elusive Oryx whom they both loved...Publication Date: April 22, 2003
What It's About: Andrew "Ender" Wiggin thinks he is playing computer simulated war games; he is, in fact, engaged in something far more desperate. The result of genetic experimentation, Ender may be the military genius Earth desperately needs in a war against an alien enemy seeking to destroy all human life. The only way to find out is to throw Ender into ever harsher training, to chip away and find the diamond inside, or destroy him utterly...Publication Date: January 15, 1985
What It's About: An alternate cover for this ISBN can be found here.
It began with rumors from China about another pandemic. Then the cases started to multiply and what had looked like the stirrings of a criminal underclass, even the beginnings of a revolution, soon revealed itself to be much, much worse. Faced with a future of mindless, man-eating horror, humanity was forced to accept the logic of world government and face events that tested our sanity and our sense of reality...Publication Date: September 12, 2006
What It's About: Librarian's note: Alternate cover editions can be found here, here, here and here.
When a plane crashes on a remote island, a small group of schoolboys are the sole survivors. From the prophetic Simon and virtuous Ralph to the lovable Piggy and brutish Jack, each of the boys attempts to establish control as the reality - and brutal savagery - of their situation sets in...Publication Date: September 17, 1954
What It's About: In THE POWER, the world is a recognizable place: there's a rich Nigerian boy who lounges around the family pool; a foster kid whose religious parents hide their true nature; an ambitious American politician; a tough London girl from a tricky family. But then a vital new force takes root and flourishes, causing their lives to converge with devastating effect...Publication Date: October 27, 2016
What It's About: IT HAPPENED FAST.
THIRTY-TWO MINUTES FOR ONE WORLD TO DIE, ANOTHER TO BE BORN.
First, the unthinkable: a security breach at a secret U.S. government facility unleashes the monstrous product of a chilling military experiment. Then, the unspeakable: a night of chaos and carnage gives way to sunrise on a nation, and ultimately a world, forever altered...Publication Date: June 8, 2010
What It's About: The exhilarating dystopian novel that inspired George Orwell's 1984 and foreshadowed the worst excesses of Soviet Russia
Yevgeny Zamyatin's We is a powerfully inventive vision that has influenced writers from George Orwell to Ayn Rand. In a glass-enclosed city of absolute straight lines, ruled over by the all-powerful 'Benefactor', the citizens of the totalitarian society of OneState live out lives devoid of passion and creativity - until D-503, a mathematician who dreams in numbers, makes a discovery: he has an individual soul...Publication Date: August 1, 1993
What It's About: Slaughterhouse-Five is a satirical novel by Kurt Vonnegut about World War II experiences and journeys through time of a chaplain's assistant named Billy Pilgrim. It is generally recognized as Vonnegut's most influential and popular work. Vonnegut's use of the firebombing of Dresden as a central event makes the novel semi-autobiographical, because he was present then.Publication Date: March 31, 1969
What It's About: In Beatrice Prior's dystopian Chicago, society is divided into five factions, each dedicated to the cultivation of a particular virtue--Candor (the honest), Abnegation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Erudite (the intelligent). On an appointed day of every year, all sixteen-year-olds must select the faction to which they will devote the rest of their lives...Publication Date: April 25, 2011
What It's About: It was January 2021, and Rick Deckard had a license to kill. Somewhere among the hordes of humans out there, lurked several rogue androids. Deckard's assignment--find them and then..."retire" them. Trouble was, the androids all looked exactly like humans, and they didn't want to be found!Publication Date: May 28, 1996
What It's About: From the winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature and author of the Booker Prize–winning novel The Remains of the Day comes a devastating novel of innocence, knowledge, and loss.
As children, Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy were students at Hailsham, an exclusive boarding school secluded in the English countryside...Publication Date: April 5, 2005
What It's About: NOT EVERY GIFT IS A BLESSING.
Melanie is a very special girl. Dr. Caldwell calls her "our little genius."
Every morning, Melanie waits in her cell to be collected for class. When they come for her, Sergeant Parks keeps his gun pointing at her while two of his people strap her into the wheelchair...Publication Date: January 14, 2014
What It's About: Written with the narrative tension of The Road and the exquisite terror of classic Stephen King, Bird Box is a propulsive, edge-of-your-seat horror thriller, set in an apocalyptic near-future world—a masterpiece of suspense from the brilliantly imaginative Josh Malerman.
Something is out there ...Publication Date: March 27, 2014
What It's About: A tale of two worlds.
In her most ambitious and prophetic novel to date, Ursula K. Le Guin has produced a stunning tour de force — the spellbinding story of Shevek, a brilliant physicist who single-handedly attemps to re-unite two planets cut off from each other by centuries of distrust...Publication Date: March 22, 1985
What It's About: In a nightmarish ruined world slowly awakening to the light after sleeping in darkness, the infant rediscoveries of science are secretly nourished by cloistered monks dedicated to the study and preservation of the relics and writings of the blessed Saint Isaac Leibowitz. From here the story spans centuries of ignorance, violence, and barbarism, viewing through a sharp, satirical eye the relentless progression of a human race damned by its inherent humanness to recelebrate its grand foibles and repeat its grievous mistakes.Publication Date: May 9, 2006
What It's About: Todd Hewitt is the only boy in a town of men. Ever since the settlers were infected with the Noise germ, Todd can hear everything the men think, and they hear everything he thinks. Todd is just a month away from becoming a man, but in the midst of the cacophony, he knows that the town is hiding something from him -- something so awful Todd is forced to flee with only his dog, whose simple, loyal voice he hears too...Publication Date: May 5, 2008
What It's About: Thou shalt kill.
A world with no hunger, no disease, no war, no misery. Humanity has conquered all those things, and has even conquered death. Now scythes are the only ones who can end life—and they are commanded to do so, in order to keep the size of the population under control.
Citra and Rowan are chosen to apprentice to a scythe—a role that neither wants...Publication Date: November 22, 2016
What It's About: For suspense-filled, post-apocalyptic thrillers, Wool is more than a self-published ebook phenomenon―it’s the new standard in classic science fiction.
In a ruined and toxic future, a community exists in a giant silo underground, hundreds of stories deep. There, men and women live in a society full of regulations they believe are meant to protect them...Publication Date: January 27, 2012
What It's About: In a ruined, nameless city of the future, a woman named Rachel, who makes her living as a scavenger, finds a creature she names “Borne” entangled in the fur of Mord, a gigantic, despotic bear. Mord once prowled the corridors of the biotech organization known as the Company, which lies at the outskirts of the city, until he was experimented on, grew large, learned to fly and broke free...Publication Date: April 25, 2017
What It's About: “An extraordinary real picture of human beings numbed by catastrophe but still driven by the unconquerable determination of living creatures to keep on being alive.” —The New Yorker
“Alas, Babylon.” Those fateful words heralded the end. When the unthinkable nightmare of nuclear holocaust ravaged the United States, it was instant death for tens of millions of people; for survivors, it was a nightmare of hunger, sickness, and brutality...Publication Date: July 5, 2005
What It's About: Koushun Takami's notorious high-octane thriller is based on an irresistible premise: a class of junior high school students is taken to a deserted island where, as part of a ruthless authoritarian program, they are provided arms and forced to kill one another until only one survivor is left standing...Publication Date: April 21, 1999
What It's About: Alternate cover for this ISBN can be found here
Cat's Cradle, one of Vonnegut's most entertaining novels, is filled with scientists and G-men and even ordinary folks caught up in the game. These assorted characters chase each other around in search of the world's most important and dangerous substance, a new form of ice that freezes at room temperature...Publication Date: September 8, 1998
What It's About: A new trade paperback edition of the graphic novel that inspired the hit movie!
A powerful story about loss of freedom and individuality, V FOR VENDETTA takes place in a totalitarian England following a devastating war that changed the face of the planet.
In a world without political freedom, personal freedom and precious little faith in anything comes a mysterious man in a white porcelain mask who fights political oppressors through terrorism and seemingly absurd acts...Publication Date: October 24, 2008
What It's About: 2021 MARKS THE 70th ANNIVERSARY OF THE DAY OF THE TRIFFIDS, THE MOST FAMOUS CATASTROPHE NOVEL OF THE TWENTIETH CENTURY
'When a day that you happen to know is Wednesday starts off by sounding like Sunday, there is something seriously wrong somewhere.'
When a freak cosmic event renders most of the Earth's population blind, Bill Masen - one of the lucky few to keep his sight - finds himself trapped in a London jammed with sightless mobs who prey on those who can still see...Publication Date: March 22, 2023
What It's About: When global climate change and economic crises lead to social chaos in the early 2020s, California becomes full of dangers, from pervasive water shortage to masses of vagabonds who will do anything to live to see another day.
Fifteen-year-old Lauren Olamina lives inside a gated community with her preacher father, family, and neighbors, sheltered from the surrounding anarchy...Publication Date: April 30, 2019
What It's About: Sarat Chestnut, born in Louisiana, is only six when the Second American Civil War breaks out in 2074. But even she knows that oil is outlawed, that Louisiana is half underwater, that unmanned drones fill the sky. And when her father is killed and her family is forced into Camp Patience for displaced persons, she quickly begins to be shaped by her particular time and place until, finally, through the influence of a mysterious functionary, she is turned into a deadly instrument of war...Publication Date: April 4, 2017
What It's About: Substance D is not known as Death for nothing. It is the most toxic drug ever to find its way on to the streets of LA. It destroys the links between the brain's two hemispheres, causing, first, disorientation and then complete and irreversible brain damage.
The undercover narcotics agent who calls himself Bob Arctor is desperate to discover the ultimate source of supply...Publication Date: March 22, 2023
What It's About: Candace Chen, a millennial drone self-sequestered in a Manhattan office tower, is devoted to routine. So she barely notices when a plague of biblical proportions sweeps New York. Then Shen Fever spreads. Families flee. Companies halt operations. The subways squeak to a halt. Soon entirely alone, still unfevered, she photographs the eerie, abandoned city as the anonymous blogger NY Ghost...Publication Date: August 14, 2018
What It's About: Hig somehow survived the flu pandemic that killed everyone he knows. Now his wife is gone, his friends are dead, and he lives in the hangar of a small abandoned airport with his dog, Jasper, and a mercurial, gun-toting misanthrope named Bangley.
But when a random transmission beams through the radio of his 1956 Cessna, the voice ignites a hope deep inside him that a better life exists outside their tightly controlled perimeter...Publication Date: August 7, 2012
What It's About: Tally is about to turn sixteen, and she can't wait. In just a few weeks she'll have the operation that will turn her from a repellent ugly into a stunning pretty. And as a pretty, she'll be catapulted into a high-tech paradise where her only job is to have fun.
But Tally's new friend Shay isn't sure she wants to become a pretty...Publication Date: February 8, 2005
What It's About: Robert Neville may well be the last living man on Earth . . . but he is not alone.
An incurable plague has mutated every other man, woman, and child into bloodthirsty, nocturnal creatures who are determined to destroy him.
By day, he is a hunter, stalking the infected monstrosities through the abandoned ruins of civilization...Publication Date: October 30, 2007
What It's About: EVERYTHING IS GOING TO CHANGE....
When Thomas wakes up in the lift, the only thing he can remember is his first name. He has no recollection of his parents his home, or how he got where he is. His memory is empty.
But he's not alone. When the lift's doors open, Thomas finds himself surrounded by kids who welcome him to the Glade,a large expanse enclosed by stone walls...Publication Date: October 6, 2009
What It's About: An alternate cover edition can be found here.
Many hundreds of years ago, the city of Ember was created by the Builders to contain everything needed for human survival. It worked…but now the storerooms are almost out of food, crops are blighted, corruption is spreading through the city and worst of all—the lights are failing...Publication Date: May 13, 2003
What It's About: Librarian note: This is a later printing of ISBN 0-307-27543-4 with a slightly different cover than the one used on the first printing. As Goodreads does not allow for more that one record per ISBN a record for the first printing was added without the ISBN.
Told with P. D. James’s trademark suspense, insightful characterization, and riveting storytelling, The Children of Men is a story of a world with no children and no future...Publication Date: May 16, 2006
What It's About: SHADOW CHILDREN
Luke has never been to school. He's never had a birthday party, or gone to a friend's house for an overnight. In fact, Luke has never had a friend.
Luke is one of the shadow children, a third child forbidden by the Population Police. He's lived his entire life in hiding, and now, with a new housing development replacing the woods next to his family's farm, he is no longer even allowed to go outside...Publication Date: September 1, 1998
I must really love dystopias because I’ve read almost all of these. I think The Handmaid’s Tale is my all-time favorite.
haha wow! i love dystopias, too! well let me know if you think anything is missing :)
I have only read a few from the list :( But this is a great list, Jennifer! Also, I have always been wondering, do you design all the illustrations on your blog? Coz they’re all so beautiful!
the picture is from the folio society’s illustrated version of The Handmaid’s Tale :) https://www.foliosociety.com/usa/the-handmaid-s-tale.html
I own Station Eleven but still haven’t read it ! Honestly, wasn’t sure what it was about from the blurb but heard so many good things. Exvited to get started this summer !
Susan Books Etc
I own Station Eleven but still haven’t read it ! Honestly, wasn’t sure what it was about from the blurb but heard so many good things. Excited to get started this summer !
This is a great post. Many of these I have read and totally agree but there many that, while I had heard of them, didn’t realize they were dystopian. I definitely want to check these out. Totally keeping this list close by to reference in the future. Thanks!
thank you and happy reading!
I love your list! ❤️❤️❤️ I am so fascinated with dystopian novels and films!
thank you! I love them too! :)
Wow, this is such an extensive post! Bookmarking this for when I’m in need of some great dystopian novels. Thank you for the recommendations! :)
Glad you liked it, and thanks for dropping by!