If you’ve recently fallen for Pedro Pascal’s depiction of Joel in the TV version of The Last of Us, then you may be in need of more post-apocalyptic material. Fortunately, there are plenty of authors out there who have vividly imagined what could happen should life as we know it come to an end.
Whether the worlds in these post-apocalyptic audiobooks end with a zombie invasion or a pandemic that feels extremely familiar, each offers an enthralling and imaginative story that captures both the horror and the hope of humanity in the face of adversity.
- The Dog Stars by Peter Heller
- Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
- The Last Town on Earth by Thomas Mullen
- Cold People by Tom Rob Smith
- World War Z by Max Brooks
- Phase Six by Jim Shepard
- Severance by Ling Ma
- Blindness by Jose Saramago
- A Beginning at the End by Mike Chen
- Children of Time by Adrian Tchaikovsky
- The Passage by Justin Cronin
The Dog Stars by Peter Heller
When a flu kills every person Hig loved, he hunkers down with his dog, Jasper. Though he has a neighbor at the abandoned airplane hangar he calls home, Hig prefers to keep to himself and use his plane to fly out for fishing excursions that help him forget the reality of his life. That reality is a post-pandemic world that has been decimated by illness and is still causing suffering to those who have contracted a blood disease.
When an unexplainable transmission comes through Hig’s radio, he puts his life on the line to fly away from the airport and look for an existence that could offer more than his isolated days. Facing loss, hope, and the many faces of human behavior, Hig tries to figure out how to live instead of simply surviving.
The Dog Stars introduced me to Heller’s type of protagonist, the quiet loner who physically endures while emotional pools swirl beneath the surface.
Duration: 10 hours and 41 minutes
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
I listened to Station Eleven long before the pandemic hit, but I found myself re-listening to it once COVID had everyone inside. Drawn deeply to the story of Kirsten, a young child whose world is changed by a flu pandemic when the majority of the population is wiped out, I found myself even more immersed in the character’s intertwining stories as the book spanned the decades following the initial impact of the illness.
St. John Mandel does an exquisite job of moving between the past and present, showing how characters’ lives overlapped and collided pre and post-pandemic. She explores how the people around us can be as big of a threat as any sickness, and they can also be our best source of love and belonging.
Kirsten Potter narrates and brings life to all the characters. If you love this book, check out the series created with the help of the author that is streaming on HBOMax.
Duration: 10 hours and 40 minutes
The Last Town on Earth by Thomas Mullen
The world didn’t technically end during the 1918 pandemic, but the combination of World War I and a flu outbreak did take a lot of lives. Mullen’s story simmers with tension as a small community in Washington State decides to voluntarily quarantine to try to keep residents safe. When a soldier from a nearby town tries to get through the quarantine barrier, the citizens learn who they are and what they will do to preserve their idea of safety.
Duration: 15 hours and 39 minutes
Cold People by Tom Rob Smith
I read the Child 44 trilogy series years ago and knew I would pick up anything Tom Rob Smith put in the world. Cold People is his most recent book, and it takes the idea of post-apocalyptic living to a mostly unexplored territory: Antarctica.
When aliens invade in 2023 and demand all citizens who want to live get to Antarctica in 30 days, humanity scrambles to decide who to save and how to get them to the South Pole. Once the small percentage of survivors arrive, they realize that to keep mankind going, they will need creatures more suited to living in the cold than humans. Villages pop up throughout the continent, with one focused on creating an ice-adapted species, the hope for the future.
Is creating a new species to survive the aliens that have already taken over the best key to survival, and what does it mean to be human? Rebecca Lowman narrates this story of family, loss, and moral ambiguity as the last humans on earth fight to avoid extinction.
Duration: 12 hours and 5 minutes
World War Z by Max Brooks
Presented as an oral history of The Zombie Wars, Max Brooks and other all-star narrators share accounts of the world after most of humanity is decimated by zombies. Told from the point of view of survivors, listeners hear about what happened when the zombies arrived, and they learn those scary undead creatures are only the start of the problems citizens had to face.
For me, this audiobook stands out as a masterpiece, both eerie and accurate in its portrayal of how masses of people cope when tragedy strikes.
Duration: 12 hours and 9 minutes
Phase Six by Jim Shepard
When a pre-teen Aleq brings back something he unearthed after trespassing on a mining site in his home of Greenland, the people in his village fall ill and are quickly extinguished. Aleq has to deal with the guilt and the fear surrounding him as a couple of chosen medical experts come to find him and quarantine him in the United States.
As this illness spreads, the story takes us to western New York, the Rocky Mountains, and back to Greenland as an epidemiologist and lab worker try to figure out what world will exist as this sickness takes over and spreads.
One of the first books I listened to about a pandemic right after we emerged from one, I found this story beautiful and heartbreaking. It felt familiar without causing the panicked feeling I usually have when listening to audiobooks about pandemics.
Duration: 6 hours and 15 minutes
Severance by Ling Ma
Candace Chen lives for the routine that carries her from her office to her home and back each day. Having recently lost her parents, she clings to what she knows to survive the day. When a plague hits New York City, she continues to live just as she did before, eventually chosen to help keep the office running while almost everyone else in the building flees for safety.
Documenting the devastation on her anonymous blog, Candace realizes she will need to leave the city at some point. She sets out with a group of survivors, but nothing goes as planned as Candace tries to figure out how to take the initiative to save her life.
Anyone who has ever clung to the monotony of routine for comfort will recognize this story. It’s a satire full of humor, but there are also plenty of opportunities for reflection that surprised me.
Duration: 9 hours and 54 minutes
Blindness by Jose Saramago
When white blindness, a condition that leaves a person with no vision, starts to affect people in a city, a quarantine is set up to try to keep the blindness from spreading to anyone else. Unfortunately, living in close quarters combined with fear brings out the absolute worst in certain members of the group, and escape becomes the only option for survival.
There are a lot of trigger warnings in this story, especially related to sexual assault and rape. Jonathan Davis narrates this harrowing tale that will leave you affected long after the last word.
Duration: 12 hours and 33 minutes
A Beginning at the End by Mike Chen
Chen’s story picks up 6 years after a pandemic wipes out most of the population. He focuses on four survivors who are trying to rebuild their lives despite the trauma they are still carrying from living through so much loss. When the threat of another illness arises, the lives of our four main characters overlap as they realize the only way to move forward is to finally face what came before.
Though this story will resonate with anyone who lived through a pandemic, it offers a unique hope that allows listeners to crave a better future instead of getting stalled emotionally due to loss.
Duration: 11 hours and 39 minutes
Children of Time by Adrian Tchaikovsky
Whether you choose to pick up the next two books in this series or not, you won’t regret reading Tchaikovsky’s story of humanity trying to find a new home.
Earth is dying, and a group of remaining survivors set out to space to find a new home. When they come across a planet made for them by other human creators, a new Earth of sorts, they realize that it has changed and become almost unrecognizable. The original creators gone, the planet is now in the hands of another species that views it as home and is willing to fight to keep it.
Duration: 16 hours and 31 minutes
The Passage by Justin Cronin
This audiobook is a commitment since the listening time is longer than many titles. Plus, this is just the beginning. Cronin followed up this story with two more installations in the series. However, if you’re ready for a post-apocalyptic story that includes vampires, government programs gone wrong, and a girl who could save them all, then The Passage is worth the time investment.
This book absolutely goes to some dark places, and I remember having to take breathers in between chapters before moving on to what was next. Multiple narrators bring these characters to life, and the story feels epic as you listen to the journey that crosses decades and landscapes and leaves you with an ending that makes you want to grab book two immediately.
Duration: 36 hours and 49 minutes