Nuclear war remains the ultimate nightmare, yet so many people in the world know little about it and even less about its history. This article serves as an introduction to 5 of the best books about nuclear war that you need to read if you want to have an understanding of this frighteningly powerful weapon that has played such a significant role in shaping global politics throughout the past 70 years.
Alas, Babylon – Pat Frank
“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. Overnight, a thousand years of civilization were stripped away.
But for one small Florida town, miraculously spared against all the odds, the struggle was only just beginning, as the isolated survivors—men and women of all ages and races—found the courage to come together and confront the harrowing darkness.
A Gift Upon the Shore – MK Wren
“A Gift Upon the Shore is a lyrical, haunting story of two women, an artist, and a writer, surviving in a dark near future. Driven by rich and fully drawn characters, this is a powerful, compelling story of a friendship that survives the devastation, only to face a more difficult test from the ‘gift’ found upon the shore… It is also about remaining human under the worst of conditions, and the humanizing influence of books and art, even when their existence is threatened.
This Is the Way the World Ends – James Morrow
The Gulliver’s Travels of the nuclear age, the Alice in Wonderland of the arms race, this mordantly funny and visionary tale of the apocalypse was a Nebula finalist. The trouble starts when George Paxton ingenuously signs an admission of complicity in starting World War III. “The only book in the last ten years that I’ve read twice…a remarkable achievement” (Arthur C. Clarke).
The Long Tomorrow – Leigh Brackett
The Long Tomorrow takes a mature look at many of the tropes found in classic books about nuclear war: technology becomes vilified; new religious orders evolve to fill the gap left by the collapse of the government, science, and society; and the story’s protagonists find themselves drawn to the allure of forbidden technology. Leigh Brackett’s 1955 novel follows two boys that set out to escape the violent clutches of their religious community and find a fabled place, deep in the desert, where mankind works to rebuild technology.
Farnham’s Freehold – Robert A Heinlein
Robert Heinlein is the legendary author behind Starship Troopers, and his unique approach to sci-fi and fantasy carries itself over into Farnham’s Freehold: winning my award for the weirdest book about nuclear war in the process. When Hugh Farnham’s bunker suffers a direct hit from a nuclear bomb, Hugh and his family find themselves propelled 2,000 years forward in time. As the family battle to survive in their new environment, they realize that they aren’t alone – and the planet’s current inhabitants have less than savory plans for the family. It’s up to Hugh and his family to work out how to survive in this (post-)post-apocalyptic world, and find out if they can ever make their way home.