15 Dystopian Books to Read While Quarantined

Pandemic Books to read while quarantined

I’ve always been a fan of dystopian tales… I was not even a teenager when I first read Outbreak by Robin Cook. The medical thriller tells the story of a global ebola pandemic. That book got me hooked to books about dark future possibilities — from deadly epidemics to ‘Big Brother’ to the triumph of the human spirit.

If you’re a reader like me, you’ve probably got quite a selection of books in your TBR pile to keep you occupied during this period of global uncertainity.

But if you’re looking for books that are especially relevant during unpredictable times, we’ve got just the list.

pandemic books to read while quarantined

What Dystopian Books Teach Us

Humans have long had the gift of predicting the future. That doesn’t mean we’re all walking prophets. We simply understand how to foresee risks and consequences. We can look back at history and see when things start to repeat themselves.

Whether or not we do anything to prevent bad outcomes is a story that can only be written by the people experiencing it. Perhaps it takes a global pandemic for us to understand the need to re-route our collective journey toward a more hopeful future.

Writers have long been examing the concepts of utopias and dystopias in literature. Many of the books on this list examine very realistic — and scary — possibilities. But they also examine hope, connection, and the will of humanity to prevail.

In fact, many of the greatest dystopian books teach us that we are bigger than the challenges we face. And together, we can overcome whatever stands in our way.

15 Must-Read Dystopian Books

Read on to find some of the best books about pandemics and other future uncertainties to read while you’re social distancing.

1. 1984 by George Orwell

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One of the most celebrated classics of the twentieth century, Orwell’s cautionary tale of a man trapped under the gaze of an authoritarian state feels more relevant now than ever before.

2. Outbreak by Robin Cook

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A fast-spreading disease with no cure takes the United States by storm in Robin Cook’s “most harrowing medical horror story” (The New York Times).

Despite its name and similar storyline, the book is not connected to the 1995 movie also called Outbreak.

3. The Plague by Albert Camus

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A haunting tale of human resilience in the face of unrelieved horror, Camus’ novel about a plague ravaging the people of a North African coastal town is a classic of twentieth-century literature.

4. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

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The year is 2045 and the planet is on the brink of collapse. People find solitude and salvation in a virtual reality universe called OASIS. Young Wade Watts finds himself becoming an unlikely hero in a reality-bending treasure hunt through a fantastical world of mystery, discovery and danger.

5. Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

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In this groundbreaking novel, an influential favorite among a new generation of writers, Mitchell explores with daring artistry fundamental questions of reality and identity.

6. The Hot Zone by Richard Preston

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In 1989, the Ebola virus appears in chimpanzees in a research lab in the suburbs of Washington, D.C., and there is no known cure; a U.S. Army scientist puts her life on the line to head off an outbreak before it spreads to the human population.

7. The Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins

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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 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.

Sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen regards it as a death sentence when she steps forward to take her sister’s place in the Games. Without really meaning to, she becomes a contender. But if she is to win, she will have to start making choices that weigh survival against humanity and life against love.

8. Severance by Ling Ma

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Maybe it’s the end of the world, but not for Candace Chen, a millennial, first-generation American and office drone meandering her way into adulthood in Ling Ma’s offbeat, wryly funny, apocalyptic satire, Severance.

9. The Giver by Lois Lowry

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Lois Lowry’s Newbery Medal-winning classic is a story of a young boy discovering the dark secrets behind his seemingly ideal world.

10. The Divergent Series by Veronica Roth

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One choice can transform you. Veronica Roth’s debut is a gripping dystopian tale of electrifying choices, powerful consequences, unexpected romance, and a deeply flawed “perfect society.”

11. The Stand by Stephen King

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Stephen King’s apocalyptic vision of a world blasted by plague and tangled in an elemental struggle between good and evil remains as riveting and eerily plausible as when it was first published.

12. Zone One by Colson Whitehead

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A pandemic has devastated the planet, sorting humanity into two types: the uninfected and the infected, the living and the living dead. After the worst of the plague is over, armed forces stationed in Chinatown’s Fort Wonton have successfully reclaimed the island south of Canal Street—aka Zone One. Mark Spitz is a member of one of the three-person civilian sweeper units tasked with clearing lower Manhattan of the remaining feral zombies. Zone One unfolds over three surreal days in which Spitz is occupied with the mundane mission of straggler removal, the rigors of Post-Apocalyptic Stress Disorder (PASD), and the impossible task of coming to terms with a fallen world.

13. Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

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An audacious, darkly glittering novel set in the eerie days of civilization’s collapse, Station Eleven tells 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. 

14. The Maddaddam Trilogy by Margaret Atwood

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Across three stunning novels—Oryx and CrakeThe Year of the Flood, and Maddaddam—the best-selling, Booker Prize-winning novelist projects us into a near future that is both all too familiar and beyond our imagining.

15. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

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Now more than ever: Aldous Huxley’s enduring masterwork must be read and understood by anyone concerned with preserving the human spirit

“A masterpiece. … One of the most prophetic dystopian works.” —Wall Street Journal

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