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Post apocalyptic theory reading list

When I was embarking on my thesis early last year, I discovered a distinct lack of online discussion of post apocalyptic theory. Sure I could find a fairly extensive wikipedia reading list of post apocalyptic fiction, but there just didn’t seem to be a good starting point for exploring post apocalyptic theory from a more academic perspective.

Hence, I thought I would kick things off by laying down the reading list I developed for the various post apocalyptic theories explored in my own thesis.

For ease of use, I have tried to group the readings into the various ‘theoretical disciplines’.  Most of these texts can be accessed via regularly available journal databases or Google Scholar.

Let me know if it helps. If you want to add to this list, leave a comment at the bottom.


Trauma and the Post Apocalyptic

The following texts deal with representations of trauma in fiction, and can be used to link post apocalyptic literature to trauma theory.

Heffernan, Teresa. Post-Apocalyptic Culture: Modernism, Postmodernism, and the Twentieth-Century Novel

Lutrull, Daniel. Prometheus Hits The Road: Revising the Myth

Strand, Linus. The Road at the End of the World – Sentimentality and Nihilism in the Journey through the Post-Apocalyptic World of Cormac McCarthy’s Novel The Road

Berger, James. After the End: Representations of Post-Apocalypse. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1999. This is probably the best and most comprehensive book written about post apocalyptic theory and covers it from a number of angles (trauma, marxism, holocaust and cyborg theory).

Caruth, Cathy. “Introduction” in Trauma: Explorations in Memory. Ed. Cathy Caruth. Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1995. pp. 3–12. Not explicitly about post apocalyptic, but Caruth is a key player in trauma theory and this peice develops strong links between the two disciplines.

Caruth, Cathy. Introduction :  The Wound and the Voice in Unclaimed Experience: Trauma, Narrative, and History. Baltimore and London. The John Hopkins University Press. 1996, 1-9

Freud, Sigmund. “The Paths to the Formation of Symptoms” in The Essentials of Psychoanalysis. Ed. Anna Freud. Trans. James Strachey. London: Penguin, 1986 (1916). pp. 539–555. Ahh Freud, you have kept me up many sleepless nights trying to decipher your psychobabble. Symptoms and post apocalypse have a lot in common, so this text is a foundation for linking trauma and post apocalyptic.

Garland, Caroline. “Trauma and the Possibility of Recovery” in Introducing Psychoanalysis. Eds. Susan Budd and Richard Rusbridger. New York: Routledge, 2005. pp 246–261. Once again, not explicitly related to post apocalyptic at all. But in trying to link trauma and post apocalypse, you’ll need a good understanding of psychoanalysis. Budd’s article is a nice introduction and quite easy to read.

Jung, Berenike. Narrating Violence in Post-9/11 Action Cinema: Terrorist Narratives, Cinematic Narration and Referentiality ; [in "V for Vedetta", "Munich", and "ChildrenofMen "]. Wiesbaden: VS, Verl. für Sozialwiss. 2010. Print.

Kirmayer, Laurence. “Landscapes of Memory: Trauma Narrative and Dissociation” in Tense Past: Cultural Essays in Trauma and Memory. Eds. Paul Antze and Michael Lambek. London: Routledge, 1996. pp. 173–198. The concept of a “traumatused landscape” is very important to post apocalypse – I think you can understand why.

Lowenstein, Adam. Introduction: The Allegorical Moment in Shocking Representation: Historical Trauma, National Cinema, And The Modern Horror Film. New York. Columbia University Press. 2005. 1-16.Print.

McCarthy, Cormac. The Road. New York: Vintage Books, 2006. Not a theoretical book at all, but a great example of traumatic post apocalyptic fiction. One of my favourite books of all time!

Vickroy, Laurie. Trauma and Survival in Contemporary Fiction. Charlottesville: Virginia Press, 2002. A great overview of trauma in modern fiction, with strong links between the role of survivors in trauma fiction and the post apocalyptic.

Whitehead, Anne. Trauma Fiction. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2004. Once again, a good overview of the genre, helped me to identify the links between trauma and post apocalyptic.

Post-human or Zombie theory (Just building this one out, suggestions welcome)

Bishop, Kyle William. American Zombie Gothic: The Rise and Fall (and Rise) of the Walking Dead in Popular Culture. Jefferson, North Carolina, London. McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers. 2010. Print.

Hayles, Katherine. How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature, and Informatics

Western Power, Race and Environmental Influence in the Post Apocalyptic (suggestions welcome)

Williams, Paul. Race, Ethnicity and Nuclear War: Representations of Nuclear Weapons and Post-Apocalyptic Worlds

Apocalyptic theory (ie the end of the world is nigh)

These texts deal with the pre-apocalyptic state, exploring questions of why such texts exist and continue to be popular.

Zamora, Lois. Writing the Apocalypse. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989.

Pippin, Tina. Apocalyptic Bodies: the Biblical End of the World in Text and Image. London: Routledge, 1999.

Zimbaro, Valerie. Encyclopedia of Apocalyptic Literature. California: ABC-Clio, 1996.

Kermode, Frank. The Sense of an Ending: Studies in the Theory of Fiction. New ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000.

Keep, Christopher. “An Absolute Acceleration: Apocalypticism and the War Machines of Waco.” Postmodern Apocalypse: Theory and Cultural Practice at the End. Ed. Richard Dellamora. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1995. 262- 273.

Baudrillard, Jean. The Illusion of the End. Trans. Chris Turner. UK: Polity Press, 1994.

Missed any? Leave your suggestion below.

  • Daniel
  • Astromaxis

    Thank You for this book list – May God Bless You – Seriously – I am doing my undergrad thesis on post apocalyptic texts but had found no direct literary theory books to aid me in my studies so THANKS A MILLION!

  • Mark

    No problems Astro. Let me know if you need any other help. My thesis on the topic is up here.

    And please, if you find any other texts in your travels, let me know and I’ll put them up here.


  • Peter

    Dear Mark,

    Astro already voiced my initial reaction (instant hallelujah here, pls). I’m currently mulling over a BA thesis on Post-Apocalyptic Film and your list -it already names a couple of titles in my prelim bibliography- gives me a feeling of belonging somehow. Thanks a million!

    Not theories per se, but worth a lookover are:
    Rosen, Elizabeth K.: “Apocalyptic transformation. Apocalypse and the postmodern imagination”, Lanham, Md.: Lexington Books, 2008. (The Apocalypse in postmodern fiction, film, comic- Vonnegut, Moore, “The Matrix”, etc.)

    Wagar, Walter Warren: “Terminal visions : the literature of last things”, Bloomington : Indiana Univ. Press, 1982. (All things apocalyptic in literature – has a nice section on Shelley’s “Last Man”)


  • Kaveeta

    Dear Mark and other friends of this website,
    Thanks soooo much for the text suggestins. ive been scouring through my university library and can’t seem to find anything. im not doing any hardcore thesis on the topic, but my undergrad essay and general interest in the topic will totally benefit from these.
    thanks a mundo!

  • Mark

    Thank you Peter for your suggestions, will add them to the list, and Kaveeta for your kind words. Please post a link to whatever you produce so we can keep building the resource. More to come from this end as well, so stay posted.

  • Astromaxis

    I would have updated much sooner but guess what? Computer crashed and was looking for your site like crazy again – then overlooked it at Google Search postings – but anyway guys My Thesis novels and reference books are these, most I haven’t read or bought yet just decided to work upon – hope I was able to help:


    “The Last Man” (The prototype post-apocalyptic text by the genius behind “Frankenstein” – Naturally, a woman ahead of her times – this book was panned by critics during her century)
    Mary Shelley

    “Earth Abides”
    George R. Stewart

    “The Day of the Triffids”
    John Wyndham

    “The Chrysalids” (did this wicked awesome book first for my O’Levels)
    John Wyndham

    “I Am Legend”
    Richard Matheson

    “On the Beach”
    Nevil Shute

    “A Canticle for Leibowitz ”
    Walter M. Miller Jr.

    “Saint Leibowitz and the Wild Horse Woman” (Found this out later in while re-making my list is the sequel to the book above)
    Walter M. Miller Jr.

    “Z for Zachariah”
    Robert C. O’Brien

    “Lucifer’s Hammer ”
    Larry Niven, Jerry Pournelle

    “The Stand”
    Stephen King

    “The Postman”
    David Brin

    José Saramago

    “The Slynx”
    Tatyana Tolstaya

    “The City of Ember”
    “The People Of Sparks”
    “The Prophet Of Yonwood”
    “The Diamond Of Darkhold”
    all by Jeanne DuPrau (A Qadrilogy with the first book made into a movie)

    “The Road”
    Cormac McCarthy

    “The Handmaid’s Tale”
    Margaret Atwood

    “Oryx And Crake” (phenomenal book read it in 2008 my sis-in-law Allah bless her got me it as I really wanted to read it)
    Margaret Atwood

    “The Year Of The Flood” (Prequel and Sequel to “Oryx And Crake”- wanna read this book BADLY as I am great fan top its predecessor)
    Margaret Atwood

    Reference Books:

    “Post-Apocalyptic Culture: Modernism, Postmodernism, and the Twentieth-Century Novel”
    by Teresa Heffernan
    “After The End: Representations Of Post-Apocalypse” by James Berger
    Baudrillard, Jean. The Illusion of the End. Trans. Chris Turner. UK: Polity Press, 1994.
    Pippin, Tina. Apocalyptic Bodies: the Biblical End of the World in Text and Image. London: Routledge, 1999.

    Most of the novels I found here:

    Good Luck Guys and Allah Almighty bless ^_^

    • Courtney

      Hi Astromaxis,

      Can you let me know if you thought the Heffernan and Berger books were helpful? I’d like to do my master’s thesis on PA literature, and I’ve run across these titles in my searches, but I’m hesitant to buy them unless I know that they are good sources.

      Also, great site, Mark!

      • Mark

        Hi Courtney, I can’t speak about the Heffernan text, but I can say with 100% confidence that the Berger text is definitely worth getting hold of. You might be able to find a usable extract on Google books perhaps.

        • Courtney

          Excellent to hear! I’ve got a request in for an inter-library loan. Thanks much!

  • Mark

    Thanks Astro for that very comprehensive list. How did you find reading A Canticle for Leibowitz? I couldn’t get through the whole thing.

  • Astromaxis

    YO Mark no problem. I hadn’t read the Leibowitz series yet. Thanks to Allah Almighty today I got 3 of my books. The Stand, The Road and Blindness (they seem to create a trilogy of their own don’t they? LOL ^_^)

    The Stand is over 1000 pages long so I guess I have to really read and take notes. I hope the Leibowitz series is ok and not that boring – I took it for its civilization factor.

    Have you read any other books in the list? How was The Road?

  • Mark

    The Road is arguably the best post-apocalyptic book ever written. I must have liked it, as I wrote an entire thesis on it! Good luck with your studies.

  • Astromaxis

    Yeah I read in your acknowledgments on how you loved McCarthy for writing such a book ^_^ As I want to be an author too I think that’s the best gift anyone can give a novelist.

    Thank you for wishing me luck – Let Allah Almighty keep you well too. I am going to say I read snippets of “City Of Birds” – had no idea it was your story! :P

    I loved some of the descriptions you used. You are very talented Mark MASHALLAH (a prayer in my religion thanking God or praising Her like Hallelujah)

    I was very interested in it. I like the opening. It grabs your attention. I loved the way you detailed some of the character’s emaciations. Great JOB ! I will definitely read the whole of it and – ummm what now? You have finished your thesis so are you doing any other stuff?

  • iffah hannah

    mark… i like this blog so much!
    may i have your contact (email)
    i if you don’t mind, i’d like to discuss manythings related to postapocalyptic theory

    • Mark

      Hi iffah, glad you like the blog!

      If you pop a comment in my contact form (see the contact page: that’ll get to me and I’ll reply.

  • Shhhhibby

    I am so glad I found this site! Struggling through a thesis research on post-apocalypse/post-humanism myself.
    Things to consider:

    Hayles’ How We Became Posthuman
    Peter Goin’s photos called Nuclear Landscapes

  • Laszlo

    Hi there!

    This is a nice post and really got me going towards a possible direction.I am very interested in the Zombie theory,but I realized that you have listed only 2 books.Could you suggest me more? I am thinking about writing a thesis about the importance of zombies in popular culture and their function of social criticism or their evolution during the last 70 years.I have not decided yet.I started reading the book from Bishop, Kyle William entitled American Zombie Gothic: The Rise and Fall (and Rise) of the Walking Dead in Popular Culture. It would help me a lot to get some more possible insight so I could limit my focus.

    Thank you :)

  • BY Liang

    Thank you so much! As a postgraduate, I am working on my dissertation and find it really helpful!!

  • Mark

    No I hadn’t, looks pretty cool. Might have to pick it up.