50 Books About The Collapse Of Civilization
Make sense of dark times.
People have been writing books about the collapse of civilization for centuries, but there has been a huge increase in the number of these books over the past 20 years.
This makes perfect sense.
If a civilization were collapsing, you would expect more people to become aware of it as the end draws near. Below you'll find a list of over 50 books about collapse. They cover topics like energy, ecology, climate change, anthropology, sociology, and much more. While not every book specifically predicts societal collapse, every book is about problems that are leading us toward collapse. The list is alphabetical, and I included publication dates in case you only want to read books that are up to date with the latest data. If there are any books you would like me to add to the list, please leave a comment below.
A Farewell to Ice: A Report from The Arctic (2017) by Peter Wadhams
Written by Dr. Wadhams, a world-renowned expert in Arctic sea ice, this book explains why the Arctic is warming so much faster than the rest of the planet and what that means for the future of our planet.
A Short History of Progress (2004) by Ronald Wright
This book began as a series of lectures in which Ronald Wright explained how throughout history, humans have ended up in “progress traps,” where the advancements that accelerate growth and improve quality of life inevitably backfire and lead to collapse. It was a best-selling book and inspired the movie, Surviving Progress.
America: The Farewell Tour (2018) by Chris Hedges
Written by Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Chris Hedges, this book is about how the American empire is coming to an end. The evidence is in its massive wealth inequality, decaying infrastructure, lack of social safety nets, rapidly increasing debt, and its epidemic of mass shootings and diseases of despair. This book is both fascinating and heartbreaking.
An Inconvenient Apocalypse: Environmental Collapse, Climate Crisis, and the Fate of Humanity (2022) by Wes Jackson and Robert Jenson
This book not only demonstrates that we are on the verge of apocalypse, it also explains the root causes of the coming apocalypse. Although the book can be very bleak, it also offers a message of hope, explaining how humans can emerge on the other side of collapse and create a sustainable society.
Apologies to the Grandchildren: Reflections on Our Ecological Predicament, Its Deeper Causes, and Its Political Consequences (2018) by William Ophuls
This short book not only delves into the reasons for collapse—climate change, dwindling resources, biodiversity—but also goes into political history, philosophy, anthropology, and psychology. Most importantly, it talks about what society will look like after the industrial age is over.
Bottleneck : Humanity’s Impending Impasse (2009) by William R. Catton
In this book, Professor Emeritus of Sociology, William Catton, explains how humanity has overshot the carrying capacity and why that will lead to a dramatic decrease in the human population. He also talks about why people still haven’t taken action despite the fact that the evidence for collapse is everywhere.
Breaking Together: A Freedom-Loving Response to Collapse (2023) by Jem Bendell
The interdisciplinary team behind this book has concluded that the collapse of modern civilization has already begun. Jem Bendell explains why, and also how we should respond. Instead of breaking apart, we should be “breaking together,” which means reclaiming our freedoms, softening the fall, and regenerating the natural world.
Bright Green Lies: How the Environmental Movement Lost Its Way and What We Can Do About It (2021) by Derrick Jensen
In this eye-opening book, Derrick Jensen explains how the environmental movement has lost its way. Back in the 1960s, the movement was about protecting and restoring nature. Since then, the movement has been co-opted, and now it’s all about “green growth.” The sad fact is that growth of any kind, no matter how “green,” will still lead to collapse.
Climate Wars: The Fight for Survival as the World Overheats (2010) by Gwynne Dyer
Climate scientists tell us what will happen to the environment under worst-case emissions scenarios. However, they don’t tell us how countries would respond in those scenarios. For example: Which nations would go to war? This book answers that question and takes a deep look at how climate breakdown will affect geopolitics.
Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed by (2005) Jared Diamond
This book takes a close look at societies throughout history that have all collapsed. The most common reason is abuse of the environment, leading to a lack of crucial resources. Jared Diamond, a professor of geography and Pulitzer Prize winning-author, shows how our global society is making the same mistakes as the many societies that collapsed before us.
Collapsing Consciously: Transformative Truths for Turbulent Times (2013) by Carolyn Baker
This could be described as a self-help book for people who are collapse-aware. While the author argues that the collapse of civilization cannot be prevented, she also says we can find joy and meaning in life and as part of a community, even when things seem their darkest. The book also includes 52 weekly meditations.
Collision Course: Endless Growth on a Finite Planet (2014) by Kerryn Higgs
Our global culture is dominated by the idea that growth is good. We are taught that growth is the solution to all our problems, even environmental degradation (which was caused by growth). In this books, Higgs explains why and how growth will end in the near future and what that means for global society.
Dark Age America: Climate Change, Cultural Collapse, and the Hard Future Ahead (2016) by John Michael Greer
The window of opportunity to create a sustainable future has closed. Industrial civilization is going to unravel no matter what we do. The question is, what will that look like? In this book, Greer attempts to map out the future of America based on how past civilizations have collapsed.
Deep Adaptation: Navigating the Realities of Climate Chaos (2021) by Jem Bendell
This book is based on a paper called Deep Adaptation: A Map for Navigating Climate Tragedy. (You can read it here.) It was written by Jem Bendell, a professor of sustainability leadership, and makes the case that it is too late to prevent societal breakdown due to climate change. This book explores the ramifications of that and talks about how we should react.
Eye of the Storm: Facing Climate and Social Chaos With Calm and Courage (2023) by Terry LePage
Essential reading for anyone who is collapse aware. Rather than explaining why civilization is doomed, Terry focuses on how we should react. She examines the stories that shape our thinking, how to deal with difficult emotions, how to find meaning in dark times, how to connect with others, and much more. This book is both comforting and inspiring.
Facing the Climate Emergency: How to Transform Yourself with Climate Truth (2020) by Margaret Klein Salamon
A great self-help book for anyone who feels terrified and paralyzed by the climate crisis. The author encourages the reader to face their fears and turn negative feelings into positive actions like becoming an activist and helping communities prepare for a difficult future.
Falter: Has the Human Game Begun to Play Itself Out? (2020) by Bill McKibben
Thirty years ago, Bill McKibben published the best-selling book, The End Of Nature, which warned about the dangers of climate change. Now, he is back with a new book that warns that human civilization will soon fall apart if we don’t change our ways.
Half-Earth: Our Planet’s Fight for Life (2016) by E.O. Wilson
Written by world-famous biologist and naturalist, E.O. Wilson, this book proposes a way to save our planet: Leave 50% of it to nature. Unless humans learn to share our planet with the rest of nature, we will destroy the environment in which we evolved and create a very dark future.
How Everything Can Collapse: A Manual for Our Times (2020) by Pablo Servigne and Raphael Stevens
If I had to recommend a book about collapse to someone who is new to the topic, I would recommend this one. The authors explain exactly why our civilization is headed for collapse, covering everything from peak oil to climate change to biodiversity loss, all backed with scientific evidence. It is a frightening read, but important to understand.
How to Prepare for Climate Change: A Practical Guide to Surviving the Chaos (2021) by David Pogue
This well-researched book gives practical advice on how to prepare for climate breakdown including where to live, how to invest, what to grow, and how to survive when things get really bad. If you’re less interested in why the climate emergency is happening and more interested in how to prepare, this is the book for you.
Immoderate Greatness: Why Civilizations Fail (2012) by William Ophuls
One of the most fascinating books I’ve ever read. This book quickly explains why civilizations are inherently unsustainable. They naturally get more and more complex, but complexity makes them more fragile. As civilizations weaken, moral decay sets in, and eventually they collapse. Our global civilization is no different.
Learning to Die in the Anthropocene: Reflections on the End of a Civilization (2015) by Roy Scranton
Drawing on his experiences in Iraq, Roy Scranton examines the climate crises hitting the world: floods, megadroughts, superstorms, and more. He explains why climate change is a threat to civilization and what that means for the human race. This thoughtful book goes beyond science and delves into philosophy and Zen wisdom.
Less Is More: How Degrowth Will Save the World (2021) by Jason Hickel
This book makes the case that capitalism, which is predicated on endless growth, is destroying our planet. Author Jason Hickel, an economic anthropologist, argues that for civilization to survive, we need a whole new economic system based on reciprocity and regeneration.
Limits to Growth: The 30-Year Update (2004) by Dennis L. Meadows, Donella H. Meadows, and Jorgen Randers
In 1972, researchers at MIT developed a model which suggested that under a business-as-usual scenario, human civilization would run out of resources and collapse some time in the 21st century. They published a book about their research, and it became a bestseller. This book is the 30-year update. It examines data from the previous three decades and argues that we are still heading toward collapse.
Our Final Warning: Six Degrees of Climate Emergency (2021) by Mark Lynas
This book explains exactly what will happen to Earth at 1°C of warming, 2°C of warming, and so forth on up to 6°C of warming. It is backed by copious research and concludes that the future is absolutely horrifying if we don’t halt greenhouse gas emissions as quickly as possible.
Overshoot: The Ecological Basis of Revolutionary Change (1982) by William R. Catton
This is the definitive book on ecological overshoot. Author William Catton, a Professor Emeritus of Sociology, explains how humans have already overshot the carrying capacity of the planet, which means the population of humans will drop dramatically in the near future. His goal was to make sure people understand why this will happen so they don’t react in ways that make it worse.
Power: Limits and Prospects for Human Survival (2021) by Richard Heinberg
This well-researched book examines four things that give humans extraordinary power: tool making ability, language, social complexity, and the ability to harness energy sources such as fossil fuels. Heinberg argues that humans have become overpowered to the point where we are destroying the environment and threatening our own existence.
Requiem for a Species: Why We Resist the Truth About Climate Change (2010) by Clive Hamilton
Since there are already so many books about how dire the future looks because of climate change and how little time we have left, Clive Hamilton decided to write about about why this is happening. Why do we ignore all the warnings and continue on the path toward self-destruction? What is it about human nature that prevents us from solving our problems? This book as the answers.
Silent Spring (1962) by Rachel Carson
A classic that is often credited with kickstarting the environmental movement, Silent Spring warns about the indiscriminate use of pesticides and what it means for our air, land, and water. Carson argues that unnatural chemicals will cause health problems in humans and the extinction of countless species around the world. It is a beautifully-written book, and Carson’s love of nature shines through on every page.
Techno-Fix: Why Technology Won’t Save Us Or the Environment (2011) by Michael Huesemann and Joyce Huesemann
Many activists believe that we can save the planet from climate breakdown if we just start using more renewables, electric vehicles, carbon capture plants, and so forth. Authors Michael and Joyce Huesemann argue that we can’t solve are problems with the same methods that got us into this mess, and that doubling down on technology will only hasten our demise.
The Collapse of Complex Societies (1990) by Joseph A. Tainter
In this book, historian and anthropologist, Joseph Tainter, examines nearly two dozen societies in history that collapsed. He argues that while diseases, invasions, and crop failures were the apparent causes of collapse, the true cause was always an economic one: As societies got more complex, they required ever larger investments in complexity. This led to diminishing returns, and eventually the societies became so fragile that a single disaster brought them down. This book is fascinating and will make you realize that collapse was always inevitable.
The Crash Course: The Unsustainable Future of Our Economy, Energy, and Environment (2011) by Chris Martenson
This book is a great introduction for people who are new to the idea that our civilization is going to collapse. He explains all the warning signs: we are running out of oil, using up all our minerals, destroying our farmland, and killing species so quickly that our life support systems are in jeopardy. He also talks about how to prepare for a future that is completely different from the past.
The End of Ice: Bearing Witness and Finding Meaning in the Path of Climate Disruption (2020) by Dahr Jamail
After nearly a decade as a war reporter, Dahr Jamail returned home and renewed his passion for mountaineering. What he found was shocking: glaciers that he remembered from his younger years had shrunk or disappeared due to global warming. This inspired him to explore the front lines of the climate crisis: the Great Barrier Reef, the Amazon rainforest, the Florida Everglades, the forests of the Pacific Northwest, and more. He speaks with experts from each area, and realizes that Earth is in a hospice situation. This only increases his love of nature. This book is both fascinating and heartbreaking.
The End of More: Infinite Demand on Finite Resources is Making Humankind Unsustainable (2013) by Norman Pagett
The title says it all. Human civilization is unsustainable because it consumes resources faster than they can regenerate, and it won’t change because we don’t know any other way. Our system has produced prosperity far beyond anything we’ve seen in history, but this prosperity was only possible by drawing down resources and leaving nothing for future generations. Now, we are beginning to face the consequences of our culture of consumption.
The End of the World Is Just the Beginning: Mapping the Collapse of Globalization (2022) by Peter Zeihan
According to author Peter Zeihan, a geopolitical strategist and expert on global energy, security, and demographics, 2019 was the last good year for the global economy. As we use up our fossil fuels and other resources, trends toward globalization will end and countries will be forced to grow their own food and manufacture their own products. Some countries will fare better than others.
The Final Empire: The Collapse of Civilization and the Seed of the Future (2007) by William Kotke
This book explains in detail how empires destroy the environment they depend on and eventually collapse. Author William Kotke looks at what civilizations do to the soil, the forests, the oceans, and the species around them. Although the book can be very depressing, the second half talks about how we can create a better future by planting seed communities based on permaculture and restoration. The book ends with a glimmer of hope.
The Five Stages of Collapse: Laying the Groundwork for Social, Political, and Economic Revolution (2013) by Dmitry Orlov
Author Dmitry Orlov witnessed the collapse of the USSR, so he has a unique perspective on how societies collapse. In this book, he argues that collapse goes through five stages—financial collapse, economic collapse, political collapse, social collapse, and cultural collapse—and if we respond properly during the first three stages, we can avoid the final two stages. Orlov says that times of collapse are an opportunity for cultural change, and we must not miss that opportunity.
The Long Descent: A User’s Guide to the End of the Industrial Age (2008) by John Michael Greer
Author John Michael Greer is a big believer in the concept of “catabolic collapse.” The idea is that as civilization gets more and more expensive to maintain, societies are forced to give up services they once took for granted and redirect the energy into maintaining the system. This temporarily halts collapse, but before long it happens again. Thus, collapse occurs in a stairstep sequence of decline. This book explains in detail what that will look like.
The Long Emergency: Surviving the End of Oil, Climate Change, and Other Converging Catastrophes of the Twenty-First Century (2006) by James Howard Kunstler
The most terrifying fact about the 21st century is that there won’t just be one existential crisis for humanity, there will be lots of them—and they all appear to be converging at the same time. Climate change, peak oil, resource depletion, water scarcity, pandemics, and more. Instead of one cataclysmic event, these disasters will all be part of a long emergency that never seems to end.
The Myth of Human Supremacy (2016) by Derrick Jensen
There seems to be a near-universal belief that humans are superior to the rest of nature. In this book, Derrick Jensen debunks that notion by examining other species and how humans are impacting them. Although humans developed science and technology, it is questionable whether these are good things considering they are causing a sixth mass extinction which would very well end with humans going extinct.
The Precipice: Existential Risk and the Future of Humanity (2020) by Toby Ord
Written by Toby Ord, a moral philosopher from Oxford University, this book looks at human civilization from a bird’s eye view, examining well-known threats like climate change and nuclear war, but also lesser-known threats like engineered pandemics and artificial intelligence. He draws from the fields of philosophy, biology, history, anthropology, and even computer science to make the case that our moral framework is insufficient to grapple with the existential threats to civilization, and that we need to completely change the way we look at the world.
The Revenge of Gaia: Earth’s Climate Crisis & The Fate of Humanity (2007) by James Lovelock
Author James Lovelock was a scientist best known for proposing the Gaia hypothesis, which postulates that all life on Earth functions as a single superorganism. Now, that superorganism is sick, and the symptoms are all around us. Lovelock explains what the consequences for humans will be and what we must do to save ourselves.
The Seneca Effect: Why Growth is Slow but Collapse is Rapid (2017) by Ugo Bardi
This book can be summed up in one sentence written by an ancient Roman philosopher known as Seneca: “Fortune is of sluggish growth, but ruin is rapid.” This has been proven true again and again throughout history. Civilizations grow slowly and collapse quickly. In this book, Ugo Bardi explains why this happens, why our civilization is next, and what we can do to minimize the damage.
The Shock of the Anthropocene: The Earth, History and Us (2017) by Christophe Bonneuil and Jean-Baptiste Fressoz
For the past 12,000 years, Earth’s climate has been unusually stable, allowing for the flourishing of human civilizations. But thanks to all the damage we’ve done to the environment, we are now in a new era known as the Anthropocene, which is much less stable. In this book, the authors do a deep dive into the Anthropocene and what it means for power, politics, nature, and much more.
The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History (2015) by Elizabeth Kolbert
Throughout Earth’s history, there have been five mass extinction events (where at least 75% of species went extinct). In this book, Elizabeth Kolbert argues that we are at the beginning of the sixth mass extinction, and this one is being caused by humans. Her book is very well researched and makes the case that despite all of its achievements, humanity’s most lasting legacy will be one of destruction and extinction.
The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming (2020) by David Wallace-Wells
In this book David Wallace-Wells looks at the latest climate science and concludes that it is already too late to prevent catastrophic warming. He gives a preview of what the world will looking in the coming decades, and it’s not pretty. Although this book is quite harrowing, it is probably one of the best books you can read if you’re new to climate science. If you’d like a preview, this book is an expansion of the article, The Uninhabitable Earth, which you can read here.
The Water Will Come: Rising Seas, Sinking Cities, and the Remaking of the Civilized World (2018) by Jeff Goodell
This book focuses on sea level rise caused by climate change. Acclaimed journalist Jeff Goodell travels around the world to places where sea level rise is already a huge problem, and he explains how it will affect major cities and countries all around the world.
They Knew: The US Federal Government’s Fifty-Year Role in Causing the Climate Crisis (2021) by James Gustave Speth
In 2015, a group of 21 people sued the federal government in Juliana v. United States for violating their constitutional rights by helping cause the climate catastrophe, thereby depriving them of life, liberty, and property. This book, written by their lawyer, lays out all the evidence that the federal government, and every administration from Carter to Trump, knew exactly what fossil fuels were doing to the planet and chose to promote more oil infrastructure anyway.
This Civilisation is Finished: Conversations On The End Of Empire – And What Lies Beyond (2019) by Rupert Read and Samuel Alexander
In this book, two philosophers talk about what lies ahead for humanity. Rupert Read argues that we have three options: 1) Civilization collapses utterly and terminally. 2) Civilization collapses, but we plant the seeds for a future civilization. 3) Civilization transforms itself in time to prevent collapse. Number 1 looks like the most likely, while number 3 is the least likely, so they discuss how to bring about number 2 and what the next civilization might look like.
Too Smart for Our Own Good: The Ecological Predicament of Humankind (2009) by Craig Dilworth
This one is almost like a textbook, going back millions of years to our primate ancestors. Dilworth describes what life was like for hunter-gatherers, how we came to domesticate animals and create massive farms, why we started making ever more complex tools built from nonrenewable resources, and how it all led to a global civilization that is unsustainable. This is one of the most difficult books on this list, drawing from fields like biology, anthropology, archaeology, economics, environmental science, history, and more.
Wasteland By Wednesday: An Introduction To The Collapse Of Civilization, Coming “Faster Than Expected” To A Neighborhood Near You (2022) by Kristopher Justin
This book is an excellent introduction to people who don’t know much about how or why are civilization is about to collapse. The author covers resource depletion, climate change, emerging pandemics, conflict among nations, the peak of complexity, and how it all converges into collapse. If you’re looking for a quick summation of what’s going on and what will happen next, this is the book for you.