19 Can’t-Put-Down Dystopian Books Like 1984

Are you looking for books similar to 1984, George Orwell’s magnum opus? 

If so, you’ve crash-landed into the right spot.

Our team curated a list of 19 novels for readers searching for stories that tackle similar issues to those explored in Orwell’s satirical, social-science classic. 

Some titles are more lighthearted than others, and our list spans decades and demographics. 

In other words: There’s variety, and we hope you find something that hits your literary spot!

Remember the Book 1984

Nineteen Eighty-Four — sometimes spelled 1984 — was George Orwell’s final novel. Now a classic, it’s widely revered as one of the most impactful English-language books ever written and regularly appears on “best of” literary lists. 

A dystopian tale, 1984 is a work of satirical criticism that skewers totalitarianism by exploring themes related to mass surveillance, brainwashing, and the nature of “truth.” 

The book is set in a world perpetually at war. A handful of governments control the globe’s land masses. Big Brother, a totalitarian dictator, leads Oceania, a superstate composed of North and South America, Great Britain, Australia, the Atlantic Islands, and southern Africa.

The protagonist, Winston Smith, is a middle manager at the Ministry of Truth responsible for rewriting historical documents to match the governing party’s latest narrative. 

Ultimately, Winston becomes disenchanted with life and concerned about the consequences of authoritarian rule. He dreams of rebellion and meets a seemingly like-minded woman named Julia.

The two start a forbidden affair and become involved with an undercover activist group called the Brotherhood.

19 Can’t-Put-Down Dystopian Books Like 1984 

Are you a fan of 1984 and dystopian novels threaded with cultural commentary? If so, check out the titles below. 

1. 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami

A wildly engaging tale by Japanese writer Haruki Murakami, 1Q84 is about a woman named Aomame who finds herself in an alternate dimension. Tengo, her childhood sweetheart, also figures prominently in the novel. 

The plot is deep and features unexpected assassins, religious cults, and supernatural pregnancies. If that sounds like a fun ride to your literary mind, pick up a copy pronto. You probably won’t be disappointed by the twisting — albeit sometimes unwieldy — plot.  

Originally, 1Q84 was published in three volumes in Japan, with the first two books hitting shelves in 2009 and the third following in 2010. Murakami’s English publisher, Knopf, opted to compile all three books under one hardcover title, also offering a three-book paperback set. 

In some ways, 1Q84 is an homage to 1984. The title is a direct reference to Orwell’s work, as are elements of the plot and themes.

2. Parable of the Sower by Octavia Spencer

Octavia Spencer’s Parable of the Sower holds readers’ hands through a post-apocalyptic, climate-ravaged world ruthlessly divided by class and race. 

The protagonist is a young girl named Lauren Olamina, a super empath who can feel others’ pain. The story follows Lauren as she journeys north after being displaced from her home. Along the way, Lauren encounters various people who both help and hinder her progress.

During the trek, she discovers a religion called Earthseed that encourages followers to believe “god is change” and that interplanetary colonization is a noble goal. 

Upon publication, several notable awards committees recognized Parable of the Sower, and Spencer penned a sequel, Parable of the Talents.

3. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Before the blockbuster films, The Hunger Games was a beloved young adult book trilogy following the fate of Katniss Everdeen, a working-class teenager from Panem — the dystopian, class-stratified, hyper-capitalistic state of North America — who must compete in an annual, reality-show-style, to-the-death survival competition. 

The Hunger Games are an annual, state-run, sporting-survival event (think: a fatal version of Survivor meets the Olympics) wherein one boy and girl between 12 and 18 are chosen from each of the country’s 12 class-divided districts. Competitors from wealthier regions benefit from years of training and benefactor perks, giving them a significant advantage in the field. Resultantly, Katniss must use her wits and forge strategic relationships to endure the battle royale.  

Collins’ books explore themes related to family, social status, trust, celebrity, and bravery. 

4. The Road by Cormac McCarthy

Winner of the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and described as “heartbreaking,” “harrowing,” “haunting,” and “emotionally shattering,” Cormac McCarthy’s The Road explores the hardships of a post-extinction-event America. 

Specifically, it follows the journey of a father and son who head south in search of amenable living conditions. On the trip, they encounter cannibals, ne’er-do-wells, and other “good guys” trying to survive. Since the pair have limited resources requiring rationing, they learn to assess people and situations carefully.  

The Road is one of those books that stays with people for a long time. In 2009, it was adapted into a film helmed by Australian-Canadian director John Hillcoat.

5. Blindness by Jose Saramago

In 1998, the Nobel Prize committee presented José Saramago their award for Literature, and Blindness was one of the main reasons he nabbed the prestigious honor. 

As for the book’s plot, imagine a world where everyone goes blind. As the situation deteriorates, criminal elements arise, pouring gasoline on the proverbial fire. The hero is a single “eyewitness” who helps seven people to safety, and their journey makes up the novel’s “meat.”

Notably, Blindness characters don’t have names. Instead, they’re defined by unique descriptors, like “The Doctor,” “The Doctor’s Wife,” “The Dog of Tears,” and “The Old Man With the Black Eye Patch.” 

Blindness is a work of grand metaphor, and book lovers would do well to add it to their dystopian reading list. 

6. A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess

Many students read A Clockwork Orange and 1984 close together (alongside Fahrenheit 451) since they all deal with dystopian settings — but Burgess’s book is the punk-rock standout. 

Written in Hove — a Sussex seaside town crawling with teenage scenesters — over three weeks in 1962, A Clockwork Orange tells the story of Alex and his thug friends. It’s a world where milk is treated like alcohol, and “ultraviolence” is commonplace.

Themes of youth culture and morally degenerative societal norms stand at the fore, and it’s a highly entertaining, although sometimes disturbing, read. 

Be aware, however, that a couple of versions of the book exist. While Burgess intended 21 chapters, books published in the United States are missing the original last chapter as stateside publishers deemed the ending “unrealistic” and less punchy.

So if you want to read it as Burgess intended, get your hands on a copy of the 21-chapter version.

7. The Children of Men by P.D. James

Arguably a mishmash of A Handmaid’s Tale and Nineteen Eighty-Four, P.D. James’s The Children of Men invites readers into a world beset by a mass infertility crisis in which male sperm counts have suddenly dropped to zero.  

Published in 1992 and set in a fictional 2021, the novel explores themes related to mass compliance and resistance, history and mythology, and the divide between fatalism and hope. 

BBC News named it one of the 100 most influential books of all time in 2019, and it was also adapted into a film starring Clive Owen and Julianne Moore.

8. The Chrysalids by John Wyndham

Also published as Re-Birth, The Chrysalids is a coming-of-age novel set in a post-apocalyptic region where a fundamentalist religion has taken widespread root. 

Like 1984, The Chrysalids unpacks issues and ideas related to brainwashing, mass compliance, and the price associated with a class-strapped society. Specifically, the plot follows a Romeo-and-Juliet romance in a post-nuclear-catastrophe world where humans have returned to square one regarding technology and knowledge. 

Published in 1955, it’s a departure from Wyndham’s usual style and subject matter. However, many experts consider it one of his finest works.

9. The Power by Naomi Alderman

Now an Amazon Original series, The Power was originally a book by Naomi Alderman. In it, the author explores a world wherein women become the dominant sex after developing the ability to release electrical shocks via their fingertips. 

Stylistically, The Power is a book folded into a novel that tells how females leapfrogged men on the socio-cultural status ladder. 

Part sci-fi romp, part philosophical treatise, The Power is similar to 1984 in that it explores issues linked to cultural norms and dominance.  

The New York Times lauded The Power as one of the ten best books of 2017, and it also won the prestigious Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction.

10. All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders

Critic Irene Gallo described Charlie Jane Anders’ All the Birds in the Sky as a work “[that blends] literary fantasy and science fiction.”

A winner of the Nebula Award for Best Novel (2017), All the Birds in the Sky tells the story of a witch and techno-geek who join forces to save the world from a destructive socio-enviro-economic force known as the Unraveling. 

Like 1984, Anders’ work describes the challenges one faces when pushing against established but demoralizing norms in service of the greater ethical good.

11. The Stand by Stephen King

Initially published in 1978, Stephen King’s The Stand remains one of the author’s most beloved novels to date — and his longest, with the Complete and Uncut Edition weighing in at about 1,152 pages. 

The plot is complicated and features lots of characters — to the point where the book’s personae dramatis has its own Wikipedia page. So while it’s difficult to give a thorough summary without writing a term paper, in the broadest possible sense, the story is about two clashing factions of travelers in a demolished, post-pandemic world who are attempting to make a long survival trek that’s bound to result in a final showdown.

The Stand is known for being highly readable and engaging, and like 1984, it grapples with the concepts of good and evil.

12. The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin

Parts sci-fi, fantasy, and social commentary, The Dispossessed grapples with ideas about what it means to be a human tethered to a conformist society and what it takes to spark change.

Le Guin’s work takes place in a galactic universe, much like Star Wars or Star Trek. The protagonist is a scientist named Shevek who wants to reintegrate his planet of exiled anarchists into the broader cosmic cooperative. Like 1984’s Winston Smith, Shevek wants to break free from the norm and help incite social change.

Subsequent publications of the novel bore the title The Dispossessed: An Ambiguous Utopia, and the main character was modeled after J. Robert Oppenheimer, aka the “father of the atomic bomb.”

13. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

Douglas Adams’s The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is one of the funnier dystopian novels ever to hit shelves. Granted, the association with 1984 is loose, but since it’s such a great read, we had to include it.

Hitchhiker’s Guide is a laugh-out-loud tale about an ordinary human who ends up on a spaceship with a riotous cast of characters after Earth is demolished. 

Again, it may not be an obvious choice to land on a list of books like 1984, but glimmers of Orwell’s classic are echoed in Hitchhiker’s Guide. For example, as in 1984, Adams’ character cast features a political overlord of questionable integrity.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is one of those incredibly entertaining novels you’ll pick up before flipping on the television, and it ranks in the pantheon of “books that are better than their movie counterparts.”

14. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

As one of our list’s more recently published titles, Ready Player One was Ernest Cline’s debut novel. The book is set in a 2045 riddled with environmental problems and overpopulation. Moreover, the masses are addicted to OASIS, a virtual reality platform that allows people to escape the ravages of real life. 

Like 1984, the plot follows the story of a man desperate to break the system.

Ready Player One is one of those “magical first books” that publishing houses fight over in bidding wars. In this case, Random House eventually won. The book proved a massive success, was translated into over 20 languages, and spawned a commercially successful film directed by Steven Speilberg.

15. Dune by Frank Herbert

Frank Herbert’s Dune is a beloved sci-fi classic. Many attempts have been made to adapt the series into film and television projects, some more successful than others. But nothing quite compares to the books, especially the first one.

Winner of the 1966 Nebula Award for Best Novel, Dune — the first of the saga — was published in 1965.

Ultimately, it’s a story about a family, House Atreides (based on the mythological Greek house of Atreus), and its golden son, Paul. The plot chronicles a power struggle sparked by dictatorial government decrees, and the book explores themes related to environmental ethics, religion/belief, and fate.

16. We by Yevgeny Zamyatin

According to literary legend, a professor named Gleb Struve encouraged Orwell to read Yevgeny Zamyatin’s 1924 novel We, making it a must-read in the genre of “books like 1984.”

In Zamyatin’s story, a glass-enclosed city with a tyrannical dictator is center stage. The society, known as OneState, demands that citizens comply with a strict dress code and an authoritarian police force.  

The protagonist is D-503 (people are defined by numbers instead of names), a man who discovers his soul and joins underground dissidents focused on overthrowing the totalitarian norm.

Of all the books that made this list, We is probably the most similar to 1984.

17. Panther in the Hive by Olivia A. Cole

A dystopian journey polished with a little Devil Wears Prada, Olivia Cole’s Panther in the Hive is the story of Tasha, an orphan in Chicago, who must make her way to the city’s South Side for safety after a devastating cybertronic event.

Ultimately, Panther in the Hive is a tale about growing up. Still, it shares thematic similarities with 1984 in that both books tell the story through a character fighting against “the man” in a world plagued by war and violence.

18. The Sheep Look Up by John Brunner

Brunner’s story is set in a future bedraggled by environmental ruin where water and oil are scarce but needed resources. The main character, Austin Train, is an ecological activist associated with a group called the Trainites that frequently resort to violence in the hopes of breaking corporations’ stranglehold on the world.  

The Sheep Look Up was first published in 1972 and is frequently mentioned in the same breath as The Handmaid’s Tale, Brave New World, and 1984.

19. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale is a chilling exploration of a future controlled by an authoritarian, theonomic political party wherein women are second-class citizens forced into various servile roles based on their genetics, age, and social class.

The novel hit shelves in 1985 and was a critical success, winning several major awards, including a Booker Prize and Governor General’s Award. 

Like 1984, The Handmaid’s Tale is a cautionary tale about the dangers of totalitarian rule and forced conformity.

Final Thoughts

George Orwell’s opus is one of the best-known, most-referenced books ever written. If you enjoyed it, consider checking out some of the titles on our list of novels, like 1984. 

Dystopian epics are a great way to detach from everyday life instead of mindlessly vegging out in front of the television. Plus, they encourage philosophical thinking, which ultimately improves cognitive function.

Happy dystopian reading!

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