Reading lists

The Last of Us: books to read if you love the series

A reading list for fans of the HBO show, from post-apocalyptic sci-fi to video game-inspired novels and nature books.

Credit: HBO / Warner Media

Love The Last of Us?

So do we. And, naturally, as we’ve watched the HBO series unfold and devoured its episodes, we’ve been thinking deeply about the books it has reminded us of. There are so many facets of the show to dig deep into: the post-apocalyptic theme of lost humanity; the narrative power of video games; the science of fungi and the wonders of the natural world.

Below, we’ve assembled a reading list with a book for every kind of The Last of Us fan, whether you’ve played through both video games or have just started catching up on the TV series.

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel (2014)

Years before Covid-19 swept across the globe, Canadian author Emily St. John Mandel wrote this prescient, breakthrough-hit novel about a fictional swine flu pandemic and the world it creates, in which survivors try desperately to hold on to the life they once knew. Moving in its humanity, Station Eleven won the Arthur C. Clarke Award for science fiction in 2015 and was adapted for TV by HBO Max in 2021 – and rightly continues to gather new fans on TikTok and Goodreads.

City of Thieves by David Benioff (2008)

Though it’s not quite set in the post-apocalypse, this historical novel from Game of Thrones television writer David Benioff shares the same central relationship as The Last of Us, as a mismatched, age-disparate pair must collaborate in order to survive a hostile world. In City of Thieves, it’s Lev and Kolya, imprisoned cellmates during the Siege of Leningrad who form an unlikely bond as they navigate snipers, cannibals, and more. It’s a gripping, darkly funny read, and a huge inspiration on The Last of Us – eagle-eyed fans of the second video game will have spotted in-game Abby Anderson reading it in one of the cut-scenes.

The Road by Cormac McCarthy (2006)

In this Pulitzer prize-winning novel, a man and his young son navigate their gruelling existence in a post-apocalyptic, detritus-strewn America, evading danger and eking out survival together against bleak odds – sound at all familiar? Of all the books on this list, The Road is perhaps closest in tone and feel to The Last of Us, as it’s permeated by the same sense of persistent paranoia and peril, and centred on that same harrowing of questions: in a world turned desperate, can we still hold on to our humanity?

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