Will the future be dystopian? Can the human race even survive climate change and the ongoing mass extinction? Or does technology promise a far better and more hopeful future? The two dozen nonfiction books listed here offer a wide range of perspectives on these questions. They explore the impact of artificial intelligence and advanced robotics, the emergence of molecular nanotechnology, the private-sector space race, as well as climate change, the threat of a global pandemic, and other questions. These titles are listed in alphabetical order by the authors’ last names. Each is followed by a link to my review on this site.
This post was updated on January 22, 2021.
Two dozen good nonfiction books about the future
Optimistic books about the future
The Space Barons: Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, and the Quest to Colonize the Cosmos by Christian Davenport—Four billionaires, private space companies, and humanity’s future in the cosmos
Abundance: The Future Is Better Than You Think by Peter H. Diamandis and Steven Kotler—Does technology promise humanity a bright future?
Radical Abundance: How a Revolution in Nanotechnology Will Change Civilization by K. Eric Drexler—Nanotechnology and the future of our species
The Sentient Machine: The Coming Age of Artificial Intelligence by Amir Husain—Today’s artificial intelligence is transforming our lives, an expert insists
Beyond: Our Future in Space by Chris Impey—A colony on Mars? Really? An astronomy professor thinks so.
The Future of Humanity: Terraforming Mars, Interstellar Travel, Immortality, and Our Destiny Beyond Earth by Michio Kaku—From the moon and Mars to the multiverse
Big Data: A Revolution That Will Transform How We Live, Work, and Think by Viktor Mayer-Schoeneberger and Kenneth Cukier—From two experts: The coming Big Data revolution
Scatter, Adapt, and Remember: How Humans Will Survive a Mass Extinction by Annalee Newitz—Will the human race survive climate change and a mass extinction?
The Third Industrial Revolution: How Lateral Power Is Transforming Energy, the Economy, and the World by Jeremy Rifkin—Afraid the end of the world is nigh? Here’s a hopeful message
The Driver in the Driverless Car: How Our Technology Choices Will Create the Future by Vivek Wadwa and Alex Salkever—An authoritative look at technology’s potential
Pessimistic books about the future
Warnings: Finding Cassandras to Stop Catastrophes by Richard A. Clarke and R. P. Eddy—Can we avoid a dystopian future?
Thinking Machines: The Quest for Artificial Intelligence and Where It’s Taking Us Next by Luke Dormehl—Will robots run amok?
Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future by Martin Ford—Will robots create a jobless future?
Megatech: Technology in 2050 edited by Daniel Franklin—Surveying the future of technology in the mid-21st century
Future Crimes: Everything Is Connected, Everyone Is Vulnerable and What We Can Do About It by Marc Goodman—The harsh truth about cyber security
Homo Deus by Yuval Noah Harari—A book I did not review because I read only a quarter of the text. But that first quarter is crammed with insight from a totally fresh perspective not covered elsewhere.
Hot: Living Through the Next Fifty Years on Earth by Mark Hertsgaard—Global warming and climate change: the next fifty years
The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History by Elizabeth Kolbert—Are we living through the Sixth Extinction?
AI Superpowers: China, Silicon Valley, and the New World Order by Kai-Fu Lee – The best book about artificial intelligence I’ve read so far
Machines of Loving Grace: The Quest for Common Ground Between Humans and Robots by John Markoff—Will robots seize the day?
Pandemic: Tracking Contagions from Cholera to Ebola and Beyond by Sonia Shah—The existential threat of contagious disease
The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming by David Wallace-Wells—Climate change is worse than you think—much, much worse
2062: The World That AI Made by Toby Walsh—An AI expert worries about the robots of the future
Good science fiction novels that illuminate the future
In my book, Hell on Earth: What we can learn from dystopian fiction, I’ve taken a fresh look at the fast-growing body of dystopian literature. There, I discuss 62 dystopian novels. The book is largely based on my reviews of most of those novels posted on this site. You’ll find links to them at The top 10 dystopian novels reviewed here (plus dozens of others).
Along the way, I’ve encountered 17 novels that offer special insight into the possibilities the future holds for us. They’re listed below in alphabetical order by the authors’ last names. Included among these 17 books are the first entry in each of two trilogies (by Margaret Atwood and Ramez Naam) and the first of two books in a series (by Octavia E. Butler). All the subsequent novels in these series are well worth reading.
American War by Omar El Akkad—A chilling tale, lucidly told, of a Second American Civil War
Company Town by Madeline Ashby—An imaginative look at a corporate future in a strange sci-fi novel
Feed by M. T. Anderson—A terrifying vision of the future in an award-winning young adult novel
Oryx and Crake (MaddAddam Trilogy #1) by Margaret Atwood—Margaret Atwood’s brilliant dystopian fiction
The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi—One of the best science fiction novels I’ve ever read
The Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupi—Dystopian fiction that breaks the mold
The Parable of the Sower (Parable #1 of 2) by Octavia E. Butler—A superb dystopian novel by Octavia E. Butler
Semi/Human by Erik Hanberg—A fanciful and light-hearted tale of a jobless future
An Excess Male by Maggie Shen King—A great science fiction novel set in a future totalitarian China
This Perfect Day by Ira Levin—A superb tale of a future where artificial intelligence rules
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel—Life on Earth after the apocalypse
Nexus (Nexus Trilogy #1) by Ramez Naam—The post-human future explored in an outstanding SF novel
Autonomous by Annalee Newitz—In 2144, Arctic resorts, autonomous robots, and killer drugs
After Atlas (Planetfall, A) by Emma Newman—A 22nd century police procedural in a fascinating future Earth
New York 2140 by Kim Stanley Robinson—A grim but hopeful view of New York underwater in 2140
Lock In: A Novel of the Near Future by John Scalzi—A near future sci-fi novel set after a strange pandemic
All Systems Red (Murderbot Diaries #1) by Martha Wells—A reminder that technology doesn’t always work well in the future, either
Artificial Condition (Murderbot Diaries #2) by Martha Wells—Far away and long in the future, an augmented human designed to kill
For further reading
For more good reading, check out Great sci-fi novels reviewed: my top 10 (plus dozens of runners-up).
If your taste runs to the dark side, you might be interested in The top 10 dystopian novels reviewed here (plus dozens of others).
And you can always find my most popular reviews, and the most recent ones, plus a guide to this whole site, on the Home Page.