Racing from year to year at lightning speed is the alluring premise behind wildly successful books about time travel. First popularized by H.G. Wells, time-traveling novels have become guilty reading pleasures for audiences to escape modern life for the past or future.
Although always science fiction, these books span several genres from children’s fantasy to horror and even romance. Books about time travel either intentionally or inadvertently send main characters spiraling into parallel universes. Audiences get sucked into riveting plots when even the slightest changes to history’s timeline can cause epic, disastrous effects.
Take a mind-bending journey that transcends time and space by burying your nose in one of these 30 imaginative time travel books.
#1 – Kindred
Nebula Award-winning author Octavia Butler brings us Kindred, a grim time-travel fantasy about a young African American woman named Dana. Before the eyes of her white newlywed husband Kevin, Dana is mysteriously transported from 1976 California to 19th century Maryland. There she encounters her ancestors: Rufus, a spoiled slaveholder, and Alice, a free Black woman forced into slavery. Then, Dana herself becomes entangled in the dynamics and dilemmas of plantation life.
#2 – 11/22/63
Adapted into a Hulu series, 11/22/63 is a Locus Award-winning sci-fi novel centered on Jake Epping, a newly divorced English teacher from Maine. While grading essays at the diner, the dying owner, Al, tells him about a bizarre time-travel portal in the storeroom. Though dubious at first, Jake agrees to take over Al’s obsessive mission in 1960s Dallas, Texas. Will the plan to prevent John F. Kennedy’s assassination by Lee Harvey Oswald work?
#3 – The Accidental Time Machine
Published in 2007, The Accidental Time Machine is a gripping read about graduate school dropout Matthew Fuller. Working as a lowly research assistant at MIT, Matt accidentally constructs a time machine. Left unfilled with a dead-end job and cheating girlfriend, he thinks there’s nothing to lose with a time travel expedition. But Matt ultimately finds himself in a 23rd-century theocracy controlled by artificial intelligence.
#4 – The Sirens of Titan
Kurt Vonnegut’s second novel, The Sirens of Titan, portrays the story of Malachi Constant, the richest man in future America. In preparation for an interplanetary war, he’s given the chance to travel from Earth to Mars and Saturn’s largest moon, Titan. His bleak journey collides with Winston Miles Rumfoord, an astronaut turned into a “wave phenomena” with god-like powers. Constant’s left futilely trying to thwart destiny as Rumfoord sparks war between Martians and humanity.
#5 – The House on the Strand
Daphne du Maurier
The House on the Strand is a haunting tale about Magnus Lane, a London biophysicist who’s experimenting with a time-traveling concoction. He asks his friend, Richard Young, to stay at his home in Kilmarth near the Cornish coast. Here Richard imbibes the potion and is transported to the 14th century. But when he attempts to change the past for a beautiful woman, the results will be terrifying.
#6 – The Mirror
In the Victorian Gingerbread House on Pearl Street in Boulder, Colorado, stands an antique mirror. On the night before her wedding, Shay Garrett peers into its glassy reflection. Suddenly, she falls unconscious and awakes in the body of Brandy, her grandmother. Meanwhile, the virginal Brandy finds herself in Shay’s pregnant body. What ensues is a classic tale of two women trying to cope with life in 1900 and 1978 respectively.
#7 – A Wrinkle in Time
Debuting the acclaimed Time Quintet, this 203-page, sci-fi novel is about Meg Murry, a troublesome 13-year-old, and her five-year-old brother Charles Wallace. On a stormy night, an unearthly stranger lands on their doorstep. She tells them that their missing father has been experimenting with a time travel project called tesseract. The siblings’ search for Dr. Murry takes them to Camazotz, a dark planet dominated by the Black Thing.
#8 – Thrice Upon a Time
James P. Hogan
Thrice Upon a Time opens with Murdoch Ross and his friend Lee Francis Walker visiting his Nobel Prize-winning grandfather in Scotland. Sir Charles shows them his latest invention, a machine for sending messages across time. Their initial amazement wears off as Murdoch realizes that every message can alter the past and threaten the future. That’s when an ominous signal arrives reading “The world is doomed!”
#9 – A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court
As one of the oldest books about time travel, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court was published in 1889 by humorist Mark Twain. It’s about a 19th-century engineer from Hartford who’s inexplicably transported to early-Medieval England after a head injury. Mr. Morgan utilizes his knowledge from 1300 years in the future to modernize the past. Yet the “magician” is soon met with contempt from the Catholic Church.
#10 – The End of Eternity
Isaac Asimov’s stand-alone, science fiction masterpiece portrays Andrew Harlan, an elite Eternal living in Eternity, a realm outside of time. Harlan’s job is to carefully select small “Reality Changes” that shift history for humankind’s greater good. Yet his next change would result in the exquisite Noÿs Lambent ceasing to exist. Will Harlan choose love and sneak her into Eternity or uphold his civic duty?
#11 – Lightning
On the night of Laura Shane’s birth, a mysterious stranger appeared in lightning to prevent harm from an alcoholic physician. The guardian reappears throughout her childhood to protect Laura in the face of danger. Thirty years later, a storm flash reveals him as Stefan, a time traveler riding the “lightning road.” Now Laura protects the wounded man being pursued by evil villains tampering with history, thrusting herself into a bloody face-off.
#12 – The Anubis Gates
World Fantasy Award-winning author Tim Powers’ dazzling imagination created The Anubis Gates in 1983 with Ace Books. The time travel novel begins in 1983 as millionaire J. Cochran Darrow finds magical gates. Darrow organizes an expedition for fellow elite to attend a lecture by Samuel Taylor Coleridge in 1810. The successful trip turns sour when their guide, Professor Brendan Doyle, is kidnapped by Doctor Romany. Will Doyle remain trapped in the 19th century?
#13 – First Dawn
Starting the Lost Millinium series, this 402-page novel introduces Launa O’Brien, a young graduate of West Point. Faced with a bacterial apocalypse, the U.S. decides to change mankind by returning to the Neolithic. Captain Jack Walking Bear assigns her the outlandish task of helping peaceful farmers win a war against the Horse Raiders over 6,000 years ago. Soon the Army’s time machine leaves Launa’s team surrounded by warlike horsemen out for blood.
#14 – By His Bootstraps
Robert A. Heinlein
Originally published in Astounding Science Fiction in 1941, By His Boostraps is a sci-fi novella about grad student Bob Wilson. While writing his thesis on metaphysics, a strange figure calling himself “Joe” appears. He shows Bob a Time Gate, which can take him centuries ahead. Bob’s suddenly thrust 2,000 years into the future where a man named Diktor offers him an opportunity to rule the world.
#15 – The Door into Summer
Robert A. Heinlein
Illustrated by Frank Kelly Freas, The Door into Summer is another of Robert A. Heinlein’s fast-paced time travel books. It opens in 1970 with Daniel Boone Davis commiserating about losing his company, Hired Girl Inc., and fiancée Belle to his partner Miles. An inebriated Dan confronts his two traitors, but they inject him with a suspended animation drug. After awaking in 2000, he plots to travel back and get revenge.
#16 – The Eyre Affair
The Eyre Affair takes place in a parallel universe where a long-fought Crimean War turned England into a police state. Time travel, cloning, and pet dodos are a reality for Thursday Next, a renowned literary detective. Her next case involves a mastermind literally kidnapping characters, including Jane Eyre, from Brontë novels. Readers can also join Thursday’s other investigations into classic texts with Lost in a Good Book.
#17 – The Time Machine
Adapted for a 1960 film with Rod Taylor, The Time Machine is a classic H.G. Wells sci-fi masterwork about a nameless, hypothetical scientist in Victorian England. His first journey teleports him to A.D. 802,701. He encounters the Eloi, a peaceful tribe of child-like vegetarians. But later, the Time Traveller is menaced by the Morlocks, ape-like Neanderthals with predatory hunger. When his machine lands in Morlock hands, he’s locked in the futuristic society divided by two races.
#18 – Footprints of Thunder
James F. David
Footprints of Thunder shows us what happens when a freak phenomenon erases the boundaries between past and present. Portland, Oregon, transforms into a prehistoric forest where people are face-to-snout with Godzilla-sized dinosaurs. In Hawaii, a stranded family battles against a pack of bloodthirsty killer whales. The lone, forgotten woman in the Bronx hides from winged reptiles. As the President scrambles for a solution, he’s presented with a cure that could wreak more havoc.
#19 – Hawksbill Station
Nominated for a Hugo Award in 1968, Hawksbill Station is a short sci-fi story about a prison colony created in the Precambrian Era. The authoritarian U.S. government time travels rebels to the station as a “humane” alternative to the death penalty. The male, middle-aged prisoners are left marooned in the past. That’s until a young newcomer arrives, informing them that he’ll decide who’s appropriate for retrieval.
#20 – To Say Nothing of the Dog
Celebrated Doomsday Book author Connie Willis released this sci-fi comedy in 1997 about Ned Henry, a tired time traveler. He’s been continuously shuttled from 21st century Oxford University to 1940s Nazi Germany. Ned belongs to Lady Schrapnell’s project for restoring the illustrious Coventry Cathedral destroyed in World War II. But when his colleague Verity Kindle brings history back to the present, Ned could face the consequences.
#21 – Old Magic
Ideal for young adults aged 12+, Old Magic is an enthralling, fantasy novel about Kate Warren, an ordinary middle schooler. Her attention is immediately riveted on the mysterious new boy, Jarrod Thornton. His supernatural ability is confirmed when Jarrod accidentally triggers a thunderstorm inside their classroom. Together, the teen couple embarks on a time-traveling journey to the Middle Ages in hopes of reversing a curse haunting Jarrod’s family.
#22 – Outlander
Science fiction lovers seeking a dash of romance in time travel books will adore the eight-part Outlander series. Claire Beauchamp Randall, a married British WWII combat nurse, accidentally travels back to 18th-century Scotland. Suddenly, she’s a Sassenach marooned in war-torn lands. Claire learns her only chance of survival lies with Jamie Fraser, a handsome Highland warrior. Will the love triangle between two incompatible lives end in happiness or utter heartbreak?
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#23 – The Time Traveler’s Wife
Henry DeTamble, a Chicago librarian, was born with a supernatural genetic disorder that causes him to involuntary time travel. In 1991, he meets Clare Abshire, an artist who recognizes him from her childhood. As they become romantically involved, Henry’s time traveling begins taking a toll. Conceiving a child is also improbable as his genes cause their unborn fetuses to time travel, resulting in miscarriage. Can the two lovers still triumph despite Henry’s absences?
#24 – Behold the Man
First published in a 1966 New Worlds issue, Michael Moorcock’s short novella weaves an existentialist tale about Karl Glogauer. His time machine teleports him from London in 1970 to the Holy Land in AD 28. John the Baptist and the Essenes discover him after a violent arrival. Suffering a messiah complex, Karl hopes to meet Jesus of Nazareth. But he himself soon steps into the role, using psychological tricks to perform miracles.
#25 – Beyond the Highland Mist
Karen Marie Moning
Similar to books about time travel like Outlander, Karen Marie Moning’s debut novel starring Adrienne de Simone, a skeptical woman from modern-day Seattle. A vengeful fairy sends her to the starkly beautiful Scottish Highlands during the 16th century. She’s suddenly coerced into a marriage with Hawk, a brutish warrior. Adrienne vows to keep him at arm’s length, but she’s no match for his sensual determination.
#26 – Time and Again
Time and Again is a 1970 science fiction novel written about Simon Morley, an advertising artist. He’s approached by Major Ruben Prien to participate in a secret U.S. Army project to test time travel. So, he leaves his comfortable 20th-century life and heads to 1882 New York City. Simon’s curious to trace the mystery of a half-burned letter his girlfriend Kate discovered. Expect a cliffhanger because there’s a sequel, From Time to Time.
#27 – A Rebel in Time
Wesley McCulloch, a modern-day, racist Army colonel, believes the South could still win the Civil War. He’s developed some unique, time-traveling blueprints to reclaim victory for the Confederacy. However, Sergeant Harmon, an ingenious Black man, is determined to stop McCulloch’s efforts. From today’s Washington, DC, to 19th-century battlefields, the adversaries wage war. And the winner will determine the course of the United States’ future.
#28 – Replay
Believed to be the precursor of Groundhog Day, Ken Grimwood’s award-winning 1986 novel introduces radio journalist Jeff Winston. At 43 years old, he dies of a sudden attack and awakens in his 18-year-old body at Emory University. He lives the next 25 years protecting his cardiac health, but still dies and hits “replay” again. Although Jeff’s continually unable to prevent his own demise, he learns to positively change events for others.
#29 – The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells
Andrew Sean Greer
The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells is a spell-binding, time-traveling novel about a woman shown the alter egos she might’ve been. It’s 1985 when Greta undergoes electroshock therapy to relieve the grief of her twin brother’s death from AIDS. She’s thrust back to 1918 where she’s a Bohemian adulteress in the martini-laden Oak Room. Next, Greta’s whisked away to 1941 where she’s married to her unfaithful ex-lover. Which life will she ultimately choose?
#30 – Hyperion
Divided into six parts, Hyperion is a Hugo Award-winning, science fiction novel penned by Dan Simmons in 1989. Readers are taken to the 27th-century world of Hyperion, where the Valley of the Time Tombs stand. Seven pilgrims enter these tombs seeking answers about the looming Armageddon and the mysterious Shrikes. They all share a common link, but one perilously holds the fate of humankind in his hands.
Ever wished you could turn back the clock? Make your fantasy come to literary life by picking up these popular page-turning, century-spanning books about time travel.