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22 Time Travel Books That’ll Transport You to Another Time and Place

The best time travel books of every genre will make you laugh, cry and fall in love as you transcend time

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Time travel that will truly transport you

Time marches on, as the saying goes—but time travel books have us asking, Does it really?

Books about time travel artfully challenge our perceptions. Skillfully bending our minds and flexing the limitations of time, these great works change our perspective on what’s possible.

And the best books about time travel go even further. For a time travel tale to become a classic book in its own genre, it mustn’t be defined by the party trick of the time jump. In fact, that’s often just the starting point of a deeper, layered story, as time travel books can be any genre, or even cross genres!

For instance, time travel can be historical fiction, where characters visit the past and the book is firmly grounded by facts and recorded events. In the other direction, time travel stories can be futuristic, like these books that predicted the future. They often go into science fiction territory, complete with alternative worlds and intergalactic strife. Post-apocalyptic settings are also popular, and parallel universes too. Some time travel tales even end up on lists of banned books, like Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time.

But in an ideal work, the concept of time travel is held together by stories of universal—and timeless—shared experiences: A quest for love, a need to save. A yearning for redemption, forgiveness, even power. Joy and humor, or a sense of poignancy, regret, fear and loss.

The time travel books on this list differ in genre and type—award winners, classics, new releases, diverse authors and characters—but all have one thing in common: the humanity that shines through and transcends time to make a time travel book truly transportive.

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1. The Time Machine by H.G. Wells

Arguably the classic time travel book, published all the way back in 1895, The Time Machine is one of the oldest time travel stories and is largely credited with the popularization of the genre. In it, the Time Traveller, a Victorian English scientist and inventor, explains why he’s starting his weekly dinner party late: He lost his time machine and had to find it in the future—in 802,701 A.D. In this future, there are two human species: the innocent and childlike Eloi, and the savage, frightening Morlocks, who have his machine. Wells tears down capitalism, satirizes the decadence of his own time and speculates on evolution and the fourth dimension. It’s no wonder the novel has inspired two feature films, two TV series and several comic book adaptations.

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2. Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

Outlander is the first in an ongoing series that’s now a hugely popular TV series as well. It was initially (and for the author, begrudgingly) classified as a romance novel when it was published in 1991, but it’s so much more than that. Through its now nine novels, it’s become a story of enduring love and relationships forged and held through space, time and historical events.

British combat nurse Claire Randall is on a second honeymoon in Scotland with her husband, Frank, after they’ve been reunited at the close of WWII. Claire’s having a lovely time reconnecting when a solo outing puts her in proximity to pagan-era standing stones, which jarringly transport her 200 years into the past, to the start of the doomed Jacobite rebellion. Mishaps and tense circumstances lead her into the orbit and later protection of one Jamie Fraser, who becomes a force more powerful than the stones of Craigh na Dun … And that’s just the start of a sweeping historical tale that crosses oceans, offers intrigue and mystery, and takes us to the middle of another war, closer to home.

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3. What the Wind Knows by Amy Harmon

To Outlander fans who bemoan the “Droughtlander” between TV seasons and wait years between new book releases, the satellite stories and novellas by Diana Gabaldon are sometimes not quite enough. For them, 2019 Amazon Charts, Wall Street Journal and Washington Post bestseller What the Wind Knows might be just the salve they need.

In this love story, Anne Gallagher journeys to her beloved grandfather Eoin’s childhood home in Ireland to scatter his ashes, only to find herself traveling much farther than intended—to 1921, in fact, as the rebellion ripens. She comes under the care of a Dr. Thomas Smith and his ward, who shares her grandfather’s name, and she’s mistaken for the boy’s long-lost mother. Anne goes along with the mistaken identity … but for how long?

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4. Kindred by Octavia E. Butler

Prisons banning this book, citing “racial antagonism,” is the first clue that it’s a time travel book that goes far beyond predictable tropes. Published in 1979, this first-person account of Black novelist Edana (Dana) Franklin begins quickly, shockingly, with an arm amputation. It barely slows down as readers are transported as suddenly as the main character between 1976 Los Angeles and a pre-Civil War Maryland plantation, where Edana meets her ancestors and experiences their horrors through a modern-day lens.

This is particularly jarring as she becomes enmeshed in the lives of the white planter and Black freewoman-cum-enslaved person and concubine from her family tree, a stark contrast from her loving interracial marriage. In what the author has called a “grim fantasy,” this powerful book shines a bright light into our history’s darker corners, making Kindred a must-read book about racism in many academic circles.

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5. This Is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone

This short book proves that depth doesn’t necessarily require length. This Is How You Lose the Time War has been called “a story about a feeling” rather than a plot, but that doesn’t mean the latter isn’t there. In a creative telling between two gifted authors—each writing only as their characters, Red and Blue, in a back-and-forth exchange—the novella follows the rival time-traveling military agents from a warring future as they first taunt each other then fall in love over the course of correspondence … all while engaging in various missions to change events from the past and ensure the survival of their faction in the present/future.

It’s cleverly written and hugely emotive, so it’s no surprise this pair of sci-fi writers won BFSA, Nebula and Hugo Awards and the book was optioned for television in 2019, the year it was published, with the caveat that the Sapphic element was “not up for negotiation.”

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6. The Future of Another Timeline by Annalee Newitz

While it’s disturbing that misogyny and control of women is often a theme in futuristic science fiction or dystopian feminist books, when it’s done well, it’s incredible fodder. This contemporary work of speculative fiction released in 2019 does it masterfully, taking us to an existence that includes geologic wormhole generators and archeological features known as the “Machines.” Using the Machines are the Daughters of Harriet (Tubman), whose work revolves around changing key moments in history to make the future better for women. Tess is one of these underground Daughters fighting their misogynistic nemesis, the Comstockers. But when her path crosses with punky 17-year-old Beth, things get even messier as characters start to question who they really are and who they want to be.

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7. Here and Now and Then by Mike Chen

In this highly acclaimed debut novel by Asian American author Mike Chen, time travel is normal … and so is Kin Stewart, a suburban San Francisco dad working in IT and trying to stay connected with his wife and daughter. But this “reality” isn’t real reality, as Kin is actually a secret agent of the Temporal Corruption Bureau, an agency formed by the U.N. in 2098 to chase down “temporal criminals”—time travelers seeking to change the past to ensure their own lucrative futures.

On a mission gone awry 18 years ago, Kin found himself stranded in the 1990s. Making the most of the situation, made easier by love, he begins to forget his future as he builds a life in the present. That is, until an extraction team arrives to force him back to a life he no longer remembers, and he learns what lengths he’ll go to for the love of a daughter who was never supposed to exist.

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8. The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

The Time Traveler’s Wife is one of the best books made into movies, having earned the Exclusive Books Boeke Prize and British Book Award. A debut novel, this tragic and epic romance published in 1991 centers around librarian Henry DeTamble and his artist wife, Clare Anne Abshire. Henry has a genetic disorder that causes spontaneous time travel, which he’s suffered from since he was 5 years old. When he finally meets his future wife, it’s in 1991, but she’s actually known him for most of her life. As their paths cross through the years, they share a deep love, a child, a life … all with the shadow of missing chapters and lengthy disappearances hovering over them. This emotional story is over all too soon, making its fans that much more excited about the upcoming HBO Max adaptation.

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9. How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe by Charles Yu

Time travel books don’t have to be heavy tearjerkers—they can (and should!) also elicit tears of laughter, as this hilarious and conversational romp does. In a very meta move, author Charles Yu writes a self-help book for Charles Yu, the time machine repairman living in Minor Universe 31, that can be used to solve the mystery of where his father vanished after he invented the first time machine. He’s handed this book by his future self—the author—as he lays dying from a technically self-inflicted gunshot wound, since the trigger was pulled by his present self. And that’s just the beginning of this sci-fi loop with his sidekicks, a sad time machine called TAMMY and a nonexistent dog named Ed.

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10. A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court by Mark Twain

Mark Twain’s 1889 story begins when a conk on the head mysteriously transports engineer Hank Morgan to medieval times … and not the re-creation kind you’d find in modern-day Connecticut. With his “modern” foresight and sensibilities, he convinces the court that he’s a magician and tries to use his “powers” for good, which then turns into a masterful satirical take on feudalism, monarchy and the Industrial Revolution. How masterful? Critics in Great Britain were offended at this “direct attack on … aristocratic institutions,” as Twain himself gleefully reported the feedback, while modern critics consider this a foundational work in books about time travel, even inspiring movies like A Kid in King Arthur’s Court.

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11. Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut

Named one of Modern Library’s 100 Best Novels, this 1969 novel by sci-fi powerhouse Kurt Vonnegut is wrenching, engrossing, jarring and fantastical, as well as incredibly honest. Considered one of the greatest anti-war books of all time, it follows main character Billy Pilgrim’s trek through the horrifying firebombing of Dresden, capture by the German army and time as a prisoner of war—a mirroring of the author’s own firsthand experience as an American serviceman. However, via an unreliable narrator and a jumping, nonlinear structure “in the telegraphic schizophrenic manner of tales of the planet Tralfamadore, where the flying saucers come from,” we’re also transported there as past, present and future occur simultaneously. Sound confusing? Better read the book!

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12. Invictus by Ryan Graudin

Who doesn’t like a good heist? A clever rapscallion and spirited thief? Enter Invictus main character Farway McCarthy, the product of a time traveler from the year 2354 … and a gladiator from ancient Rome. Farway’s longtime dream was to explore history firsthand, but his test scores led to a rejection from the official government program. Instead, he became a time-traveling, treasure-hunting pirate of sorts, captaining a crew through time to steal priceless objects to sell on the black market. Then he meets mysterious Eliot, who strong-arms her way into his diverse crew (which includes a pet red panda named Saffron) and twists up his life as they continue on madcap adventures with plenty of funny banter to ease things along.

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13. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle

This Newbery Medal, Dequoya Book and Lewis Carroll Shelf Award winner is one of the best children’s books ever written. Since 1962, A Wrinkle in Time has served as a gateway to time travel books, a captivating entry into sci-fi and the world of other worlds. But what has given it such incredible longevity is that it’s also a coming-of-age story. Ugly duckling pre-teen Meg Murray, accompanied by her mild but highly gifted little brother Charles Wallace and well-liked classmate Calvin O’Keefe, jumps through space and time to save her father, a brilliant physicist who went missing attempting to tesseract—that is, to create a fifth-dimensional bridge between time and space. This first book in the Time Quintet series introduces self-reflection, acceptance, spirituality, purpose and science in ways that resonate through generations.

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14. When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead

This Newbery Medal Award winner for children and young adults is part sci-fi, part mystery and very much an ode to another era—one where kids on Manhattan’s Upper West Side were self sufficient, single mothers aspired to compete on game shows and kids got punched in the face with minimal adult blowback. Our first-person narrator is Miranda Sinclair, a sixth-grader in the late 1970s who starts getting mysterious notes asking her to write “letters” about things that haven’t happened yet in order to eventually save the life of a friend. Like A Wrinkle in Time, which also makes important cameos in this book, this is just as much a coming-of-age story about friendship, love, forgiveness, redemption and independence as it is about time travel.

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15. Ruby Red by Kerstin Gier

Another amazing book for teens, this 2009 young adult novel opens up a trilogy about Gwendolyn (Gwyneth in some translations) Shepherd, a 16-year-old contemporary time traveler from London who was never supposed to be a time traveler. It runs in her blood, but it was always supposed to be her cousin who had the gene; it was her cousin who was prepared for this responsibility given to the females in her family. Ill-prepared and untrained, she takes on the mantle of the final time traveler of the family, learning how to control her time jumps via supplying her blood to the chronograph time machine that helps smooth out these leaps of faith. How she navigates getting plunged into romance, history and young adult politics is why you keep reading.

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16. One Last Stop by Casey McQuiston

Coming of age isn’t a one-time event limited to pre-teens, and especially not in modern times, as economics oftentimes extend the transition into adulthood. This present-day romance, one of Bookpage’s top ten for 2021, is as timely as it is time travel-y as it “investigates” the relationship formed between bisexual former amateur detective August and Chinese lesbian Jane … who just so happens to be from the 1970s. This enormously representative, inclusive romp is a fun take on time travel and dating in today’s New York City, with a lot of heart to go along with the heart-eyes entertainment. This one’s a perfect summer beach read.

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17. Replay by Ken Grimwood

What if life after death was life before your death? That’s the premise of Replay, a 1988 World Fantasy Award–winning novel about Jeff Winston, who suffers a heart attack at age 43 only to wake up in 1963, 18 years old and back in Emory University. He does this on repeat, able to change the events before his death but not circumvent it. However, each new “replay” restarts him several hours after the last round, and he learns he’s not the only one when he meets another replayer named Pamela Phillips. In his replays, he makes amends, falls in love, searches for other replayers, attempts to go public and, most important, works toward surviving beyond the countdown to his final replay with the love of his many lives.

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18. This Time Tomorrow by Emma Straub

One of the most anticipated books of 2022, This Time Tomorrow is another take on waking up as your younger self. This humorous tale celebrates love, but not romantic love—familial love. The main character, Alice, is turning 40; because 50 is the new 30, she’s fine with aging, and she feels her life is in a decent place, except for her father’s declining health. She wakes up the next day in 1996, though, newly 16 years old instead of 40, with all the baggage that comes along with it. But what strikes her most is seeing her 40-something dad through the eyes of her four decades of lived experience, learning that her past is more than she remembered.

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19. The Paradox Hotel by Rob Hart

CrimeReads called this time-warping, darkly funny murder mystery “one of the most anticipated books of 2022,” and true to its genre, that claim passes the polygraph test. This fascinating book has time travel at its core. January Cole runs security at a hotel that well-heeled guests stay at between “flights” to the past, but soon enough, things start going awry beyond even dinosaur egg smuggling attempts, and the hotel is up for grabs as time travel technology faces privatization. While this is happening, a corpse appears that only January can see, a ghost child starts tagging along with her and she starts slipping more often into the past and future, forced to confront grief and memory as she does.

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20. Time and Again by Jack Finney

This 1970 novel has gotten a fresh 50th anniversary makeover, where what’s old is new again in a book that Stephen King himself has called “the great time travel story.” However, we prefer the 1995 edition, which features rich illustrations to go along with the story of advertising artist Si Morley, who’s recruited to join a covert government operation exploring time travel. Curious about a half-burned letter from 1882, he accepts the mission to return to New York City in that year, and the action moves quickly from there as he falls in love and is confronted with the classic conundrum faced by those caught between times.

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21. 11/22/63 by Stephen King

While this legendary writer has raved about Jack Finney’s time travel novel, his own is no less remarkable. Released in 2011, this suspenseful thousand-page thriller about a 35-year-old English teacher in Maine won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize and takes us back to the events leading to the titular one—the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Jack Epping is the hero here, and porting back to 1958 via his friend Al, the keeper of the portal, he attempts to prevent the historic crime as each trip back costs him only two minutes in present time. But because it’s Stephen King, of course there’s more to the story: a man in his adult GED program with a tragic family history, an unexpected falling in love and a lot of consequences to a lot of action. We’ll see how much makes it into the Hulu TV show!

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22. The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes

Disappointed that Stephen King’s contribution sounds light on horror? This 2013 book takes readers for a dark, gory and violent turn as it examines what would happen if time travel became a power abused by evil. Harper Curtis is his name, a perverted and deranged serial killer who comes across a portal in an abandoned house during Depression-era Chicago. He uses the portal to return to the past to first visit “the shining girls” at multiple points in their lives before finally killing them. However, things get complicated when one of his victims, Kirby, survives and recruits a former homicide reporter to break the cycle. Do they? Read it or let the suspense build watching the new Apple Original thriller series, soon to release eight episodes in the first chilling season.

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Su-Jit Lin
Su-Jit is a "helper," centering her food, travel, and lifestyle stories around service topics readers want to know more about. She covers groceries, product reviews, gift guides, wellness, and fitness, as well as cultural issues for RD.com and other national publications.