Skip to Content

How to read Dune, Frank Herbert Sci-Fi classic?

How to read Dune, Frank Herbert Sci-Fi classic?
Affiliate disclosure: As an Amazon Associate, we may earn commissions from qualifying purchases from Amazon.

Like a lot of people, I read Dune and I thought it was awesome. Then, I didn’t want it to stop, so I keep on reading. Two books later, it was not as good as it was at the beginning, so I took a break. After a long while, I thought I might pick up where I left off, thinking it would be easy. Wrong, things get more complicated the further you go in the series. So, I tried to compile what I found and this is the result.

What is Dune?

Well, it’s a classic and a franchise. Written by Frank Herbert and published in 1965, Dune is a science-fiction epic set in a distant future where the one who controls the “spice” controls the universe — it’s the over-simplistic way to introduce the story.

Dune takes us to a feudal interstellar society in which noble houses controlling individual planets had pledged allegiance to the Padishah Emperor. The story began with young Paul Atreides whose family accepts the stewardship of the planet Arrakis where you can find the only source of the “spice” melange. Politics, religion, ecology, and technology collide when forces of the empire plot against each other in order to seize control of Arrakis.

What’s Dune reading order?

That’s the one-million-dollar question. For some, there’s nothing good after the original Dune, but if you are here, you probably want more than that. So, here is a possible reading order. It’s not a chronological one, because I think that the best way to start is with the first book published.

  1. Dune — The first and only entry point that makes sense. This is the story of the boy Paul Atreides, who would become the mysterious man known as Muad’Dib. He would avenge the traitorous plot against his noble family—and would bring to fruition humankind’s most ancient and unattainable dream.
  2. Dune Messiah — Paul Atreides, prince turned revolutionary leader and messiah of a fanatical religious sisterhood, is to be brought low by the very forces that created him. Yet foreseeing the plans of his enemies, he determines to drive on towards his own, shockingly different, vision of the future.
  3. Children of Dune — The sand-blasted world of Arrakis has become green, watered, and fertile. Old Paul Atreides, who led the desert Fremen to political and religious domination of the galaxy, is gone. But for the children of Dune, the very blossoming of their land contains the seeds of its own destruction.

Frank Herbert’s Dune Saga 6-Book Boxed Set: Dune, Dune Messiah, Children of Dune, God Emperor of Dune, Heretics of Dune, and Chapterhouse: Dune


At that point, you can stop. Well, if you want more, I prefer to continue with Frank Herbert’s work. That said, there’s what’s known as Heroes of Dune : Paul of Dune and The Winds of Dune. Half of the story of Paul of Dune takes place between the first Dune and Dune Messiah .Well, it’s more complicated. Idem with The Winds of Dune. I refer you to the chronological reading order, it’s easier for me.

  1. God Emperor of Dune — Centuries have passed on Dune, and the planet is green with life. Leto, the son of Dune’s savior, is still alive but far from human, and the fate of all humanity hangs on his own sacrifice.
  2. Heretics of Dune — The Lost Ones are returning home from the far reaches of space. The great sandworms are dying. And the children of Dune’s children awaken from empire as from a dream, wielding the new power of a heresy called love.
  3. Chapterhouse: Dune — The desert planet Arrakis, called Dune, has been destroyed. Now, the Bene Gesserit, heirs to Dune’s power, have colonized a green world–and are turning it into a desert.

Chapterhouse: Dune ends with a cliffhanger. With Frank Herbert’s death in 1986, there was no conclusion in sight, until Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson published two sequels based on notes left behind by Frank Herbert:

  1. Hunters of Dune — The exotic odyssey of Duncan’s no-ship as it is forced to elude the diabolical traps set by the ferocious, unknown Enemy. To strengthen their forces, the fugitives have used genetic technology from Scytale, the last Tleilaxu Master, to revive key figures from Dune’s past.
  2. Sandworms of Dune — The end with a lot of answers about the origin of the Honored Matres, the tantalizing future of the planet Arrakis, the final revelation of the Kwisatz Haderach, and the resolution to the war between Man and Machine.

Another possible ending. Now, if you really are into going further into the story, you can go back in time with the prequels.


The Dune prequel series

This trilogy is known as Prelude to Dune, the story leads to the first Dune novel.

  1. House Atreides — As Emperor Elrood’s son plots a regicide, young Leto Atreides leaves for a year’s education on the mechanized world of Ix; a planetologist seeks the secrets of Arrakis, and the eight-year-old slave Duncan Idaho is hunted by his cruel masters in a terrifying game from which he vows escape and vengeance.
  2. House Harkonnen — As Shaddam sits at last on the Golden Lion Throne, Baron Vladimir Harkonnen plots against the new Emperor and House Atreides — and against the mysterious Sisterhood of the Bene Gesserit.
  3. House Corrino — The blood feud between Duke Leto of Caladon and Baron Vladimir Harkonnen reaches its climax, as the emperor Shaddam – leader of House Corrino – is finally forced to curb the powerful Harkonnens or risk losing his own throne.

This trilogy is known as Legends of Dune, the story takes place over 10,000 years before the events of the first Dune novel.

  1. The Butlerian Jihad — The tyrants translated their brains into mobile mechanical bodies and created a new race, the immortal man-machine hybrids called cymeks. Impatient with human beings’ endless disobedience and the cymeks’ continual plotting to regain their power, the world-controlling planetary computers has decided that it no longer needs them. Only victory can save the human race from extermination.
  2. The Machine Crusade — Earth is a radioactive ruin. But the initial campaign of the Butlerian Jihad has given new hope to mankind. Serena Butler, whose murdered child has become a symbol for oppressed humanity, inspires a war against the thinking computers led by Xavier Harkonnen and Vorian Atreides.
  3. The Battle of Corrin — The universal computer mind Omnius has retreated to its last stronghold, where it plots a devastating new strategy that could undo the victories of the Butlerian Jihad. The surviving Titans are creating new lieutenants to do their will when at last they return to attack the human beings they once ruled.

This trilogy is known as Great Schools of Dune, this story is a sequel to the Legends of Dune trilogy and takes place nearly a century after the events of Dune: The Battle of Corrin.

  1. Sisterhood of Dune — It is eighty-three years after the last of the thinking machines were destroyed in the Battle of Corrin, after Faykan Butler took the name of Corrino and established himself as the first Emperor of a new Imperium. Great changes are brewing that will shape and twist all of humankind.
  2. Mentats of Dune — The Mentats, the Navigators, and the Sisterhood all strive to improve the human race, but each group knows that as Butlerian fanaticism grows stronger, the battle will be to choose the path of humanity’s future―whether to embrace civilization or to plunge into an endless dark age.
  3. Navigators of Dune — The storyline tells the origins of the Bene Gesserit Sisterhood and its breeding program, the human-computer Mentats, and the Navigators, as well as a crucial battle for the future of the human race, in which reason faces off against fanaticism.

Coming Soon

A new Dune adaptation is coming and Brian Herbert wrote with Kevin J. Anderson a new trilogy for the occasion. It’s called The Caladan Trilogy and it focuses on Duke Leto, Lady Jessica, and Paul, leading directly to the events in Dune.

  1. Dune: The Duke of Caladan — Leto Atreides, Duke of Caladan and father of the Muad’Dib. While all know of his fall and the rise of his son, little is known about the quiet ruler of Caladan and his partner Jessica. Or how a Duke of an inconsequential planet earned an emperor’s favor, the ire of House Harkonnen, and set himself on a collision course with his own death. This is the story.
  2. more to come…

If after all that, you still want more, there are short stories. I put them in chronological reading order.


Dune’s chronological reading order

This is the (mostly) official chronological reading order, apparently. It’s useful if you want to know when to read the short stories or if you are one of those who want to try to read them that way. If it’s the case, good luck to you.

  1. Hunting Harkonnens (short story)
  2. The Butlerian Jihad
  3. Whipping Mek (short story)
  4. The Machine Crusade
  5. The Faces of a Martyr (short story)
  6. The Battle of Corrin
  7. Sisterhood of Dune
  8. Mentats of Dune
  9. Red Plague (short story)
  10. Navigators of Dune
  11. House Atreides
  12. House Harkonnen
  13. House Corrino
  14. Paul of Dune (Parts II, IV, VI)
  15. Wedding Silk (short story)
  16. The Winds of Dune (Part II)
  17. Whisper of Caladan Seas (short story)
  18. Dune
  19. Paul of Dune (Parts I, III, V, VII)
  20. The Winds of Dune (Part IV)
  21. The Road to Dune (short story)
  22. Dune Messiah
  23. The Winds of Dune (Parts I, III, V)
  24. Children of Dune
  25. God Emperor of Dune
  26. Heretics of Dune
  27. Sea Child (short story)
  28. Chapterhouse: Dune
  29. Hunters of Dune
  30. Treasure in the Sand (short story)
  31. Sandworms of Dune

lun

Friday 26th of November 2021

:( Please leave a spoiler alert warning at the beginning of the article! The synopsis for the second and third book gave way too much away :(

IronMike

Sunday 14th of November 2021

Dune was good, sure. I've read it (only) twice. Haven't read any of the other Dune novels (yet). But for my money, Herbert's best series is the Pandora Sequence (incl. Destination Void). I've read the sequence 3 times (4?). I'll probably read it again next year.

Jesse

Friday 24th of September 2021

The reading order is to read the Books Frank Wrote first. Sadly everyone has gotten one thing WRONG about the Books Frank wrote. He was not able to finish Chapterhouse:Dune and his Son did. As for the Books written by Brian and his co writer if you wish to read them as part of the books by Frank Herbert leave out then that is up to you. While they are about the worlds of the Dune Saga they are not needed to read the books by Frank Herbert.

Kirk Anderson

Sunday 24th of October 2021

To Jesse - Where did you get information that Frank Herbert didn’t finish the last book himself?

larry wildblood

Thursday 12th of August 2021

I read Dune Messiah first. It was in my Fathers shop left there by a travelling salesman. That was 1976. Next I read Dune. I was wondefully stoned and sank into my bed through the mattress and to the floor. I read other Frank Herberts books as to me they were about lsd , in that that substance was like something out of science fictionby the way it opened up humanities potential zt a time when humanity first went i to space a d hunger and poverty was less prevalent for so many.... and never seemed to reach a conclusion.

Mark SA

Sunday 8th of August 2021

I agree with Xyzzy, which provides a straightforward answer to the question. Read the six Frank Herbert books, in order of publication. Ignore the rest. They are a fluffy and poor imitation of the original canon. If you are still unsatisfied, re-read the six. You will have missed something. This is not a criticism or a judgement.. just a fact. Enjoy.