Dune: Here's the Proper Reading Order for the Novels
Anthony Gramuglia
The upcoming science-fiction blockbuster Dune, is hitting theaters soon, and while audiences are interested in the film, many do not know about the iconic novels from which the film was inspired. For those unfamiliar with the story of Dune, there are nineteen novels in the sprawling Dune saga, taking place over the course of tens of thousands of years.
While the upcoming film will only examine the first half of the original novel, it should seem clear that Dune is not as straight forward of a read as you might anticipate. So if you're reading the saga, where do you start? What do you start with? Do you start with the order in which the books were published, go for a chronological read-through, or what? Before the sleeper awakens to the world of Arrakis and the sandworms, perhaps it is best to take a step back and know what you need to read.

The Original Trilogy

The entire Dune saga will only make sense if you start with the original novel. For anyone interested in reading Dune, you need to read the first book before anything else. It takes place, ultimately, toward the middle of the sprawling saga, but every other book builds off the world established in Dune, either working backward or forward.
Frank Herbert, the original author, wrote six books in the Dune saga. The first three books, Dune, Dune Messiah, and Children of Dune, follows the story of Paul Atreides, from the fall of his father, Duke Leto Atredes, to his ascendence as Muad'dib, to his sprawling and destructive Ji'had, before ultimately ending with the rise of Leto II. Again, for casual readers, you might not need to read beyond these books to gain a full understanding of the core story of Dune.

The Five-Part Sequel Saga

God Emperor of Dune follows Children of Dune, but it is easily one of the strangest entries in the entire series, taking place over the course of thousands of years. However, while this narrative might feel self-contained, the final two books of Herbert's run, Heretics of Dune and Chapterhouse: Dune, take up where God Emperor leaves off. Chapterhouse: Dune left off on a cliffhanger, one that was never truly followed-up on, as Frank Herbert died in 1986 before writing the third book in this second Dune trilogy.
If you have read this far, you have read a contained trilogy with the first two-thirds of a trilogy connected by the bridge-novel God Emperor of Dune. Fans for years wanted a finale to the saga, and they'd get it -- eventually. Frank Herbert's son, Brian Herbert, found several notes left behind by his father, and, along with author Kevin J. Anderson, set out to complete the incomplete second Dune trilogy. Hunters of Dune and Sandworms of Dune, published in 2006 and 2007, represent what Frank Herbert would have written for the seventh Dune novel, split into two volumes.
To date, this is the far end of the Dune timeline, completing the saga started by Frank Herbert. Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson would continue to write Dune novels, but instead of going forward, they went backward.

The Prelude to Dune and Heroes of Dune

Though Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson ultimately finished Frank Herbert's saga in 2006, the first Dune collaborations between them started publication in 1999. These three novels, Dune: House Atreides, Dune: House Harkonnen and Dune: House Corrino, are direct prequels to Frank Herbert's original Dune, establishing the lore building up to the events of Dune, primarily focusing on the schemes of Shaddam and Baron Harkonnen, outlining the first Duke Leto's rise to popularity and power. In essence, it sets the stage for the battle over Arrakis that transpires in the first book.
This was followed by a planned saga of books called the Heroes of Dune, starting in 2008. The first two books, Paul of Dune and The Winds of Dune, transpire between the novels of the original trilogy, filling in blanks those novels left behind. The final two books of Heroes of Dune, however, were ultimately postponed in order to focus on The Great Schools of Dune.
Ultimately, while the Prelude to Dune does build up the world stage leading up to the events of the original novel, the Heroes of Dune do little more than muddy the events, jumping between periods of time in a way that might confuse casual readers. It is also impossible to read the Heroes of Dune without first reading the original novels, since they function under the assumption that you've already read them.

The Origins of Dune

Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson, however, did choose to expand the world of Dune far beyond the original novels. Two particular sagas outline the far, far distant past of the Dune universe, taking place thousands of years prior to the events of the books. These books can be read in isolation from everything else and make sense in their own, self-contained narrative, though reading the original Frank Herbert trilogy first would be of great benefit.
The first part of this published saga is Legends of Dune, a trilogy published between 2002 and 2004. The Butlerian Jihad, The Machine Crusade, and The Battle of Corrin outline a conflict 10,000 years prior to the original novel, setting up the origins of the culture, the Great Houses, all through the lens of a war between humanity and machines. This conflict is what sets up many of the mainstay organizations that, by the time the original novel takes place, have become core parts of the Dune world.
Following that came The Great Schools of Dune, published between 2012 and 2016. These three books take place in the century following The Battle of Corrin, outlining the formation of the Bene Gesserit, Spacing Guild, and Mentat systems. The novels here include Sisterhood of Dune, Mentats of Dune and Navigators of Dune.
An upcoming trilogy of prequel novels, starting with The Duke of Caladan, will start October 2020, though it is unclear as of yet where in the timeline it will take place. Ultimately, the reading order of Dune centers around the original Frank Herbert books, with the remaining novels, outside Hunters of Dune and Sandworms of Dune, being extra world-building for enthusiasts to devour. While it is unlikely that events from The Battle of Corrin will influence the Denis Villeneuve film, the HBO Max prequel series Dune: The Sisterhood may draw from elements of the vast Dune universe. Do not feel overwhelmed. After all, fear is the mind-killer.