There is something about cults that endlessly fascinates me. What kind of person gets drawn to these enigmatic, dangerous groups? How? And why? Apparently, I’m not the only one with questions. From novelists to journalists to people with firsthand experience, many talented authors have written about cult life. Here are 10 you definitely don’t want to miss.
10 Books About Life in a Cult
One of my favorite books this year, THE INCENDIARIES is a brilliant, utterly captivating novel about a glamorous young woman, who secretly blames herself for her mother’s death, and the young man who falls in love with her. When Phoebe is vulnerable, she is drawn into a religious group and extremist cult, while Will struggles to confront the beliefs he’s tried to escape and the obsession consuming the person he loves.
I can’t image what it would feel like to lose your child to a cult. In CAPTIVE, Catherine Oxenberg describes that nightmare. Her 20-year-old daughter, India, was brainwashed by a dangerous organization called NXIVM, a secret “sorority” of women members who are ordered to maintain a restricted diet, recruit other women as “slaves,” and are branded with their leader’s initials. Oxenberg draws back the curtain on how these groups continue to lure in members and shares her continuing journey to try to reach her daughter.
What lonely teenager hasn’t fantasized about being one of the cool kids? When Evie sees a group of girls in a park, she is immediately drawn to their freedom and their careless energy. Soon she finds herself involved with the inner circle of an exotic, thrilling cult—but she has no idea that she is coming closer and closer to an act of unthinkable violence. THE GIRLS is a electric and seductive novel loosely based on the infamous cult lead by Charles Manson.
If you loved THE GIVER or NEVER LET ME GO, this should be your next read. GATHER THE DAUGHTERS is a darkly glittering novel about a radical society founded by ten men and their families on an island. Every summer on the island, the adults shut themselves indoors and the younger children reign outside. During one summer, born leader Janey Solomon steps up to seek the truth about their way of life, setting off an uprising of girls that may just be its undoing.
This shocking, at times terrifying, memoir is Rebecca Stott’s story of growing up in England as a fourth-generation member of the Exclusive Brethren—a cult that believed the world is ruled by Satan—and then finding a way out. With IN THE DAYS OF RAIN, Stott attempts to make sense of her unorthodox childhood, her father’s role in the cult and in breaking apart her family, and her life after.
A page-turning novel about the dangers of blind faith, THE SACRED LIES OF MINNOW BLY follows the story of a 17-year-old girl who had everything taken from her by the Kevinian cult—12 years of her life, her family, her hands. When the cult’s Prophet is murdered and their camp set aflame, Minnow knows something. But she’s not talking. Until an FBI detective offers her a deal and a chance at the freedom she’s always wanted in exchange for the terrible secrets of her past.
In this riveting work of nonfiction, Jeff Guinn offers a detailed historical analysis of Jim Jones and the tragic story of the Jonestown Massacre, the largest murder-suicide in American history. But it does more than just recount the catastrophe, it illuminates the socio-political climate in the US during the fanatical preacher’s rise to power and portrays Jones’s followers as three-dimensional people, respecting the victims instead of writing them off as fools.
GEEK LOVE is the unforgettable story of a circus-geek family whose matriarch and patriarch have bred their own cult of human oddities, from a boy with flippers for limbs to lissome Siamese twins to an albino hunchback. The Binewskis take their act across the US and accidentally inspire both fanatical devotion and murderous revulsion. This award-winning novel explores our ideas about what it means to be considered a freak versus normal, beautiful versus ugly.
Carnies Al and Crystal Lil breed their own freak show, using drugs to mutate their unborn children. There’s Arturo the Aquaboy; Iphy and Elly, the Siamese twins; albino hunchback Oly; and Chick, outwardly normal with a dangerous gift. Their traveling act inspires devotion and revulsion as its members conduct their own Machiavellian version of sibling rivalry.
Raised in a religious sect that predicted the world would end in the late 1980s, Francine and Colville spent their childhoods preparing for an impending Soviet missile strike. When the apocalypse didn’t occur, the children were forced to rejoin reality—a world they believed should no longer exist. Twenty years later, Francine and Colville reunite to search for an abducted girl, confronting their memories and the Church’s teachings. This is a remarkable and suspenseful novel about disillusionment and the power of beliefs.
Ruth Wariner, the 39th of 42 children, grew up on a rural Mexican farm in a polygamist colony governed by a founding prophet—her father. When circumstances force her family to shuffle between Mexico and the US for supplemental income, Ruth is torn between her fierce love for her siblings and her determination and courage to forge a better life. THE SOUND OF GRAVEL is an intimate, gripping memoir of triumph and courage.
Ruth Wariner, the 39th of 42 children, grew up in rural Mexico in a religious colony governed by the founding prophet, her father. When circumstances force her family to shuffle between Mexico and the U.S. for supplemental income, Ruth is torn between her fierce love for her siblings and her determination and courage to forge a better life.