In 2015, a study showed that nearly half of all Americans believe in one or more widely held conspiracy theories. Whether it’s assassinations, aliens, political setups, or unexpected disasters, it seems to me that there could always be more to the story than what makes the news—which is perfect for novelists in search of their next suspenseful tale. Here’s a list of some of my favorite books that touch on some of the most popular conspiracy theories to date. In the words of THE X-FILES: the truth is out there!
I Have a Theory: Conspiracy Books Are the Best
One of the most iconic figures of the twentieth century, Marilyn Monroe died in 1962 from what has been classified as a drug overdose. But, some wonder if her connections to Hollywood, the mob, and even the American presidency, played a role in her untimely demise. Joyce Carol Oates's novel—as narrated by a fictitious Marilyn Monroe herself—covers the ups, downs, marriages, and scandals of her complicated life, and in the process explores the many possible reasons for her death. It's a long and ambitious book, and one of Oates's best.
On Julianna’s wish list
I’m a sucker for historical fiction, and more so when an author is ambitious enough to assume the voice of a famous (or rather, infamous) figure. In this novel, Joyce Carol Oates reimagines the life of Norma Jeane Baker, known to the world as Marilyn Monroe, as she rises and falls in the Golden Age of Hollywood. I’ve been quite obsessed with old movies and the “You Must Remember This” podcast lately, so it seems like a perfect holiday fit.
In 1953, US citizens Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were executed after being accused, tried, and convicted of espionage and transmitting nuclear weapon designs to the Soviet Union. While it is generally believed that the Rosenbergs were indeed spies, some still maintain that their deaths were unfair and a result of Cold War paranoia. E. L. Doctorow's classic novel is a fictional retelling of the case and its aftermath through the eyes of Daniel, the couple's son, who has begun to research it as a way to find closure. Playing out against the Vietnam War, THE BOOK OF DANIEL is a stunning commentary on patriotism and protest.
When Diana, Princess of Wales, died in a car accident in Paris, the entire world mourned. As with any unexpected death, questions began to emerge about how it happened-or if it happened at all? UNTOLD STORY imagines the third scenario through the eyes of Lydia, a middle-aged English woman living in a small American town. She has friends, a lover, and a new life. But she also has a secret past that could potentially be revealed to the world, with disastrous consequences. Clever, subtle, and suspenseful, Monica Ali's novel perfectly captures the mannerisms of "the People's Princess" and will have you wondering if it's possible we never lost her.
Originally published in 1952, Richard Condon's political thriller has become a modern conspiracy classic. Major Bennett Marco, the son of a prominent American family, is captured during the Korean War. When he returns home, it's a celebration-but something isn't quite right. Years later, he is working as an intelligence officer when he begins to have a recurring nightmare, one that will make him question reality, memory, and allegiances. With its themes of espionage, betrayal, and conspiracy, the novel is often referred to in the context of political uprisings and government unrest.
As the Titanic sank into the depths of the Atlantic on April 14, 1912, killing more than 1,500 of the people on board, the SS Californian lay a few miles north. They saw the distress flares and were alerted to the disaster. The ship's captain, however, made no effort to initiate a rescue-but why? And what really sank the Titanic: an iceberg, insurance scam, or a coordinated attack? The author, David Dyer, uses his experience as a ship's officer and lawyer to reimagine the "night to remember" through the perspective of the Californian crew, a family of third-class passengers, and a tireless Boston journalist who is desperate to find out the truth.
Perhaps the most-widely read conspiracy novel of all time, THE DA VINCI CODE follows Robert Langdon, an American symbologist who is called late one night to the Louvre to identify a cipher beside the dead body of the museum's curator. As he joins forces with a talented young cryptologist named Sophie Neveu to decipher the string of clues left behind, Langdon suddenly finds himself venturing into the world of the Priory of Sion, one of the oldest secret societies in the world-and the secret they protect that could change the course of human history.
For more than 50 years, the assassination of President Kennedy has been catnip for conspiracy theorists, presenting dozens of possible scenarios of what happened-and how the world today might be different had it not. Countless books have asked these questions, but Stephen King puts his signature twist on things with the story of Jake Epping, a high school teacher who travels through time to stop the assassination in Dallas. He knows exactly who to watch and where to look, but can he change the course of history without it having disastrous consequences?
“Regardless of what genre of literature one prefers, 11/22/63 comes down to this: it is a gripping, harrowing, tragic, and beautiful story about love, memory, evil, and how the best of intentions can go awry... This is King for the faint of heart, for the history buff, for the romantic—for everyone.”