The best books about communities with cult-like tendencies

Who am I?

During the loneliness of the pandemic, I dreamed of group settings. Stuck in my apartment, I longed to lose myself in a community of people, or maybe to find myself in them. We’re all searching for that place where we belong, aren’t we? (Unless you’ve already found it, in which case: congratulations, and I’m jealous of you.) But when does a group that promises you belonging become something more sinister? I’m fascinated by groups that turn a bit (or a lot) cult-y — both in writing about them and reading about them.


I wrote...

A Special Place for Women

By Laura Hankin,

Book cover of A Special Place for Women

What is my book about?

A Special Place for Women is about Jillian, an undercover journalist who infiltrates a secret club for the tastemaker girlbosses of NYC. The members are rumored to be the Hot Female Illuminati, but their power and influence extend far beyond what Jillian imagined. As she’s sucked into their glamorous world and uncovers their shocking secrets, she’ll have to decide whether to expose them… or to join them. 

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Secret History

Laura Hankin Why did I love this book?

This secret society novel about tight-knit students at a liberal arts college is the ultimate in “Is it just a group of really intense friends? Or is it a very small cult?” Tartt’s writing is sprawling and atmospheric, yet somehow also has the breathless intensity of a page-turner. No wonder the devotion this book inspires is in itself a little cult-like.

By Donna Tartt,

Why should I read it?

14 authors picked The Secret History as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

THE BESTSELLER THAT DEFINED AN AGE

'Everything, somehow, fit together; some sly and benevolent Providence was revealing itself by degrees and I felt myself trembling on the brink of a fabulous discovery, as though any morning it was all going to come together---my future, my past, the whole of my life---and I was going to sit up in bed like a thunderbolt and say oh! oh! oh!'

Under the influence of a charismatic classics professor, a group of clever, eccentric misfits at a New England college discover a way of thought and life a world away from their banal contemporaries.…


Book cover of Cultish: The Language of Fanaticism

Laura Hankin Why did I love this book?

Montell explores why we’re so fascinated by cults, and how so many of us belong to cultish communities in our own lives without realizing it. Sure, SoulCycle isn’t a cult like Jonestown. But how come the leaders of SoulCycle sometimes use such similar tactics to keep us coming back for more? Through it all, Montell is a whip-smart, funny, and utterly relatable guide.

By Amanda Montell,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Cultish as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The author of the widely praised Wordslut analyzes the social science of cult influence: how cultish groups from Jonestown and Scientology to SoulCycle and social media gurus use language as the ultimate form of power.

What makes "cults" so intriguing and frightening? What makes them powerful? The reason why so many of us binge Manson documentaries by the dozen and fall down rabbit holes researching suburban moms gone QAnon is because we're looking for a satisfying explanation for what causes people to join-and more importantly, stay in-extreme groups. We secretly want to know: could it happen to me? Amanda Montell's…


Book cover of At Least You Have Your Health

Laura Hankin Why did I love this book?

Anyone who has ever seen a wellness guru post on Instagram knows that alternative medicine can get a little culty. This delightful novel follows an overworked gynecologist who takes a job at a high-end concierge service specializing in “alternative medicine,” drawn in by the perks, the flexibility, and her glamorous new clients and employers.

By Madi Sinha,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked At Least You Have Your Health as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

One of Shondaland's Best Books of April 2022!

Behind the chic veneer of a wellness clinic lies a dangerous secret, in this compelling women's fiction novel from the author of The White Coat Diaries.
 
Dr. Maya Rao is a gynecologist trying to balance a busy life. With three young children, a career, and a happy marriage, she should be grateful—on paper, she has it all. But after a disastrous encounter with an entitled patient, Maya is forced to walk away from the city hospital where she’s spent her entire career.

An opportunity arises when Maya crosses paths with Amelia DeGilles…


Book cover of The Husbands

Laura Hankin Why did I love this book?

A woman moves to a new neighborhood where all the wives are high-powered, and their husbands are… suspiciously helpful. How come none of them seem to mind doing all the chores?? And how much will our heroine — whose own husband isn’t pulling his weight — be willing to give up to join her successful neighbors? Baker’s novel is full of Stepford Wives-esque fun.

By Chandler Baker,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked The Husbands as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'A howl of feminist rage, but also one that is pure fun' Stylist

The wives here are different. They are living proof that women can have it all: successful careers, loving families, beautiful homes.
Their husbands are different too. They are living proof that men can do just as much as women. They can remember the kids' schedules, use an iron and notice when the house needs dusting.
Nora thinks she's found the perfect new home for her family. But when she agrees to get involved in a wrongful death case in the neighbourhood, Nora becomes convinced that there's a…


Book cover of The School for Good Mothers

Laura Hankin Why did I love this book?

This one’s a bit different from the other books on my list in that our heroine doesn’t want to get sucked in. It’s court-mandated. When she’s deemed a “bad mother” after a temporary lapse in judgment, the state takes her away from her daughter and sends her to a dystopian school with the other “bad moms.” As the women are monitored, forced to wear uniforms and recite chants, and encouraged to turn on one another, we start to wonder: is the only way to get their children back to go all in? Gripping and unsettling.

By Jessamine Chan,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked The School for Good Mothers as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

THE INSTANT NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER
AN OBAMA'S 2022 SUMMER READING PICK

'A taut and propulsive take on the cult of motherhood and the notion of what makes a good mother. Destined to be feminist classic - it kept me up at night' PANDORA SYKES
'A haunting tale of identity and motherhood - as devastating as it is imaginative' AFUA HIRSCH
'Incredibly clever, funny and pertinent to the world we're living in at the moment' DAISY JOHNSON

'We have your daughter'

Frida Liu is a struggling mother. She remembers taking Harriet from her cot and changing her nappy. She remembers…


You might also like...

Holy Food: How Cults, Communes, and Religious Movements Influenced What We Eat - An American History

By Christina Ward,

Book cover of Holy Food: How Cults, Communes, and Religious Movements Influenced What We Eat - An American History

Christina Ward Author Of Holy Food: How Cults, Communes, and Religious Movements Influenced What We Eat - An American History

New book alert!

Who am I?

For me, history is always about individuals; what they think and believe and how those ideas motivate their actions. By relegating our past to official histories or staid academic tellings we deprive ourselves of the humanity of our shared experiences. As a “popular historian” I use food to tell all the many ways we attempt to “be” American. History is for everyone, and my self-appointed mission is to bring more stories to readers! These recommendations are a few stand-out titles from the hundreds of books that inform my current work on how food and religion converge in America. You’ll have to wait for Holy Food to find out what I’ve discovered.

Christina's book list on the hidden history of America

What is my book about?

Does God have a recipe? Independent food historian Christina Ward’s highly anticipated Holy Food explores the influence of mainstream to fringe religious beliefs on modern American food culture.

Author Christina Ward unravels how religious beliefs intersect with politics, economics, and, of course, food to tell a different story of America. It's the story of true believers and charlatans, of idealists and visionaries, and of the everyday people who followed them—often at their peril.

Holy Food explains how faith pioneers used societal woes and cultural trends to create new pathways of belief and reveals the interconnectivity between sects and their leaders.

Holy Food: How Cults, Communes, and Religious Movements Influenced What We Eat - An American History

By Christina Ward,

What is this book about?

Does God have a recipe?

"Holy Food is a titanic feat of research and a fascinating exploration of American faith and culinary rites. Christina Ward is the perfect guide – generous, wise, and ecumenical." — Adam Chandler, author of Drive-Thru Dreams

"Holy Food doesn't just trace the influence that preachers, gurus, and cult leaders have had on American cuisine. It offers a unique look at the ways spirituality—whether in the form of fringe cults or major religions—has shaped our culture. Christina Ward has gone spelunking into some very odd corners of American history to unearth this fascinating collection of stories…


Genres
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5 book lists we think you will like!

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