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. 

The books I picked & why

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The Secret History

By Donna Tartt,

Book cover of The Secret History

Why 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.

Cultish: The Language of Fanaticism

By Amanda Montell,

Book cover of Cultish: The Language of Fanaticism

Why 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.

At Least You Have Your Health

By Madi Sinha,

Book cover of At Least You Have Your Health

Why 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.

The Husbands

By Chandler Baker,

Book cover of The Husbands

Why 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.

The School for Good Mothers

By Jessamine Chan,

Book cover of The School for Good Mothers

Why 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.

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in female doctors, cults, and Chinese Americans?

5,887 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about female doctors, cults, and Chinese Americans.

Female Doctors Explore 14 books about female doctors
Cults Explore 23 books about cults
Chinese Americans Explore 29 books about Chinese Americans

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like The Talented Mr. Ripley, Where the Crawdads Sing, and The Couple Next Door if you like this list.