The best books on cults, world religions, and extremist faiths

Who am I?

As a young man, I wanted to do good. And I believed the best way to do that was to increase the commitment I’d made to my faith. So, I joined a church that appeared genuine. But much to my shock, not everything was as it seemed—I’d fallen into a cult. Deception, authoritarianism, and hypocrisy abounded. This led me on a decades-long search for answers: How could leaders do this? Why would members stay loyal? What could be done about it? I eventually found my answers and began doing what I’d always wanted to do—help others. I did it by becoming a journalist/author specializing in religion. 


I wrote...

One Nation Under Gods: A History of the Mormon Church

By Richard Abanes,

Book cover of One Nation Under Gods: A History of the Mormon Church

What is my book about?

Founded in 1830, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormonism) was initially viewed as a movement of polygamous, socially/morally disruptive, radical zealots; now, in many parts of the U.S., it’s synonymous with the height of conservative religious values and politics. In reevaluating its preoccupation with issues of church and state, Abanes uncovers the church’s original political agenda, which still rests at Mormonism’s core—the transformation of the world into a theocratic kingdom under Mormon authority. Discover how today’s Mormon Church evolved from its violent, anti-social, and wildly controversial origins into what it is today. This illustrated edition has been revised and offers a new postscript by the author. 

The books I picked & why

Shepherd is reader supported. We may earn an affiliate commission when you buy through links on our website. This is how we fund this project for readers and authors (learn more).

A Time to Kill

By John Grisham,

Book cover of A Time to Kill

Why this book?

An extraordinarily well-written, suspenseful, and thought-provoking novel that served as one of my earliest exposures to not only the seriousness of, but also the deep pain of, racism in America. Also, for aspiring writers, this was one of the first books I read in order to gain a foundational understanding of seriously good writing. It’s a perfectly crafted novel, wherein John Grisham shows his finesse at using grammar, creative imagery, plot development, character building, scene description, and realistic dialogue.


Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief

By Lawrence Wright,

Book cover of Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief

Why this book?

A shocking and frightening expose that reveals the inner workings, beliefs, and activities of one of America’s most infamous religious groups. A terrifying read from cover to cover. This book documents many things that I had only learned about via hearsay when I began my own in-depth research of Scientology over three decades ago—back when so much about the group was still shrouded in mystery and well-kept secrets.


The Racist Mind: Portraits of American Neo-Nazis and Klansmen

By Raphael S. Ezekiel,

Book cover of The Racist Mind: Portraits of American Neo-Nazis and Klansmen

Why this book?

One of the most important investigations of America’s far-right White Supremacist movement. This highly informative  volume, which I used while doing my own research of the movement for various projects, is based primarily on the  actual words/views voiced by White supremacists with whom the author lived for many months. Fascinating and  disturbing. 


The Evangelical Dictionary of World Religions

By H. Wayne House (editor),

Book cover of The Evangelical Dictionary of World Religions

Why this book?

From an evangelical Christian perspective, this reference work covers a wide range of topics via short, easy-to-understand, fact-based, and information-packed essays that range from just a paragraph to several pages. It’s an excellent research tool to which I contributed several essays. Some of the best researchers, scholars, and experts in the field of world religions were part of the large editorial team that produced this benchmark work.


Combating Cult Mind Control: The #1 Best-Selling Guide to Protection, Rescue, and Recovery from Destructive Cults

By Steven Hassan,

Book cover of Combating Cult Mind Control: The #1 Best-Selling Guide to Protection, Rescue, and Recovery from Destructive Cults

Why this book?

As someone who personally knows this author, I can say with absolute certainty that this is one of the best go-to books for anyone interested in cult structure and the dynamics of cult involvement. If you’ve ever been perplexed by how someone could possibly get involved in not just a religion-based cult, but also a politics-based cult, then this is the volume for you. It’s intriguing, as well as informative.  


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in cults, murders, and Hollywood?

5,887 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about cults, murders, and Hollywood.

Cults Explore 23 books about cults
Murders Explore 340 books about murders
Hollywood Explore 87 books about Hollywood

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like Devil in a Blue Dress, Trainspotting, and Inner City Blues if you like this list.