The best books about ‘dark tourism’ and our difficult heritage

Who am I?

I first turned to the ‘dark side’ of travel when a student of mine introduced me to ‘dark tourism’. Sadly the world is littered with places of tragedy where our misfortunes are exposed by dark tourism. As a social scientist, I have been writing about visiting our significant dead for over 20 years. I am fascinated as to why particular deaths are remembered, by whom, and how our dead are (re)presented within visitor economies. I have lectured and published extensively within academia, as well as being a media consultant. I continue to tell tales of our dead and how we attach cultural importance to certain kinds of death. 


I wrote...

111 Dark Places in England That You Shouldn't Miss

By Philip R. Stone,

Book cover of 111 Dark Places in England That You Shouldn't Miss

What is my book about?

We are inexplicably drawn to places of pain and shame. This first-ever ‘dark tourism’ guide takes you to visitor sites across England associated with death, disaster, or the seemingly macabre. Dark tourism is travelling to places of fatality, where we get a sense of our own mortality through the stories of people who came before us. 

This book offers a thought-provoking compendium of a nation’s rich, deadly, and often difficult past. Authoritative yet accessible, this guidebook shines a light on complex and compelling issues associated with commemorating our significant dead, and the lessons to be learnt from ‘heritage that hurts’. Ultimately, this book permits you to sightsee in the mansions of the dead, while having deference to those deceased. 

The books I picked & why

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The Dominion of the Dead

By Robert Pogue Harrison,

Book cover of The Dominion of the Dead

Why this book?

This was one of the first books that got me thinking critically about ‘dark tourism’. Harrison inspired me to look at how the dead maintain their relations with the living. In turn, the book galvanized my thinking of the many touristic places where the dead cohabit the world of the living. These range from graves, monuments, and memorials, and made me think about how we give the dead a memorialized afterlife. Drawing upon philosophy, history, and poetry, Harrison teaches us that as we follow in the footsteps of the dead, we are not self-authored. Instead, the thought of death shapes the communion of the living. Within the ‘Dominion of the Dead’, the dead become our guardians where we give them a future so that they may give us a past. 

The Dominion of the Dead

By Robert Pogue Harrison,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Dominion of the Dead as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In The Dominion of the Dead, Robert Pogue Harrison explores the many places where the dead cohabit the world of the living - the graves, images, literature, architecture, and monuments that house the dead in their afterlife among us. This elegantly conceived work devotes particular attention to the practice of burial. Harrison contends that we bury our dead to humanize the lands where we build our present and imagine our future. Through inspired readings of major writers and thinkers such as Vico, Virgil, Dante, Pater, Nietzsche, Heidegger, and Rilke, he argues that the buried dead form an essential foundation where…


Necromanticism: Traveling to Meet the Dead, 1750-1860

By Paul Westover,

Book cover of Necromanticism: Traveling to Meet the Dead, 1750-1860

Why this book?

This book enlightened me by learning that people have long travelled to visit the dead. With ‘dark tourism’ initially portrayed as an imitation of postmodernity, Westover dispelled that perspective. Instead, I learnt that travelling to meet the dead had long been a feature of the literary tourism landscape. A provocative play on the word ‘necro’ with visiting deceased authors’ homes, haunts and graves during the Romantic period, Westover offers an inspired contribution to understanding Romanticism within the context of death studies and travel history. I argue that in an age of antiquarian revival and a love of books, the emergent ‘Necromantic’ culture that created touristic habits continues to the present day. To that end, Necomanticism exposes a nexus of book love and memorial ritual that has deeply influenced (Western) literary culture. 

Necromanticism: Traveling to Meet the Dead, 1750-1860

By Paul Westover,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Necromanticism as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Necromanticism is a study of literary pilgrimage: readers' compulsion to visit literary homes, landscapes, and (especially) graves during the long Romantic period. The book draws on the histories of tourism and literary genres to highlight Romanticism's recourse to the dead in its reading, writing, and canon-making practices.


Assassination Vacation

By Sarah Vowell,

Book cover of Assassination Vacation

Why this book?

With a healthy dose of gallows humour, Sarah Vowell explores glorious conundrums of American history, politics, and culture. As such, the book provoked me to appreciate how visiting sites of the significant dead has long been in the touristic imagination. The book takes you on a journey – part history lesson, part travelogue – through the black spots of American political violence. Through a bizarre road trip to places where American politicians met a bloody end, I found Vowell’s own thoughts on the American character both witty and quirky. I also love how she explodes myths and, consequently, exposes a profound level of hypocrisy in the quest for (American) political and cultural advantage.  

Assassination Vacation

By Sarah Vowell,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Assassination Vacation as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Transporting us from Buffalo to Alaska, Washington to Key West, Vowell has crafted a narrative that is much more than a historical travelogue - it is the disturbing and mesmerising story of how American death has been manipulated by popular culture, including film, literature, and - the author's favourite - historical tourism. Skilfully belying the undercurrents of loss and violence that course through her journey, Vowell injects a range of lighter detours along the way, including mummies, show tunes, mean-spirited totem poles, a nineteenth-century biblical sex cult - and exactly how Lincoln's Republican Party became Bush's Republican Party. Assassination Vacation…


Holidays in Heck

By P. J. O'Rourke,

Book cover of Holidays in Heck

Why this book?

P.J. O’Rourke, a former war correspondent cum travel author of Holidays in Hell, informs us that there are rules about travelling for fun. One of those rules is that tourists must find the most crowded airplane and be treated as self-loading freight! However, O’Rourke does not travel for fun. Yet, I discovered in this book that his travels to places associated with the odd or macabre are fun – and indeed funny. O’Rourke travels with his wife and young family and we accompany them as he reveals witty and irrelevant perspectives on the places he visits. In his concluding thoughts, when he asks what is the point of the Washington Memorial, it was then I realised I had chuckled all the way through this droll travelogue as a backseat passenger.  

Holidays in Heck

By P. J. O'Rourke,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Holidays in Heck as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Humorous essays from the #1 New York Times–bestselling author on travel, late-life parenting, and other perils.
 
P. J. O’Rourke, hailed as “one of America’s most hilarious writers” by Time, is the author of the classic travelogue Holidays in Hell, in which he traversed the globe on a fun-finding mission to what were then some of the most desperate places on the planet, including Warsaw, Managua, and Belfast.
 
In Holidays in Heck, O’Rourke embarks on supposedly more comfortable and allegedly less dangerous travels—often with family in tow—which mostly leave him wishing he were under artillery fire again. The essays take O’Rourke…


The Darkness Echoing: Exploring Ireland’s Places of Famine, Death and Rebellion

By Gillian O'Brien,

Book cover of The Darkness Echoing: Exploring Ireland’s Places of Famine, Death and Rebellion

Why this book?

During a personal pilgrimage visiting Ireland’s dissonant heritage sites, Gillian O’Brien takes us on a dark tourism odyssey. This book should inspire all to embrace dark tourism and shine light on the recesses of troubled histories. What I love about this book is that O’Brien invites us to explore notions of nationhood by visiting sites of war, revolution, famine, death, emigration, and even diasporic ghosts. It is this strange allure of Ireland’s difficult past that creates a unique and unmistakable sense of ‘Irishness’. The book is not a scholarly monologue but an authoritative account of a dark quest. Witty and well-written, the book connected me to Irish landscapes, its places, and people, and most of all, to the strange enhancement I found in the island’s dark past. 

The Darkness Echoing: Exploring Ireland’s Places of Famine, Death and Rebellion

By Gillian O'Brien,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Darkness Echoing as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The Irish Times Top 10 Bestseller!

From war to revolution, famine to emigration, The Darkness Echoing travels around Ireland bringing its dark past to life

Ireland is a nation obsessed with death. We find a thrill in the moribund, a strange enchantment in the drama of our dark past. It's everywhere we look and in all of our beloved myths, songs and stories that have helped to form our cultural identity. Our wakes and ballads, our plays and famine sites, all of them and more come together to tell ourselves and the world who we are and what we have…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in death, historic sites, and famine?

7,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about death, historic sites, and famine.

Death Explore 248 books about death
Historic Sites Explore 12 books about historic sites
Famine Explore 22 books about famine

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like Everything I Never Told You, The Denial of Death, and In Country if you like this list.