The best books on Halloween celebrations

Lesley Pratt Bannatyne Author Of Halloween Nation: Behind the Scenes of America's Fright Night
By Lesley Pratt Bannatyne

Who am I?

I have loved Halloween since I ran through the suburban streets of southern Connecticut with ears and a tail. For more than thirty years I’ve been researching and writing about the holiday, and each year I find something new. Most of all, I’m a Halloween advocate: At Halloween we can wrap our arms around the reality of the other 364 days and satirize, exorcize, and celebrate it. The joy of Halloween is not that it’s dark and we revel in that; it’s that Halloween can bring a bit of light and laughter into the darkness. And, of course, it’s big, creative, candy-fueled fun.


I wrote...

Halloween Nation: Behind the Scenes of America's Fright Night

By Lesley Pratt Bannatyne,

Book cover of Halloween Nation: Behind the Scenes of America's Fright Night

What is my book about?

On a mission to define 21st century Halloween, I talked with fanatics and fang makers, professional haunters, registered mediums, psychologists, and Halloween enthusiasts ranging from NPR's Garrison Keillor to The Simpsons' "Treehouse of Horror" writer Mike Reiss to find out what goes on behind the scenes at prop shops and national Halloween conventions, at quiet commemorations of Samhain, giant pumpkin festivals, zombie crawls, parades, haunts, ghost stake-outs, and so much more. How is it that this boisterous celebration unites us in a community based on fantasy and fear, and what draws us together on this one night when we open our doors to strangers? If you love Halloween, really love Halloween, this book is for you. Chances are pretty good it's probably about you, too.

The books I picked & why

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The Stations of the Sun: A History of the Ritual Year in Britain

By Ronald Hutton,

Book cover of The Stations of the Sun: A History of the Ritual Year in Britain

Why this book?

This is my go-to book whenever I start a new Halloween writing project. It grounds me in details about the origins of Halloween (and holidays throughout the year) and illustrates brilliantly why the turning of the seasons has always been critical, and how holidays mark important cultural moments in so many ways. The origin of Halloween is here, but so is the origin of celebration itself.


Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife

By Mary Roach,

Book cover of Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife

Why this book?

Ghosts are at the nexus of any Halloween celebration. The first Samhain tribal gatherings likely involved the spirits of the dead; old Irish literature chronicles the opening of the otherworld at this time of year; and even in the 21st century we tour graveyards, dress as ghosts, and conjure up the dead every year at Halloween. Mary Roach’s hilarious, entertaining examination of the world of spirits tackles the question no has been able to answer: what happens after we die?


Pumpkin: The Curious History of an American Icon

By Cindy Ott,

Book cover of Pumpkin: The Curious History of an American Icon

Why this book?

Not only is this a complete history of pumpkins – it’s a fascinating history of America. There’s good, solid jack-o-lantern history alongside descriptions and photos of the gazillion ways we celebrate, decorate, grow, eat, idolize, and display pumpkins. Emerging as a symbol of lust in medieval Europe, the pumpkin became synonymous with the American wilderness, then came to stand for rustic life, and now Halloween. If you like history and Americana as well as Halloween, you’ll like this one. And if you’re a Halloween nerd like I am, you’ll love the 100 pages of footnotes.


Haunted Air

By Ossian Brown,

Book cover of Haunted Air

Why this book?

Haunted Air is a book of undated photos of adults and children in costume. Not all of them may be Halloween photographs (we dressed up on so many occasions back then!), but most of them are. I love the handmade costumes and makeup, the creepy masks, the way the costumes tie into popular culture and the sheer joy of imagination they exude. It’s a creepy book, in a good way. David Lynch wrote the forward.


Trick or Treat: A History of Halloween

By Lisa Morton,

Book cover of Trick or Treat: A History of Halloween

Why this book?

Trick or Treat takes the history of Halloween and brings it into the 21st century. The book chronicles the holiday’s long history—distant and more recent, misconceptions and globalization—and offers up similar holiday stories as well, such as chapters on Dias de Los Muertos and All Saints Day celebrations. Looking for something to read or watch or listen to? Here you’ll find a chronicle of Halloween’s literature through 2012, as well as recent movies and music that capture the holiday’s culture in our world today.


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in Halloween, religion and science, and pumpkins?

5,887 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about Halloween, religion and science, and pumpkins.

Halloween Explore 54 books about Halloween
Religion And Science Explore 9 books about religion and science
Pumpkins Explore 8 books about pumpkins

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like In Search of England, The Way of Wyrd, and Good Omens if you like this list.