The best books to make you a true vampire scholar

Kurt Amacker Author Of Bloody October
By Kurt Amacker

Who am I?

I am a comic book writer, novelist, and vampire aficionado. I always want to learn the truth of a matter. I’ve moved in and out of the gothic subculture for years and spent time with members of the vampire subculture. I’ve found that most people’s understanding of vampires (and really, everything) is influenced by fiction. Even if you point out that their beliefs are only as accurate as a movie, they will still argue for them. As much as I love a good vampire movie, I want to shatter illusions and explore the myths and folklore that reflect our human experience in all of its horror and glory.

I wrote...

Bloody October

By Kurt Amacker,

Book cover of Bloody October

What is my book about?

A love letter to the New Orleans gothic underground of the late 1990s, Bloody October takes an old-school pulp mystery and injects vampirism, dark family secrets, and the lingering trauma of war.

Jason Castaing is a journalist when he’s not smoking and drinking all night in New Orleans gothic bars. His best friend, John Devereaux, is the world’s only real vampire—or is he? A supply of blood bags keeps him fed and off the streets, but then there’s a dead girl here, a dead girl there, and all of them lead back to John. Jason doesn’t think his friend has started feeding on the living, but he’s not sure. A vampire-wannabe rotting in a Florida prison may have the answers.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Vampires, Burial, and Death: Folklore and Reality

Why did I love this book?

This was a breakthrough in our (and my) understanding of vampires as an explanation for disease in the context of pre-industrial, agrarian societies. Everyone understood that there were (and to some degree, are still) persistent folk beliefs about vampires around the world, with Slavic and Balkan variants having gained a foothold in the popular imagination. Paul Barber explains the intricacies of belief, the particulars of that folklore, and illuminates one of humanity’s oldest tendencies that lies at the root of vampire stories—to blame death on the dead. There are gruesome anecdotes aplenty and Barber explains the logistics of vampire “attacks” down to every last, bloody detail. 

By Paul T. Barber,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

In this engrossing book, Paul Barber surveys centuries of folklore about vampires and offers the first scientific explanation for the origins of the vampire legends. From the tale of a sixteenth-century shoemaker from Breslau whose ghost terrorized everyone in the city, to the testimony of a doctor who presided over the exhumation and dissection of a graveyard full of Serbian vampires, his book is fascinating reading.

"This study's comprehensiveness and the author's bone-dry wit make this compelling reading, not just for folklorists, but for anyone interested in a time when the dead wouldn't stay dead."-Booklist

"Barber's inquiry into vampires, fact…

Book cover of Slayers and Their Vampires: A Cultural History of Killing the Dead

Why did I love this book?

Whereas Barber expounds upon the anthropological origins of the vampire myth, McClelland focuses on the practices, principles, and logistics of killing the dead. The most familiar form comes in the unearthing and mutilation of bodies. McClelland explains the whys and wherefores of that practice, but he also gives their killers more than their due, explaining the role of vampire slayers as shamans, village elders, and quasi-religious figures during Europe’s transition from its pagan roots to modern Christianity. He demonstrates that vampires fell into an uneasy space between a fading system of peasant folklore and the organized religious rituals and beliefs that ultimately took their place. There are no vampires in the Bible, so where was the church during the vampire hysteria of the 1800s and how did they regard these mythical creatures? McClelland answers that and more. He also includes an overview of our modern conception of vampire slayers from Abraham Van Helsing to, yes, Buffy Summers. 

By Bruce McClelland,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Slayers and Their Vampires as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In contemporary Western popular culture, the vampire has evolved into one of the most recognizable symbols of evil. Yet, less has been said - and even less has been understood - about its nemesis, the vampire slayer. ""Slayers and Their Vampires"" is the first work to explore how the vampire slayer began, and it goes further to ask why the true history of the vampire slayer has been so long ignored. Author Bruce McClelland describes how the literary and screen dramas obscured the darker nature of the slayer, whose persecution of a corpse is accepted as heroic rather than corrupt.…


By Bram Stoker,

Book cover of Dracula

Why did I love this book?

You didn’t think we would leave out the granddaddy of modern vampire fiction, did you? While John Polidori’s The Vampyre, J. Sheridan le Fanu’s Carmilla, and the penny dreadful Varney the Vampire preceded it, Bram Stoker’s epistolary masterpiece (and the film adaptations that followed) cemented our modern understanding of vampires, for better or worse. Some of Stoker’s assertions about the creatures are purely his own invention (nowhere in folklore do vampires turn into bats), but others he cobbled together in the ghastly figure of Dracula himself, who serves as a sort of harbinger of sexual decadence and xenophobic fears common in Victorian England. As a novel, Dracula is exquisitely crafted and remains breathlessly entertaining. I’ve lost count (if you will) of how many times I’ve read it. More importantly, though, if want to be a true vampire scholar, understanding our modern notions of the creatures is paramount. 

By Bram Stoker,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

'The very best story of diablerie which I have read for many years' Arthur Conan Doyle

A masterpiece of the horror genre, Dracula also probes identity, sanity and the dark corners of Victorian sexuality and desire. It begins when Jonathan Harker visits Transylvania to help Count Dracula purchase a London house, and makes horrifying discoveries in his client's castle. Soon afterwards, disturbing incidents unfold in England - an unmanned ship is wrecked; strange puncture marks appear on a young woman's neck; a lunatic asylum inmate raves about the imminent arrival of his 'Master' - and a determined group of adversaries…

Book cover of In Search of Dracula: The History of Dracula and Vampires

Why did I love this book?

This book has engendered controversy for almost forcefully bridging the gap between the 15th Century Wallachian Prince Vlad III or Vlad the Impaler or Dracula. Stoker had already constructed his character, called “Count Wampyr,” before he learned of his future namesake. However, he quite clearly establishes a connection between the two through an explanation provided by Abraham Van Helsing. The Dracula of the eponymous novel is a heavily fictionalized version of the real-life figure, but so are most similarly positioned characters in literature, film, and television. Florescu and McNally provide a cursory overview of Slavic and Balkan vampire folklore, a biographical sketch of Vlad the Impaler, and illuminate the process by which Stoker adapted this violent, cunning, and sometimes brilliant nationalist and military tactician into a fictional monster.

By Raymond T. McNally, Radu Florescu,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked In Search of Dracula as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The true story behind the legend of Dracula - a biography of Prince Vlad of Transylvania, better known as Vlad the Impaler. This revised edition now includes entries from Bram Stoker's recently discovered diaries, the amazing tale of Nicolae Ceausescu's attempt to make Vlad a national hero, and an examination of recent adaptations in fiction, stage and screen.

Something in the Blood

By Jeff Guinn, Andy Grieser,

Book cover of Something in the Blood

Why did I love this book?

There are people out there who think they are (or at least call themselves) vampires. At the extreme end, a handful of violent, deranged individuals believe they are the real article and are entitled to attack the living for sustenance. At the other end are role-players, cosplayers, and fans that are just in it for the fangs and the finery. In the middle, there are a wide range of types and personalities. Some believe they are physically addicted to drinking blood and seek out willing donors. Others find a morbid, sexual thrill in the practice. Still others believe they can, and need to, drain the energy of those around them (Colin Robinson, anyone?).

The subculture is vast, nuanced, and always growing. But what it is more often than not is misunderstood. While many are happy to talk about their practices, others shun attention for fear of being mocked, misunderstood, and taken out of context. As such, there are surprisingly few scholarly and non-fiction works on this subject. Many are written by the subculture’s adherents, which are, to be gentle, unobjective in their approach.

I picked Jeff Guinn’s Something in the Blood because it’s one of the few that avoids hysteria. It explores the vampire subculture through subject interviews and profiles, giving a cross-section of beliefs, though admittedly focusing on the “sanguinarians” who actually drink blood. Guinn also has a solid track record of popular non-fiction books on crime and history, so he presents an accessible outsider perspective to the phenomenon. 

By Jeff Guinn, Andy Grieser,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Turn up your collar, turn down the lights, and sink your teeth into Something in the Blood

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