The Secret History

By Donna Tartt,

Book cover of The Secret History

Book description


'Everything, somehow, fit together; some sly and benevolent Providence was revealing itself by degrees and I felt myself trembling on the brink of a fabulous discovery, as though any morning it was all going to come together---my future, my past, the whole of my…

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Why read it?

14 authors picked The Secret History as one of their favorite books. Why do they recommend it?

No Dark Academia list would be complete without The Secret History—Donna Tartt’s 1992-debut (!) has come to define the genre.

Among the many things I love about this novel are that it’s a mystery told in reverse, and a meditation on toxic friendships between students at a top-tier institution, which explores the darker corners of the human psyche contained within classical texts.

It’s a book I come back to again and again, and Tartt’s effortless style has influenced my own writing. There’s an intimacy here, and readers will feel as if they, too, are starting their campus journey together…

Dorm rooms, bacchanals, penny loafers, and lots of cigarettes.

The Secret History is the mother of all dark academia, mixing 80s prep, murder, and class dynamics at an elite private college. Exclusive clique – check. Charismatic, yet perhaps dangerous, professor – check. A series of events that will change the lives of six college friends forever – check. There’s probably not much that I can say about this one that hasn’t been said before.

Tartt’s writing is as sharp as broken glass and so brilliant it almost makes me mad. Whenever I re-read this book, and especially that scene in…

From Shannon's list on totally awesome stories set in the 80s.

Unlike many murder mysteries, the murder in this book is not the climax. Instead, the murder happens fairly early in the story, and the rest of the novel is about the internal struggles, remorse, and regret of those involved.

Set at a liberal arts college in New England, Tartt taps into her character’s memories and the complexities of friendships knit during impressionable years to show how seemingly normal people can be driven to the unthinkable. 

Now that I’ve published a thriller, I’m often asked about my favorite novel in the crime/mystery genre, and people are sometimes surprised when I name Donna Tartt’s 1992 bestseller, The Secret History.

The story of five friends studying Classics at an isolated Vermont college makes a lot of best-of lists, but because the book is so gorgeously written, with such a high level of literary skill, people sometimes forget that there’s a murder in the very first line. In many ways, it’s an unconventional take on the genre—definitely more of a whydoneit than a whodunit—and as with most of the…

This is one of the best debuts I have ever read.

It is often described as an inverted detective story narrated by one of the six students, who, years later, reflect upon the situation that led to the murder of a mutual friend. For me it was much more about the characters and the dense atmosphere.

I read it when it was published, so it was a long time ago, but I still remember some scenes as I’ve actually been there myself, and I think it’s in all the small descriptions and details you'll find genuine gold in this modern…

A murder cover-up in the Classics department of an elite liberal arts college. Tartt reveals the murderer on the first page. The Secret History is riveting crime fiction because it understands the most compelling element isn’t “whodunnit”, but “why?” What follows is Greek tragedy, at once immersive and compulsively readable. I wish it would never end because it’s not the kind of novel you read to find out what happens. You read it because you want to live in its world forever. For the way it comes to aesthetics with awe and terror. The supernatural crashes in only…

From Adrian's list on crime with supernatural overtones.

Set in a fictionalized Bennington College, Tartt’s alma mater, it dramatizes what one guesses is her own college experiences as a part of a group of precocious undergraduates, and makes them into a context for murder. I found that this is a weird and relatable book and will appeal to anyone who has been part of a group that explicitly or implicitly feels itself to be superior.

You wouldn’t normally think of the college campus as an ideal setting for a riveting psychological murder mystery thriller, until of course you read The Secret History and then can’t imagine the campus as being anything but. Creator (or at least popularizer) of the “dark academia” literary sub-genre, Tartt gets inside the ideas-filled heads of a group of classics students at a small liberal arts college and shows how a little wisdom can take you to some strange and disturbing places. You’ll want to start studying some of those really deep ideas on your own even as she spells out…

From Andrew's list on the college campus and its craziness.

Some books have such a strong sense of place that I'm sad when I finish them because it means I can no longer be in that world. All Donna Tartt novels are like that for me, but especially The Secret History. A student named Richard Papen tells about his friendship with five other students at a private college and the events leading up to the death of a boy named Bunny Corcoran. I love stories about elite colleges and the fraught intensity of young adulthood. Add in class issues, social striving, and an inverted detective plot, and I'm hooked. 

From Joy's list on ruthless social climbers.

I didn’t read this one with a book club, but I really wish I did! The moment I put it down, I wanted to discuss it with someone. At times there’s a sinister, cult-like storyline that you just have to figure out and yet want nothing to do with, at others it’s a relatable group of characters you just want to invite over for a cup of coffee and help them straighten out their lives. In other words, this book has loads for you to talk about. 

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