The best books about cults

19 authors have picked their favorite books about cults and why they recommend each book.

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Raven

By Tim Reiterman,

Book cover of Raven: The Untold Story of the Rev. Jim Jones and His People

Raven is the best, most comprehensive, and most thoroughly researched book on Jim Jones, Jonestown, and Peoples Temple. Reiterman is a fine investigative journalist who was part of a group to visit Jonestown, Guyana in November of 1978. The visitors included, among others, eight members of the press; Congressman Leo Ryan and his aide Jackie Speier; and thirteen representatives of the “Concerned Relatives,” their own name for the group. Every member of the group had defected from the Temple in San Francisco. Only some of these visitors—Reiterman and a few of the other journalists, Ryan and Speier, and a small number of the group of relatives—were finally and reluctantly admitted in by Jones, on the stern advice of Jones’s lawyers. The Concerned Relatives were there to see if—as they strongly suspected—those in Jonestown were being held against their will.  The journalists wanted to find the truth about life in the…


Who am I?

I taught English and creative writing for 37 years in San Francisco, California. In 2018, Ron Cabral and I published And Then They Were Gone, which tells the story of the People’s Temple teenagers we taught. Many of them never returned after the Jonestown massacre and died there. We hope this story about our young students—their hopes, their poetry, their efforts to help make a better world—will bring some light to the dark story of Jonestown.


I wrote...

And Then They Were Gone: Teenagers of Peoples Temple from High School to Jonestown

By Ron Cabral, Judy Bebelaar,

Book cover of And Then They Were Gone: Teenagers of Peoples Temple from High School to Jonestown

What is my book about?

Of the 918 Americans who died in the shocking murder-suicides of November 18, 1978, in the tiny South American country of Guyana, a third were under eighteen. More than half were in their twenties or younger. And Then They Were Gone: Teenagers of Peoples Temple from High School to Jonestown begins in San Francisco at the small school where Reverend Jim Jones enrolled the teens of his Peoples Temple church in 1976. Within a year, most had been sent to join Jones and other congregants in what Jones promised was a tropical paradise based on egalitarian values, but which turned out to be a deadly prison camp. Set against the turbulent backdrop of the late 1970s, And Then They Were Gone draws from interviews, books, and articles. Many of these powerful stories are told here for the first time.

Spin

By Robert Charles Wilson,

Book cover of Spin

A science fiction novel that has as much focus on fleshed-out character development as the science? Amazing. The plot of this fascinating novel, even more so. Imagine a world where all the stars you see in the night sky suddenly go out. How would you react when you learned the reason for this was a world-spanning barrier which is not only blocking out the starry night but is also vastly increasing the rate at which time passes beyond the barrier—to the point where the sun ages billions of years in a matter of decades.

From exploring the implications of this time-bending device to witnessing the world as it copes with this new reality, this is one story that—after reading it decades ago—still holds a fond place in my heart.


Who am I?

My parents always encouraged me to explore the world and express myself. I also grew up in a home where the bookshelves were lined with Stephen King novels, encyclopedias, and VHS tapes containing episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation. So it came as little surprise that my interests in astronomy, orbital mechanics, and fantastical technology concepts (who doesn't like the idea of a ringworld?) dominated my life. I also love history and the drive for exploring the endless possibilities behind the question "what if." Science fiction is, at its core, about exploring the human condition—this is where you’ll find my writing and the adventures I bring to you.


I wrote...

Eternal Shadow

By Trevor B Williams,

Book cover of Eternal Shadow

What is my book about?

What would you do if the world is going to end in ten years? For Jennifer Epstein, a by-the-books senior researcher at SETI, there is only one answer: prevent the apocalypse from happening. Pluto, Neptune, and Uranus were destroyed by an alien threat. The deck was stacked against humanity before the cards came out of the box.

But Jennifer isn’t alone. She has Samantha Monroe, her excitable but brilliant subordinate. From South Africa, CEO Muzikayise Khulu of Khulu Global supplies his vast resources to the ultimate race for survival. The three find themselves in an unlikely alliance while political brinkmanship, doomsday cults, and untested technologies form ever-growing obstacles. Will humanity unite to face the greatest challenge of their time, or will it destroy itself before the alien ship arrives?

Kraken

By China Miéville,

Book cover of Kraken

The weirdly wonderful writing of China Miéville is showcased in this fabulously imaginative, sometimes horror and sometimes laugh-out-loud adventure centered on the lore of the giant kraken. Miéville’s imagination is like Technicolor suddenly blooming on a black and white television, and for readers who enjoy New Weird this urban fantasy set in a London beset with magic on all sides is a wild and fun ride. It was for me, at least, and is my favorite of Miéville’s books so far.


Who am I?

Writing contemporary fantasy as L.D. Colter and epic fantasy as L. Deni Colter, I often lace mythology, fairy tale, or folklore into my novels and short stories. I grew up on the truly grim Grimm’s Fairy Tales but embraced them regardless, and I adored the giant book of Russian fairy tales I still own. After discovering Tolkien at ten, in high school, I read Hesiod’s Theogony between classes, The Odyssey and the Iliad for fun over summer break, and bits of Rigveda. Later, Beowulf, Popol Vuh, Poetic Edda, and more. I also love multiple sub-genres of fantasy, but especially stories that incorporate myths and folklore.


I wrote...

While Gods Sleep: Book One of Perilous Gods

By L.D. Colter,

Book cover of While Gods Sleep: Book One of Perilous Gods

What is my book about?

Greek mythology and contemporary fantasy collide in this fantasy thriller by award-winning author, L. D. Colter. Get ready to dive head-first into an alternate 1958 Greece where conjoined queens rule a nation perched above an underworld filled with demi-gods and monsters, and a mortal man holds the key to the fate of the ancient Greek gods.

“Shunning clichés, Colter crafts a suspenseful plot that dashes along to the rousing ending, weaving gryphons and harpies, magical tattoos, transformations, and betrayal… in this polished world.” – Publishers Weekly

Stranger in a Strange Land

By Robert A. Heinlein,

Book cover of Stranger in a Strange Land

It’s been many decades since I read this book but it will always stay with me. Storyline, details, many things fade. But at the time, it had a profound effect on me. I definitely related to Valentine Michael Smith, the protagonist human raised by Martians who had never seen another member of his species. And I’ll never forget the scene where he’s coaxed into a bath by his lovely, human guide. On Mars, water was rare and precious and powerful ceremonies were conducted around very spare amounts of it. So, for him, entering a tub full of water was an overwhelming, pinnacle experience. And, of course, I related to his special powers that far exceeded those of his brethren and his destiny to bring about transformations far beyond their conception. And I love the word ‘grok’ which Heinlein coined for this book and which, to some degree, has entered the…

Who am I?

Mark Landau has an MA in Linguistics and is an ordained Interfaith Minister and Spiritual Counselor. He has written eight books on meditation, healing, evolution, politics, sex, fantasy and saving our world, one musical play, and many songs, poems, and essays. After devoting a lifetime to healing and awakening himself, others, and the world utilizing therapy, meditation, energy, and bodywork, 12-step programs, Rebirthing, Shamanic Journey, Soul Retrieval, DNA Activation, and esoteric Hindu, Vedic, Buddhist, Christian, Jewish, Hawaiian and Native-American practices, he began developing his own meditations and healing modalities. He does individual healing sessions utilizing six modalities, teaches three new, evolution-boosting meditations for our times and lives in Santa Fe. 


I wrote...

The Miracle Revolution

By Mark Landau,

Book cover of The Miracle Revolution

What is my book about?

Meet Eva Dunn, gorgeous, brilliant, drawing to her the ultimate team, meant to transform the world. The Miracle Revolution is an erotic, spiritual, healing, adventure, save-the-world, sci-fi, fantasy novel that will shock and delight you. Fifty Shades of Grey meets Lord of the Rings meets Wonder Woman meets The Rapture. Beware, it's genre-bending, boundary-breaking, mostly nonviolent, and contains sporadic super-kink, graphic super-sex, and some deep, true, special, precious, honest-to-God wisdom.

Mystic and Rider

By Sharon Shinn,

Book cover of Mystic and Rider

Shinn is a master of crafting compelling, powerful female characters who battle the world around them while dealing with their own traumas. (Which I can relate to, all too well.) The magic system in this world is breathtaking, and the main character, Senneth, is one of my all-time favorite heroes. This book features her traveling with a band of misfits, one of whom she shares a romance with, and their relationship develops as they journey. Senneth’s bonds with the others in her group also deepen into a beautiful found family. Plus, there are lots of cozy campfire scenes! (The best part of travel through Fantasyland.)


Who am I?

As a hardcore introvert, I often find it difficult to open up to others, especially new people. But somehow, it’s easier to do so when traveling or at least out of my normal routine. So it’s no surprise that I gravitate to stories that feature characters traveling and forming bonds of friendship and romance while on the road. Add some magic to the mix, and I’m almost definitely hooked!


I wrote...

Catalyst Moon: (Incursion – Book 1)

By Lauren L. Garcia,

Book cover of Catalyst Moon: (Incursion – Book 1)

What is my book about?

A magic-torn world. Mages, held captive since magic first manifested in the world, seek to break their chains. Sentinels, warriors with an unnatural immunity to magic, are oathbound to keep the magic-users prisoner - at any cost.

Two hearts, shattered by grief, bound together by fate. Kali, a mage fleeing her painful past, travels to a healer in Whitewater City, hoping to mend more than her broken heart. One of her sentinel escorts is Stonewall, a man left with only his faith after the death of his brother. But when monstrous bandits destroy Kali's other escorts, Kali and Stonewall must join forces to survive the demonic creatures…and a dangerous magic never seen before. Two hearts. One destiny.

The Incendiaries

By R.O. Kwon,

Book cover of The Incendiaries

Told with lyrical, freewheeling assurance, this campus novel-meets-love story-meets meditation on fanaticism is a short, sharp read that tells the story of Phoebe and Will, whose lives collide and then break apart when Phoebe joins a secretive cult bent on enacting faith-based violence. We spend most of the time in Will’s head, as he carefully recreates the tragic timeline to try to understand Phoebe’s heart and grapple with the long legacy of loss. 


Who am I?

Increasingly, the fiction I’m most drawn to occupies the space between literary and speculative. This space fascinates me both as a reader and a writer. I love stories set in worlds shifted ever-so-slightly from the familiar, where characters are forced to navigate new ways of existing or find ways to escape. Perhaps that’s why so many of my favorite stories—and my first two novels!—tend to feature women in cults or other cloistered communities, caught between their desire for belonging and the potential annihilation of the self. Where do you excavate for happiness in a hostile world? My characters spend their lives trying to answer this question. 


I wrote...

Disaster's Children

By Emma Sloley,

Book cover of Disaster's Children

What is my book about?

Disaster’s Children tells the story of Marlo, raised in a privileged community of wealthy survivalists on an idyllic, self-sustaining Oregon ranch. The outside world, which the ranchers call "the Disaster," is a casualty of ravaging climate change, a troubled landscape on the brink of catastrophe. For as long as Marlo can remember, the unknown that lies beyond the borders of her utopia has been a curious obsession. But just as she plans her escape into the chaos of the real world, a charismatic new resident gives her a compelling reason to stay. And, soon enough, a reason to doubt--and to fear--his intentions. Now, feeling more and more trapped in a paradise that's become a prison, Marlo has a choice: stay in the only home she's ever known—or break away.

The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly

By Stephanie Oakes,

Book cover of The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly

Minnow is a fascinating character having narrowly escaped the cult she’s been living in for twelve years. They took her hands, but she’s alive and away from the daily cruelties the cult subjected her to. The authorities want her to tell them everything, but Minnow wants her freedom and won’t give up her secrets for anything less. So she’s stuck in a detention center with too much time to remember the events that led to her escape and the carnage she left behind.


Who am I?

I’m a YA writer who likes to tackle difficult subject matter. My books cover things like euthanasia, drug abuse, coming out, and accessing sex as someone with a disability. If my books are found by even just one person who needs to see themselves in a story, then I feel like my job is done.


I wrote...

Stumped

By Kate Larkindale,

Book cover of Stumped

What is my book about?

Ozzy has a super-hot girlfriend who’s ready to take their relationship to the next level.  But a missing condom scuttles his plans for seduction. Furious, Ozzy takes his girlfriend home and drives off—into the path of an oncoming truck. He wakes up with both legs amputated above the knees.

When his girlfriend runs out gagging after one look at him, Ozzy knows he’s a hideous freak. Determined to prove he can be a man despite his disability, Ozzy throws himself into dumping his virginity, but finds there are few people willing to touch legless dudes in wheelchairs. His obsession takes him into an underworld where he discovers the difference between sex and intimacy, and that sometimes the price is much higher than a sex worker’s fee.

Cultish

By Amanda Montell,

Book cover of Cultish: The Language of Fanaticism

Montell explores why we’re so fascinated by cults, and how so many of us belong to cultish communities in our own lives without realizing it. Sure, SoulCycle isn’t a cult like Jonestown. But how come the leaders of SoulCycle sometimes use such similar tactics to keep us coming back for more? Through it all, Montell is a whip-smart, funny, and utterly relatable guide.


Who am I?

During the loneliness of the pandemic, I dreamed of group settings. Stuck in my apartment, I longed to lose myself in a community of people, or maybe to find myself in them. We’re all searching for that place where we belong, aren’t we? (Unless you’ve already found it, in which case: congratulations, and I’m jealous of you.) But when does a group that promises you belonging become something more sinister? I’m fascinated by groups that turn a bit (or a lot) cult-y — both in writing about them and reading about them.


I wrote...

A Special Place for Women

By Laura Hankin,

Book cover of A Special Place for Women

What is my book about?

A Special Place for Women is about Jillian, an undercover journalist who infiltrates a secret club for the tastemaker girlbosses of NYC. The members are rumored to be the Hot Female Illuminati, but their power and influence extend far beyond what Jillian imagined. As she’s sucked into their glamorous world and uncovers their shocking secrets, she’ll have to decide whether to expose them… or to join them. 

Daughter of Gloriavale

By Lilia Tarawa,

Book cover of Daughter of Gloriavale: My Life in a Religious Cult

I was privileged to be asked to mentor Lilia as she wrote of her life in and escape from the Gloriavale religious cult, a community of about 500 people living a secluded and strictly controlled life in a remote part of the South Island of New Zealand. Her life was like my fictional book, but on steroids. Four years after leaving the pain of knowing she’d never again see those she loved was still so acute that she wept as she wrote of it. Life inside Gloriavale fascinated and horrified me. But while Lilia gained the freedom to forge her own life she lost the closeness and love of wider family and friends. A heart-wrenching but ultimately triumphant story.


Who am I?

I’m a writer from Aotearoa New Zealand and I’ve always been drawn to stories of struggle, especially where a character fights against outside control. I started writing for the high school students I was teaching and got hooked on the YA genre. I love it partly because it crosses all genres – I can write about a 14-year-old girl trying to live in a repressive religious cult but I can also write about a 15-year-old boy who’s a champion kart driver. Karting at top level takes enormous skill as I discovered, but it also has room for dirty tricks.


I wrote...

Juno of Taris

By Fleur Beale,

Book cover of Juno of Taris

What is my book about?

I visited the Eden Project in the UK and got to wondering what life would be like under a protective dome. In Juno of Taris, Juno is one of 500 who lives under a dome on the island Taris that protects them from the ravages of climate change. The rules are strict and they have to be if the community is to survive – however Juno begins to question whether they need to be as strict as they are. But questions are dangerous on Taris. The first question Juno and her classmates want answered is why they must submit to having their heads shaved regularly. They rebel incurring the wrath of the leaders. Danger lurks.

Combating Cult Mind Control

By Steven Hassan,

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

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.  


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. 

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