The best books about insanity

1 authors have picked their favorite books about insanity and why they recommend each book.

Soon, you will be able to filter by genre, age group, and more. Sign up here to follow our story as we build a better way to explore books.

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy through links on our website, we may earn an affiliate commission (learn more).

The Player

By Michael Tolkin,

Book cover of The Player

Screenwriter/director Michael Tolkin writes of a world that he knows very well. His protagonist, a successful and ambitious film studio executive, makes promises he has no intention of keeping. When he does this to a writer who has pitched him a story and to whom he has promised to get back with some sort of answer and doesn’t, the writer threatens his life. Suspenseful, dark, and funny in its own troubling way.


Who am I?

Like many novelists – all the way back to F. Scott Fitzgerald --  writing for film and television has been my day job. The pay is obscenely good, and it leaves you time to write what you really love – fiction. Most writers in Hollywood have a love/hate relationship with the movie business – described by some wit as “a crapshoot masquerading as a business masquerading as an art form.” And the books I am recommending express this mixture of scorn and reverence with humor and compassion. In my book The Deal I am clearly biting the hand that fed me over the years – but why not? As that old humorist Albert Camus said, “There is no fate that cannot be surmounted by scorn.”


I wrote...

The Deal: A Novel of Hollywood

By Peter Lefcourt,

Book cover of The Deal: A Novel of Hollywood

What is my book about?

Washed up film producer Charlie Berns has mailed in his updated obit and is about to suck his Mercedes tailpipe and fade to black when a miracle materializes: his nephew, a wannabe screenwriter from New Jersey, has scripted the life story of Queen Victoria's prime minister Benjamin Disraeli, which Charlie manages to turn into a hot property that reinstates him as a player. But as the deal heats up, a few conceptual changes morph the project into Lev Disraeli: Freedom Fighter, an action thriller with a black Jewish superstar, a Yugoslavian location, a mad Polish director, and even a real-life kidnapping. Is Charlie Berns being eaten alive by the system? Or is he giving the Hollywood hotshots a run for their money?

Peter Lefcourt's hilarious satire proves the old adage that in Hollywood you're never quite as dead as people give you credit for.

Haunted

By Chuck Palahniuk,

Book cover of Haunted

This is a unique entry in that the cursed place is a framing device, for this collection of mostly disturbing tales. For his first-ever collection of short stories, Palahniuk brings his wretched cast of characters to a haunted house, where each in turn offers his or her own demented tale. They don’t all work, but a number of the stories really stick with you, and this spooky old house at the center of it ratchets the intensity up another level—it’s not a static situation they are in, there, so the plot progresses to its own warped conclusion on this front as well. 


Who am I?

I’ve been a lifelong horror reader, really since first stumbling onto Stephen King in the 9th grade. There’s something about that genre that has held a particular fascination for me through the years, probably because the best works are some combination of suspenseful, well-written, and cathartic, as they really get your mind racing as to what you might do yourself in a given situation. If you’re lucky, they might even have something to say about the human condition as a whole. But given this prolonged interest and exposure to horror, it’s only natural I would eventually progress to giving it a stab myself.


I wrote...

The Doom Statues

By Jason McGathey,

Book cover of The Doom Statues

What is my book about?

Though dormant for many years, when an artists' retreat in the country reopens, a group of creatively inclined strangers cannot resist its charms. None of them find it odd that the locals steer clear of the place - at least not initially. Long before the property's dark past reveals itself to them, however, they begin to realize this retreat offers more than they signed up for. That creatives are perhaps ill-equipped for dealing with the quote-unquote real world, and that they may not escape this place any more than they can themselves.

The Big Book of Hell

By Matt Groening,

Book cover of The Big Book of Hell

The Big Book of Hell is the holy grail of dark humor, packaged perfectly in a comic format. Growing up as a sarcastic kid from Brooklyn, this was the first humor book I read that I felt was aimed directly at my sensibilities. It has a very unique “substance-over-style” aesthetic that is striking and somehow managed to become widely identifiable. It dances around subjects, poking fun at the absurdities of the world it was written in. It really showed me that you don’t need to be a conventionally great artist to publish comics and that there is a market for dark humor comics. The book, which reads almost like a variety show, opened my eyes to ways to play with structure of an individual comic and a whole book.


Who am I?

I am a joker at heart and was always the class clown. I currently write on my own humor website, A Man Eating Chicken. I started drawing comics in grade school and grew into writing comedic prose in high school. There was never a goal for any of this; it was all pre-internet, so I didn’t realize that humor could be published anywhere. As I got older, I was able to find some books that really spoke to my sensibilities. The books on this list really showed me the power and possibilities of humor and influenced my own writing.


I wrote...

A Man Eating Chicken

By Eric Sporer,

Book cover of A Man Eating Chicken

What is my book about?

A Man Eating Chicken is a collection of Eric Sporer's short prose and comics, comprising a twisted satire of modern life. Holding up a funhouse mirror to the world, Sporer’s dark brand of humor lampoons the headlines and cultural events of the past decade. Including never-before published pieces and comics, it is sure to help you laugh in the face of the insanity around you. 

This book is exclusively available here.

Madwomen

By Gabriela Mistral, Randall Couch (translator),

Book cover of Madwomen: The Locas Mujeres Poems of Gabriela Mistral

Gabriela was a Chilean poet-diplomat, educator, and humanist, who became the first Latin American author to receive a Nobel Prize in Literature. Her poetry often focuses on dark, humane themes that undoubtedly reflect on traumatic episodes that she had personally endured. 

Gabriela has the knack of scratching the surface, which is potent enough to get all your senses actively experiencing the emotions and character she puts forth. The poems resonate on a deep level, offering a compelling clarity of life with its tragedy and complications. The women depicted here are anything but mad; some would say entirely strong-willed and intense, with a collected control and a modernistic sense of independence.


Who am I?

Chriselda is a multi-genre, prolific author, and speaker, with a background in Business Administration and Chemistry/Microbiology. She speaks 5 languages & has published over 50 books. Her expansive writing covers poetry, horror, thriller, romance, children’s illustration, educational... but she enjoys telling a story in narrative poetry the most. Currently, she is working on her next dark poetry book Me and Him, where she will invoke one of the greatest poets – EA Poe. In her effort to promote more learning, she is also wrapping up the fourth book in her - Sigils, Symbols and Alchemy Series. Her passion for writing, lifelong learning, creativity, and her curiosity all help spark her innovative mindset.


I wrote...

The Creep: A First of Its Kind Narrative Poetry in a Thriller Genre!

By Chriselda Barretto,

Book cover of The Creep: A First of Its Kind Narrative Poetry in a Thriller Genre!

What is my book about?

“A collection of poems that highlight the most evil things and happenings, the author writes in an almost wistful way, capturing some of Edgar Allan Poe’s essence, in that the poems are grisly while getting under your skin in a subtle way. There seems to be a running theme of horrible things happening to ordinary people, from The Secret Amulet to Deepak, the Full Moon, and more. The Creep is a presence that pervades people’s lives, takes over and exerts an extreme evil influence. This is an interesting take on putting together a collection of poetry, highly unique and innovative.” - Valery

Artistic Differences

By Charlie Hauck,

Book cover of Artistic Differences

This poorly known novel by a television writer deserves more attention. It concerns a writer on a TV sitcom that is plagued by an impossible actress/star who makes everybody’s lives miserable by her egotistical behavior. The revenge that the writer, Jimmy Hoy, contrives for her is both funny and appropriate. There are laugh-out-loud moments in this book that will make you roar.


Who am I?

Like many novelists – all the way back to F. Scott Fitzgerald --  writing for film and television has been my day job. The pay is obscenely good, and it leaves you time to write what you really love – fiction. Most writers in Hollywood have a love/hate relationship with the movie business – described by some wit as “a crapshoot masquerading as a business masquerading as an art form.” And the books I am recommending express this mixture of scorn and reverence with humor and compassion. In my book The Deal I am clearly biting the hand that fed me over the years – but why not? As that old humorist Albert Camus said, “There is no fate that cannot be surmounted by scorn.”


I wrote...

The Deal: A Novel of Hollywood

By Peter Lefcourt,

Book cover of The Deal: A Novel of Hollywood

What is my book about?

Washed up film producer Charlie Berns has mailed in his updated obit and is about to suck his Mercedes tailpipe and fade to black when a miracle materializes: his nephew, a wannabe screenwriter from New Jersey, has scripted the life story of Queen Victoria's prime minister Benjamin Disraeli, which Charlie manages to turn into a hot property that reinstates him as a player. But as the deal heats up, a few conceptual changes morph the project into Lev Disraeli: Freedom Fighter, an action thriller with a black Jewish superstar, a Yugoslavian location, a mad Polish director, and even a real-life kidnapping. Is Charlie Berns being eaten alive by the system? Or is he giving the Hollywood hotshots a run for their money?

Peter Lefcourt's hilarious satire proves the old adage that in Hollywood you're never quite as dead as people give you credit for.

The Pig

By Edward Lee,

Book cover of The Pig

Forget everything you know about the horror genre. This book is one of the most overwhelming, disgusting things I’ve ever read, and physically gagged multiple times while reading it. If you’re not familiar with extreme splatterpunk, brace yourself. Nothing can prepare you for the all-out gore, guts, and absolutely insane depravity found in this book. There’s one scene in here that will never leave me. You’ll know it when you get to it. Oh, and it’s kind of about a pig. 

This book is not currently available.


Who am I?

Books that make me feel uncomfortable are usually the ones that have stuck with me most over the years. There’s just something so alluring to me about an author who can effectively bring out that feeling in readers. When I started writing stories, I wanted to make my readers squirm – I wanted to layer the guts and gore with underlying psychological themes that made the violence and trauma that much more impactful. These books that I mentioned acted almost as study guides on how to blend shocking violence with themes of loneliness, depression, and rage. If you layer these correctly, you’re going to effectively be able to make your reader uncomfortable and your stories memorable.  


I wrote...

The Third Parent

By Elias Witherow,

Book cover of The Third Parent

What is my book about?

No one knows where he came from. No one knows what he wants. No one dares ask about his strange physical abnormalities. For a quiet suburban neighborhood, things are about to change. And it starts with a knock at the door. Follow his rules. Don't call the police. Listen to his lessons. That's what Jack and his family were told. Held captive in their own house, they must face a growing storm of mental and physical trauma as they try to just stay alive.

But even if Jack can survive the horror of his childhood, will his tormentor ever leave him alone? And who is he really? Who is Tommy Taffy?

Inconvenient People

By Sarah Wise,

Book cover of Inconvenient People: Lunacy, Liberty, and the Mad-Doctors in England

I like to write about public Victorian asylums – where the bulk of English people with mental illnesses were admitted.  But the counterpoint is the private system, where the poor, rich mad spent their time in nice surroundings with wacky treatments. Sarah Wise captures this perfectly through a real-life investigation of the people in the attic – think Jane Eyre, or The Woman in White – and how the law sought to protect them.


Who am I?

I’m an archivist, really, masquerading as a writer. For my day job, I am in charge of archives from across England’s Royal County of Berkshire, spanning from the twelfth century to the present day. I have care of collections from Reading Gaol – of Oscar Wilde fame, the conservators of the River Thames, and also Broadmoor Hospital. The latter was built in 1863 as the first criminal lunatic asylum for England and Wales. It’s a place where true crime and social history interact. My book tries to paint a picture of individuals who did dreadful things but also had a life beyond their mental illness.


I wrote...

Broadmoor Revealed: Victorian Crime and the Lunatic Asylum

By Mark Stevens,

Book cover of Broadmoor Revealed: Victorian Crime and the Lunatic Asylum

What is my book about?

On May 27th, 1863, three coaches pulled up at the gates of a new asylum, built amongst the tall, dense pines of Windsor Forest. Broadmoor's first patients had arrived. In Broadmoor Revealed, Mark Stevens writes about what life was like for the criminally insane over one hundred years ago. From fresh research into the Broadmoor archives, Mark has uncovered the lost lives of patients whose mental illnesses led them to become involved in crime. 

Discover the five women who went on to become mothers in Broadmoor, giving birth to new life when three of them had previously taken it. Find out how several Victorian immigrants ended their hopeful journeys to England in madness and disaster. And follow the numerous escapes, actual and attempted, as the first doctors tried to assert control over the residents.

The Madman's Daughter

By Megan Shepherd,

Book cover of The Madman's Daughter

This atmospheric novel, a retelling of The Island of Doctor Moreau, is a perfect blend of gothic romance and haunting mystery. It’s beautifully written, well-paced, and filled with unexpected twists. I love the feminist theme presented through the main character, Juliet, who is independent despite the hardships she endures, is not dissuaded from pursuing her passion for science even though it wasn’t proper for a woman to do so at the time. There is also an underlying theme throughout the book that expertly juxtaposes sanity and madness, eliciting the question of where the line should be drawn.


Who am I?

As a reader and an author, I prefer young adult novels because they tend to focus more on character growth and development than other genres, but I’m particularly drawn to both historical and fantasy period pieces in books and film. The medieval ages especially, with their castles and feudalistic way of life, have always fascinated me. This fascination was largely filled by reading and watching fairy tales and novel adaptations while growing up. Nowadays, I gravitate toward retellings like a moth to the flame, as I get to relive stories that have a special place in my heart in a fresh new way. 


I wrote...

The Kingdom Within

By Samantha Gillespie,

Book cover of The Kingdom Within

What is my book about?

Princess Meredith’s 18th birthday is fast approaching, but unlike other girls, she is not looking forward to it. Upon her coming of age, she is to marry the prince of Alder, the most powerful kingdom in the world. Though the idea of marriage to a complete stranger is appalling, she knows she has no choice. Without the marriage contract, Stonefall’s alliance with Alder will be lost, and her people will be safe no longer; Theros, King of Talos, has set his eyes of conquest on Stonefall and he wants Meredith dead.

Connor, an elite soldier entrusted with Meredith’s safety, arrives at the palace just as things begin to take a turn for the worst. Together, they will embark on a journey of survival, in which Meredith will find that the only thing she never prepared for was falling in love.

Hunting Mariah

By J.E. Spina,

Book cover of Hunting Mariah

I normally I don’t read mystery thrillers, but somehow this book got to me. I couldn’t stop reading, it held me captive till the end, even though I thought, right from the beginning, who the awful blood-thirsty killer might be. But still, I was pushed back again, could it really be him? There were so many different turns and twists, that you really couldn’t be sure of anything.

Mariah, the innocent schoolgirl was put into a dangerous twist; she nearly couldn’t get out again, shutting herself up to cope with the unexpected. And then you were transported into the mind of the schoolgirl killer. What a blood-thirsty individual, killing schoolgirls for practice then killing Mariah’s friend, only to get to her. Everyone longed for justice. But will justice come?

Very cleverly done, J.E. Spina. She put family values and support into the foreground.


Who am I?

After being rejected in school, because I had to move with my family again and again, I never had really friends and knew how being left alone and rejected felt. So I put my nose into books and developed a love for writing. Since I didn’t know what to do with them, I left them alone when I married. After being diagnosed with cancer later in my life, I couldn’t go back to work, I remembered my love to write and read so I started to write short stories again. I want to help young people going through similar rejections and bullying, to lift them up, and take the negativity out of their minds. 


I wrote...

Talon, Come Fly with Me: Inspirational Story about Adventure and Growth

By Gigi Sedlmayer,

Book cover of Talon, Come Fly with Me: Inspirational Story about Adventure and Growth

What is my book about?

An Australian girl living in Peru with her missionary parents, high up in the great Andes, was rejected by the locals because she has an affliction they don't understand. But when she made friends with a pair of great Condors, and saved their egg from poachers, everything turned around. She had to learn, what she can do to overcome her affliction and become the one, she was meant to be. 

An inspirational, highly emotional, and entertaining read for all ages. Matica, the heroine, is a strong, brave girl, who battles with her handicap and how others view her. But this isn’t a story only about her gaining acceptance or overcoming her challenges. Rather, it’s a tale packed full of exciting moments and tons of emotions.

New book lists related to insanity

All book lists related to insanity

Bookshelves related to insanity