The best torture books

7 authors have picked their favorite books about torture and why they recommend each book.

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Inventing Human Rights

By Lynn Hunt,

Book cover of Inventing Human Rights: A History

Many human rights activists have to be focused intensely on the events of today and the consequences for tomorrow, this often allows little time for broader reading. Lynn Hunt offers a detailed and very readable analysis and argument of the history and development of contemporary human rights. I found all of her book illuminating and the connections she described eye-opening.

Who am I?

I have been an activist working on issues relating to human rights and youth protection for over fifteen years and during that time I worked as a lawyer and was lucky enough to make films and write two novels. Eventually, I would concentrate solely on activism and my reading would become very specific and as the focus of my activism changed and I directed my energies to corporate accountability my reading changed course again. The list I offer is from talented writers on important subjects, all write extremely well about things that matter to a human rights activist.  

I wrote...

All the Flowers in Shanghai

By Duncan Jepson,

Book cover of All the Flowers in Shanghai

What is my book about?

I wrote All the Flowers in Shanghai as an attempt to understand the issue of forced marriage from a woman’s perspective. An experience I clearly do not and will not ever have. At the same time, I wanted to look at such an event from the people around the victim – her parents, husband-to-be, and even sibling. What reactions might they have? How might they respond? It was also an opportunity to describe and explore a portion of China’s history as it responded to huge social and political movements. I believe the pace was very important and I hope I captured the changes in daily rhythms as history swallows up the characters’ lives as they move from imperial China to modern China.

I'm Thinking of Ending Things

By Iain Reid,

Book cover of I'm Thinking of Ending Things

Before it was a Netflix movie (psst! The book is way better), this slim little book creeped me the hell out. It’s a simple premise: A woman is driving with her boyfriend to meet his parents for the first time, only she’s not really sure the relationship is going to work out. However, this psychological thriller will have you on the edge of your seat from the very beginning—only you won’t know why until the very end. I’m shivering just thinking about it.

Who am I?

I was born on Halloween, so I’m officially a card-carrying member of all things creepy, right? However, I’m definitely drawn to books with mood and atmosphere over outright horror and gore. I find the subtle aspects of fear so much more interesting—how is it that one person’s reality can be so different than another’s? I write domestic suspense because I think the people we are closest to and the places we think are safest are often the ones that can hurt us the most. Where a story takes place is so very important. I need to know the geography, the feel, the history of a place—then I can put people in it and make bad things happen.

I wrote...

One Night Gone

By Tara Laskowski,

Book cover of One Night Gone

What is my book about?

One sultry summer, Maureen Haddaway arrives in the wealthy town of Opal Beach to start her life anew—to achieve her destiny. There, she finds herself lured by the promise of friendship, love, starry skies, and wild parties. But Maureen’s new life just might be too good to be true, and before the summer is up, she vanishes.

Decades later, when Allison Simpson is offered the opportunity to house-sit in Opal Beach during the off-season, it seems like the perfect chance to begin fresh after a messy divorce. But when she becomes drawn into the mysterious disappearance of a girl thirty years before, Allison realizes the gorgeous homes of Opal Beach hide dark secrets. And the truth of that long-ago summer is not even the most shocking part of all…

No Time for Fear

By Diane Burke Fessler,

Book cover of No Time for Fear: Voices of American Military Nurses in World War II

It’s almost impossible to embrace what deployed nurses went through in World War II. This book reveals some of the trials they endured, depending on their theater. Some suffered imprisonment and torture, while nearly all of these women worked under duress and danger we can scarcely imagine.

Who am I?

Research and writing have shown me that the war-affected baby boomers like me in tangible ways. My father-in-law helped deliver the survivors of the Bataan Death March—what a legacy! My special addiction to the WOMEN of WWII, though, probably stems from my mother, who suffered poverty and restrictions on the home front through it all. Also, my husband (a history major) and I delight in watching documentaries and accurate movies about the war and visiting as many historical sites as possible.

I wrote...

Until Then

By Gail Kittleson,

Book cover of Until Then

What is my book about?

Riding in the backs of Army trucks across North Africa, throughout the Sicily campaign, up the boot of Italy, and northward through France into Germany, Dorothy Woebbeking served as a surgical nurse with the 11th Evacuation Hospital. During World War II, US Army nurses worked and slept in tents through horrific weather, endured enemy fire, and even the disdain of their own superior officers, who believed women had no place in war. But Dorothy and her comrades persevered, and their skills and upbeat attitude made a huge difference in the lives of thousands of wounded soldiers. This is their story.

The Shell

By Moustafa Khalifa, Paul Starkey,

Book cover of The Shell: Memoirs of a Hidden Observer

The Shell is a peek into both the horrors and absurdities of totalitarian regimes told in the form of a prison diary kept by the author. Khalifa, a Christian by birth and an atheist, was mistaken (or perhaps not, given what I learned about the Assad regime in the course of my work) for a radical Islamist, arrested and locked up in the notorious Tadmor desert prison, more accurately a death camp. The book reveals the horrific consequences of the logic and methods of the Assad family and other dictators in the Middle East and beyond: Anyone suspected of harboring a hint of opposition to the ruler will be labeled a terrorist and traitor, crushed and turned into an example to instill fear in the wider population.

Who am I?

Sam Dagher is a Lebanese-American journalist and author with more than 15 years of experience reporting on the Middle East and its people. He has lived in Baghdad, Beirut, and Damascus and worked throughout the region. Sam has been committed to telling the region’s stories from the ground up and in the process shedding new light on the root causes of war, extremism, and migration.

I wrote...

Assad or We Burn the Country: How One Family's Lust for Power Destroyed Syria

By Sam Dagher,

Book cover of Assad or We Burn the Country: How One Family's Lust for Power Destroyed Syria

What is my book about?

From an award winning journalist specializing in the Middle East, this groundbreaking account of the Syrian Civil War reveals the never-before-published true story of a 21st-century humanitarian disaster. Assad or We Burn the Country examines Syria's tragedy through the generational saga of the Assad and Tlass families, once deeply intertwined and now estranged in Bashar's bloody quest to preserve his father's inheritance. By drawing on his own reporting experience in Damascus and exclusive interviews with Tlass, Dagher takes readers within palace walls to reveal the family behind the destruction of a country and the chaos of an entire region.


By J.F. Gonzalez,

Book cover of Survivor

This is the best book written by Gonzalez, who recently passed away. It is the extreme and brutal tale of a woman who is abducted for the purpose of being put into a snuff film. The action is ferocious and brutal and the lead character is extremely strong, so much more than just another victim. I felt for her and cheered for her when her character fights back against the evil men hellbent on torturing and killing her.

Who am I?

My experience and expertise – I am not only a reader of horror, in particular extreme horror, but I am a published writer with several hundred writing credits. I have had hundreds of stories and articles published on many websites, magazines, and anthologies including a story in Year’s Best Hardcore Horror Volume 5. For eleven years I wrote articles on the bizarre and morbid for Girls and Corpses magazine. I have been consistently writing for 20 years, and have also helped write several independent horror films. I have written many reviews and interviews as well, most recently in Phantasmagoria Magazine.

I wrote...

Hurting My Toys: Spiritual Suicide

By David L. Tamarin,

Book cover of Hurting My Toys: Spiritual Suicide

What is my book about?

Hurting My Toys is an extreme horror tale about a schizophrenic drug-addicted serial killer who cannot differentiate between fantasy and reality. In his deluded mind, he can become a God who controls the universe provided that he kills enough people. Warning - may be traumatic to some.

The Secret World

By Christopher Andrew,

Book cover of The Secret World: A History of Intelligence

My line of work has only enhanced my fascination with spies and spying. Espionage was on the periphery of my world and I was privy, on occasion, to snippets of information that shed light on certain events. Reading this book was like being privy to a host of secrets, many during my own era. How fascinating to be taken through the history of espionage from biblical times until today. The author reveals missing pieces to many significant moments in history, where monumental decisions were made based on information bought and sold, died for, killed for, stolen, or extracted by torture or coercion. Equally fascinating is how so much of that information was misinterpreted, denied, ignored, inflated, or simply misplaced. Great battles were won and lost, kingdoms toppled, fortunes spent and made, often based on a single snippet of information.

Who am I?

I must be something of a specialist on the impact of conventional and guerrilla warfare on the civilian population. Truth is, leaving school, I never intended to have anything to do with war beyond the books I enjoyed reading. On leaving the military in my 30s I employed the only skills I had and managed organisations and mostly news teams operating in conflict zones all over the world. I matured into a crisis manager, responding and consulting to crisis situations such as kidnap & ransoms, and evacuations from conflict zones. Most of the characters in my books are real, good and bad, taken from the vast theatre of my own experiences. 

I wrote...

First into Action

By Duncan Falconer,

Book cover of First into Action

What is my book about?

A dramatic personal account of life inside the UK's Special Boat Service. The memoir describes how Duncan Falconer joined the Royal Marines and, due to a series of unusual events, on completion of his Commando course, was sent to the SBS HQ in Poole to take part in the gruelling selection process along with 150 other Marines. Falconer was not expected to last a week. Three months later, on completion of the course, and along with just 8 other men, he was accepted into the ranks of the SBS, the youngest ever to join the unit in the modern era. First Into Action is packed with, often sad, sometimes hilarious, anecdotes of his life and times in the service.  

"Anyone Here Been Raped and Speaks English?"

By Edward Behr,

Book cover of "Anyone Here Been Raped and Speaks English?"

Being a foreign correspondent in the so-called "developing world" is complicated in a myriad of ways, and journalists often become so deep into the story that their needs become strangely surgical, legal, and surreal.

Need some specific quotes to describe what is happening amid a bloodbath? Want to profile victims of torture and slaughter? Behr's book brings you into his experience as a foreign correspondent for Newsweek in Africa and other media work in a way few other reporters would like to admit -- except to each other.

Who am I?

I am a Bangkok-based journalist from San Francisco, California, reporting news from Asia since 1978 and winner of Columbia University's Foreign Correspondent's Award. My work, including this book, has taken me to Tibet, India, Nepal, Laos, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, New York, and elsewhere. Fragments of people and their distant voices are the behavior and quotes that inspire. Slices, starting at random moments and ending in bleak locations, fascinate and hypnotize. And transcribing handwritten notes, impressions, and exclusive interviews, create my RocknRolla lyrics.

I wrote...

Rituals. Killers. Wars. & Sex. -- Tibet, India, Nepal, Laos, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka & New York

By Richard S. Ehrlich,

Book cover of Rituals. Killers. Wars. & Sex. --  Tibet, India, Nepal, Laos, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka & New York

What is my book about?

My exclusive interviews, first-hand descriptions, and news reports, including a Tibetan Sky Funeral of human corpses eaten by vultures. The Dalai Lama hunting for Mao's reincarnation. A Potala Palace monk kills Chinese as a horse-riding insurgent. A Calcutta Dom caste undertaker suffers discrimination. India's "Bandit Queen" Phoolan Devi justifies her revenge killings.

The CIA's Tony "Poe" demands human ears and heads during the war in Laos. James "Mule" Parker, the last CIA officer to evacuate from Vietnam, reveals the CIA paid and quoted non-existent spies. "Bikini Killer" Charles Sobhraj and his girlfriends are also interviewed. American "Jack" Idema in Kabul is convicted of torturing Afghans to "confess" they knew Osama bin Laden's location. Warfare in Afghanistan, Kashmir, and Sri Lanka also appear. Michelle describes her and her colleagues exposing themselves in Peepland on 42nd Street.

Lover Awakened

By J.R.Ward,

Book cover of Lover Awakened

Anyone who reads steamy, gritty Romance has probably already found the Black Dagger Brotherhood, a bunch of vampires fighting their own brand of bad guys in Caldwell, New York. My favourite of all these very hot guys is Zsadist, who was kidnapped at an early age and turned into a blood and sex slave. His story starts in the earlier books, but it's in this one that he finally gets his love interest, the beautiful Bella, who helps him heal and saves him from himself.  

There is so much going on in these very long books, most of it violent and sexually explicit, but if you love tortured heroes, then you can’t go past Zsadist. Start at the beginning of the series, though, so you don’t miss any of the action.

Who am I?

I’ve always read and written Romance. But while my real life took center stage, I consigned my manuscripts to gather dust in my bottom desk drawer and went off to teach English and History and raise a family. When my real life got less hectic and the Indie Revolution started, I dragged my stories out, dusted them off, and started publishing them. Lo and behold, readers loved them as much as I did, and suddenly I had a whole new career. Teaching literature tends to make you critical, and I was super-critical of my ‘trashy’ romances. Now I’m proud I write stories women can read to relax and be entertained by. 

I wrote...

The Barbarian's Mistress

By Nhys Glover,

Book cover of The Barbarian's Mistress

What is my book about?

Vali, the Norse giant, became the sex slave of Roman patricians when he was captured as a young teen. Since then he has grown angrier and more violent with every passing year. When his violence leads to the punishment of the gladiatorial arena he is offered one way out. He can gain his freedom if he can get the innocent and beautiful Anniana to her prospective husband in Pompeii before her unscrupulous mother makes her the wife of the vile and decadent new emperor. But when Pompeii is destroyed and her mother sends assassins to track Anniana down, it becomes a chase across the breadth of the Roman Empire to keep her safe. Vali will need to shield the sweet girl from the many dangers of the journey, as well as the worst threat of all: himself.

The Bone Valley

By Candace Robinson,

Book cover of The Bone Valley

Let me emphasize how gorgeous this book is. Imagine a Tim Burton world filled with bones and two skeletons having a heart-wrenchingly beautiful love story. That is the landscape of The Bone Valley by Candace Robinson. This book gets quite gory and dark but is absolutely my favorite of her books for its sheer originality and incredibly unique world. Not to mention the horrible villain who literally takes over the underworld just so she can torture people. Yeah, it’s dark. Robinson is known for her incredible balance of romance and horror nestled within a beautiful world, and this book is the epitome of that.

Who am I?

I love reading about monsters as much as I love writing about them. Unfortunately, it also means I’m super picky about the dark fantasy I read. These authors don’t disappoint. Dark fantasy is a genre that I continue to return to, whether it’s aimed at teens or adults. I’ve had to deal with many monsters in my life and I understand that they can take many shapes and forms. These books are some of the very best I’ve read and I hope you’ll enjoy them as much as I have. 

I wrote...

The Seeking

By Marlena Frank,

Book cover of The Seeking

What is my book about?

Each Seeking, the magic that protects the town of Carra must be renewed, which means the children of the Exalted Family must go into hiding. Whether through disguise or bribe, through trusted friends or perfect hiding places, every child of the Priest family must avoid capture for the full day of The Seeking.

When things go wrong with the renewal, it’s up to seventeen-year-old Dahlia, the middle child of the Priest family, and her girlfriend, Bisa, to escape Carra and find the magical beings responsible for the protection. They must learn who would require such a cruel game every year and if the protection of the Gray People is really worth such a price. What they will discover is far worse.

The Body in Pain

By Elaine Scarry,

Book cover of The Body in Pain: The Making and Unmaking of the World

This modern classic by a Harvard anthropologist is about torture and inflicted body pain in general, though it has abundant examples from the bible and religion-related conflicts. Her main thesis is that acts of torture are attempts to destroy the worlds of the victim and remake them in the mold of the torturer. It helps us understand that acts of religious violence are always so some extent a clash of worldviews and the attempt to forcibly destroy one view of reality with another. 

Who am I?

Though religious violence is an odd obsession for a nice guy like me, the topic was forced on me. Having lived for years in the Indian Punjab, I was struck by the uprising of Sikhs in the 1980s. I wanted to know why, and what religion had to do with it. These could have been my own students. It is easy to understand why bad people do bad things, but why do good people—often with religious visions of peace—employ such savage acts of violence? This is the question that has propelled me through a half-dozen books, including the recent When God Stops Fighting: How Religious Violence Ends. 

I wrote...

Terror in the Mind of God: The Global Rise of Religious Violence

By Mark Juergensmeyer,

Book cover of Terror in the Mind of God: The Global Rise of Religious Violence

What is my book about?

Terror in the Mind of God: The Global Rise of Religious Violence (University of California Press). Now in its 4th edition, this is only one of many books on religious violence that I have written, but it’s the one that endures. It is based on my conversations with militants in every religious tradition—from Islam and Judaism to Buddhism and Christianity--and tries to get inside their worldviews. It explores the idea of terrorism as performance violence, and probes the role that religious images of cosmic war play in contemporary struggles from ISIS to the Christian right.

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