Books about cults offer readers a glimpse into this fascinating and often dangerous world. Whether you’re looking for fictional thrillers or nonfiction books, there is something on this list for you.
We all want to know what makes people join cults and stay in them. It’s a question that has been plaguing society for years, with no answer yet found by science or psychology alike – but the curiosity still lingers on because we can’t keep ourselves from wondering if our own tempted soul could end up as one of these recruits who fall down an internet rabbit hole looking at schedules about suburban moms gone qanon or books about kids joining a suicide cult. And that’s where books come in – armchair detectives can explore every facet of these communities through the safety of fiction or nonfiction pages.
Cult activity is on the rise worldwide, and it’s important to be well-informed about this dangerous phenomenon. There are books about cults that are written from a fictional perspective, as well as books that offer nonfiction information and first-hand accounts. Without further ado, here are 20 of the best books about cults
Fiction Cult Books 2022
The Last Housewife
by Ashley Winstead
Once a victim of a cult in college, Shay Evans managed to escape and start a new life. But when she hears about her friend’s death, she begins to suspect that the past is not as buried as she thought. With the help of a true-crime podcast host, Shay returns to the cult in search of answers. As she digs deeper, she realizes that the cult is more dangerous than she ever could have imagined. The Last Housewife is a dark and suspenseful novel about power, control, and the lengths we will go to for justice.
Please Join Us
by Catherine McKenzie
Nicole Mueller, a 39-year-old lawyer whose career is falling apart, joints an exclusive women’s networking group, only to realize that it may be a cult. The group, Panthera Leo, is made up of successful professionals, and it quickly provides Nicole with clients that help her relaunch her career. However, the favors she has to provide in return become increasingly sinister, and she soon realizes that she may have made a mistake in joining the group.
Such a Good Mother
by Helen Monks Takhar
Rose O’Connell is a struggling mother who feels out of place among the wealthy mothers at her son’s prestigious school. When one of the members of the elite and secretive “Circle” dies, Rose is invited to join, raising her status and giving her a taste of the good life. But she soon realizes that there is a dark side to the group, and that she may not be able to escape.
This Might Hurt
by Stephanie Wrobel
A dark and suspenseful novel about two sisters caught up in a web of lies. When Natalie receives an email from her sister, Kit, she knows something is wrong. Kit has been MIA for six months after joining a cult-like organization called Wisewood on a private island off the coast of Maine. In the email, Kit threatens to tell Natalie’s secret if she doesn’t come clean about something herself. But when Natalie hurries to the island to try and talk some sense into her sister and bring her home, she quickly realizes that Wisewood is not a place she wants to be and that her sister is not the only one with secrets.
Save for Later
I’ll Be You
by Janelle Brown
A gripping novel about identical twins who were once child stars. As adults, their lives have diverged: Elli is a successful homemaker, while Sam is a struggling actress with addiction issues. When Elli goes missing, Sam sets out to find her, only to discover that her sister might have joined a cult. Brown explores the complicated bonds between sisters and the choices that define our lives.
Bestselling Books about Cults
Nine Perfect Strangers
by Liane Moriarty
Nine strangers come together at a health resort in an attempt to change their lives. The guests range in age, occupation, and reason for being at the resort, but all of them are looking for some transformation. As they get to know one another, the guests realize that the resort’s founder may be more interested in changing them than they are. As secrets are revealed, and tensions rise, the novel builds to a shocking climax that will leave readers breathless.
by Emma Cline
The novel follows the story of Evie Boyd, a teenager who becomes involved with a cult in the 1960s. The cult is led by a man named Russell Hadrick, and it is based in Northern California. As Evie gets more involved with the cult, she becomes more and more obsessed with Suzanne, an older girl in the group. The novel explores themes of obsession, violence, and cult mentality.
The Secret History
by Donna Tart
The novel follows a cult-like group of friends, led by the charismatic professor Julian Morrow, who becomes involved in a murder plot. The story is told from the perspective of Richard Papen, a transfer student who becomes enamored with the group and their way of life. The Secret History explores themes of morality, power, betrayal, and redemption. It is a complex and tightly plotted novel that draws the reader into its web of suspense and intrigue.
by R.O. Kwon
A powerful and darkly glittering novel that explores the lengths to which people will go for love and faith. The novel follows Phoebe Lin and Will Kendall, two students at prestigious Edwards University, as they become embroiled in the activities of a cult led by a charismatic and enigmatic former student. As the cult grows more violent, Will must confront his own demons as he tries to save Phoebe from the grip of fanaticism. Haunting and intense, The Incendiaries is a gripping tale of love, loss, and redemption.
by Tom Perrotta
The novel is about the aftermath of a cult-like event called the Sudden Departure, in which 2% of the world’s population suddenly disappears. The story follows the residents of Mapleton, New York, as they try to grapple with loss and move on with their lives. As the town’s new mayor, Kevin Garvey, tries to bring a sense of hope and purpose to the community, his own family is falling apart. His wife has joined a group called the Guilty Remnant, and his son has dropped out of college to follow a sketchy prophet. Only Kevin’s daughter remains, but she is not the sweet “A” student she used to be.
by Rebecca Wait
The story follows Judith and Stephanie, mother and daughter, as they are initiated into a religious cult led by the charismatic Nathaniel. As Stephanie becomes more immersed in the group’s lifestyle, Judith begins to realize the moral implications of what they are being asked to do. When a horrific act of violence changes everything, the group starts to unravel, and Judith and Stephanie must find their way back to each other.
Nonfiction Books about Cults
by Tara Westover
Tara Westover’s memoir chronicles her extraordinary journey from growing up in a survivalist cult in Idaho to getting a PhD from Cambridge University. Raised by parents convinced that the end of the world was coming and that they needed to be prepared, Tara was largely home-schooled and had no formal education until she was 17. Educated is a fascinating look at Westover’s life and her journey from cult member to world-renowned scholar. It is also a powerful reminder of the importance of education and the transformative power it can have on one’s life.
Daughter of Gloriavale
by Lilia Tarawa
Daughter of Gloriavale is the personal account of Lilia Tarawa, who grew up in a small Christian cult in New Zealand. The cult, known as Gloriavale, is known for its rigid rules and oppressive control of women. In her book, Tarawa describes her fear when her family questioned Gloriavale’s beliefs and practices. When her parents fled with their children, Lilia was forced to make a desperate choice: to stay or to leave. Daughter of Gloriavale is a true story of one woman’s experience growing up in a cult but it’s also a story of courage, strength, and determination as Lilia Tarawa fights to find her place in the world.
by Amanda Montell
Amanda Montell’s Cultish is a book about the power of cults and the language that they use to control their followers. Montell argues that cultish language is something we hear and are influenced by every day, even if we don’t realize it. Through stories and research, Montell shows how cults use language to create intense ideology, community, and us/them attitudes. Cultish is an incisive and darkly funny look at the curious social science of power and belief.
by Jeff Sharlet
A secretive organization known as the Family has exerted a powerful influence on American politics for decades. In this groundbreaking book, Jeff Sharlet reveals the secrets of this shadowy group and their ambitions to create a “Christian” empire with themselves at the helm. Drawing on his own experience as a member of the Family, as well as extensive research, Sharlet shows how this organization has worked behind the scenes to promote its conservative agenda, often at the expense of democracy and human rights.
Save for Later
by Carolyn Jessop with Laura Palmer
Escape is the inspiring story of Carolyn Jessop’s courageous flight to freedom from the abusive polygamist sect of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS). For years, Jessop was forced to live in a polygamous marriage with a man 32 years her senior. She endured his mental and physical abuse, as well as the constant battle for supremacy amongst his other wives. But in 2003, Jessop chose freedom over fear and fled her home with her eight children. Since then, she has dedicated her life to helping other women and children escape the FLDS.
by Deborah Layton
In Seductive Poison: A Jonestown Survivor’s Story of Life and Death in the Peoples Temple, author Deborah Layton tells the story of her time in cult leader Reverend Jim Jones’s Peoples Temple. Layton details how she joined the cult as a young woman and how, after becoming increasingly alarmed by the group’s militant and paranoid behavior, she eventually managed to escape and warn others of the impending disaster.
Cults, Conspiracies, and Secret Societies
by Arthur Goldwag
A fascinating and insightful look at the world of cults, conspiracies, and secret societies. Author Arthur Goldwag explores the history and psychology of these groups and explains how they continue to exert a powerful influence on our society. Goldwag also takes a close look at some of the most notorious cult leaders and examines the role that secret societies have played in major historical events such as the French Revolution and the assassination of JFK.
by Rachel Jeffs
In Breaking Free: How I Escaped Polygamy, the FLDS Cult, and My Father, Warren Jeffs, author Rachel Jeffs, daughter of a self-proclaimed prophet of the Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints , takes readers deep inside the secretive polygamist cult run by her family. She details her privileged upbringing as one of the prophet’s favorite children, the years of physical and emotional abuse she suffered, her arranged marriage to an older man, and her eventual escape from the cult.
by Lawrence Wright
In Going Clear, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Lawrence Wright tells the inside story of the controversial Church of Scientology, its founder L. Ron Hubbard, and its current leader, David Miscavige. Based on more than two hundred personal interviews with current and former Scientologists—both famous and less well known—and years of archival research, Wright offers an unprecedented look at the religion that counts among its adherents some of the most powerful people in Hollywood, including Tom Cruise and John Travolta.
These fascinating books about cults offer a look into the world of these dangerous groups. Many of them are fictional stories, while others are based on true stories of ex-cult members. In both cases, these books will send chills down your spine.