Nonfiction is hard for me to get through, but when I read any, I tend to go to the dark side: topics that are terrible, dangerous, tragic, and morbid. This goes hand in hand with my love of all things true crime. As I was compiling my list for this blog, I gathered a list of pop-science, investigative journalism, historical writings, research-centered nonfiction, and some adventure-based.
I have gathered a list of dark and morbid nonfiction that haven’t been discusses on the blog before and that can be found at the Davenport Public Library (basically my dark to-be-read list!). Descriptions have been provided by the publishers and/or authors.
The Roaring Twenties–the Jazz Age–has been characterized as a time of Gatsby frivolity. But it was also the height of the uniquely American hate group, the Ku Klux Klan. Their domain was not the old Confederacy, but the Heartland and the West. They hated Blacks, Jews, Catholics and immigrants in equal measure, and took radical steps to keep these people from the American promise. And the man who set in motion their takeover of great swaths of America was a charismatic charlatan named D.C. Stephenson.
Stephenson was a magnetic presence whose life story changed with every telling. Within two years of his arrival in Indiana, he’d become the Grand Dragon of the state and the architect of the strategy that brought the group out of the shadows – their message endorsed from the pulpits of local churches, spread at family picnics and town celebrations. Judges, prosecutors, ministers, governors and senators across the country all proudly proclaimed their membership. But at the peak of his influence, it was a seemingly powerless woman – Madge Oberholtzer – who would reveal his secret cruelties, and whose deathbed testimony finally brought the Klan to their knees. – Penguin Random House
For the first time in thirty years, more than a dozen former ATF agents who participated in the initial February 28, 1993, Waco raid speak on the record about the poor decisions of their commanders that led to this deadly confrontation. The revelations in this book include why the FBI chose to end the siege with the use of CS gas; how both ATF and FBI officials tried and failed to cover up their agencies’ mistakes; where David Koresh plagiarized his infamous prophecies; and direct links between the Branch Davidian tragedy and the modern militia movement in America. Notorious conspiracist Alex Jones is a part of the Waco story. So much is new and stunning.
Guinn puts you alongside the ATF agents as they embarked on the disastrous initial assault, unaware that the Davidians knew they were coming and were armed and prepared to resist. His you-are-there narrative continues to the final assault and its momentous consequences. Drawing on this new information, including several eyewitness accounts, Guinn again does what he did with his bestselling books about Charles Manson and Jim Jones, revealing “gripping” (Houston Chronicle) new details about a story that we thought we knew. – Simon & Schuster
Tell Me Everything: The Story of a Private Investigation by Erika Krouse
Erika Krouse has one of those faces. “I don’t know why I’m telling you this,” people say, spilling confessions. In fall 2002, Erika accepts a new contract job investigating lawsuits as a private investigator. The role seems perfect for her, but she quickly realizes she has no idea what she’s doing. Then a lawyer named Grayson assigns her to investigate a sexual assault, a college student who was attacked by football players and recruits at a party a year earlier. Erika knows she should turn the assignment down. Her own history with sexual violence makes it all too personal. But she takes the job anyway inspired by Grayson’s conviction that he could help change things forever. And maybe she could, too.
Over the next five years, Erika learns everything she can about P. I. technique, tracking down witnesses and investigating a culture of sexual assault and harassment ingrained in the university’s football program. But as the investigation grows into a national scandal and a historic civil rights case, Erika finds herself increasingly consumed. When the case and her life both implode at the same time, Erika must figure out how to help win the case without losing herself. – Erika Krouse
Faith Jones was raised to be part of an elite religious army preparing for the End Times. Growing up on an isolated farm in Macau, she prayed for hours every day and read letters of prophecy written by her grandfather, the founder of the Children of God. Tens of thousands of members strong, the cult followers looked to Faith’s grandfather as their guiding light. As such, Faith was celebrated as special and then punished doubly to remind her that she was not.
Over decades, the Children of God grew into an international organization that became notorious for its alarming sex practices and allegations of abuse and exploitation. But with indomitable grit, Faith survived, creating a world of her own—pilfering books and teaching herself high school curriculum. Finally, at age twenty-three, thirsting for knowledge and freedom, she broke away, leaving behind everything she knew to forge her own path in America.
A complicated family story mixed with a hauntingly intimate coming-of-age narrative, Faith Jones’ extraordinary memoir reflects our societal norms of oppression and abuse while providing a unique lens to explore spiritual manipulation and our rights in our bodies. Honest, eye-opening, uplifting, and intensely affecting, Sex Cult Nun brings to life a hidden world that’s hypnotically alien yet unexpectedly relatable. – Faith Jones
Midnight in Chernobyl: The Untold Story of the World’s Greatest Nuclear Disaster by Adam Higginbotham
Early in the morning of April 26, 1986, Reactor Number Four of the Chernobyl Atomic Energy Station exploded, triggering one of the twentieth century’s greatest disasters. In the thirty years since then, Chernobyl has become lodged in the collective nightmares of the world: shorthand for the spectral horrors of radiation poisoning, for a dangerous technology slipping its leash, for ecological fragility, and for what can happen when a dishonest and careless state endangers its citizens and the entire world. But the real story of the accident, clouded from the beginning by secrecy, propaganda, and misinformation, has long remained in dispute.
Drawing on hundreds of hours of interviews conducted over the course of more than ten years, as well as letters, unpublished memoirs, and documents from recently-declassified archives, Adam Higginbotham brings the disaster to life through the eyes of the men and women who witnessed it firsthand. The result is a “riveting, deeply reported reconstruction” (Los Angeles Times) and a definitive account of an event that changed history: a story that is more complex, more human, and more terrifying than the Soviet myth.
“The most complete and compelling history yet” (The Christian Science Monitor), Higginbotham’s “superb, enthralling, and necessarily terrifying…extraordinary” (The New York Times) book is an indelible portrait of the lessons learned when mankind seeks to bend the natural world to his will—lessons which, in the face of climate change and other threats, remain not just vital but necessary. – Simon & Schuster
In this extraordinary work, Beth Macy takes us into the epicenter of a national drama that has unfolded over two decades. From the labs and marketing departments of big pharma to local doctor’s offices; wealthy suburbs to distressed small communities in Central Appalachia; from distant cities to once-idyllic farm towns; the spread of opioid addiction follows a tortuous trajectory that illustrates how this crisis has persisted for so long and become so firmly entrenched.
Beginning with a single dealer who lands in a small Virginia town and sets about turning high school football stars into heroin overdose statistics, Macy sets out to answer a grieving mother’s question-why her only son died-and comes away with a gripping, unputdownable story of greed and need. From the introduction of OxyContin in 1996, Macy investigates the powerful forces that led America’s doctors and patients to embrace a medical culture where overtreatment with painkillers became the norm. In some of the same communities featured in her bestselling book Factory Man, the unemployed use painkillers both to numb the pain of joblessness and pay their bills, while privileged teens trade pills in cul-de-sacs, and even high school standouts fall prey to prostitution, jail, and death.
Through unsparing, compelling, and unforgettably humane portraits of families and first responders determined to ameliorate this epidemic, each facet of the crisis comes into focus. In these politically fragmented times, Beth Macy shows that one thing uniting Americans across geographic, partisan, and class lines is opioid drug abuse. But even in the midst of twin crises in drug abuse and healthcare, Macy finds reason to hope and ample signs of the spirit and tenacity that are helping the countless ordinary people ensnared by addiction build a better future for themselves, their families, and their communities. – Little, Brown, & Company
From Here to Eternity: Traveling the World to Find the Good Death by Caitlin Doughty
Fascinated by our pervasive fear of dead bodies, mortician Caitlin Doughty embarks on a global expedition to discover how other cultures care for the dead. From Zoroastrian sky burials to wish-granting Bolivian skulls, she investigates the world’s funerary customs and expands our sense of what it means to treat the dead with dignity. Her account questions the rituals of the American funeral industry—especially chemical embalming—and suggests that the most effective traditions are those that allow mourners to personally attend to the body of the deceased. Exquisitely illustrated by artist Landis Blair, From Here to Eternity is an adventure into the morbid unknown, a fascinating tour through the unique ways people everywhere confront mortality. – W.W. Norton
Want some more dark and morbid nonfiction? Try these!
- Dead Wake: the Last Crossing of the Lusitania by Erik Larson
- Hidden Valley Road: Inside the Mind of an American Family by Robert Kolker
- I’ll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer by Michelle McNamara
- If You Tell: A True Story of Murder, Family Secrets, and the Unbreakable Bond of Sisterhood by Gregg Olsen
- Killers of the Flower Moon: the Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann
- Say Nothing: a True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland by Patrick Radden Keefe
- The Great Mortality: An Intimate History of the Black Death, the Most Devastating Plague of All Time by John Kelly
- The Lost City of the Monkey God: a True Story by Douglas J Preston