Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Top Ten Tuesday: Scary Nonfiction Books

This week’s Top Ten Tuesday topic is "ten books from ____ genre I recently added to my to-be-read list." I’m filling in the blank with “disturbing nonfiction.” Unfortunately, you won’t find a shelf labeled Disturbing Nonfiction in a bookstore, but in my world, it’s totally a genre.

My Disturbing To-Be-Read Pile

When Jon Ronson is drawn into an elaborate hoax played on some of the world's top scientists, his investigation leads him, unexpectedly, to psychopaths. He meets an influential psychologist who is convinced that many important business leaders and politicians are in fact high-flying, high-functioning psychopaths, and teaches Ronson how to spot them. Armed with these new abilities, Ronson meets a patient inside an asylum for the criminally insane who insists that he's sane, a mere run-of-the-mill troubled youth, not a psychopath—a claim that might be only manipulation, and a sign of his psychopathy. He spends time with a death-squad leader institutionalized for mortgage fraud, and a legendary CEO who took joy in shutting down factories and firing people. He delves into the fascinating history of psychopathy diagnosis and treatments, from LSD-fueled days-long naked therapy sessions in prisons to attempts to understand serial killers.

Eating one’s own kind is completely natural behavior in thousands of species, including humans. Throughout history we have engaged in cannibalism for reasons of famine, burial rites, and medicinal remedies; it’s been used as a way to terrorize and even a way to show filial piety. With unexpected wit and a wealth of knowledge, American Museum of Natural History biologist Bill Schutt takes us on a tour of the field, dissecting exciting new research and investigating questions such as why so many fish eat their offspring and some amphibians consume their mother’s skin; why sexual cannibalism is an evolutionary advantage for certain spiders; why, until the end of the eighteenth century, British royalty ate human body parts; how cannibalism may be linked to the extinction of Neanderthals; why microbes on sacramental bread may have led Catholics to execute Jews in the Middle Ages.

In April of 1846, twenty-one-year-old Sarah Graves, intent on a better future, set out west from Illinois with her new husband, her parents, and eight siblings. Seven months later, after joining a party of emigrants led by George Donner, they reached the Sierra Nevada Mountains as the first heavy snows of the season closed the pass ahead of them. In early December, starving and desperate, Sarah and fourteen others set out for California on snowshoes and, over the next thirty-two days, endured almost unfathomable hardships and horrors.

They Called Themselves the KKK: The Birth of an American Terrorist Group by Susan Campbell Bartoletti

"Boys, let us get up a club." 
With those words, six restless young men raided the linens at a friend’s mansion in 1866. They pulled white sheets over their heads, hopped on horses, and cavorted through the streets of Pulaski, Tennessee. Soon, the six friends named their club the Ku Klux Klan and began patterning their initiations after fraternity rites, with passwords and mysterious handshakes. All too quickly, this club would grow into the self-proclaimed “Invisible Empire,” with secret dens spread across the South. On their brutal raids, the nightriders would claim to be ghosts of Confederate soldiers and would use psychological and physical terror against former slaves who dared to vote, own land, attend school, or worship as they pleased.

In the 1950s, a young Indianapolis minister named Jim Jones preached a curious blend of the gospel and Marxism. His congregation was racially integrated, and he was a much-lauded leader in the contemporary civil rights movement. Eventually, Jones moved his church, Peoples Temple, to northern California. He became involved in electoral politics, and soon was a prominent Bay Area leader. 
In this riveting narrative, Jeff Guinn examines Jones’s life, from his extramarital affairs, drug use, and fraudulent faith healing to the fraught decision to move almost a thousand of his followers to a settlement in the jungles of Guyana in South America. Guinn provides stunning new details of the events leading to the fatal day in November, 1978 when more than nine hundred people died—including almost three hundred infants and children—after being ordered to swallow a cyanide-laced drink.

Beginning with B. F. Skinner and the legend of a child raised in a box, Slater takes us from a deep empathy with Stanley Milgram's obedience subjects to a funny and disturbing re-creation of an experiment questioning the validity of psychiatric diagnosis. Previously described only in academic journals and textbooks, these often daring experiments have never before been narrated as stories, chock-full of plot, wit, personality, and theme.

Severed: A History of Heads Lost and Heads Found by Frances Larson

Our history is littered with heads. Over the centuries, they have decorated our churches, festooned our city walls and filled our museums; they have been props for artists and specimens for laboratory scientists, trophies for soldiers and items of barter. Today, as videos of decapitations circulate online and cryonicists promise that our heads may one day live on without our bodies, the severed head is as contentious and compelling as ever. From shrunken heads to trophies of war; from memento mori to Damien Hirst's With Dead Head; from grave-robbing phrenologists to enterprising scientists, Larson explores the bizarre, often gruesome and confounding history of the severed head.

Blood at the Root: A Racial Cleansing in America by Patrick Phillips

Forsyth County, Georgia, at the turn of the twentieth century was home to a large African American community that included ministers and teachers, farmers and field hands, tradesmen, servants, and children. Many black residents were poor sharecroppers, but others owned their own farms and the land on which they’d founded the county’s thriving black churches. 
But then in September of 1912, three young black laborers were accused of raping and murdering a white girl. One man was dragged from a jail cell and lynched on the town square, two teenagers were hung after a one-day trial, and soon bands of white “night riders” launched a coordinated campaign of arson and terror, driving all 1,098 black citizens out of the county. In the wake of the expulsions, whites harvested the crops and took over the livestock of their former neighbors, and quietly laid claim to “abandoned” land. The charred ruins of homes and churches disappeared into the weeds, until the people and places of black Forsyth were forgotten.

Royalty’s Strangest Characters: Extraordinary but True Tales from 2000 Years of Mad Monarchs and Raving Rulers by Geoff Tiballs

Just as the monarchy has been hereditary in many countries, so insanity has been hereditary in many monarchs. Here are 2,000 years of crazy kings and potty potentates, including such infamous characters as Caligula and Vlad the Impaler.

It's the summer of 1854, and London is just emerging as one of the first modern cities in the world. But lacking the infrastructure—garbage removal, clean water, sewers—necessary to support its rapidly expanding population, the city has become the perfect breeding ground for a terrifying disease no one knows how to cure. As the cholera outbreak takes hold, a physician and a local curate are spurred to action—and ultimately solve the most pressing medical riddle of their time.

Have you read any of these? What did you think? Do you have any recommendations for me?


  1. I've not read any of these yet, but what compelling audiobooks they'd make. Also, I began reading the post thinking that my autobiography could wind up on that "disturbing nonfiction" shelf. After review of these books, I've downgraded that thought significantly to "aberrant nonfiction."

  2. Oh my goodness. Yep, these all sound very disturbing. I don't think I could handle most of them. :-)

    Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction

  3. I kind of want to read all of these too, they sound so fascinating!

  4. That is quite the disturbing list indeed... But a lot of these I'd find fascinating reads myself!

  5. I haven't read any of them, but the Jonestown one seems interesting. I saw the TV special with Soledad O'Brien.

    I'm kind of wondering if the KKK one is just about history or if there's a connection between the KKK and contemporary clubs for racist white people. I usually see them referred to as neo-Nazis, not neo-KKK.

    I'm guessing you want non-fiction recs.
    The Bridge: The Building of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge - Gay Talese
    Maus and Maus II - Art Spiegelman
    Come Here Often?: 53 Writers Raise a Glass to Their Favorite Bar - Sean Manning
    A Spy Among Friends: Kim Philby and the Great Betrayal - Ben MacIntyre
    The Way the Wind Blew: A History of the Weather Underground - Ron Jacobs
    Picasso's War - Russell Martin
    Mongo: Adventures in Trash - Ted Botha
    Ten Men Dead - David Beresford
    Smashed - Koren Zailckas
    Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil - John Berendt

  6. Cannibalism- eek! Freaky cover.

    I'll bet Royalty's strangest characters is pretty interesting too.

  7. If you're interested in Jones Town, I highly recommend White Nights, Black Paradise by Sikivu Hutchinson

  8. I've found myself more and more interested in the Donner Party since I moved to a place that's pretty darn close to where they ran into trouble...I'll have to check out Indifferent Stars!

  9. I really liked Ghost Map, and I have They Called Themselves the KKK in my classroom. And the Donner Party...always so horrifyingly fascinating.

    I feel like such a regular, going, "Oh yeah, AJ would TOTALLY have a 'disturbing nonfiction' section in her bookstore."

  10. I guess I am somewhat a fan of disturbing non-fiction :) I did enjoy Cannibalism. I hope you do as well!

  11. Okay, I am curious about SO MANY of these. I am usually not into non-fiction, but I AM into disturbing crap, and so these sound pretty fabulous. Cannibalism, the Donner Party, cults, weird royals.. sign me up! I seriously need to check these out. LOVE this list!

  12. Some interesting subjects you've chosen here. Every so often I enjoy a nice disturbing read! Great list!

  13. Disturbing Nonfiction sounds right up my alley - I'm adding many of these to my tbr. I have actually read Severed - fascinating and horrifying! :)