The spooky season is here! Bust out your pumpkins and fake cobwebs! Dig out the witch hat that’s been collecting dust in the back of your closet for the past year! Turn up the Rocky Horror Picture Show soundtrack!
Usually when I make spooky book lists around Halloween, they tend to be filled with novels that have struck fear in my heart. But lately I’ve been thinking… aren’t nonfiction books just as scary, if not scarier? Here are some nonfiction books that I think are pretty scary:
The Big Short by Michael Lewis
Sure, some form of a climate change/disease-ridden apocalypse is a common modern day fear—but what about an economic crash? The Big Short shows how easily, quickly, and needlessly the economy can go awry. And the scariest part? Usually the crash is fueled by greed.
The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass by Frederick Douglass
This autobiography of a former slave shows the horrific reality of slavery in the American South. It’s scary to think that less than two centuries ago people were treating other people like this—and even more terrifying to realize that slavery and cruelty still happens in some parts of the world today.
Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond
I was assigned to read this book for my AP World History class in high school, and it has stuck with me ever since. As the title suggests, Jared Diamond explains how the world has been shaped by the movement of guns, germs, and steel. It’s scary to see how fast disease can spread, how easily the world can change just through movement of people and goods. Definitely something to think about in today’s fast-paced world of constant motion.
The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion
In this memoir Joan Didion recounts the year after her husband died of a heart attack. Grief is terrifying, and Didion does not hold back in describing the myriad ways his loss affects her and continues to affect her months later. To be quite honest, reading this book made me even more scared of losing someone close to me.
This Common Secret by Susan Wicklund
This memoir of an abortion provider is one of the most terrifying, gut-wrenching things I have ever read. It shows people at their absolute worst, exhibiting a complete lack of empathy, compassion, and respect for others. Wicklund describes protestors acting like animals, threatening to murder her for providing abortions in clinics, and stalking her when she traveled to and from work every day. It’s the kind of stuff I only ever imagined reading in books like Orwell’s 1984—until this book showed me that it can be a true reality.
I guess common scary thread running through these nonfiction books is the fact that they expose or emphasis darker, hidden parts of the human experience that we don’t like to talk about. It’s not fun thinking about how deeply we feel (perhaps too much so at times), how inhumane and cruel some people can be, how easy it would be for past events to repeat themselves now and in the future. Ghosts and ghouls and monsters are scary—but the things talked about in these nonfiction books are what I find truly terrifying.
What’s the scariest nonfiction book you’ve ever read? What are your thoughts on these books? Let me know in the comments section below!
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