Books about cults can help readers to understand the motivations behind those who found and join these belief systems. From humanity’s earliest days, cults have lived on the edges of society, beckoning the vulnerable to join. With promises of answers to life’s great mysteries and a loving community, it can be difficult to resist the siren’s call of a charismatic cult leader. Reading books about cults can help people to recognize the telltale signs of a cult recruiter.
Cults can inspire fanatical loyalty, often with tragic consequences. Many books about cults have explored these horrific circumstances, from the siege at Waco to the horrors of Jonestown. These tragedies serve as a sobering reminder of the power of belief to compel obedience and silence rational thought. Books about cults serve as a reminder to remain vigilant and check our own beliefs before they also become fanatical.
#1 – God Bless America: Strange and Unusual Religious Beliefs and Practices in the United States
This book is one of several books about cults that takes a close look at some of the more unusual religious practices in the United States. Karen Stollznow actually takes readers to the places where these unusual acts occur, including a Fundamentalist Mormon compound and a Mennonite church.
#2 – The Kingdom of Cults
Walter Martin and Ravi Zacharias
Like many books about cults written for a Christian audience, this guide views cults and other religions through the lens of Christianity. Religions and cults mentioned in the book include Scientology, Buddhism, Mormonism, Islam and many more.
#3 – Cults in Our Midst
Janja Lalich and Margaret Singer
In this book, one of the more practical books about cults available, readers can learn to identify cults based on their methods. For example, true cults use coercive methods to gain new followers and attempt to control every aspect of their members’ lives.
#4 – Combatting Cult Mind Control
Unlike the authors of many books about cults, the author of this book once belonged a cult himself. Through his book, Steven Hassan seeks to equip individuals with the power to identify and resist cults. Although many of the cults he talks about are religious, he also addresses other types of cults, including political and commercial cults.
#5 – Christianity, Cults & Religions
Rose Publishing, Paul Cardin
This short book about cults aims to equip Christians with an understanding of the differences between their faith and the beliefs of other religions, including cults. Although this book doesn’t delve deeply into other belief systems, it does offers a brief introduction for those curious about other faiths.
#6 – Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief
Many books about cults investigate multiple different groups, but Scientology is the sole focus of this comprehensive book. With the help of countless interviews with current and former members, Lawrence Wright explains the origins of Scientology, the coercive methods it uses to keep members, and its attempts to be recognized as a legitimate religion.
#7 – The Ashes of Waco: An Investigation
In February of 1993, federal agents surrounded the religious compound in Texas led by David Koresh, eventually leading to a tragedy in which 76 people were killed. In this book, Dick Reavis seeks to explain the history of Koresh’s movement and the details of the months-long siege.
#8 – Stolen Innocence: My Story of Growing Up in a Polygamous Sect, Becoming a Teenage Bride, and Breaking Free of Warren Jenns
Stolen Innocence is one of several books about cults written by a former cult member. Elissa Wall, formerly a member of the Fundamentalist Church of Latter Day Saints, details her life and her role in the eventual conviction of the religion’s leader, Warren Jeffs. When Elissa was 14, she was forced into an abusive marriage to her cousin and had little freedom. With the help of a former member of the church, Wall was able to escape.
#9 – Seductive Poison: A Jonestown Survivor’s Story of Life and Death in the People’s Temple
On November 18, 1978, over 900 Americans died from a mass suicide prompted by their cult’s leader, Jim Jones. Deborah Layton, a former member of the cult, lived in the infamous Jonestown community but was able to get away before the fateful night that claimed so many lives. In this book about the cult, she details her own history and involvement with the cult.
#10 – Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith
The violent history of the Mormon church forms the backdrop of Jon Krakauer’s novel about a double murder committed by members of a fundamentalist offshoot of the Mormon church. Krakauer explains some of the early events that led to the formation of splinter groups, including the assassination of the church’s founder and the end of the church-sanctioned polygamy. Krakauer’s detailed research and compelling writing style make this one of the best books about cults.