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7 Haunting Works of Nonfiction

Written By Rachael Conrad

Rachael Conrad is an award-winning indie bookseller with over a decade of experience in the industry. When she's not reading or writing Rachael can often be found exploring the woods and tide pools of Maine and discussing who the best Chris is (it's Pine, obviously). Her writing can be found in Tor/Reactor, Polygon, and Kirkus Reviews."

When it comes to your towering to-be-read piles, fiction isn’t the only thing that can have a gothic flair to it. The same, of course, goes for the horror genre as well. There are plenty of thoroughly researched and unsettling works of non-fiction that will have you reading until the wee hours of the morning, ranging from the history of haunted houses, to books bound in human skin, to how we talk—or avoid talking completely—about death. 

Below you’ll find 7 examples of haunting works of nonfiction. 

Ghostland: An American History in Haunted Places by Colin Dickey

Have you ever wanted to go on a roadtrip to visit some of America’s most haunted locations, but aren’t sure where to start? Well, Colin Dickey’s got you covered with his wonderful deep dive into our darker history, Ghostland. In Ghostland, Dickey travels across the country, visiting  hotels, abandoned hospitals, “zombie homes” and even an Indian burial ground.  All the while Dickey asks what makes a place haunted, researches who (or what) is doing the haunting, and whether or not ghosts are real or just a figment of our imaginations brought to life by troubled history. 

Dark Archives: A Librarian’s Investigation into the Science and History of Books Bound in Human Skin by Megan Rosenbloom

Out of all the books on this list of gothic titles, Dark Archives by might be the toughest one to convince your friends to read during their free time, despite the fascinating (if macabre) subject it covers. 

You see, Dark Archives covers the grim history and practice of binding books in human skin. Megan Rosenbloom has crafted an extensive and intensive look at the who, what, and why of this fleshy form of book binding, calling upon a team of scientists, historians, and librarians along the way. 

Smoke Gets in Your Eyes & Other Lessons from the Crematory by Caitlin Doughty 

If you consider yourself to be a goth and you somehow haven’t heard of Caitlin Doughty then let me enlighten you. Caitlin Doughty is a mortician by trade, as well as a popular YouTuber and advocate for funeral industry reform. She’s also the author of several wonderful works of nonfiction that tackle the subject of death. 

Fascinated but not sure where to start? Smoke Gets In Your Eyes & Other Lessons From the Crematory is a really excellent place to start. Smoke Gets In Your Eyes is Caitlin’s first collection of essays, and a thoughtful rumination about how conversations and general fear surrounding death and dying have shaped our country. Beyond being a well researched book, it’s also incredibly funny, and readers will find themselves chuckling as they learn about some of the more taboo subjects surrounding the deceased. 

Obitchuary: The Big Hot Book Of Death by Spencer Henry and Madison Reyes 

Spun-off from the popular podcast of the same name, Spencer Henry and Madison Reyes have 

joined forces again to write a book on the complicated relationship that many American’s have with death. Obitchuary is a clever, surprisingly moving, and painstakingly researched journey through death culture.

Horror for Weenies: Everything You Need to Know About the Films You’re Too Scared to Watch by Emily C. Hughes

If you’re anything like me when it comes to horror movies, then you head straight to the internet before watching certain ones so that you can be prepared for just how scary it is. Now, Emily Hughes (the veritable queen of scream thanks to her yearly horror novel roundups) has written a book to guide those of us who are a little too chicken for jump scares. Horror for Weenies is an expertly crafted and illuminating look at horror cinema that covers everything from Hereditary to The Blair Witch Project. 

Go to Hell: A Traveler’s Guide to the Earth’s Most Otherworldly Destinations by Erika Engelhaupt 

Has anyone ever told you to go to hell? Or have you had reason to use the phrase “to hell and back”? Well, Erika Engelhaupt has written a clever and highly detailed travel guide to some of the world’s underworld inspired locations. Engelhaupt has included 50 destinations and their fascinating histories including locations such as St. Patrick’s Purgatory in Ireland, Deadvlei in Namibia, and the Waitomo Glowworm Caves in New Zealand. 

Cult Following: The Extreme Sects That Capture Our Imaginations―and Take Over Our Lives by J.W. Ocker

J.W. Ocker, author of Cursed Objects and The United States of Cyptids, returns to the world of weird this fall with his new book, Cult Following, Ocker covers everything and everyone from David Koresh, to the earliest UFO cult, to Hogen Fukunaga who believed that he could tell fortunes by looking at feet. Cult Following promises to be an insightful look at some of the most terrifying cults that have existed across the globe as well as the unshaking, and often dangerous, power of trust.