Truth is Stranger than Fiction: Ten Spooky, Scary, and Creepy Nonfiction Reads
It is that horror time of the year. Ghouls and goblins appear to search for scary fun. And candy. In the spirit of the season, check out one of these creepy TRUE stories that might give you "the creeps."
“In Cold Blood” by Truman Capote. Oft considered to be the first and best example of the “true crime” genre, “In Cold Blood” tells the story of the 1959 murders of the Clutter family of Holcomb, Kansas. Author Truman Capote conducted vast research and numerous interviews of Clutter family friends, the people of Holcomb, detectives and investigators, and eventually the two men accused of the murders. It is a masterful work of descriptive storytelling.
“Columbine” by Dave Cullen. Cullen was one of the first journalists on the scene in April 1999 reporting on the mass shooting at Columbine High School in Colorado. He spent ten years working on this journalistic tour de force. Cullen attempts to answer both the how and the why of this seminal event. “Columbine” is meticulously researched and extensively documented. To date, it is the definitive account of the tragedy.
“Raven: the untold story of Rev. Jim Jones and his people” by Tim Reiterman. In 1979, over 900 Americans killed themselves by poisoning at the direction of the Rev. Jim Jones. “Raven” tells the story of Jones’s Church, The People’s Temple, and how it went from a progressive, service-oriented, multi-racial church to a cult in the jungle of Guyana, its members willing to die as part of Jones's vision. Reiterman, a journalist, visited “Jonestown” with Congressman Leo Ryan of California to research alleged abuse. Ryan invited church members to leave with him; only a few did. But Ryan, members of the press, and the fleeing church members were gunned down by Jonestown security gunmen as they boarded the airplane to leave Guyana. Reiterman survived by pretending to be dead. A thorough retelling of a tragic story.
“Devil in the White City: murder, magic, and madness at the fair that changed America” by Eric Larson. This award-winning book tells two parallel stories, one at the pinnacle of human achievement, the other at the depths of human depravity. Set during the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago, architect Daniel Hudson Burnham created the “White City” for the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, an extraordinary architectural feat. At the same time, only a trolley stop away, H.H. Holmes built the “World’s Fair Hotel,” a literal hotel of horror replete with a gas chamber, a working crematorium, false walls, and chutes for dead bodies. He is suspected to have killed scores of young, female World’s Fair attendees. Larson’s gift for storytelling makes this book hard to put down.
“The Good Nurse: a true story of medicine, madness, and murder” by Charles Graeber. Charles Cullen, dubbed “the Angel of Death” by the media, may be the country’s most prolific serial killer. It is estimated that he caused the death of nearly 300 of his patients while acting as their nurse. Cullen moved from hospital to hospital between 1991 and 2006, poisoning patients through IV bags. Graeber tells of Cullen’s terrible childhood, his apparent success in nursing, and his unrelenting compulsion to kill. Graeber tries to unravel how Cullen was able to kill undetected for years, even though hospital administrators at the many hospitals where Cullen worked, believed that he might be responsible for deaths. Ultimately, the investigative work of two New Jersey detectives and a fellow nurse unearthed enough of evidence to convict him.
“Rabid: a cultural history of the world's most diabolical virus” by Bill Wasik and Monica Murphy. From the earliest human civilizations to the present day, the nerve-affecting rabies virus has been feared because it turns animals and humans who contract it “wild.” Wasik and Murphy trace the history and culture of the usually-fatal disease and its effect on the human race. They discuss at length the bond among rabies, dogs and humans, and they further explore the relationship between rabies and other frightening mythical creatures like werewolves, vampires and even modern zombies.
“Dead Mountain: the untold true story of the Dyatlov Pass incident” by Donnie Eichar. In 1959 nine Soviet university students, all experienced hikers, set out for a winter hike in the Ural Mountains. They never returned. Their abandoned campsite and their bodies were later found; six had died of exposure and the other three of blunt-force traumatic injuries. The tongue had been cut out of one of the hikers. Using interviews, photographs found at the scene, and previously unreleased Soviet police records, documentary filmmaker Eichar attempts to explain the infamous mystery by discrediting the most well-known explanations.
“The Hot Zone: the terrifying true story of the origins of the Ebola virus” by Richard Preston. In 1989 a disease broke out among monkeys in a monkey-importing quarantine unit in Reston, Virginia, a suburb of Washington, D.C. Ninety percent of the infected monkeys died. Realizing the potential threat to humans, secret military teams were mobilized to control the outbreak. Preston details deadly viruses, like Ebola, that mutate from animals to humans and discusses the frightening and all-too-real possibility of a major human outbreak.
“Five Days at Memorial” by Sheri Fink. This book chronicles the actions and decisions of caregivers at New Orleans’ Memorial Medical Center in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. As the water rose, the hospital lost power, and running water; patients had to be moved to upper floors to survive. With dwindling resources, and suffering from mental and physical exhaustion, doctors and nurses had to make agonizing ethical and moral choices regarding which patients received life-saving treatment and which were left with no or only palliative care. By the time Memorial was evacuated, 45 had died; nine of those were deemed victims of euthanasia. Fink, both a physician and a journalist, conducted over 500 interviews in the course of six years to unravel the details of the five-day horror.
“The Lady and Her Monsters: a tale of dissections, real-life Dr. Frankensteins, and the creation of Mary Shelley's masterpiece” by Roseanne Montillo. The scary-story contest that birthed Mary Shelly’s “Frankenstein” is well-known. In “The Lady and Her Monsters,” Montillo fills in the gaps by highlighting some of the bizarre and ghastly attempts to reanimate dead tissue in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Montillo interweaves biographical material on Mary Shelley to show how the “Frankenstein” author might have been influenced by the macabre grave-robbing underground pseudo-science at the crossroads of Gothic Romanticism and the Industrial Revolution.
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