The Best Books for…Understanding the Darker Side of Society

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Last week I reviewed The People in the Trees by Hanya Yanigahara and realised how much I enjoy reading about the darker side of our society. I love the ability to get inside the head of someone who commits evil acts and for some reason I like it even more if I am able to understand their motivation for committing a crime.

I began to think about other books which shared this property and before I knew it I had a list long enough to justify a full blog post!

Here are my favourite books about the more unsavoury characters in our society, but be warned, most of these books will make you feel very uncomfortable!

Note: Book titles link to my review; covers link to Amazon. 

The Kindly Ones

The Kindly Ones by Jonathan Littell

The Kindly Ones is one of the most controversial books written in recent years. It is fictional biography of Max Aue, a senior SS officer, present during the Holocaust. It graphically describes his brutality, but also has a strange way of making you understand how he came to be that way. It’s deeply disturbing.

Rupture by Simon Lelic

Rupture is a like a cross between Notes on a Scandal and We Need To Talk About Kevin but this book makes you have real sympathy for the teacher who shoots his pupils. It’s thought provoking stuff!

Beneath the Darkening Sky

Beneath the Darkening Sky by Majok Tulba

This brave book explains exactly how innocent children are turned into ruthless killers. The plight of child soldiers is a difficult subject, but Tulba handles it with great sensitivity. This book deserves a much wider audience.

Lost Memory of Skin

The Lost Memory of Skin by Russell Banks

If you don’t think you could ever have sympathy for a registered paedophile, read this book and see if you’re wrong!

The Wasp Factory

The Wasp Factory – Iain Banks

The Wasp Factory contains one of the most disturbing characters I’ve ever read about, but for some reason I still have sympathy for this violent child. Does that make me weird?!


Tampa by Alissa Nutting

This sexually explicit book is disturbing in the way it makes you question whether or not female paedophiles are worse than male. It’s thought provoking stuff!

The Sinner 

The Sinner by Petra Hammesfahr

A young mother stabs a man in front of her family and friends during a quiet picnic by the lake. I was surprised by how much sympathy I had for her in the end.


Out by Natsuo Kirino

This book isn’t for the squeamish, but I loved the way I became attached to the central character, who dismembers her husband. Would you help your friend to hide body parts around your local area?!

Beside the Sea

Beside the Sea by Veronique Olmi

I can’t explain exactly what happens in this book without spoiling it, but this dark book will give you some insight into the difficulties of parenting.

Monster Love

Monster Love by Carol Topolski

A couple hide their child in a cage. Topolski’s career as a psychoanalytic psychotherapist gives the reader a scarility realistic insight into their minds.

Mountain People

The Mountain People by Colin Turnbull

This real-life account of a society that leaves its young and old to die when times get tough is difficult to read, but it raises many important questions. I highly recommend it!

Which are your favourite books for understanding the darker side of society?



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  1. Caroline says:

    This is a fantastic list. There are quite a few titles I hadn’t heard of but might be interested in.

    1. Jackie says:

      Caroline, I hope you enjoy any that you decide to try!

  2. Marina Sofia says:

    Some of the titles I have read and completely agree with you. I’m making a list with the remaining titles.

    1. Jackie says:

      Marina, I’m so pleased that you found the list useful :-)

  3. Sharkell says:

    I finished Veronique Olmi’s Beside The Sea earlier this week. It is a haunting read and will stay with me for a long time. My favourite dark book We Need to Talk About Kevin, which I read a few years ago – it has also stayed with me. I watched the movie recently and thought it was really well done, but not quite as high impact.

    1. Jackie says:

      Sharkell, Yes, I’m a big fan of We Need to Talk About Kevin too – although I didn’t have much sympathy for Kevin! I enjoyed the movie too, but agree (as is almost always the case!) the book was far better.

  4. Diane says:

    Jackie, I love books that explore the “darker side” of people as well. I just ordered Rupture and wishlisted 2 others –thanks.

    1. Jackie says:

      Diane, I’m so pleased you found the list useful. I hope you enjoy Rupture as much as I did.

  5. An intriguing list, thanks for sharing it!

  6. Athira says:

    These are some great suggestions! I don’t read too many books about the dark side of humanity but they always make me think a lot about people and their relationships. They are always fascinating to read, even if a bit depressing or upsetting. I haven’t read any of the books in your list, so I’m going to check them out.

    1. Athira says:

      Actually, I did read Wasp Factory. And that was intense. It made me question pretty much everything I read in that book. I have to reread it sometime.

      1. Jackie says:

        Athira, Yes, they aren’t always easy reads, but I think they’re worth it in the end. They tend to be more insightful than the average book. I hope you appreciate any you decide to read.


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