Books

17 Cult Memoirs That Will Give You Major The Vow Vibes

DOS is just the tip of the iceberg.

HBO

HBO's new docuseries, The Vow: A NXIVM Story, takes viewers inside the infamous NXIVM cult. If you're all caught up — but are desperate for similar stories before the next episode — these 17 cult memoirs like The Vow are just what you're looking for.

NXIVM may have taken the media world by storm when its leader, Keith Raniere, was arrested in 2018, but it's the latest in a long line of these cultish, quasi-religious groups. Before Raniere, there were David Berg, Charles Dederich Sr., L. Ron Hubbard, Warren Jeffs, Jim Jones, David Koresh, Charles Manson, Sun Myung Moon, and the Rajneesh, among many, many others.

Although we've only included memoirs from cult survivors on this list, you should also check out the wealth of true-crime books about cults that journalists have written, including Haruki Murakami's Underground: The Tokyo Gas Attack and the Japanese Psyche and Chris Johnston and Rosie Jones' The Family: The Shocking True Story of a Notorious Cult. In the meantime, here are 17 cult memoirs like The Vow:

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1

The Vow fans will instantly recognize Sarah Edmondson, a Canadian actress who may be one of the most recognizable members of Raniere's sex cult. Edmondson tells her story in Scarred.

2

Gender Outlaw author Kate Bornstein tells about her life in, and eventual exit from, the Church of Scientology in A Queer and Pleasant Danger, a memoir that also deals with her transition in her 30s.

3

After her documentarian father moved his family onto the Phelps compound, Lauren Drain became a member of the Westboro Baptist Church for seven years. She writes about her experiences inside the infamous anti-gay hate group in Banished.

4

Carly Gelsinger joined an abusive, charismatic church as an impressionable 13-year-old. Once You Go In tells the story of her coming-of-age in the Pine Canyon Assemblies of God, which she would only leave after her life had been radically altered.

5

By the time Jenna Miscavige Hill left the Church of Scientology in 2005, her uncle, David Miscavige, had spent nearly 25 years as its controversial leader. She writes about her relationships inside the church and her experiences as part of Sea Org in her 2013 memoir, Beyond Belief.

6

The former daughter-in-law of Unification Church founder Sun Myung Moon, Nansook Hong reveals the intimate details of the years she spent in Moon's inner circle in her 1998 memoir, In the Shadow of the Moons.

7

Convicted pedophile Warren Jeffs led the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS) for years following the 2002 death of his father, Rulon Jeffs. Born to the second of Warren's 50 wives, Rachel Jeffs opens up about the abuse she suffered at the hands of her father and the FLDS in Breaking Free.

8

The Airborne Toxic Event founder Mikel Jollett spent the first five years of his life living in Synanon: a rehab-based cult that required its adherents to send their children away to boarding schools. Separated from his mother when he was just six months old and reunited at age five, Jollett didn't begin to put the pieces of his childhood together until much later. Now, in Hollywood Park, he shares the full story for the first time.

9

The youngest member of the Manson Family tells all in this dark memoir. Dianne Lake joined Charlie Manson's cult at age 14, just two years before the group would commit its atrocious crimes — crimes in which Lake played no part. Member of the Family recounts her life with Manson and her eventual reintegration with the outside world.

10

Published more than 20 years after the infamous Jonestown massacre, Seductive Poison tells the inside story of Jim Jones' Guyana Esequiba-based compound. Author Deborah Layton spent years working within the Peoples Temple before fleeing to the United States, where she tried to rally support for Jones' victims... to no avail.

11

The author of Darwin's Ghosts and The Coral Thief, Rebecca Stott tells the true story of her upbringing in an English cult in In the Days of Rain. Four generations of her family were part of the Exclusive Brethren, but their problems did not end when Stott's father pulled the family out of the cult.

12

Raised in the Guru Sri Chinmoy's cult of personality, Jayanti Tamm became the Guru's "Chosen One." She spent years following him around the world, only to leave when her heart pulled her away. The first memoir from one of Chinmoy's followers, Cartwheels in a Sari provides an eye-opening look at one of the United States' lesser-known cults.

13

David Thibodeau survived the deadly 51-day-long standoff between federal agents and David Koresh's Branch Davidians in 1993. Now, his story has been dramatized in the Netflix miniseries Waco. Read about Thibodeau's experiences, told in his own words, in Waco: A Survivor's Story.

14

She escaped the Children of God cult at age 18, after a lifetime of abuse and neglect. Now, Natacha Tormey shares her own account of life inside David Berg's religious movement in Born into the Children of God.

15

A decade after his blind parents were recruited into a doomsday cult in 1960, Jerald Walker was growing up afraid for himself and everyone he loved, as part of the Worldwide Church of God. Told with raw honesty, The World in Flames is Walker's account of losing his faith in a religious movement that never cared about him.

16

Born into a fringe group of polygamist Mormons, Ruth Wariner grew up dirt poor and isolated from the outside world in rural Mexico, where her father had been assassinated by his own brother. She shares her story for the first time in The Sound of Gravel.

17

Everything changed in Tara Westover's family after Ruby Ridge. Convinced that the U.S. government planned to hunt down its own citizens, Westover's father pulled his family off the grid. Years later, the Educated author came to realize that nothing about her upbringing was typical.