Podcast host Max Cutler and Kevin Conley’s new book, Cults: Inside the World’s Most Notorious Groups and Understanding the People who Joined Them (Gallery Books, 2022), is a new anthology that delves into the minute details of some of the most famous cults in history.
Divided into a series of chapters, each dealing exclusively with one cult, Cults unpacks the history of cults like the Manson Family, Jonestown, Heaven’s Gate, NXIVM, and more. The book delves into the history of the cult leaders, the genesis of the groups themselves and the values they purported to uphold, culminating in the violent downfalls of the groups and their followers and exploring where living members are to this day. Throughout each chapter, Cutler and Conley hold up their portraits of the cults against the social and political discourses of the time, in addition to making suggestions about the psychological conditions of cult leaders like Charles Manson, Jim Jones, and Keith Raniere. Based on the podcast Cults, this book recounts several tried and true case relevant to any true crime fan, as well as a handful I had never heard of.
Overall, this book was an interesting one that I would recommend for anyone interested in cults and detailed accounts of some of the most famous true crime stories in history. I very much enjoy reading about cults and cult activity as a subset of the true crime genre. Cutler’s book is well-researched, thorough, and concise. The histories of cults can sometimes span years, and Cutler does an excellent job of paring the information down to its most essential parts. Although the chapters focus mostly on the leaders of these cults, providing a great deal of biographical material, it makes sense in this context to foreground how and why a person might come to construct and lead a group toward violent acts. This book contained chapters around cults I’d never heard of before and cults I’d always wanted to learn more about. Cutler’s book seems to be the most up-to-date account of cults to date, with the exception of perhaps Amanda Montell’s Cultish (2021), which admittedly focuses more on cult linguistics.
I would be remiss if I did not point out that this book is very much a text that does exactly what it claims to do and no more. With a very short introduction, the book launches immediately into its chapters with little preamble. This is not necessarily a negative aspect but be aware that this book is far more traditional true crime. However, knowing the book is based on a podcast, the structure makes a great deal of sense.
Overall, I would recommend Cults to anyone with a burgeoning interest in true crime stories. As a fast-paced anthology, there is something in this book for everyone.
Please add Cults to your Goodreads shelf.
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About the Writer:
Rachel M. Friars (she/her) is a PhD student in the Department of English Language and Literature at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario. She holds a BA and an MA in English Literature with a focus on neo-Victorianism and adaptations of Jane Eyre. Her current work centers on neo-Victorianism and nineteenth-century lesbian literature and history, with secondary research interests in life writing, historical fiction, true crime, popular culture, and the Gothic. Her academic writing has been published with Palgrave Macmillan and in The Journal of Neo-Victorian Studies. She is a reviewer for The Lesbrary, the co-creator of True Crime Index, and an Associate Editor and Social Media Coordinator for PopMeC Research Collective. Rachel is co-editor-in-chief of the international literary journal, The Lamp, and regularly publishes her own short fiction and poetry. Find her on Twitter and Goodreads.