The Secret History by Donna Tartt is a modern-day classic. Taking place at an elite New England college, readers get a front-row seat to what happens when you blur the lines of morality and discover true evil. With dark plotlines and moral dilemmas, this group of clever students is sure to draw you in for a story you won’t soon forget.
And if you’re like us, you’re looking for more books like The Secret History. Well, search no more because we’ve compiled this list of 12 great reads similar to The Secret History that also tackle themes of envy, guilt, manipulation, and social class. In true “elitist academia” fashion, we’ve even included a few classics at the end of the list.
If you liked The Secret History, make sure you add these titles to your TBR.
12 Books like The Secret History
Shadow of the Lions, Christopher Swann
If you’re looking to head back to school for your dark academia fix, Shadow of the Lions might just be the book for you. The story follows Matthias, a struggling writer with a haunted past, as he returns to Blackburne School as an English teacher following a turbulent decade in New York. He hopes to get his life back on track but is quickly drawn back into the mystery of his best friend Fritz’s disappearance, having not been seen in years after a fallout over a school honor code violation.
Now, Matthias, joined by a retired local cop, delves into the past, navigating campus politics, Fritz’s influential family, and where he fits in Blackburne’s privileged world.
Bunny, Mona Awad
Bunny and The Secret History have more in common than just a character named Bunny. If the idea of a secret society gone too far is what drew you into The Secret History, you’re sure to love Bunny.
Samantha Heather Mackey is an outsider. She despises her rich and twee fiction-writing cohort, known as the Bunnies, at her exclusive MFA program at Warren Univeristy. However, everything changes when she’s invited to the Bunnies’ mysterious Smut Salon. As Samantha is drawn deeper into their sinister yet sweet world, her reality blurs, ultimately leading to a deadly collision between her and the Bunnies.
All’s Well, Mona Awad
In Mona Awad’s second addition to this list, she tells the story of Miranda Fitch, whose life is a waking nightmare. After an accident ended her budding acting career, Miranda is left with excruciating chronic pain, a failed marriage, and an addiction to painkillers. Determined not to lose her job as a college theater director, Miranda fights a losing battle to put on Shakespeare’s All’s Well That Ends Well against a mutinous cast set on staging Macbeth instead.
All seems lost until three strange benefactors with eerie knowledge of Miranda’s past give her tantalizing promises of her future. All’s Well is sure to fill the captivating yet mysterious void left behind by The Secret History.
The Truants, Kate Weinberg
Like The Secret History, The Truants tells the story of a group of misfits who are a bit too clever for their own good and love to break a rule or two. In her literary debut, Weinberg tells the story of Jess Walker, a first-year student who falls for two captivating storytellers. On one hand, he has Alex, an exiled journalist; on the other, he has Lorna, a charismatic literature professor.
The story unfolds as Jess uncovers infatuation, betrayal, and a twisted crime of passion.
Long Black Veil, Jennifer Finney Boylan
Judith is haunted by a secret from her past that threatens everything she’s worked for, creating a slow-burn thriller sure to captivate you as The Secret History did. Long Black Veil follows Judith Carrigan after the body of her college friend, Wailer, is found two decades after disappearing in the Eastern State Penitentiary. As the sole witness, Judith must testify for her friend Casey, who married Wailier just before his death.
But Judith is not the same person she was all those years ago. Her challenge lies in revealing her own transformed self and facing long-buried secrets to defend her old friend, all while potentially risking the idyllic life she has built for herself and her family.
Ninth House (Alex Stern #1), Leigh Bardugo
Galaxy “Alex” Stern isn’t your typical Yale freshman. He was raised by a hippie mom in LA before dropping out of school and falling into the world of shady drug dealers, boyfriends, and dead-end jobs. After surviving a horrific, unsolved multiple homicide, Alex is given a second chance. A mysterious benefactor gives Alex a full ride to the elite university, with the catch that Alex infiltrates and monitors the secret societies on campus.
Like our protagonist in The Secret History, Alex discovers their activities are more sinister and extraordinary than meets the eye.
We also feature this book on our list of books set in magical schools (although, this version of Yale houses more horror magic than cute magic.)
If We Were Villians, M.L. Rio
If you loved The Secret History for the slow-burn mystery, you’re sure to love If We Were Villians. On the day Oliver Marks is released from prison for a murder he may or may not have committed, he’s confronted by Detective Colborne, the man responsible for his imprisonment. On the verge of retirement, Colborne seeks the truth about what happened a decade ago.
Oliver was one of seven young actors studying Shakespeare at an elite arts college. The actors blurred the lines between on and off-stage until a casting change and secondary characters looking to usurp the stars led to one dead actor. The cast is then faced with their most challenging performance yet – convincing the police and themselves of their innocence.
Babel, R.F. Kuang
(Longest subtitle ever: Or the Necessity of Violence: An Arcane History of the Oxford Translators’ Revolution)
Whereas the protagonists in The Secret History were inspired by the secret societies of epic tales, Babel tells their story firsthand. In 1828, orphan Robin Swift is brought to London by the mysterious Professor Lovell. Robin spends years training for the day he enrolls in Oxford University’s prestigious Royal Institute of Translations – also known as Babel. Oxford seems like a utopia to Robin, but as a Chinese boy in Britain, he grapples with the conflict between loyalty to Babel and his homeland.
Robin soon finds himself caught between Babel and the Hermes Society, an organization dedicated to stopping imperial expansion. He faces a decision during Britain’s unjust war with China: Can powerful institutions be changed from within, or does revolution require violence?
Read this one for book club and use our Babel discussion guide.
The Rules of Attraction, Bret Easton Ellis
Our group of misfits from The Secret Society were invincible – until they weren’t. Just like the group of rowdy, spoiled, and sexually promiscuous students in The Rules of Attraction. Set in an affluent liberal arts college during the 80s, this group of students has no plans for the present or future. When three of them become involved in a love triangle, their lives of drug runs and parties get a bit more complicated as they’re finally forced to deal with the moral vacuum at the center of their lives.
Classic Books like The Secret History
Dead Poet’s Society, N.H. Kleinbaum
The Dead Poet’s Society is a classic and necessary addition to any discussion about the dark academia genre and secret societies. At Welton Academy, Todd Anderson and his friends experience a transformative shift when their lively new English professor, John Keating, challenges them to “make your lives extraordinary!” Inspired by the challenge, the boys revive the Dead Poets Society, a secret club where they can explore their passions free from school and parental expectations.
Under Keating’s guidance, they delve into the works of famous literary giants, discovering the beauty of language and the importance of seizing every moment. However, the Dead Poets soon discover their newfound freedom can have tragic consequences.
The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath
The Bell Jar is a modern classic that follows the unraveling of Esther Greenwood, a brilliant and successful young woman, as she experiences a profound breakdown. Plath skillfully immerses the reader in Esther’s breakdown, making her insanity feel vivid and rational. The novel’s deep exploration into the darker aspect of the mind is sure to feel reminiscent of The Secret History.
A Separate Peace, John Knowles
Another American classic, A Separate Peace, is a story about the loss of innocence set against the backdrop of a boy’s boarding school during World War II. Our protagonist, Gene, is a lonely, introverted intellectual whose world is turned upside down when he meets Phineas, a handsome, taunting, daredevil athlete. What happens between the two boys one summer robs them of their innocence and leaves them to deal with the dark side of adolescence.
More Readalike Lists
The Secret History is a popular classic. If you’d like more with some similar themes, try some of our other readalike lists:
- Books like Where the Crawdads Sing (murder theme).
- Books like The Silent Patient (twisty whodunnit)
- Books like The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo (hidden lies).
- Writers like Agatha Christie (murder and mayhem).
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