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20 Enigmatic Books Like “The Secret History” You Shouldn’t Miss

Delve Deeper Into Mysteries With These Books Similar to "The Secret History"
by The Blinkist Team | Apr 24 2024

20 Books Like The Secret History for Intellectual Thrills

Donna Tartt’s “The Secret History” captivates with its blend of intellectual elitism, moral ambiguity, and suspenseful narrative, revolving around a group of classics students at an elite college and their spiral into criminality under the influence of their charismatic professor. The unique combination of refined scholarship and looming dread makes it a particularly intriguing read for those fascinated by the darker facets of academic and youthful idealism.

If you’re searching for books that share the same essence of intellectual thrill and moral complexity, you’re in the right place. Here’s a list of 20 books that fans of “The Secret History” will likely find just as compelling and thought-provoking.

Top 20 best books to read if you liked “The Secret History” by Donna Tartt


1. “If We Were Villains” by M.L. Rio

This tale of Shakespearean actors and deep secrets mirrors “The Secret History” in its academic setting and exploration of friendship turned sinister.

  • Rich academic backdrop involving literature and art.
  • The dark evolution of close friendships.
  • A suspenseful mystery surrounding a death.


2. “The Likeness” by Tana French

Undercover detective Cassie Maddox infiltrates a tight-knit group of friends to solve a murder, finding herself entangled in their complex relationships.

  • A murder mystery within a scholarly community.
  • Themes of identity and belonging.
  • Intense group dynamics and psychological depth.


3. “Special Topics in Calamity Physics” by Marisha Pessl

This novel follows Blue Van Meer after she’s enrolled in an elite school and becomes involved with a group of intriguing intellects, leading to an unexpected mystery.

  • A provocative mix of intellectualism and thriller.
  • An enigmatic group that pulls the protagonist into its orbit.
  • Elegantly constructed plot with a compelling mystery


4. “The Goldfinch” by Donna Tartt

Another masterpiece by Donna Tartt, blending themes of art, obsession, and the repercussions of a single moment on a young boy’s life.

  • Deeply developed characters and a rich narrative.
  • The central role of art and its impacts.
  • A sprawling journey that explores morality and fate.


5. “The Secret Place” by Tana French

Investigating a murder in an elite girls’ boarding school, Detective Moran uncovers the complex dynamics of friendship and rivalry.

  • An elite educational setting with a dark underbelly.
  • Tense dynamics among a tight-knit group.
  • A mystery that delves into the complexities of adolescent friendships.


6. “Brideshead Revisited” by Evelyn Waugh

This novel explores the themes of memory, nostalgia, and the aristocratic decline through the eyes of Charles Ryder and his entanglement with the Flyte family.

  • Elegant, nostalgic prose with a reflective tone.
  • Intriguing exploration of class and societal change.
  • Complex relationships against the backdrop of a bygone era.


7. “We Were Liars” by E. Lockhart

A tale of family, love, and tragedy on a private island, presenting a mystery that unfolds with shocking revelations.

  • Strong themes of privilege and family dynamics.
  • A secluded, elite setting.
  • A twisting plot revealing deep secrets.


8. “The Lake of Dead Languages” by Carol Goodman

Set in a girls’ boarding school in the Adirondacks, the novel weaves a tale of mystery, suicide, and Latin, echoing the academic intrigue of “The Secret History.”

  • An academic setting enriched with classical references.
  • A mystery linked with past and present.
  • Themes of language and its lore.


9. “Black Chalk” by Christopher J. Yates

A game among friends at Oxford turns dark, exploring the depths of human nature and the consequences of seemingly innocent fun.

  • An elite university setting.
  • The psychological unraveling of friendships.
  • A gripping narrative of a game gone awry.


10. “The Bellwether Revivals” by Benjamin Wood

A Cambridge student’s relationship with a brilliant but eccentric family leads to a tragic exploration of genius and madness.

  • The academic and elite setting of Cambridge.
  • A focus on music, genius, and obsession.
  • An atmospheric tale blending beauty with impending doom.


11. “The Lessons” by Naomi Alderman

Reflecting on relationships formed at Oxford, this novel delves into love, betrayal, and the long-lasting impact of college friendships.

  • A narrative centered around elite education and its effects.
  • Complex character dynamics within a scholarly group.
  • Themes of intellectualism and existential search.


12. “A Separate Peace” by John Knowles

Set in a New England boarding school during World War II, the novel explores the friendship between two boys and the jealousy that erupts between them.

  • Themes of innocence and evolving friendship.
  • An educational institution as a microcosm for larger societal issues.
  • A deep dive into the psychology of adolescence.


13. “The Emperor’s Children” by Claire Messud

In pre-9/11 New York, a group of privileged intellectuals face personal and professional crises that challenge their views and relationships.

  • A narrative rich with intellectual and cultural commentary.
  • Complicated personal dynamics within a tightly-knit group.
  • An exploration of ambition and identity in a changing world.


14. “The Rules of Attraction” by Bret Easton Ellis

Set in the 1980s at a liberal arts college, this novel offers a raw look at love, freedom, and the complexities of human connection amidst a group of students.

  • Dark humor and satirical take on young adults’ lives.
  • The exploration of interpersonal dynamics in a college setting.
  • An unvarnished portrayal of the quest for meaning.


15. “The Group” by Mary McCarthy

This classic novel traces the lives of eight Vassar graduates, exploring the premise of women’s liberation and social mores in the 1930s.

  • An insightful look into female friendship and societal expectations.
  • The transition from college to adulthood.
  • Richly detailed characters navigating life’s complexities.


16. “Gentlemen and Players” by Joanne Harris

At St. Oswald’s Grammar School, a long-standing vendetta unfolds, revealing secrets and lies among the staff and students.

  • A mystery set in a traditional educational institution.
  • Themes of revenge and identity.
  • Intricate plot with well-drawn characters.


17. “The Marriage Plot” by Jeffrey Eugenides

The intertwined lives of three college students in the 1980s explore the pursuit of love, the significance of books, and the challenges of adulthood.

  • Academic themes and literary references abound.
  • Deep explorations of relationships and personal growth.
  • A thoughtful look at the transition from college into the wider world.


18. “Donna Tartt’s “The Little Friend”

Exploring themes of vengeance, loss, and the complex nature of the human spirit, this novel delves into the mysterious death of a young boy in Mississippi.

  • Rich character development and intricate plot.
  • A southern gothic atmosphere akin to “The Secret History’s” mood.
  • An exploration of youth and its darker sides.


19. “Villette” by Charlotte Brontë

Lucy Snowe’s journey to autonomy and identity through her teaching job in Belgium offers a profound exploration of isolation and longing.

  • A deep psychological exploration of the protagonist.
  • Themes of loneliness and the quest for self amidst foreignness.
  • Richly atmospheric with a hint of the gothic.


20. “The Maze at Windermere” by Gregory Blake Smith

A dazzling literary puzzle set in Rhode Island, weaving five narratives across three centuries around a single geographical point.

  • Complex narrative structure that challenges and rewards.
  • Themes of ambition, love, and moral compromise.
  • Rich historical and philosophical context.

In conclusion, whether it’s the dark academia aesthetic, the exploration of complex relationships, or the intricate plots that drew you to “The Secret History,” the books listed here promise to offer similar thrills and intellectual stimulation.

From tales of academic rivalry to stories of friendships veering off into darkness, each of these selections will captivate and challenge, much like Donna Tartt’s beloved novel. So, prepare to be intrigued, provoked, and ultimately swept away by these profound narratives. Happy reading!


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