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15 Spellbinding Books Like The Secret History

Last Updated on November 26, 2023 by Louisa

The Secret History by Donna Tartt is an exciting book that I continue to think about on a daily basis. That’s why I wanted to find more books with a similar theme.

As Richard recounts his story, I was glued to every page. With themes of isolation, guilt, envy, manipulation, and differing social classes, the story is both beautiful and terrifying.

If you’re looking for more twisted books like The Secret History, then you’ve come to the right place.

In this guide, I have shared my top similar books to The Secret History by Donna Tartt that will have you lying awake at night wondering what you’ve just read…

Affiliate Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links, which means I may receive a small commission, at no extra cost to you, if you make a purchase through any of these links. 

Quick Answer: Top 3 Picks

Are you looking for a book fast and don’t have much time? No matter, here are my top three favorites!

Our Favourites!

Where the Crawdads Sing: Reese's Book Club (A Novel)

#1 Best Highly Acclaimed Novel

Where The Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

  • About a woman who lives in isolation who is accused of murder by the townsfolk
  • Winner of the British Book of the Year: Page Turner Award in 2021
  • A New York Times Bestseller

Ninth House (Ninth House Series Book 1)

#2 Best in Fantasy

Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo

  • About a sole survivor of a mass murder attack who is asked to investigate a secret society at Yale
  • Winner of the Goodreads Choice Awards for Best Fantasy in 2020
  • Featured on Time Magazine’s 100 Must Read Books of 2019

The Oxford Inheritance: A Novel

#3 Best in Mystery/Suspense

The Oxford Inheritance by Ann A. McDonald

  • About an Oxford University student who seeks to uncover the mystery behind her mother’s death
  • A spine-chilling thriller and mystery story
  • An up and coming author

Summary of The Secret History

Before I get into the top books similar to The Secret History, let’s quickly recap the story. Don’t worry, I won’t reveal the ending if you are still reading.

The Secret History is narrated by Richard, an outcast at an elusive New England college.

At first he is denied entry to the Ancient Greek class, which the professor only opens to select students. In his class, he has five students who all have a dark and disturbing secret of their own.

Richard becomes obsessed with the students and the professor, and he soon finds himself accepted into the class.

What is fascinating about The Secret History is that it reveals the ending first. The story begins with learning that Richard and four other students from the group murdered one of the other students, Bunny.

The story then follows the events that took place before the death of Bunny and why she died.

This novel is intriguingly based on the simple value of friendship but with underlying tones of mystery, evilness, and arrogance. 

It has trigger warnings for homophobia, hate speech, performing rituals, prejudice and fatphobic comments, racism, animal cruelty, assault, suicide, alcoholism and drug abuse, and finally, murder.

Related Reading: The Best The Secret History Quotes

Books Like The Secret History

If you were like me and couldn’t put The Secret History down, you should check out the following titles.

1. If We Were Villains – M.L. Rio

The top suggestion for books to read after The Secret History is If We Were Villains by M.L. Rio which has a very similar plotline to The Secret History.

The story follows Oliver Marks who is one of 7 young actors at an elite art school. When one of them ends up dead, Oliver is committed for the crime. 

10 years later, he’s being released from jail, and the now-retired detective that put him there wants to know what happened that night.

His release puts the entire group on edge as they face the greatest acting challenge of their lives.

While The Secret History is about the events up to the murder, If We Were Villains focuses on the events after. If you’re after another book that will keep you on the edge of your seat, this title should be on your to-read list.

2. The Unheard – Nicci French

In The Secret History, I question whether knowing the truth is worth it. This is a familiar aspect of The Unheard by Nicci French.

The story follows Tess who has always had her daughter Poppy’s best interests at heart.

When Poppy draws a disturbing picture, Tess wonders what her daughter sees. She’s convinced that Poppy witnessed a crime when she was at her father’s over the weekend.

Tess knows something isn’t right, no matter how crazy she sounds. But will her determination to uncover the truth put Tess and Poppy in danger?

This is a psychological thriller novel about a women who will defy all odds to protect her family. It’s full of twists and turns and will have you spellbound on every page.

3. The Bellwether Revivals – Benjamin Woods

I enjoyed The Secret History because it shows me inside an elite world. If these are the type of books you enjoy, I suggest reading The Bellwether Revivals by Benjamin Woods next.

The story follows Oscar, a medical student that can usually be found with his nose in a book.

When he meets Iris Bellwether, he’s immediately drawn to her. Iris introduces Oscar to a world of wealth and privilege. 

The lifestyle seems too good to be true in this elite world. When Oscar becomes entangled with the other Bellwether sibling, things cross the line from fascinating to dangerous. 

 Are people too blinded by Eden Bellwether’s musical talents to see what a madman he is?

This book is fast-paced, powerful, and has vivid scenes that bring the story to life. While it’s similar to The Secret History because it focuses on college students of wealth and privilege, Wood’s book is slightly less dark and gothic, in my opinion.

4. All The Ugly And Wonderful Things – Bryn Greenwood

The Secret History has me drawn toward the characters despite the crimes they’re connected to, like falling for the villain over the hero.

If you want a romantic story with a similar vibe, you should check out All The Ugly And Wonderful Things by Bryn Greenwood.

Wavy didn’t have your average childhood. Her parents were meth dealers, and she was the only responsible one in the family, which made her the caretaker of her little brother. She doesn’t trust anyone and keeps to herself. 

Things begin to change when Wavy witnesses one of the criminals that work with her parents in a motorcycle wreck. Will this unlikely pairing see the best in each other?

This is a beautifully written novel that has a sensitive subject matter, and yet the author approaches it with empathy and grace. It’s both disturbing and fascinating at the same time.

5. Ninth House – Leigh Bardugo

If you’re looking for another exciting story like The Secret History which is about elite universities and secret societies? Then you should grab a copy of Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo.

The story follows Alex who is the sole survivor of a mass murder.

Before this, her life was anything but easy. When she wakes up in the hospital, she’s presented with an opportunity of a lifetime.

Alex is offered a chance to attend Yale.

Of course, there are strings attached. Alex will need to monitor the elite university’s secret society. Will this be more dangerous than she imagined?

Intense, fast-paced, and packed with twists and turns. This is one of my favorite books by Leigh Bardugo, maybe even more so than Shadow and Bone.

6. The Mockingbirds – Daisy Whitney

Are you interested in reading more books like The Secret History that center around a secret group of people? If so, you may enjoy The Mockingbirds by Daisy Whitney.

The Mockingbirds is a secret group on campus. They have one specific goal, to administer justice on campus.

When Alex has a date that goes horribly wrong, she knows that there’s only one group that she can turn to. She must find The Mockingbirds.

I love this book because it shares a powerful message about the importance of standing up for yourself. It has some upsetting scenes, but the author handles them sensitively.

**Disclaimer: This book contains scenes of assault that may distress some readers**

7. Secret Society Girl – Diana Peterfreund 

One thing I learned from The Secret History is that trouble always looms when there’s a secret society.

For another scandalous story about secret societies, I suggest reading Secret Society Girl by Diana Peterfreund.

Amy studies at an Ivy League university, Eli University, where she is presented with the chance to join a secret society.

Amy is the typical goody-goody girl, she runs the school paper, studies hard, and is not from a prestigious background. So she has no idea why the oldest and most prestigious society, Rose and Grave, wants her.

Soon Amy learns that her duty as a member of the society is to protect its secrets, some with regard to money and power, which could end up threatening her life.

If you’re looking for a novel that teaches you about the Ivy League experience, this novel is a great read. It’s the first novel in a four-part series.

8. Freshman – Michael Gerber

The Secret History shows us the darker side of an elite school. For a similar vibe, I suggest reading Freshman by Micheal Gerber.

The story follows Hart Fox who has the grades to make it into an ivy league school, but he doesn’t have the money.

When a wealthy alum offers him a deal, it’s one he can’t ignore. Hart gets the chance to attend an elite school, but he must take the wealthy alum’s son’s classes.

This is just the beginning of the story. Hart discovers a strange world of traditions, secret societies, and hierarchies.

When Hart mingles with the wrong group of people, it sets him at war with the people that sent him to this school.

This book is a lot more lighthearted than The Secret History and has some elements of humor. It has characters who are desperate to prove themselves and some coming-of-age elements. An interesting take on life in an Ivy League school.

View it on:

9. The Oxford Inheritance – Ann A. McDonald

Do you want to read more books like The Secret History that are packed with mystery and suspense? Then you may enjoy The Oxford Inheritance by Ann A. McDonald. 

The story follows Cassandra who will do anything to find out the secrets of her mother’s death.

When a mysterious package sends her to another part of the world, she gets to attend the prestige university her mother went to. 

Not sure what she will discover at first, Cassandra is bewildered by the experience.

This is a world of privilege, unlike anything she has ever seen before. Yet, beneath it all is the deepest secret, murder.

As well as being packed with mystery and suspense, you also get a history lesson at the Universities of Oxford in the UK.

Like The Secret History, this book also has a secret society with power struggles, but there are more urban fantasy elements thrown in to keep it interesting.

10. Black Chalk – Christopher Yates

Elite schools and secret societies are the perfect fit for a great novel. If you enjoyed The Secret History because of this element, then you should check out Black Chalk.

Black Chalk follows the story of a small group of college friends. They start a game that has real consequences.

The game started small and silly but turned vicious after time. One tragic night brought an end to the game.

14 years later, the group meets again for one last time to finish the game they started.

This story is similar to The Secret History in that it has characters that feed on one another’s cleverness, which eventually results in a tragedy. It’s a fine example of college-student psychology paired with a thriller.

11. The Lake Of Dead Languages – Carol Goodman

The Lake of Dead Languages by Carol Goodman follows a similar gothic path as The Secret History in that it’s also about a main character reflecting on their days at school many years later.

Jane was a student at the Heart Lake School For Girls. She left the school after her roommate took her own life. Now, 20 years later, she’s returning to school to work as a teacher.

While she’s determined to focus on the future, Jane’s past resurfaces. When new girls begin to die, secrets from the past won’t stay hidden.

The writing style is similar to The Secret History in that it uses low-key narration, but it’s more suspense-packed.

**Disclaimer: This book contains scenes of suicide that may disturb some readers** 

12. The Long Weekend – Gilly MacMillan

I loved The Secret History because I never knew what twists to expect. For another compelling pick, check out The Long Weekend by Gilly MacMillan.

Three women arrive at an isolated retreat to enjoy a girl’s night. They’re expecting their husbands to arrive the next day so they can all enjoy a couples’ trip.

The fun of fun soon turns into terror when the ladies find a note letting them know one of the husbands will be murdered.

There’s no cell service at the retreat, so none of the ladies can reach their husbands. Will they find out who’s behind this before anyone gets hurt?

If you’re a fan of thriller novels, then you’re going to enjoy this read. It’s packed full of twists and turns and suspense.

13. No One Goes Alone – Erik Larson

If you’re looking for more historical fiction books with themes like The Secret History, then I suggest picking up a copy of No One Goes Alone by Erik Larson.

This book is set in the Atlantic in 1905, and there have been several unexplained disappearances in the area.

Everyone has been on edge since a family of 4 visiting for a holiday disappeared.

Professor William James is determined to find out what is happening. He sets to explore the island where people have been vanishing.

However, unexplainable events have him questioning everything.

This book is bone-chilling and captivating, and will have you on the edge of your seat throughout.

If you really want to enjoy this book in a unique way, consider listening to the chilling audiobook on Audible.

View it on:

14. The Talented Mr. Ripley – Patricia Highsmith

I love The Secret History because of the chilling characters and their disturbing mindset. One infamous story that has a similar vibe is the 1955 hit novel The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith.

Tom Ripley has led a life of poverty. His interest in a wealthy friend, Dickie Greenwood, becomes obsessive.

Dickie’s father requests that Ripley travels to Italy to convince Dickie to come back to America. 

On his journey, Ripley becomes fascinated by Dickie’s girlfriend, Marge, and their lifestyle. He’s willing to take extreme measures to make this life his own.

This book came to the public eye again many years later after it was turned into a movie starring Matt Damon, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Jude Law.

15. Where The Crawdads Sing – Delia Owens

For another book with a similar vibe to The Secret History and also starts with the ending before going into the reflection, I suggest checking out a book like Where The Crawdads Sing.

This book delves into a completely different type of lifestyle from The Secret History, but it has a similar writing style.

The story follows Kya, who raised herself in the marsh from a young age. People in the nearby town call her the marsh girl and avoid her at all costs.

When a young man she was connected to is discovered dead, everyone in town suspects Kya.

Isolation plays a big role in the decisions Kya makes. She may not be like everyone else in society, but is she capable of murder?

Where The Crawdads Sing was the winner of the Booksellers Award in Japan and made it to #1 on the NYT Bestseller list.

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books like the secret history

Final Word On Best Books Like The Secret History

So there you go, those are my favorite similar books to The Secret History, and as you can see, there are a lot of diverse options on this list.

Whether you’re looking for something dark and packed with suspense, or something that only lightly touches the author’s writing style or themes, there is something for everyone on my list.

If you think I missed a book that you think deserves mention, let me know in the comments below.

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About Louisa Smith

Editor/Founder - Epic Book Society

Louisa is the Founder, Editor, and Head Honcho of Epic Book Society. She was born and raised in the United Kingdom and graduated from the University for the Creative Arts with a degree in Journalism. Louisa began her writing career at the age of 7 when her poetry was published in an anthology of poems to celebrate the Queen's Jubilee. Upon graduating university, she spent several years working as a journalist writing about books before transitioning to become a Primary School Teacher. Louisa loves all genres of books, but her favorites are Sci-Fi, Romance, Fantasy, and Young Adult Fiction. Read more Louisa's story here.

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