14 best books like The Secret History by Donna Tartt

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books like the secret history

Despite being published all the way back in 1992, The Secret History has been one of the bookosphere’s true darlings in recent years.

Donna Tartt’s first novel is a dark academia masterpiece, weaving an atmospheric tale of the eccentricities and secrets of a group of classics students at a privileged college in rural Vermont.

But what to read next if you loved The Secret History?

I’ve been working on a draft of this post for months, and each time I come across Donna Tartt’s name in bookish corners of the internet (very frequently), I remind myself I need to finish this up.

So at long last, here goes: the best books like The Secret History if you want more dark academia vibes, brainy characters, creepy settings, and mysteries to solve.

(P.S. These books are also perfect to read alongside Donna Tartt’s favourite novels and the books mentioned in The Secret History. Enjoy!)

The best books to read after The Secret History

The Cartographers by Peng Shepherd

Read The Cartographers for… a stunning new novel about learning, cartography, friendship, and magical world-making.

Nell Young’s whole life is cartography – something she shares with her father, Dr. Daniel Young, a legend in the field. But she hasn’t seen or spoken to him since he cruelly fired her and destroyed her reputation over a gas station highway map.

When her father is found dead in his office at the New York Public Library, accompanied by the same seemingly worthless map hidden in his desk, Nell can’t resist investigating. The story that follows is full of time jumps, dark academia themes, and a whole lot of mystery.

Babel: An Arcane History by R.F. Kuang

Read Babel for… a thematic response to The Secret History that grapples with colonial resistance, the power of knowledge, and the use of language and translation as a tool of oppression.

Traduttore, traditore: An act of translation is always an act of betrayal.

It’s 1828 and Robin Swift, orphaned by cholera in Canton, is brought to London by the mysterious Professor Lovell. He then spends years training for the day he’ll enroll in Oxford University’s prestigious Royal Institute of Translation – also known as Babel – learning Latin, Ancient Greek, and Chinese.

For Robin, Oxford is a utopia dedicated to the pursuit of knowledge. But Babel is also a symbol of the Empire’s quest for colonization, and as a Chinese boy raised in Britain, Robin realises that serving Babel means betraying his motherland. When Britain pursues an unjust war with China, Robin must decide what side he should really be on.

The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco

Read The Name of the Rose for… a historical murder mystery set in an Italian monastery in 1327.

Another of the best books to read if you love The Secret History is Umberto Eco’s debut from 1980, The Name of the Rose. Now, it’s worth saying that this is absolutely not one of the easiest novels to read on this list. But that said, it became an award winner for a reason – and if it’s for you, you might just love it.

Illuminating a world of secret chambers and labyrinthine passages where “the most interesting things happen at night”, this is a story of bizarre deaths, cunning detective work, and fierce curiosity in a wealthy Italian abbey.

The Rules of Attraction by Bret Easton Ellis

Read The Rules of Attraction for… Bret Easton Ellis’s 1987 classic inspired by the college he went to with Donna Tartt.

When looking at the best books similar to The Secret History, you can’t ignore Bret Easton Ellis’s writing. At Bennington College, a private liberal arts college in Vermont, Donna Tartt met Bret Easton Ellis and they’ve remained close ever since. (The Secret History was dedicated to Bret Easton Ellis!)

Bennington College is also likely what inspired both The Secret History and The Rules of Attraction. The latter, Bret Easton Ellis’s novel published 5 years before The Secret History, is set in a different social clique but references “that weird Classics group… probably roaming the countryside sacrificing farmers and performing pagan rituals”. (Sound familiar?)

Bret Easton Ellis admitted he put Easter egg references to The Secret History in The Rules of Attraction, which Donna Tartt had been working on in various forms for years: “I thought it would be funny, an inside joke”.

Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl

Read Special Topics in Calamity Physics for… a bewitchingly smart novel that feels like Donna Tartt meets Vladimir Nabokov. It’s the sort of book that will make you stay up all night.

In this sprawling campus novel infused with dark academia vibes, Blue van Meer is fiercely intelligent, deadpan, and has a head full of literary, philosophical, scientific, and cinematic knowledge.

When she joins the elite St. Gallway School, she finally makes some friends – a clique of eccentrics known as the Bluebloods. Little does she know, she’ll soon be puzzling out a byzantine murder mystery.

Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo

Read Ninth House for… a tale of power, dark magic, and privilege set among the Ivy League elite in Book 1 of 2 in the Alex Stern series.

In Ninth House, The Secret History meets magical realism on an elite college campus. After being raised by a hippie mom and dropping out of school, Galaxy “Alex” Stern is the most unlikely member of Yale’s freshman class.

In fact, she was given the chance to attend one of the world’s most prestigious universities while in a hospital bed following a horrific, unsolved crime. What’s the catch? And why her?

When Alex arrives in New Haven, she learns her mission: to monitor the activities of Yale’s secret societies: places that hold enormous power, tamper with forbidden magic, and are absolutely rife with danger.

The Lake of Dead Languages by Carol Goodman

Read The Lake of Dead Languages for… Carol Goodman’s mystery debut that’s brimming with dark academia vibes for fans of The Secret History.

The week before Jane Hudson’s graduation at the idyllic Heart Lake School for Girls in the Adirondacks, three girls took their own lives. Only Jane carried the burden of a mystery, and now – more than two decades later – she’s returned to the school as a Latin teacher.

Jane hopes to make a fresh start with her young daughter, until ominous messages start to dredge up forgotten memories and young, troubled girls begin to perish again.

If We Were Villains by M.L. Rio

Read If We Were Villains for… an unputdownable tale of love, friendship, and obsession in one of the best books to read after The Secret History.

A decade ago, Oliver was one of seven young Shakespearean actors at Dellecher Classical Conservatory – a secluded, fiercely competitive world of leather-bound books, fireplaces, and ambition. A decade later, he’s released from jail.

Both on and off the stage, Oliver and his close friends played heroes, villains, temptresses, and tyrants. But in their final year, good-natured competition turned ugly and real tragedy invaded their world.

From that day, the group was tasked with a greater acting challenge than ever before: convincing the police, each other, and themselves of their innocence.

Vicious (Villains, #1) by V.E. Schwab

Read Vicious for… a tale of ambition, jealousy, and superpowers for fans of The Secret History from the bestselling author of The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue.

In this masterful story that’s Book 1 in the Villains series, Victor and Eli started out as college roommates, brought together by their loneliness and ambition.

In their senior year, they worked together to uncover an intriguing theory: that under the right conditions, someone could develop extraordinary abilities.

However, when their academic questions turn into actual experiments, things go horribly wrong. What follows is a gripping novel set in a comic-book-style world where superpowers don’t always equal heroism.

Truly Devious (Truly Devious, #1) by Maureen Johnson

Read Truly Devious for… a tale of two interwoven mysteries in an elite Vermont school that John Green describes as “intricately plotted, compulsively readable”.

Ellingham Academy, a private school in Vermont, is famed for educating the brightest minds. However, the school is also known for one of America’s great unsolved crimes: the kidnapping of founder Albert Ellingham’s wife and daughter shortly after it opened. The only clue? A mocking and violent riddle.

Fast forward a few years and Stevie Bell, a true-crime aficionado beginning her first year at Ellingham Academy, is determined to solve this cold case. But someone doesn’t want that to happen, and crime returns to Ellingham Academy.

These Violent Delights by Micah Nemerever

Read These Violent Delights for… a feverish Hitchcockian story about two college students with troubled pasts and an escalating obsession that leads to unspeakable violence.

Troubled college students? Check. Obsession? Check. Crime? Check. These Violent Delights is one of the best books like The Secret History to add to your reading list, offering an exquisitely penned exploration of human desire and the darkness it can bring forth.

Set in early 1970s Pittsburgh, this is the story of Paul, an insecure loner, and Julian, who’s effortlessly charismatic but capriciously cruel. As their friendship develops, obsession spirals into irrevocable violence.

The Magus by John Fowles

Read The Magus for… a disturbing, thrilling, and seductive modern classic about friendship, the classics, and the intricate workings of the human mind.

Unsatisfied in love and life, Nicholas Urfe, a young Englishman, accepts a teaching post on a remote Greek island. There, what begins as a friendship with a reclusive millionaire soon evolves into a mysterious and deadly game.

As Nicholas is drawn deeper into the trickster’s psychological traps, he becomes a desperate man fighting not just for his sanity, but also his survival.

A Deadly Education (The Scholomance, #1) by Naomi Novik

Read A Deadly Education for… Book 1 of 3 in The Scholomance series, described by bestselling fantasy author Katherine Arden as “The dark school of magic I’ve been waiting for.”

“I decided that Orion Lake needed to die after the second time he saved my life…” So begins Naomi Novik’s gripping Scholomance series about a dangerous school for the magically gifted where failure means certain death – until one girl begins to question its rules.

El Higgins may be isolated and without allies, but she has a dark power strong enough to wipe out millions, not least the monsters that prowl the school. For the safety of the other students, El is trying her hardest not to use her powers… at least, unless she has no other choice.

Escape into Naomi Novik’s unique world for one of the best books about magic schools and a fantasy take on The Secret History

Kala by Colin Walsh

Read Kala for… a spectacularly thrilling and unputdownable new book to read next if you loved The Secret History.

Okay, so this one isn’t exactly dark academia. But as a bestselling new novel for 2023, Kala is also a perfect read for fans of Donna Tartt.

In Kinlough, a seaside town on Ireland’s west coast, three old friends – Helen, Joe, and Mush – find themselves together for the first time in years. They were part of an original group of six inseparable teenagers in the summer of 2003, with reckless Kala Lanann as their group’s centre and ringleader. Soon after that summer, Kala disappeared without a trace.

Now, fifteen years later, human remains have been discovered in the woods. What’s more, two more girls have gone missing. As the past and present collide, the friends are forced to accept their complicity and try to stop the past from repeating itself.

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