People Shared The Most Terrifying Books They've Ever Read, And Just The Summaries Are Enough To Give Me Goosebumps

Whether it's a skin-crawling selection from the bibliography of a master of horror like Stephen King, or a nonfiction account of just how bad things are (and how much worse they can get), a good book has the power to leave you haunted long after you turn the last page.

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So there were plenty of frightening suggestions when u/ledepression asked the fine folks of r/books, "What is the most terrifying book (fiction or nonfiction) you have ever read?" Here are 29 literary works that range from "pretty spooky" to "I still haven't stopped hyperventilating."

Submissions have been edited for length and clarity.

1."Johnny Got His Gun by Dalton Trumbo was so disturbing I couldn't finish it. The premise is that a young soldier wakes up to discover he has lost his sight, hearing, power of speech, and all four of his limbs in a landmine explosion. He is completely alone with his thoughts, unable to interact with the world around him, and yet Trumbo weaves such an intense and claustrophobic narrative around it. What's really dreadful is that it was based off a real case during World War I."

Cover art for "Johnny Got His Gun" by Dalton Trumbo.


"Johnny Got His Gun is the book I opened this thread to find. Absolutely horrifying in such an insidious way. If you didn’t finish it, I won’t spoil the ending, but it gets worse."


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2."Lots of people list The Mist by Stephen King, but his The Long Walk (written as Richard Bachman) is obscenely brutal. It's a Hunger Games-like marathon walk. But less world-building and more deep dives into the psyches of the contestants. Fantastic book."

Cover art for "The Long Walk" by Stephen King.


"I think The Long Walk is Stephen King's best story. It's amazing how quickly and deeply you care about the characters. And such a great concept."


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3."Kindred by Octavia E. Butler. I have tried multiple times to read it, and I keep having to put it down. It is ruthless and holds no punches. It is about a Black woman who keeps getting warped back to US slave era, randomly and without any control over when or how it happens."

Cover art for "Kindred" by Octavia E. Butler.
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4."Okay, I've read all 240 answers, and I can't believe no one has said Jaws. I read that book when it first came out (so a long time ago), and I still think about it anytime I'm near the ocean."

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5."The Hot Zone. I've seen since reading it that the author exaggerated some Ebola details, but still..."

Cover art for "The Hot Zone" by Richard Preston.


"This. I read it in Spring 2020, and while the book focuses primarily on Ebola, it also covered what viral traits to expect of the next big global pandemic and how horrifically unprepared we were for it, and it was eerily accurate."


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6."I read Hiroshima in high school, and I still often think about it 20 years later."

Cover art for "Hiroshima" by John Hersey.


"There’s a few scenes from that book that, unfortunately, live rent free in my head."

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7."House of Leaves. I wouldn't even call it a horror story personally. But it's the only book I've ever read that instilled feelings of not just fear, but genuine dread that persisted long after putting it down."

Cover art for "House of Leaves" by Mark Z. Danielewski.

"The idea that you aren't truly safe and that you can never be absolutely sure what's directly behind you at any moment. You think there's nothing there, but what if there is? What if there's some horrible creature stalking toward you, just outside your field of vision, ready to pounce at any moment? What if it's waiting for the moment you get the courage to turn your head and look?"


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8."Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, written or collected and rewritten by Alvin Schwartz, with illustrations by Stephen Gammell. Found it in my elementary school library and had nightmares for a while afterwards. Still wouldn't want to re-read it as an adult. The illustrations are haunting and terrifying and no doubt a big part of what disturbed me so much reading it as a kid."

Cover art for "Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark" by Alvin Schwartz.
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9."I remember the growing dread as I read Pet Sematary for the first (and only) time. I was literally begging a character not to do what I knew he was about to."

Cover art for "Pet Sematary" by Stephen King.


"I don’t know if I’d describe Pet Semetary as the most terrifying book I’ve read (though it’s definitely a terrifying book), but there is no question it is the most upsetting thing I’ve ever read. The way you get inside the dad’s head and it just feels like you’re living his grief makes me feel physically ill. Dread is 100% the way to describe it."


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10."On the Beach by Nevil Shute. It’s about a group of people in Australia waiting for a radiation cloud to come and kill them; the government has issued suicide pills."

Cover art for "On the Beach" by Nevil Shute.


"This was my first thought, too. It’s also beautifully written and illustrates the way so many different types of people handle the end of the world. It’s terrifying in its banality."


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11."Swan Song. The depiction of nuclear war and the survivors scraping by and killing each other over what is left during seven years of nuclear winter put me genuinely on edge. And with everything happening now, it hits a little harder."

Cover art for "Swan Song" by Robert McCammon.

12."The Three-Body Problem by Liu Cixin, if you like science fiction. It paints a chillingly dark and frighteningly probable future for humanity and the prospect of alien life."

Cover art for "The Three-Body Problem" by Liu Cixin.
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13."I always find nonfiction books to be the scariest because humans have done some truly horrifying things throughout history. Night by Elie Wiesel disturbed me so much when I read it at 14 that I couldn't stop thinking about it for months afterward, and it pretty much shattered my childhood innocence."

Cover art for "Night" by Elie Wiesel.


"I read it at 14, too. I’m 31, and I still have graphic memories of reading that book. It’s necessary literature, and I am glad I read it. But I really wish it didn’t have to exist."


Farrar, Straus and Giroux / Via

14."The Ocean at the End of the Lane. Not particularly scary, but it reaches down inside you and pulls that chord labeled 'feeling of powerlessness that was the worst part of childhood' and yanks it hard. If you were ever the kid who tried to convince the adults that something was wrong and they did not listen, this book may not be a good choice."

Cover art for "The Ocean at the End of the Lane" by Neil Gaiman.
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15."This is a left-field one but The Great Post Office Scandal. It’s so relatable and scary to think that perfectly honest and diligent people could be thrown in jail by the hundreds because a few bureaucratic fuckwits couldn’t admit their computer system wasn’t perfect."

Cover art for "The Great Post Office Scandal" by Nick Wallis.
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16."The Devil All the Time by Donald Ray Pollock. There’s an ever-present evil lurking in rural Appalachia, cloaked in religion and superstition and sickening lust."

Cover art for "The Devil All the Time" by Donald Ray Pollock.


"It was hard to read, almost made me feel unclean. Every character in that book was twisted; a new character would be introduced, and I'd think, 'How is this person going to be horrible?' I finished it and sold the book pretty quickly afterward."


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17."The Stranger Beside Me by Ann Rule. The story of Ted Bundy. I read it years ago when I was living by myself in an apartment. It scared the shit out of me. The fact that she volunteered with him at a suicide prevention group and had no idea what he was doing at the time, and also when he committed the Chi Omega murders in Florida. One of the girls saw him walking down the hall as she was coming in a back door from her date. The book stayed with me a long time. I rarely ever read anything 'scary.'"

Cover art for "The Stranger Beside Me" by Ann Rule.

18."The Woman in Black by Susan Hill. Forget the awful movie with Harry Potter in it. The book is terrifying."

Cover art for "The Woman in Black" by Susan Hill
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19."The short story 'I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream.' It’s about a dystopian future wherein all superpowers wage war via super computers. The computers merge and become sentient and wipe out humanity, except for six humans that they keep alive forever, using their omnipotence to torture them for eternity as punishment for creating them."

Cover art for "The Harlan Ellison Collection."
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20."A Little Life. I don't recommend this book. I was having nightmares for a whole month after reading it during the first lockdown."

Cover art for "A Little Life" by Hanya Yanagihara.


"Disturbing in a whole different way than Stephen King!"


Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group / Via

21."And the Band Played On. It's about how the US handled AIDS. I just remember reading it and thinking, 'There's no way we would mishandle something like that today.'"

Cover art for "And the Band Played On" by Randy Shilts.
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22."Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler. I read it during the pandemic, and I was terrified Butler saw the future. Still am watching in terror."

Cover art for "Parable of the Sower" by Octavia E. Butler.
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23."The Fault in Our Stars, if you read it as a parent."

Cover art for "The Fault in Our Stars" by John Green.
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24."Black Boy by Richard Wright. Because I read about something in 1945 that continues to actually happen to other Black people eight decades later. Like, he could've written that anytime in the 20th century or the 21st century thus far, and it would've been immediately relevant."

Cover art for "Black Boy" by Richard Wright.
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25."I am haunted by Jon Krakauer's Into Thin Air. It's nonfiction, but both poetic and deeply terrifying. A lot of people's lives were destroyed on that trip for absolutely nothing."

Cover art for "Into Thin Air" by Jon Krakauer.
Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group / Via

26."Probably The Emperor of All Maladies by Siddhartha Mukherjee and The First Cell by Azra Raza. A history of cancer and the current state of cancer treatment, by two prominent oncologists. Terrifying."

Side-by-side cover art of "The Emperor of All Maladies" by Siddhartha Mukherjee and "The First Cell" by Azra Raza.

27."The Handmaid's Tale. So horrifying that I told my husband that he was free to watch the series, but I would not."

Cover art for "The Handmaid's Tale" by Margaret Atwood.


"There are forces in the world working overtime to make this a true story."


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28."1984 is terrifying all over again no matter how often you read it."

Cover art for "1984" by George Orwell.
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29.And finally: "I'll Be Gone in the Dark about the Golden State Killer. That really frightened me."

Cover art for "I'll Be Gone in the Dark" by Michelle McNamara.
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What other books were so chilling you still think about them to this day? Tell us in the comments below!