True Stories, Novels and Podcasts

Is truth more frightening than fiction? These novels are all based on or inspired by real people or incidents, plus a podcast episode to listen to next.


Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate was inspired by the true story of the Tennessee Children's Home Society orphanage and Georgia Tann, who used the orphanage as front for her black market baby adoption scheme for nearly 30 years. Learn more about her in episode 110 of Criminal, opens a new window called Baby Snatcher, opens a new window. Read interviews from some of the TCHS orphans in Before and After.


Women Talking by Miriam Toews was inspired by the real-life Bolivia Manitoba colony in which Mennonite women where sexually assaulted after being anesthetized, then told they were hysterical. Hear more about it in Bolivia's Mennonites, Justice and Renewal, opens a new window from The Documentary Podcast, opens a new window.


Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie was inspired by the Lindbergh baby kidnapping and murder in 1932. The kidnapping shocked the world. Listen to The Disappearance of the Lindbergh Baby, opens a new window on Stuff You Missed in History Class, opens a new window.


The Girls by Emma Cline was inspired by Charles Manson and the "girls" that made up his Family. You Must Remember This, opens a new window released a 12-part podcast series, opens a new window on Manson in 2015.


Jaws by Peter Benchley was inspired by the 1916 New Jersey shark attacks. Learn more about the shark attacks in this (content warning for swearing) New Jersey Shark Attacks episode from comedic history podcast The Dollop, opens a new window.


Room by Emma Donoghue was based on the true story of Elizabeth Fritzl, who was held captive by her father for 24 years and fathered children with him. Learn more about her on This Week in True Crime History, opens a new window's episode Josef Fritzl, opens a new window.


Little Deaths by Emma Flint was inspired by the case of Alice Crimmins, who was charged with murdering her two children in 1965. Learn more about the case in The Trials of Lizzie Borden and Alice Crimmins, opens a new window from Let's Go to Court!, opens a new window


Moby Dick by Herman Melville was inspired by the real-life sperm whale that sunk The Whaleship Essex, opens a new window in 1820. Learn more about the ship in Stuff You Missed in History Class, opens a new window.


American Woman by Susan Choi was inspired by the real-life heiress-turned-kidnapping-victim Patty Hearst. Learn more about her and the American terrorist group the Symbionese Liberation Army in The Kidnapping of Patty Hearst, opens a new window from Stuff You Missed in History Class, opens a new window


Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks is based on the true story of an English village that shut itself away from the world during the plague in 1666. Learn about the village Eyam, Derbyshire, opens a new window, from the BBC's Radio 4.


Which ones did we miss? Have recommendations? Tell us in the comments.

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