Captivated by 'Tiger King'? These Outlandish True Tales Are For You

By Lynn Ann Lobash, Associate Director, Readers Services and Engagement
April 2, 2020

Not only can we not turn away, but we actually tune in for episode after episode. The Tiger King series, currently streaming on Netflix, started out to be a documentary about animal rights and, though that message is received, the larger-than-life cast of characters steals the show. The central character, Joe Exotic, is a showman with a serious sinister side. Joe’s nemesis, Carol Baskin, owns Big Cat Rescue—an animal reserve as opposed to a zoo—and believes Joe abuses his animals and works tirelessly to shut him down. The supporting cast is equally as compelling. Bhagavan “Doc” Antle is a doctor of the mystical sciences and has several wives. Mario Tabraue used his drug trafficking money to fund his big cat habit. 

At its heart, Tiger King is a true crime drama. You couldn’t make this stuff up in fiction. If you are a fan of the show and want to meet more outlandish characters, committing crimes from outlandish to evil crimes, here’s a list for you. 

Blood Will Out

Blood Will Out:  The True Story of a Murder, a Mystery, and a Masquerade by Walter Kirn (e-book)

In the summer of 1998, Walter Kirn, an aspiring novelist, agreed to deliver a dog from his home in Montana to the New York apartment of Clark Rockefeller, a reclusive banker and art collector who had adopted the dog over the internet. Thus began a fifteen-year relationship that drew Kirn deep into the fun-house world of an outlandish, eccentric son of privilege who ultimately would be unmasked as a brazen serial impostor, child kidnapper, and brutal murderer.

Empire of Sin

Empire of Sin: A Story of Sex, Jazz, Murder, and the Battle for Modern New Orleans by Gary Krist (e-book)

Early-twentieth-century New Orleans Tom Anderson, the undisputed king of the city's Storyville vice district, who fights to keep his empire intact. Surrounding him are the stories of flamboyant prostitutes, crusading moral reformers, dissolute jazzmen, ruthless Mafiosi, venal politicians, and one extremely violent serial killer, all battling for primacy in a wild and wicked city. 

The Devil in the White City

The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic and Madness at the Fair That Changed America by Erik Larson (e-book and audiobook)

Parallel stories of two men living in Chicago during the World’s Fair. The first is the architect Daniel Hudson Burnham, the mastermind behind the construction of the White City, a park in Chicago and site of the World’s Fair.  The second man is a murderer, Henry H. Holmes, a doctor who built his “World’s Fair Hotel” a torture palace complete with a gas chamber.

The Feather Thief

The Feather Thief: Beauty, Obsession and the Natural History Heist of the Century by Kirk W. Johnson (e-bookaudiobook)

Edwin Rist, concert floutist, entered the Tring museum, home of the largest collection of rare bird specimens whose gorgeous feathers were worth staggering amounts of money to the men who shared Edwin's obsession: the Victorian art of salmon fly-tying. Once inside the museum, Rist stole hundreds of bird skins-some collected 150 years earlier by a contemporary of Darwin's. 

Midnight In the Garden of Good and Evil

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil: A Savannah Storyby John Berendt (e-book and audiobook)

A spellbinding story peopled by a gallery of remarkable characters: the ladies of the Married Woman's Card Club; the redneck gigolo; the recluse who owns a bottle of poison so powerful it could kill everyone in Savannah, the aging  Southern belle who is the "soul of pampered self-absorption", the funny black drag queen, and Minerva, the voodoo priestess who works her magic in the graveyard at midnight.



Under the Banner of Heaven

Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith by Jon Krakauer (e-book and audiobook)

At the core of this book is an appalling double murder committed by two Mormon fundamentalist brothers, Ron and Dan Lafferty, who insist they received a revelation from God commanding them to kill. Beginning with a meticulously researched account of this "divinely inspired" crime, Krakauer constructs a multilayered, bone-chilling narrative of messianic delusion, savage violence, polygamy, and unyielding faith.


Vulgar Favors

Vulgar Favors: The Hunt for Andrew Cunanan, the Man Who Killed Gianni Versace by Maureen Orth (e-book and audiobook)

An investigative journalist who had already been reporting on the story of Andrew Cunanan when the famed designer Gianni Versace was murdered provides an in-depth report on gay serial murderer Cunanan and his cross-country killing spree in the spring and summer of 1997, and discusses why the police had such a difficult time tracking him down.

Don't forget to "return" your e-books when you're done—the sooner you return them, the sooner someone else can use them.


Summaries provided via NYPL’s catalog, which draws from multiple sources. Click through to each book’s title for more

Have trouble reading standard print? Many of these titles are available in formats for patrons with print disabilities.

Staff picks are chosen by NYPL staff members and are not intended to be comprehensive lists. We'd love to hear your ideas too, so leave a comment and tell us what you’d recommend. And check out our Staff Picks browse tool for more recommendations!