A scandal is a thrilling topic for a book. It is the story of people with goals, grasping for something just out of their reach — and whether they get it or not, when the story reaches the public eye, they’re judged and put under glass. Whether they’re about politicians wheeling and dealing or gory looks into the end of the affair, books about scandal, fueled by gossip, keep us entertained and hungry for more. Here are ten such books that Olivia Pope herself might keep on her bedside table.
The Power Broker by Robert Caro
The first full-fledged biography of Robert Moses, better known as the “master builder” of New York City, The Power Broker is, like all of Caro’s work, interested in the mechanics of power. While it may not focus on any single scandalous revelation, by tracing Moses’ work in shaping New York power and New York City’s bridges and highways, the book paints a devastating portrait of Moses’ influence and how it has reverberated throughout the ages.
Scandalous Women: The Lives and Loves of History’s Most Notorious Women by Elizabeth Kerri Mahon
Based on the blog Scandalous Women, Mahon’s book is a juicy page-turner of a guide to the lives of women who broke the rules and flouted society’s conventions, including Gertrude Belle (British writer and spy who worked with T.E. Lawrence) and Emilie du Chatelet (Voltaire’s lover, a mathematician and physicist).
Cleaving: A Story of Marriage, Meat, and Obsession by Julie Powell
This one’s interesting. Julie Powell may have been the original blog-to-book deal with Julie & Julia, her memoir about cooking from Julia Child’s cookbook that became a charming Nora Ephron movie. Cleaving, the sequel, is very different: the author drifted into an affair with an old boyfriend while learning how to be a butcher. Powell’s tone is fascinating; she’s gleeful, unlikable, basically daring you to close the book in condemnation. I hated every moment of it, and I’ve never read a book quite like it.
Hollywood Babylon by Kenneth Anger
Banned ten days after its release in 1965, the avant-garde filmmaker‘s notorious work flared into the public eye in 1975, when it was roundly dismissed and became a cult classic of Hollywood scandal. Anger’s gossipy stories about Clara Bow, Jayne Mansfield, and Sharon Tate have remained as persistent rumors and legends that people need to debunk.
A Scandalous Life: The Biography of Jane Digby by Mary S. Lovell
A scandalous romantic rebel of the 1800s, Jane Digby lived an unconventional life, with four husbands and many lovers. She had affairs. She had a divorce in 1830. She was considered promiscuous. Men dueled over her affections. Read all about it in Lovell’s entertaining biography.
Henry and June: From “A Journal of Love”: The Unexpurgated Diaries of Anais Nin by Anais Nin
Unwieldy title aside, we all know what this book is about, right? A highly erotic, charged account of one year in Nin’s life, it’s the story of how she fell for American writer Henry Miller… and his wife, June. The results are scandalous and shocking, just par for the course in Nin’s life.
An English Affair: Sex, Class, and Power in the Age of Profumo by Richard Davenport-Hines
London in the swinging ’60s, when a 19-year-old girl can take down the powerful Conservative government just by having an affair with the Secretary of State for War and a Soviet naval attache. Shocking! This book tells us all the sordid details of the Profumo Affair and how it changed England for good.
O Albany!: Improbable City of Political Wizards, Fearless Ethnics, Spectacular Aristocrats, Splendid Nobodies, and Underrated Scoundrels by William Kennedy
Could you fill a whole scandalous list with New York State machine politics? Probably. But in this classic of the genre, William Kennedy, the author of another classic, Ironweed, and the many other delightful fiction works in his “Albany cycle,” goes deep into the story of Dan O’Connell (certainly the inspiration for Kennedy’s great work Roscoe) and Erastus Corning, the two politicians who ruled Albany, and New York State, with an iron fist for decades.
Cleopatra: A Life by Stacy Schiff
Although you may remember her for her affairs and eyeliner, Schiff’s brilliant biography of Cleopatra paints a full picture of the world that she ruled over, showing how she was a shrewd and savvy politician. I’ll read anything that Schiff writes, and I am lying in wait for her next book, about the Salem Witch Trials.
How to Become a Scandal by Laura Kipnis
Kipnis takes on the very heart of scandal: why we can’t look away when people fall apart, publicly. She traces recent events — the astronaut love affair, James Frey vs. Oprah — showing us how people fall from grace, and more importantly, how they can, in some cases, survive.