"Impressively researched and written with storytelling verve. ... Talty delves the deepest into the history and twisted personality of David Koresh." — Wall Street Journal
“Searing… This well-researched and enlightening book is un-put-downable.” — Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“Thoroughly researched… Talty recounts in vivid detail his [Koresh’s] rise among unquestioning followers; his apocalyptic prophecy that led them to amass weapons; and the ill-conceived government surveillance that ended in a deadly raid. A dark chronicle of hubris and violence." — Kirkus Reviews
"Riveting. . . immersive storytelling." — Minneapolis Star Tribune
"[Koresh] does a fine job of shining a light on the mechanisms of cult control." — The Bulwark
"Koresh reads like a fever dream, with the quality of a timeless tragedy. It’s also a bracing antidote to toxic conspiracy theories that have surrounded the calamitous siege in Waco for decades. Loaded with astonishing, often shocking detail, we see how tragedy had been brewing for years beforehand. David Koresh emerges not as a hapless religious eccentric unfairly targeted by the law, but as a fully actualized cult leader — as manipulative and canny as Charles Manson, and as grandiose and apocalyptic as Jim Jones. Talty’s blistering account doesn’t let the government off the hook — but if you think you know what really happened at Waco and why, think again." — Robert Kolker, author of Hidden Valley Road: Inside the Mind of an American Family
"Stephen Talty is a dogged reporter and a gifted writer, and in his hands, Koresh burns with timely relevance and urgency. Reminiscent of Norman Mailer’s, The Executioner’s Song, Talty brings the life and violent death of David Koresh into a purely American context, with a story that will keep readers on the edge of their seats until the very end." — Gilbert King, Pulitzer prize-winning author of Devil in the Grove
"David Koresh is like no other cult leader or apocalyptic prophet, and Stephan Talty takes readers deep inside his head. A brilliant portrait of an American madman, Koresh is told in chilling detail, with great pacing and vivid scene setting. Someday, when this book gets made into a blockbuster movie, you will say that the book was better." — A.J. Baime, New York Times bestselling author of The Accidental President and White Lies
"Stephan Talty’s Koresh is at once a deeply reported biography of the self-anointed final prophet and a riveting reconstruction of the deadly and disastrous siege of the Branch Davidians in Waco, Texas. With new information and fresh insights, his penetrating rendering of David Koresh’s bizarre life and death is clear-eyed and compelling." — Dick Lehr, author of Black Mass: Whitey Bulger, the FBI, and a Devil's Deal
"Childhood abuse, untreated paranoia, and a passion for salvation through violence kindled the historic conflagration at Waco that killed a messianic preacher and 75 of his followers. Stephan Talty sifts the ashes of that inferno to deliver a deeply researched, fast-paced and insightful book—one that exposes not only the tragedy’s causes but embers that still burn today." — Mara Leveritt, author of Devil's Knot: The True Story of the West Memphis Three
The legacy of a self-proclaimed Messiah.
The rise of extremist patriot groups and militias, including those who stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, has inspired several new books about the Branch Davidians, a sect that many right-wing groups believe was exterminated at the hands of the tyrannical U.S. government. Drawing on sources that include FBI files and eyewitness testimony, Talty focuses his thoroughly researched history on the troubled and troubling life of Vernon Wayne Howell (1959-1993), better known as the Branch Davidians’ leader David Koresh. Howell grew up among Seventh-day Adventists in a small town in East Texas, raised in part by his grandmother while his 14-year-old mother worked at one menial job after another. His childhood was marked by cruelty: He was bullied by other kids, whipped by his frustrated mother and her new husband, and sexually molested. He hated school but loved church; most of all, he loved the Bible. He claimed to have visions and to hear God. “As one local writer said, saying God talked to you was like saying the Avon lady rang your doorbell that morning,” writes Talty. “It happened to someone every day.” The author follows his subject’s search for acceptance, by the Adventists, Southern Baptists, and by girls he fell madly in love with. One after another, they rejected him, fed up with his religious proclamations, egotism, and need to control every aspect of their lives. As one girlfriend put it, “His visions were curiously tailored to what he wanted.” In 1981, Howell’s fortunes changed after he insinuated himself into a leadership role among the Branch Davidians; in 1990, he changed his name to reflect his status as their savior. Talty recounts in vivid detail his rise among unquestioning followers; his apocalyptic prophecy that led them to amass weapons; and the ill-conceived government surveillance that ended in a deadly raid.
A dark chronicle of hubris and violence.