"Impressively researched and written with storytelling verve. ... Talty delves the deepest into the history and twisted personality of David Koresh." —Wall Street Journal
The first comprehensive account of David Koresh’s life, his road to Waco, and the rise of government mistrust in America, from a master of narrative nonfiction
No other event in the last fifty years is shrouded in myth like the 1993 siege of the Branch Davidians in Waco, Texas. Today, we remember this moment for the 76 people, including 20 children, who died in the fire; for its inspiration of the Oklahoma City bombing; and for the wave of anti-government militarism that followed. What we understand far less is what motivated the Davidians’ enigmatic leader, David Koresh.
Drawing on first-time, exclusive interviews with Koresh’s family and survivors of the siege, bestselling author Stephan Talty paints a psychological portrait of this infamous icon of the 1990s. Born Vernon Howell into the hyper-masculine world of central Texas in the 1960s, Koresh experienced a childhood riven with abuse and isolation. He found a new version of himself in the halls of his local church, and love in the fundamentalist sect of the Branch Davidians. Later, with a new name and professed prophetic powers, Koresh ushered in a new era for the Davidians that prized his own sexual conquest as much as his followers’ faith. As one survivor has said, “What better way for a worthless child to feel worth than to become God?”
In his signature immersive storytelling, Talty reveals how Koresh’s fixation on holy war, which would deliver the Davidians to their reward and confirm himself as Christ, collided with his paranoid obsession with firearms to destructive effect. Their deadly, 51-day standoff with the embattled FBI and ATF, he shows, embodied an anti-government ethic that continues to resonate today.
Now, thirty years after that unforgettable moment, Koresh presents the tragedy at Waco—and the government mistrust it inspired—in its fullest context yet.
Stephan Talty is the New York Times bestselling author of The Black Hand, The Good Assassin, Agent Garbo, and A Captain’s Duty. His books have been made into two films, the Oscar-winning Captain Phillips and Only the Brave. He’s written for publications including the New York Times Magazine, GQ, and Playboy. He lives outside New York City with his family.
"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, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Hidden Valley Road: Inside the Mind of an American Family
"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
"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)
"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
"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
"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
“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
"[Talty] does a fine job of shining a light on the mechanisms of cult control." — The Bulwark