Dark academia is an aesthetic that has taken over the media of the internet, from books to movies to fashion. And, I must say, it has slightly affected me too. I am a classicist, and that just completely puts me in the realm of dark academia (those who have read The Secret History know what I’m talking about). I am also a huge supporter of the pursuit of knowledge, which is really what dark and all other academia is all about.
And that is what makes all the books on this list dark academia, at least in my opinion. Many of these books are dark in vibe and aesthetic and so just fit the genre much more. So, without further ado and in no particular order, here are my favorite dark academia books.
The Lake of Dead Languages by Carol Goodman
This book does what The Secret History tried to do but better. It is about a Latin teacher at an all-girls boarding school in a remote location in the northeastern United States. As she struggles to have a life at this school, the teacher is forced to reckon with the darker portions of her past when she attended that same school as a student.
This book is full of academics, but also the staple of the dark academia Classics genre: a bacchanale that doesn’t go as planned.
Einstein’s Dreams by Alan Lightman
This book is so much about the pursuit of knowledge and the possibilities it gives us. Picture a young Einstein working at his desk in a dimly lit room having just finished his theory of time, when he starts imagining all the different ways that time can manifest itself. Each short chapter of this book is a different look at time, and the utter possibility that these things could be possible is another staple of dark academia.
Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss
This is a short novel that centers around a family who goes with a professor and his college students to live as Brits did in the Iron Age. That description alone is enough for the dark academia aesthetic, but when you add the darker aspects, it really kicks off.
Warning for this book, however: there are themes of child abuse and attempted murder.
Margaret the First by Danielle Dutton
This book is about Margaret Cavendish, who was an English aristocrat in the 17th century. Dutton tells a fictionalized biographical tale of how Margaret started her pursuit of philosophy and literature, and the struggles she had as a woman trying to be an intellectual in a time when women were really not supposed to be doing that in the view of her male counterparts.
Set in a time when the pursuit of knowledge that filled the Renaissance was still high and mighty, it is the perfect setting for the dark academia, period drama aesthetic.
Paris in the Twentieth Century by Jules Verne
In this more obscure tale of science fiction, Verne imagines what the world will be like in the late 20th century, focusing on a young man in Paris. This young man has just graduated from college with a degree in the almost obsolete field of Latin and Classical Studies. We see the young man struggle to survive in a world that is moving far beyond him, where art and humanities are dwindling out of the public interest.
Almost the complete opposite of Margaret the First, we see what the world could be like when the pursuit of knowledge is no longer useful in such a capitalistic era.
The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón
This rather chunky novel combines the pursuit of knowledge with the compulsion to solve a dark mystery. Set during and just after WWII in Spain, our protagonist finds a book called The Shadow of the Wind in a secret library, and becomes enthralled with the book and its author. But when he realizes that all of the other works by this author have been lost or destroyed, our protagonist goes on a quest for knowledge about this mysterious man.
The aspects of dark academia here include: period drama; the dark and dim aesthetics of the library and the dark places that our protagonist must search for clues; the war and post war setting; and the interest in a single book and its author.
Those are my favorites from the dark academia genre. Some are more obscure than others, and I highly recommend you check them out if you haven’t already! And I am open to any and all recommendations of dark academia books that you all might have!
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