Books on Waco

There have been many books written on Waco. Unfortunately, even the better books have flaws that leave them incomplete. Unlike Ruby Ridge, where Every Knee Shall Bow stands as the definitive work, you cannot get a comprehensive view of Waco by reading just one book, or even two.

My recommendation would be to read a combination of two books. First, Mad Man in Waco. This book wickedly skewers the Davidians, the government, and the media, and thus provokes readers of all persuasions to think beyond their preconceptions. Then, read The Ashes of Waco for the information that only came out after Mad Man was written. (I have not had the chance to really look at another major book that has come out, No More Wacos.) For further reading, some books are obviously better than others. There are also books that cover certain aspects of Waco in more detail than others.
If you are interested in... Then I recommend...
Davidian origins, 1929-1955 A Davidian Testimony, Before the Flames
Davidian (non-Branch) history 1955-now A Davidian Testimony
Branch Davidians, 1955-1981 Beyond the Flames
David's early life The Ashes of Waco, Prophets of the Apocalypse
Mt. Carmel before David's arrival Prophets of the Apocalypse
David's rise, 1981-1984 Prophets of the Apocalypse
Branch Davidian power struggles, 1984-1988 Beyond the Flames
anti-Koresh Branches Beyond the Flames, The Second Standoff
David's theology Why Waco?, The Ashes of Waco
Branch version of events Sinister Twilight, A Place Called Waco
defector accounts Inside the Cult, See No Evil, Prophets of the Apocalypse
anti-cult movement perspective See No Evil
ATF search warrant No More Wacos
February 28 battle The Ashes of Waco, This Is Not An Assault
negotiations The Ashes of Waco, No More Wacos
media circus Mad Man in Waco
atmosphere among onlookers during siege Mad Man in Waco, Beyond the Flames
San Antonio trial The Waco Whitewash

Reminder: This chart only lists books that I am familiar with, and there may be other books not listed that cover these topics better. For instance, I have not seen Blind Justice, which deals with the San Antonio trial, or A Place Called Waco, survivor David Thibodeau's account.

A * denotes a book I have not yet read from cover to cover, but which I have perused enough to make some comments.

Don Adair: A Davidian Testimony. * This is an autobiographical history of the Davidian movement from the head of one of the extant Davidian associations. Adair was a budding Seventh-day Adventist convert, when he was brought into the Davidians by Ben Roden in the early 1950s. But when Roden founded the Branch and claimed to be a prophet, he rejected Roden. In 1989, his brother Dale was killed by George Roden. This book summarizes Davidian theology and history prior to his joining, then relates the Davidian story to the present through his personal experiences.

Brad Bailey and Bob Darden: Mad Man in Waco. This book was part of the wave of "instant" books to hit bookstores right after the fire. Unlike the others, however, this book is able to use its "white-hot" quality to its advantage to convey vividness and immediacy. That Baylor's Darden had already written about Davidian history and knew David Koresh and Davidian oldtimer Perry Jones added to the book's depth. It was also the only book in the first wave to show skepticism towards the basic government/media line. A lot of Davidian sympathizers are a lot less favorable towards the book than I am, objecting in particular to the "flippant" tone towards Davidian beliefs. In fact, this book has few fans because it bashes the Davidians, the government, and the media alike. However, this is precisely why I think it stimulates people to think. (I do have a commentary on Brad Bailey's benign view of Waco humor, however.)

Paul Blackman and David Kopel: No More Wacos. * I haven't seen enough of this book to have an overall opinion, but it has a detailed discussion of the ATF search warrant, and a useful appendix summarizing the negotiations.

Marc Breault and Martin King: Inside the Cult. * Although I am put off by the book's sensationalistic tone, co-author Marc Breault was one of David's key lieutenants, and so the book offers some firsthand information. It does contain mistakes, however, like the claim that David had no interest in his natural father.

Ron Cole: Sinister Twilight. Twilight was the first book to lay out the Davidian version of events, and was thus welcome to their supporters. As time has passed, further pro-Davidian books have come out, overshadowing this book. However, it remains probably the closest reflection of what the Davidians say happened. Note: I have seen references to a "second edition" of Sinister Twilight. My copy is unmarked, presumably the first edition, and I do not know what differences may exist between different editions.

Ronald Davidson: Bushwhacked by Bushmasters: Waco, the Raw Truth. Davidson sets out to explain the connections between Waco, the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, the savings and loan scandal, Iraqgate, Willie Nelson's traffic ticket, and a number of other events. After reading the book, the connections remain tenuous in my mind, though he does make a case that not everything is right with many of these scandals. I enjoyed this book, though I didn't think it delivered enough for the price.

Jack DeVault: The Waco Whitewash. * DeVault attended the trial of the Davidians in San Antonio, and wrote this book about the trial.

David T Hardy with Rex Kimball: This Is Not An Assault. Attorney Hardy launched a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit to pry Waco evidence from the government, and the book details the important information he uncovered, even if some of the conclusions he draws are debatable.

A Anthony Hibbert: Before the Flames. Hibbert, the leader of one of the Davidian associations, draws on the writings of VT Houteff and the reminiscences of Davidian old-timers to tell the story of Houteff's life and the travails of the early Davidian pioneers (which are recounted in Ellen White-ish prose). He does not go into detail about what has happened to the Davidians since 1962, describing the present-day Davidian scene in a chapter aimed at showing that while Davidian groups that consider their leader a prophet can be led astray into Koresh-like abuses, groups like his that believe Houteff to be the last prophet (what he calls "fundamentalist" Davidians) cannot.

James Lewis, ed: From the Ashes. * This is a collection of essays on Waco from people with a variety of backgrounds and political views, united only in being sympathetic to the Davidians and/or critical of the government. Yet despite this diversity, and the occasional perceptive piece, most of the essays began to sound alike to me.

Clifford Linedecker: Massacre at Waco, Texas. This is the absolute worst book on Waco. Admittedly, I disagree with its point of view, but even the Madigan and Breault books are superior. The author, a "true crime" regular, doesn't seem to grasp that Waco has dimensions beyond the usual crime story, and gives it the true crime hack treatment.

Tim Madigan: See No Evil. * One of the "instant" books that came out right after the siege. The author quickly accepted the anti-cult line of deprogrammer Rick Ross, who wrote the foreword for the book. Nevertheless, there is information to be had from this book. I also suggest that readers compare the garbled Associated Press transcript of David's March 2, 1993 broadcast, at the back of the book, with an accurate transcript (found at many Internet sites) to see an example of the hatchet job the media did on him.

Carol Moore: The Davidian Massacre. Libertarian Moore's focus is on the government's conduct. This is NOT the book for those looking for information on David's early life, Branch Davidian theology, or the history of the Davidian movement. While her book is the product of her extensive research into Waco, I feel that her biases got the better of her in many places, so I must put Reavis' book ahead of hers.

Dick J Reavis: The Ashes of Waco. I feel that this is a book every American should read, not because it is particularly well-written, but because the information it contains is so important. While the author is sympathetic to the Davidians, he doesn't give them a free ride. Reavis' willingness to delve into the "wild side" of Branch Davidian beliefs means that he discusses some Koresh teachings that the more theologically oriented Why Waco does not. (In fact, a survivor told me that since members were often away when new doctrines were introduced, and didn't always get filled in, some survivors learned of some of David's teachings for the first time when reading Reavis' book!) One flaw is that the treatment of the negotiations seemed rushed to me, especially in comparison with the detailed account of the February 28 shootout, and I felt it didn't make full use of the information available to him. [404?]

JJ Robertson: Beyond the Flames. * This book aims to tell the story of the Branch Davidian church, from its beginnings to the present. Joe Robert was able to establish relations not just with the survivors, but with anti-Koresh Branches, especially Amo Roden, and gained access to crucial church records in her possession. His book presents the most detailed account of Branch Davidian history prior to David's coming, and also sheds light on George Roden's side of things during the conflict with Vernon Howell. During the siege, the author volunteered for the Salvation Army canteen that served media and law enforcement, and while he doesn't have anything particularly new about the FBI-Davidian struggle, he describes the situation among media and onlookers. He also has many photographs, taken by himself and others, including one of the back of the complex! [404?]

Kenneth Samples, et al: Prophets of the Apocalypse. This work by members of the Christian Research Institute came out in fall 1993, enough time to allow some reflection, but before all the facts were in. A not unsympathetic treatment of David's early life becomes increasingly less so as the years progress, until by April 19th he is being compared to Hitler in the bunker. And while the authors sincerely try to understand his beliefs, they had several critical misconceptions about them. However, the interviews with ex-members and others involved with David make this a book to get.

James Tabor and Eugene Gallagher: Why Waco? Despite basically agreeing with the viewpoint of the authors, I was disappointed by this book. The book has two main thrusts: first, to show how the anti-cult movement's campaign against new religions paved the way for the Waco disaster, and second, to describe David's theology. However, I thought the authors' clear bias would set anti-Davidian readers on guard, without making their arguments skillfully enough to make a dent. There are other books that have debunked the anti-cult movement more resoundingly (e.g., Bromley and Shupe, Strange Gods), though not dealing with it in the specific context of Waco, while the treatment of theology is also flawed. Dr. Tabor is one of the foremost authorities on David's religion, and those who are interested in that topic should definitely look at this book. However, he aims to make Branch Davidian beliefs seem as "reasonable" as possible, which I feel leads him to play down or ignore some of their more "bizarre" beliefs.


I have not read these books, but I wish to list them.

Ken Fawcett: Blind Justice
David Leppard: Blood and Fire
David Thibodeau: A Place Called Waco
Stuart Wright, ed.: Armageddon in Waco

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