American Scary

A History of Horror, from Salem to Stephen King and Beyond

Coming Soon


By Jeremy Dauber

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$41.00 CAD

From the acclaimed author of American Comics and Jewish Comedy comes a sweeping and entertaining narrative that details the rise and enduring grip of horror in American literature, cinema, and, ultimately, culture—from the taut, terrifying stories of Edgar Allan Poe to the grisly, lingering films of Jordan Peele

America is held captive by horror stories. They flicker on the screen of a darkened movie theater and are shared around the campfire. They blare out in tabloid true-crime headlines, and in the worried voices of local news anchors. They are consumed, virally, on the phones in each of our pockets. Like the victims in any slasher worth its salt, we can’t escape the thrall of scary stories.

In American Scary, noted cultural historian and Columbia professor Jeremy Dauber takes the reader to the startling origins of the horror genre in the United States, drawing a surprising through-line between the lingering influence of the European Gothic, the enslaved insurrection tales propagated by slaveholders, and the apocryphal chronicles of colonial settlers kidnapped by Native Americans, among many others.

These foundational narratives give rise to and are influenced by the body of work we more closely associate with horror: the weird fiction of HP Lovecraft, the lingering stories of Shirley Jackson, the unsettling films of Alfred Hitchcock, the up-all-night tales of Stephen King, and the gripping critiques of Jordan Peele. From “The Tell-Tale Heart” to M3gan, we begin to see why the horror genre is the perfect prism through which to view America’s past and present.

With the extraordinary historical breadth and dexterous weave of insight and style that has made him twice a finalist for the National Jewish Book, Dauber makes the haunting case that horror reveals the true depths of the American mind.
Featuring cameos from:
Shirley Jackson • The Sixth Sense •  Edgar Allan Poe • Nathaniel Hawthorne • Anne Radcliffe • Charles Brockden Brown • Los Espookys • Washington Irving • Nat Turner •  Night of the Living Dead • H.P. Lovecraft • Alien • Mary Heaton Vorse • Edith Wharton • Norman Bates • Lon Chaney • Frankenstein • Dracula • H.G. Wells • William Faulkner • Dashiell Hammett • Tananarive Due • Twilight ZoneThe Handmaid’s Tale • Ray Bradbury • I Am Legend • Elia Kazan • Psycho • Ralph Ellison • The Blair Witch Project • Stanley Kubrick • Helter Skelter • Jordan Peele • The Walking Dead • H.H. Holmes • Harriet Beecher Stowe


  • “Vividly written and encyclopedic in scope, American Scary traces the history of horror through sources both classic and surprising, from Washington Irving and Jordan Peele to Emily Dickinson and the literature of the Holocaust. Jeremy Dauber uses his engaging style and deep knowledge of the genre to illuminate the question that lies beneath the gore: the way the things we fear reflect who we are, as individuals and as a nation.”
    Ruth Franklin, National Book Critics Circle Award-winning author of Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life
  • “Scary-smart, scary-deep. Dauber understands and captures that the true threat of American horror is us, the audience. His book is equal to the best of the genre it chronicles.”
    Joshua Cohen, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Netanyahus
  • Praise for American Scary:

    "The American character defies description in many cases, but we are an obvious nation when it comes to our fears. With depth and dexterity, Dauber gets at the heart of our delusions of damnation, our obsessions, and confessions. American Scary synthesizes for both scholar and fan what it is we're afraid of, and why we always come back for more. A must-have for any horror completist."
    Meg Elison, author of Number One Fan
  • Praise for American Comics:

    "The first book about comics that covers events I was there for, where I’m not shaking my head at how wrong it is. A really good history of all the different strands of comics that came together over the last hundred and twenty years to become American Comics."
    Neil Gaiman
  • "An entertaining and richly detailed new history of comics . . . both opinionated and frequently funny . . . the story Dauber tells is a mighty one."
    Michael Tisserand, New York Times Book Review
  • "Until now one could only dream of an engaging, analytic history encompassing the entire medium. That sounds like a job for Superman, but Jeremy Dauber has gotten there first . . . His perceptive, critical overview is enlivened by a jaunty style that bops from the political cartoons of Thomas Nast in the 1860s to the demise of an equally influential gadfly, Mad magazine, in 2018."
    Michael Saler, Wall Street Journal
  • "An entertaining, big . . . comprehensive survey of the comics industry, from its inception in early twentieth-century newspapers to the latest Marvel Cinematic Universe megamovie crossover empire."
    Scott Bradfield, New Republic
  • "Dauber lets his love for the medium shine through . . . [and] makes a compelling argument that we can view, through the lens of comics' content, how America sees itself."
    Cliff Cumber, Washington Independent Review of Books

On Sale
Oct 1, 2024
Page Count
480 pages
Algonquin Books

Jeremy Dauber

About the Author

Jeremy Dauber is a professor of Jewish literature and American studies at Columbia University. His books include Jewish Comedy and The Worlds of Sholem Aleichem, both finalists for the National Jewish Book Award. More recently he is the author of Mel Brooks: Disobedient Jew and American Comics: A History. He lives in New York City.

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