Cover Image: Koresh


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This book is a deep dive that seeks to understand Koresh, the man. It starts from the beginning of his life and attempts to relay a sense of humanity. It was heartbreaking to read about Koresh's childhood. This whole story was heartbreaking. I remember what happened at Waco and it was awful to watch it play out on national television. All we are left with is the question of "how did it come to this?" Talty attempts to answer that through this expansive volume.
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A solid look at a self-proclaimed American messiah, going into all the bizarre nooks and crannies of this strange story.
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This book gave good insight into David Koresh and his life.. This book was a great overview of the event in Waco as well as the events that led up to the tragedy. There is so much about the historical event that we were not told. This book is a good one for anyone looking into more details of this event.
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This was a long one. It's filled with detail and context around every action [and inaction]. I think it could probably use some editing to make it more concise. For example, Vernon/David is super repetitive in what he says and does, and it could probably be shortened in that respect. 

The language is... interesting. The author definitely has a specific voice and style. Some examples that caught my attention: "went apeshit," "the hottest chick in class," "a shit ton of firepower," and of course "funny-ass stories." None of these were dialogue. No hate, it felt conversational, but not what I expected in a nonfiction book. 

I came into this read knowing pretty much nothing. I'm actually surprised I hadn't heard it before on a podcast. It was fascinating, a weird culty spin on a rags to riches storyline, and horrifying. Trigger warnings include but are probably not limited to: sxual assault, child abuse, animal abuse, graphic injuries and post-mortems, and just plain cruelty. 

Suffice to say, I need something wholesome after this.
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Interesting, but I've got some issues with this volume. So much of the narrative has to be based on Koresh's own testimony, and it is genuinely difficult to believe pretty much anything Koresh said, even if it is recalling his own experiences and feelings.

Also, there is a general tone throughout that really feels like it looks down on rural folk, religious folk, "East" Texans, etc. Add to that the numerous references to Waco being in East Texas, and the author loses some credibility in my book. 

Gripes aside, this is a well-researched and well-written narrative of an historical event that has impacted American thought and life much more greatly than many will admit or realize.  

ARC provided
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I really enjoyed Talty's story telling. He found some new sources which I appreciated. The book lagged a little at the start but picked up quickly. He doesn't let Koresh off the hook for his abuses against children and his many sexual assaults and rapes. Talty's POV is clear and it is extremely anti-Koresh. I do think some of his distaste for Koresh lets the US government off the hook which I don't think is fair given the evidence, and some of that evidence is excluded from this book. Over all I liked it a lot.
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This book was such a good deep dive into an event from history that I remember like it was yesterday.  This is a tragic story on every level, no one comes out as a hero.  My heart breaks for a small awkward boy who wanted to be loved and for the grown men and women whose lives were never the same because they had met and interacted with Vernon Howell/David Koresh.
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Actually had stuff in it I wasn't aware of before and at points kind of made me feel a little bad for the man that became Koresh. Definitely an interesting story told in a completely different way.
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This review is for the true crime novel Koresh by Stephen Talty. The first half of the book delves into Vernon Howell’s (AKA David Koresh) early childhood, his religious upbringing, his adulthood, and how his powerful preaching of the Bible brought in followers and formed the Branch Davidian Waco compound as we remember it. The second half of the book focuses on the raid on the compound and its tragic ending. An epilogue gets readers up to date with what happened to the survivors and those who participated in the raid on the compound. Clearly the author wants readers to know what happened and when they happened from the beginning to the tragic ending and beyond.

 The author appears to have done his homework on this subject, proven by the pages and pages of sources he consulted. The compound raid was well written and gave very detailed timelines as to what happened and when. Also included are little-known facts about the raid, from the point of view of all those involved on the inside and outside of the compound as reported in official records and tape recordings from the negotiations that occurred to get the members to surrender and evacuate the compound. For instance, the author includes the decision-making process that Janet Reno, AG at the time, had to go through to make the decisions she made and how much President Clinton was involved in that process. The author brings the reader into the room where the decisions about the raid were made, what to do to resolve the standoff peacefully through negotiations, what prompted plan after plan to be scrapped, and how fractured the communication between the AFT and the FBI was. This part of the book was very meticulously written; the author appeared to want this part of the book to be the main focus.

The information provided on Howell’s background, however, chronologically was a little difficult to follow, compared to how the raid was written. Dates of when certain events that happened in Howell’s childhood would have helped the reader follow along a little easier. This reader often thought, when reading the first half of the book on his childhood, “When did this happen? What year?” and I often had to go back several pages to find a year to see where in Howell’s life it occurred. For a reader to be able to follow chronologically, especially a reader who does not pick this book up and read from cover to cover in one sitting, might have a hard time remembering where they are in the chronology of events in Howell’s early life.

However, the author did provide somewhat extensive background information on how religion shaped Howell’s life and how narcissism and his desire to be worshipped by others drove him to wrestle control of the Branch Davidians from their leader and shape the group into his own. The author makes no bones about the fact that Howell, or Koresh as he wanted to be called, was indeed a pedophile and an abuser who wanted full control of what his followers ate, who they associated with, and whether they were able to leave the compound on their own accord.  It was difficult for this reader to decide whether Koresh was just a con artist, or he truly believed what he preached to his followers, justifying all his actions on excerpts from the Bible that he interpreted to suit his own purposes. There was little doubt that Koresh’s magnetic presence and his Bible interpretations/studies are what held the compound together and brought in new followers. Whether that spells con artist or captivating speaker who believed what he preached is left up to the reader to decide.

Any true crime fan, like myself, will find this book engrossing, and those who want to know what happened in that compound during the standoff will be glued to every page. People interested in the pathology of what drove Howell’s/Koresh’s actions will also find this novel fascinating. One regret this reader has was the exclusion of any pictures of those in Howell’s life, the survivors, and the agents who participated in the raid. Overall, however, I’d give this book four out of five stars.
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Riveting and has a lot of good information about Waco. I learned a lot about events and found it was well researched. My only complaint was the writing style felt a bit too academic and I struggled to be engaged with the story
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I habe read a lot of books and watched many books about David Koresh and the Branch Davidians...this was definitely the most thorough. It tooks us all the way from his rough childhood to the seige that set in motion the deaths of Koresh and his followers. There is a lot of conflicting information out there and some of it almost makes you feel sympathetic for Koresh but this book was honest and shows you what a vile, terrible man he was.
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Thank you NetGalley, Harper Collins, and Stephen Talty for an eARC in exchange for a review. This was a fantastic read!

Most of us have heard of the Waco siege that took place in the early 90s. We are aware of the fire, the lives lost, and the U.S. Government’s mostly botched attempt at peacefully disbanding the Branch Davidians. But how well do we know the man behind it? Who was David Koresh (birth name Vernon Howell), and what caused him to exert such power over seemingly everyday, intelligent people?

Thankfully, [a:Stephan Talty|39755|Stephan Talty|] allows us to get to know David Koresh — the man behind the madness. <i> Koresh</i> is by far the most comprehensive work of literature about how a mostly quiet religious sect, born out of the Seventh Day Adventist church, rose to flames (literally) under the intense mind control of David Koresh. Readers are also taken through the ATF and FBI’s negation processes, as well as the U.S. Government’s decision-making procedures surrounding this hostage situation. 

The book is organized chronologically, and thankfully, it does not jump between past and present. It begins with Vernon Howell’s mother and the birth of her son, and it ends with the traumatic after-effects of the Waco siege on FBI and ATF agents and negotiators. It was easy to follow thanks to Talty’s choice of organizational pattern.

The book also includes a variety of letters, notes, sermons, and transcripts. It’s clear that Talty spend a ton of time researching and fact-checking to complete a book this informative and comprehensive. 

I recommend this book for anyone looking to fully understand how the Waco siege unfolded, who the man was behind it, and how it planted a seed for a pattern of conspiratorial thinking in American culture that still grows today. As Stephen Talty put it, “[American soil]…has for centuries been crisscrossed by men and women who believe that violence cleanses the land for something infinitely more wonderful.”
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I was really into reading this book and then it started to feel more and more like a research paper rather than a fluid story. Nothing really new was presented and there were too many different focus points for it to come together in a reasonable story. I received a copy of this book in exchange for a review, but opinions are my own.
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Koresh is an expansive, thorough review of the events at the compound of the Branch Davidians in Waco, Texas. The sect, led by self proclaimed messiah David Koresh, killed 4 ATF agents who were trying to serve arrest warrants on Koresh and others at the compound, leading to a 51 day standoff, culminating in a fiery raid that killed 76 people in the compound. There’s no new ground broken here, but the author does an exhaustive and comprehensive retelling  of the siege, with keen insights into the mindset of Koresh and his followers, and doesn’t sugarcoat the barbaric actions of Koresh and his role in the tragedy. I received an arc of this book from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
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You know how Helter Skelter is considered the definitive book on Charles Manson and The Family? Well this book should be contemplated as that for David Koresh and The Branch. This author knows how to write a story without it being boring or tied down in confusing details. His style is straight forward, plenty of facts and well researched. I have read several books on David Koresh as well as watched several documentaries and series and nothing is as close to perfect as this book is. Thank you to the author, the publishers and NetGalley for an e-arc in exchange for my honest opinion.
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4 stars by Stephan Talty
Koresh is a very difficult book to read. I, as so many others, lived through this tragedy and watched it all unfold on live TV. It was as horrifying then as it is now, reading about the true horrors of what happened prior to the siege and during the it. Koresh was a deluded, scary and evil man. The author really shows how this all could have potentially played out so much differently.
This is an exceedingly well researched and well written book. I learned a lot of new information in Koresh as will almost everyone who reads this fascinating book.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher and Netgalley.
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I received a free copy of Koresh by, Stephan Talty from the publisher and Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.  David Koresh was something else.  He definitely had some mental issue.  I remember the branch Davidians, from the news stories, what a cult it was.  A well written book, about a crazy time in our history.
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Such an in-depth view of the events that lead to such a horrific ending. I do wish the chapters had more fluidity to them. The book reads more like a research paper or doctorate than a book. Other than that, I found the book very well-researched and interesting.
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I was very young when Waco happened. I vaguely remember photos, people talking about it on TV constantly, and the word "cult" being thrown around very liberally. I also remember that the story seemed to completely disappear once it was over. Waco was a fiasco, but I never remember hearing exactly why in any sort of depth. 

Stephan Talty provides (as far as I know) the first truly in-depth look at David Koresh (or Vernon Howell if you prefer). Talty spares no details as the first half of the book is Koresh's upbringing. To say you might feel a modicum of sympathy for Koresh would be an understatement. Very often, books will focus on salacious details to keep the book interesting. Talty, however, focuses on events which help you understand how Vernon Howell will become David Koresh. To be clear, some of these events are very salacious, but others are just heartbreaking. Vernon Howell was a loner but not an outcast. His innate sense of superiority grew from something quite different and this portion of the book is a testament to how well Talty knows what details matter.

When the failed assault and subsequent siege start, the book does not lose any of its momentum. Talty walks an extremely fine line in this portion of the book which can be a minefield. Almost everyone agrees the government action at Waco was a spectacular failure. Talty doesn't place blame as the author but highlights multiple point of views about where the breakdowns occurred. I felt like I was given the full story as opposed to being spoon fed what the author wanted me to believe. 

Sometimes, you just have to fall back on cliches. I could not put this book down.

(This book was provided to me as an advance copy by Netgalley and Mariner Books. The full review will be posted to on 4/11/2023.)
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Would it be far-fetched to look at this year's events on January 6th at the U.S. Capitol and connect them to 1993's siege of the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas?

I think not.

Few events in the past 50 years are shrouded in as much myth as the 51-day Waco siege that would end up claiming the lives of 76 people, including 20 children, in the climactic fire that ended the siege. It's practically undeniable that the many mysteries around the siege helped to fuel an underlying antigovernment sentiment that inspired the Oklahoma City bombing and continues to thrive to this day.

With remarkable precision and emotional resonance, bestselling author Stephen Talty has crafted what really is the first in-depth exploration of David Koresh, born Vernon Howell, the leader of the Branch Davidians at the time of the siege. "Koresh" is for the most part a chronological study of Koresh's life from his outsider status growing up in the hyper-masculine world of central Texas in the 60's through a childhood defined by abuse and isolation and into the halls of his local church where he found acceptance and began to formulate the theologies that would ultimately lead him into the Seventh Day Adventist offshoot where he became both an accepted preacher and an undeniable perpetrator.

Utilizing first-time, exclusive interviews with Koresh’s family and survivors of the siege, Talty has crafted what is undeniably a "must read" book for anyone interested in Koresh, the Branch Davidians, the Waco Siege, antigovernment militarism, and cults. Divided in nearly equal parts devoted to the transformation of Vernon Howell into David Koresh and the siege itself, "Koresh" is a well-researched, insightful, and at times even difficult to read psychological exploration of Koresh and immersive exploration of how the Branch Davidians grew from a fundamentalist intentional community into one committed to holy war.

"Koresh" is at its most hypnotic in its first half as Talty paints a vivid picture of the life trajectory that transformed Vernon Howell from a child who felt worthless into David Koresh, a cult leader who believed himself to be a returning Christ. As someone who grew up in what was the equivalent of a cult, though much less dramatically so, I found these chapters to be mesmerizing, disturbing, and jarring not just in how they formed Howell/Koresh but in the fact that along each step of the way it seems as if there were opportunities to detour his path that never came to fruition. Kudos to Talty in being uncompromising in his language, never romanticizing Koresh's fondness for younger females even during those times when Koresh himself would portray such "relationships" in a spiritual light. Talty calls it like it is - these "relationships" were rape over and over and over again. Long before he became a cult leader, "Koresh" paints a vivid portrait of this man as an increasingly emboldened sex offender whose religious persona essentially empowered his abusive and controlling behaviors. While this is often true, it's seldom portrayed as clearly and concisely as Talty is able to portray it. However, for survivors, rest assured that a trigger warning, which I seldom use, is likely appropriate here.

Unless you are a devotee of Koresh and Branch Davidian history, you're likely to learn quite a bit from the first 60% of "Koresh" as Talty truly delves deeply into the early and formative years along with the young adult years. As we turn the corner, somewhat abruptly for me, into the Branch Davidian compound itself, "Koresh" begins to cover more familiar territory though, admittedly, it is covered in much greater depth than in most public accounts. For those who've longed for a more detailed, complete, and transparent account of the history of the Branch Davidians and the build-up to the siege, "Koresh" certainly provides it with tremendous detail and insight.

Easily the most comprehensive account of Koresh's life and his road to Waco to date, "Koresh" is masterful narrative nonfiction storytelling that is both intellectually and emotionally resonant. At times quite jarring in its impact, "Koresh" fleshes out not just the Waco siege but the years before that helped sow what was ultimately reaped by everyone impacted.
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