Jeremy Strong as Kendall Roy in Succession

4 Books About Real Messy, Wealthy Families That Make TV’s Wealthy Look Tame in a Scary Way

Murder, incest, corruption, and more.
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We love watching and reading about the messy family drama of the rich and famous. Whether it is the fictional families of the Roys (HBO’s Succession), the Youngs (Crazy Rich Asians), or any family in a soap opera or telenovela, or when they are real-ish, like the Kardashian-Jenners and Real Housewives. Watching their lives play out on the screen can act as a reminder that money doesn’t fix everything (even though it does make it much more manageable). Also, there are families of equal messiness to, if not messier than, our own.

So, we’ve compiled a list of drama-filled non-fiction books about other families to help you get through this time or just give you something new to share with loved ones. As easy as it would be to add a book about former President Trump, we won’t because there are too many, and we deserve a refresh by reading others. He isn’t the only former president from money with a salacious wider family; it’s actually pretty common.

The Borgias: Power and Fortune by Paul Strathern

The Borgias: Power and Fortune by Paul Strathern (Image: Pegasus Books.)

(Image: Pegasus Books.)

If you aren’t acquainted with the Borgias, this is this time. Some were introduced by the popular Showtime series about the family, while I found myself entangled in their family drama while playing Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood on Xbox 360. They were one of the most influential families during the Italian Renaissance (second only to the Medici, who weren’t as messy) and the most YIKES. They had a lot of political and papal influence (two popes in one family), but they were also very treacherous within the family.

Tudor: Passion. Manipulation. Murder. the Story of England’s Most Notorious Royal Family by Leanda de Lisle

Tudor: Passion. Manipulation. Murder. the Story of England's Most Notorious Royal Family by Leanda de Lisle (Image: Public Affairs.)

(Image: Public Affairs.)

The only part of the royal family more fascinating than the Windsors (King George IV to Queen Elizabeth II) is the Tudors. Like the previous entry, the most famous man in this situation, Henry VIII, was heavily tied up in the Catholic Church—until he wasn’t. While Henry was the center of the drama, the lives of the women he would marry (and many, later, behead), such as Catherine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn, Jane Seymour, Anna Clevesm Kathryn Howard, and Katherine Parr, and the children they left behind (like Elizabeth the Great), are so fascinating.

The stories of the women being so influential in politics is what we urge for in looking back in history. There are countless adaptations, including a 2017 musical Six, depicting six of their perspectives.

The Wars of the Roosevelts: The Ruthless Rise of American’s Greatest Political Family by William J. Mann

The Wars of the Roosevelts: The Ruthless Rise of American’s Greatest Political Family by William J. Mann (Image: Harper Perrenial.)

(Image: Harper Perrenial.)

Most discussions of the Roosevelts (Theodore, Franklin, and Eleanor) involve their wartime legacies and (some times for better, sometimes for worse) social implications—we’re thinking mostly regarding imperial domination, disability, women’s rights, civil rights, and Japanese internment. What is less discussed is the competing family dynamics and how that could have influenced the philosophies and actions of each person. This is the least murdery of all the books on this list, but it’s just as engrossing as the others.

Empire of Pain: The Secret History of the Sackler Dynasty by Patrick Radden Keefe

Empire of Pain: The Secret History of the Sackler Dynasty by Patrick Radden Keefe (Image: Double Day Books.)

(Image: Double Day Books.)

Once (by design) associated with wealth and endowments, the Sacklers are now rightfully closely associated with the devastating harm caused by opioid addiction. This book traces three generations of the family, from their humble beginnings to new money pitfalls, aggressive marketing, and deceit. Overall, it paints a clearer picture of the people behind the (nearly) million lives lost to opioid addiction.

This book is trendy this year, so if you’ve already read it and want to read about another pharma family (possibly an even more scandalous one), check out Crazy Rich: Power, Scandal, and Tragedy Inside the Johnson & Johnson Dynasty by Jerry Oppenheimer.

(featured image: HBO)

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Alyssa Shotwell
(she/her) Award-winning artist and writer with professional experience and education in graphic design, art history, and museum studies. She began her career in journalism in October 2017 when she joined her student newspaper as the Online Editor. This resident of the yeeHaw land spends most of her time drawing, reading and playing the same handful of video games—even as the playtime on Steam reaches the quadruple digits. Currently playing: Baldur's Gate 3 & Oxygen Not Included.