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The Most Scandalous Tell-Alls In History

As much as you might hate to admit it, there are lots of circles you're just not a part of. No matter how much you might love, say, a certain type of music or a certain artist, you'll just have to accept the fact you have no clue about what really goes on in their lives. That's why the world loves tell-alls. It's human nature to want to be in the know, but sometimes what we find out is so bizarre and so controversial it changes our opinions about the world. Let's look at some tell-alls that did exactly that.

Confessions of a Video Vixen

Anyone who lived through the '90s knows how big the hip-hop scene was. It wasn't just about the music, it was about the lifestyle. The world couldn't get enough, and when dancer Karrine "Superhead" Steffans wrote her behind-the-scenes tell-all, the world couldn't get enough of that, either.

But Confessions of a Video Vixen wasn't entirely what people were expecting. Sure, there were all kinds of juicy bits involving some of hip-hop's biggest names (yes, including Jay-Z and Dr. Dre), but it went to some dark places, too. Her book — and her follow-up books — have focused not on the R-rated fun, but on the industry's abusive atmosphere. When she talked to the Huffington Post in 2015, she said the cycle of abuse in her life started in her childhood and spiraled out of control. She talked openly about self-harm, the cult of celebrity, manipulation, coercion, and what she learned about relationships.

HuffPo says that branded her one of the most controversial authors on the New York Times bestseller list, and it's easy to see why. She told Billboard the initial reaction to her book was nothing short of "utter shock and awe," and when they asked her if she regretted any of the terribleness she put on paper and into the world, she said, "The truth is never regrettable."

Puppetmaster: The Secret Life of J. Edgar Hoover

Government attracts strange people, and the FBI's J. Edgar Hoover is one of the strangest. Richard Hack released Puppetmaster: The Secret Life of J. Edgar Hoover in 2004, and it wasn't what most people expected. Anyone wanting juicy details about cross-dressing and bisexuality was sorely disappointed, as he didn't find any evidence of that (via the Baltimore Chronicle). What Hack did find on his deep-dive into Hoover's life was a man who had some seriously strict ideas about rule-breaking that came from not wanting to disappoint his mother. Ever.

The book wasn't scandalous for the R-rated reasons you might expect, but Hack did find the rather dodgy spread of Hoover's influence throughout every branch of the government, reaching as far as the presidents he served with. It gets worse. There are claims he turned a blind eye not just to the mob and organized crime, but to groups like the White Citizen Council and the KKK. He didn't see corruption in law enforcement, either, preferring to hang out with them instead of arresting them. It wasn't until JFK stepped in and started giving orders that Hoover's FBI changed.

Diana: Her True Story in Her Own Words

The British are obsessed with their royals, but there was something about Princess Diana that obsessed the entire world. The book Diana: Her True Story in Her Own Words promised a lot in its title, and it delivered.

Author Andrew Morton knew Diana but did his research in secret. They used an intermediary who asked her questions then passed her recorded responses on to Morton. When the book hit the shelves, it wasn't glamorous. It was a story of loneliness, of suicidal thoughts and attempts, of a woman heartbroken over her husband's affair. There was paranoia, too, and Morton wrote in the New York Post she was constantly worried about "the men in gray," shady figures linked to British security agencies.

At first, it was assumed the source of these insanely personal details were various friends, family, and other insiders. It was only after Diana's tragic death that Morton decided to re-issue the book, along with transcripts of the tapes she'd sent him. PBS says it shocked the world again. Morton had been called a liar of the worst kind, been vilified and resented, and subjected to some serious hate. It wasn't until the tapes came out that everyone realized they really were her own words, and that was heartbreaking.

The Maiden Tribute of Modern Babylon

You've probably never heard of W.T. Stead, but you've heard of the disaster that killed him: the sinking of the Titanic. It's a shame you've never heard of him because he was an insanely fascinating character who changed the face of Victorian society. Stead, says The Telegraph, is credited with the invention of investigative journalism. He didn't send others out to do the dirty work, either; he did it himself, and he got dirty.

In 1885, he went undercover into London's seedy underworld with the goal of buying a young, virgin girl, and he did. Her name was Eliza Armstrong, she was 13 years old, and her mother sold her for £5 (via The Guardian).

He then went on to publish The Maiden Tribute of Modern Babylon, an expose on the entire industry from the men who made the arrangements to the doctors who examined the girls to confirm their virginity. Polite society was understandably outraged, and the fallout was bizarre. Parliament raised the age of consent for girls, but Stead was arrested and spent three months in jail. Why? Because he had spoken only to the girl's mother and didn't get her father's permission to buy her. The trial was as much a punishment for the embarrassment he'd caused the country, and he took it in stride by celebrating his criminal conviction every year by wearing his prison uniform on the day of his conviction.

Going Clear

Every non-Scientologist can agree Scientology is weird. But they can be weird all they want to, thanks to freedom of religion and loose definitions of "religion." It's the secrecy that's suspicious, and in 2013, Lawrence Wright kicked open the doors and published Going Clear, a tell-all book that went on to be adapted into an HBO series. He hit on everything, from billion-year contracts and the fundamental writings of L. Ron Hubbard to David Miscavige's continuing work.

By the time the 2015 Sundance Film Festival rolled around, the book's influence meant all kinds of fingers were being pointed at Tom Cruise and John Travolta. As Scientology figureheads, their silence about the abuses coming to light was unacceptable, Wright told Variety. Silence is agreement, and Wright said, "We hold people like Tom Cruise and John Travolta and others responsible for not demanding change inside that church."

Cruise and Travolta didn't immediately jump ship, of course, but Going Clear did help lead the way in exposing every bit of strangeness going on behind the closed doors in Scientology. Leah Remini's tell-all series continued it, when she left Scientology after 34 years (via Variety) and went on a crusade to help others get out, too.

Black Like Me

John Howard Griffin was born in 1920, and when his 15-year-old self went off to boarding school in France, he was shocked to see a cafeteria that wasn't segregated. He lived through World War II, fought with the French Resistance, and was temporarily blinded by shrapnel. While he was recovering, he decided he wanted to see what it was like to live in the American South of the 1950s. Specifically, Smithsonian says he wanted to see what it was like for a black man.

So he darkened his skin with the help of a dermatologist, shaved his head, and headed south. He wrote, "Hell could be no more lonely or hopeless."

Black Like Me was published in 1961, and Griffin was completely honest in what he saw. It was a look at the hate of the many and the kindness of a few, of stereotypes and racial slurs, and of self-loathing. Once word of his investigative journalism stunt leaked, his tell-all was met with the same kind of rage. He was hanged in effigy in his Texas hometown, and he and his family were forced to flee to Mexico under the threat of mob violence. He eventually went on to give hundreds of lectures, befriend the giants of the civil rights movement, and almost lost his life after being attacked by the Klan. By the 1970s, he stopped speaking, saying there were voices more important than his white one, and they needed to be heard instead.

Not That Kind of Girl

When Lena Dunham released her book, Not That Kind of Girl: A Young Woman Tells You What She's "Learned," it very easily could have been just one more in a long list of celebrity memoirs that no one really bothers to read. But it got all kinds of attention thanks to a section the media said was clearly a description of her younger self abusing her sister.

Vox took a look at the controversy, and found there were a few things going. While right-leaning media claimed her book clearly depicted an abusive situation, some child psychologists said it didn't. But that wasn't the end of it, and other groups — like the feminist left — picked up the torch and claimed she was hiding behind her young, white, and rich privilege to dodge an issue that would have been catastrophic for someone else. Dunham herself didn't help matters when she took to Twitter to lash out at everyone who was speaking out against her. Even with support from psychologists who said the incident just seemed to describe pretty normal childhood behavior, she was still criticized for not treating sibling abuse very seriously. She apologized (for that, and using the term "sexual predator" for a laugh), but apologies aside, most people seemed to agree it was an uncomfortable read.

If I Did It: Confessions of the Killer

If you want to talk about an ill-advised tell-all, look no further than OJ Simpson's If I Did It: Confessions of the Killer. The book was met with national furor when it was published, more than a decade after Simpson's acquittal for the brutal murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman. Canceled in 2006 and finally published in 2007, it described exactly what you'd expect from the title. If he'd done it ... this was why, and what "happened."

Vanity Fair got one of the first copies, and one of the first looks at the hypothetical tell-all that described a nightmarish relationship and an OJ Simpson who was the victim. He even describes how, when an (imaginary) friend named Charlie spills the beans about a hard-partying Nicole, Simpson gloves up and goes over to the house with only one thing on his mind.

Is it any wonder that this one was one of the most controversial, scandalous books to hit the shelves in the '00s? The Guardian repeated an observation from another review, saying there was essentially no way someone could walk away from this one thinking he was innocent. What's the point? Perhaps he just wanted to be back in the spotlight again.

Ten Days in A Mad-House

Nellie Bly was the pen name of Elizabeth Cochran, and you might have heard her mentioned as one of the original investigative journalists. Why? Because of Ten Days in A Mad-House, the tell-all she wrote after Joseph Pulitzer tasked her with a 10-day commitment in Blackwell Island's insane asylum. The year was 1887, and conditions were not good for the mentally ill.

Medium says Bly went into the asylum thinking conditions couldn't possibly be as bad as she'd heard, only to find they were. She tells the story of how countless people — sane and insane — were forced to live. They were fed spoiled and dirty food, subjected to ice baths, abuse, and cruelty at the hands of the nurses, then left to simply spend the day sitting on a bench after doing the daily cleaning. Blankets were as nonexistent as heat and comfort, personal hygiene items were shared, and many of the women Bly talked to weren't ill at all. They were poor, and no one knew what else to do with them.

"What, excepting torture, would produce insanity quicker than this treatment?" she wrote. She got the attention she wanted, too, and even though change didn't happen overnight, it did open the door and help confirm all those horrible rumors weren't rumors at all.

High On Arrival

Everyone can agree that the '70s were a different time and that when you're part of a chart-topping band, life's a little different for you. But everyone can also agree that a father starting a sexual relationship with his daughter is never, ever acceptable, even if you're John Phillips of The Mamas and the Papas.

That's just one of the bombshells daughter Mackenzie Phillips dropped in her tell-all memoir High on Arrival. According to her, that particular part of her relationship with her father started when she was 17 and lasted for around a decade. CNN quoted her as saying, "It didn't happen every day, it didn't happen every week, but it certainly happened many times. If you're me, you box it away. It's one of those things where you tell yourself, 'don't look'. ... I've spent 30 years trying not to look."

The book also detailed when it stopped — after a pregnancy and abortion. It wasn't the only scandal in her memoir, either. She also wrote about rolling joints at 10 and doing cocaine at 11, living a rock-star lifestyle she didn't know how to get out of. Not cool, in any decade.

LaToya: Growing Up in the Jackson Family

The Jackson family has always fascinated the public, from the earliest days of the Jackson 5. But it wasn't until LaToya Jackson released LaToya: Growing Up in the Jackson Family that the world realized the full extent of the damage done by success and a father who relentlessly drove his children in the direction he wanted them to go.

She talked about some seriously horrible stuff, and it just started with their father's insistence they succeed. She talked about how abusive he was, physically, emotionally, and sexually. She told the Chicago Tribune that her parents' refusal to meet with her and her siblings and discuss what happened ultimately pushed her to write the book, as her way of moving on and starting to repair the damage that was done. Since the shocking allegations in the first book, she's written several more, including Starting Over. That one shocked, too, as she detailed her escape from one abusive situation and her involvement in another, with manager and ex-husband Jack Gordon. After that chapter in her life was over, she told Ebony, "Life is absolutely wonderful."