Half World

A Novel

Half World

A “beautiful literary thriller” (Los Angeles Review of Books) inspired by the shocking history of a secret CIA mind-control program, Half World is “the perfect book for our present moment” (The Daily Beast).

In the 1950s the CIA began a decades-long clandestine operation, known as Project MKULTRA, in which unwitting American citizens were subjected to insidious drug and mind-control experiments. Haunted by these real-life events, acclaimed novelist Scott O’Connor has crafted a riveting novel that vividly imagines the devastating emotional legacy of such a program through the eyes of one of its more unexpected victims. CIA analyst Henry March, an unassuming “company man” forced to spearhead MKULTRA’s San Francisco branch, finds himself bridging an untenable divide between his devotion to his wife and children and the brutality of his daily task. Torn between duty and conscience, Henry March chooses neither, instead disappearing without a trace. He takes with him the evidence of his sins and thus becomes the deepest MKULTRA mystery of all.

Twenty years later, as the country struggles under the weight of the Vietnam War, another troubled young agent will risk everything to find Henry, protect his family, and piece together the staggering aftermath of the crimes before it’s too late.

Hailed as “one to watch” (Los Angeles Times) for his ability “to make something beautiful of unspeakable matters” (The New York Times), O’Connor has crafted a stunning, sensitive, and psychologically astute look at the depths to which a government will sink in service of its own power and the strength required of the human spirit to set itself free. Gorgeous and unflinching, Half World is both a page-turning drama and a transcendent celebration of our enduring capacity for hope.
  • Simon & Schuster | 
  • 448 pages | 
  • ISBN 9781476716602 | 
  • February 2015
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Reading Group Guide

This reading group guide for Half World includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Scott O’Connor. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.


The year is 1956 and CIA analyst Henry March has uprooted his wife, Ginnie, and his children, sensitive Hannah and autistic Thomas, to bring them to a new home in Oakland, California. Tasked with running clandestine mind control and hallucinogenic drug experiments on unsuspecting men, March sets up shop in a makeshift brothel on San Francisco’s Telegraph Hill with his partners Jimmy Dorn and Dr. Cameron Clarke. March attempts to keep his family life separate from his work across the bay; but when maintaining dual identities proves impossible, he vanishes suddenly, leaving behind his family and the truth about what happened within the brothel walls.

Almost twenty years later, Dickie Ashby is dispatched to investigate a series of bank robberies in Orange County that appear to be somehow connected to the CIA’s mind control experiments. His investigation leads him first to a group of young radicals obsessed with finding March, and eventually to Hannah March, whom he decides to protect no see more

About the Author

Scott O'Connor
Photograph by Peter Konerko