As the true crime genre has evolved, it has expanded to include elements of history, science, and countless other genres. Below are seven nonfiction books that are so much more than simply a recitation of a crime. They are emotional memoirs, methodical investigations, and rousing calls to action. Whether you’re a longtime reader of the genre or a bit nervous about dipping your toe in, rest-assured that you’ll find gems of the genre in these eye-opening and unputdownable reads.
Both a memoir and an analysis of death in New York City, WHAT THE DEAD KNOW reveals the lessons Barbara Butcher has learned as Manhattan’s Death Investigator. With her tenacious, witty, and genuine voice, she takes us with her as she investigates over 5,500 deaths and discovers more about life than she could ever have imagined.
A riveting, deeply personal memoir of more than twenty years of death-scene investigations by New York City death investigator Barbara Butcher.
Barbara Butcher was early in her recovery from alcoholism when she found an unexpected lifeline: a job at the Medical Examiner’s Office in New York City. The second woman ever hired for the role of Death Investigator in Manhattan, she was the first to last more than three months. The work was gritty, demanding, morbid, and sometimes dangerous—she loved it.
Butcher (yes, that is her real name, and she has heard all the jokes) spent day in and day out investigating double homicides, gruesome suicides, and most heartbreaking of all, underage rape victims who had also been murdered. In What the Dead Know, she writes with the kind of New York attitude and bravado you might expect from decades in the field, investigating more than 5,500 death scenes, 680 of which were homicides. In the opening chapter, she describes how just from sheer luck of having her arm in cast, she avoided a boobytrapped suicide. Later in her career, she describes working the nation’s largest mass murder, the attack on 9/11, where she and her colleagues initially relied on family members’ descriptions to help distinguish among the 21,900 body parts of the victims.
This is the fascinating and stunning real-life story of a woman who, in dealing with death every day, learned surprising lessons about life—and how some of those lessons saved her from becoming a statistic herself. Fans of Kathy Reichs, Patricia Cornwell, and true crime won’t be able to put it down.
The fascinating story of the May 19th Communist Organization, led by six women who committed several acts of domestic terrorism, including a series of bombings in the early 1980s. Raw and thought-provoking, TONIGHT WE BOMBED THE U.S. CAPITOL explores what led them down this path and how we are still grappling with these issues and their fallout.
In a shocking, never-before-told story from the vaults of American history, Tonight We Bombed the US Capitol takes a close look at the explosive hidden history of M19—the first and only domestic terrorist group founded and led by women—and their violent fight against racism, sexism, and what they viewed as Ronald Reagan’s imperialistic vision for America.
In 1981, President Ronald Reagan announced that it was “morning in America.” He declared that the American dream wasn’t over, but the United States needed to lower taxes, shrink government control, and flex its military muscles abroad to herald what some called “the Reagan Revolution.” At the same time, a tiny band of American-born, well-educated extremists were working for a very different kind of revolution.
By the end of the 1970s, many radicals had called it quits, but six veteran women extremists came together to finish the fight. These women had spent their entire adult lives embroiled in political struggles: protesting the Vietnam War, fighting for black and Native American liberation, and confronting US imperialism. They created a new organization to wage their war: The May 19th Communist Organization, or “M19,” a name derived from the birthday shared by Malcolm X and Ho Chi Minh, two of their revolutionary idols. Together, these six women carried out some of the most daring operations in the history of domestic terrorism—from prison breakouts and murderous armed robberies, to a bombing campaign that wreaked havoc on the nation’s capital. Three decades later, M19’s actions and shocking tactics still reverberate for many reasons, but one truly sets them apart: unlike any other American terrorist group before or since, M19 was created and led by women.
Tonight We Bombed the US Capitol tells the full story of M19 for the first time, alongside original photos and declassified FBI documents. Through the group’s history, intelligence and counterterrorism expert William Rosenau helps us understand how homegrown extremism—a threat that still looms over us today—is born.
Beautiful works of art can change your life. In the case of Stéphane Breitwieser, his overwhelming love of art sent him down a path toward becoming a prolific thief—except he never stole for profit. Both absorbing and at times devastating, THE ART THIEF is a gripping tale of beauty, hubris, and the power of art.
The murder of Savanna LaFontaine-Greywind and kidnapping of her unborn baby was shocking but also another devastating example of the endemic violence against Indigenous women in this country. Now, this crime is explored through this lens and reveals the efforts by advocates to enact genuine change. Heartbreaking and rousing.
A gripping and illuminating investigation into the disappearance of Savanna LaFontaine-Greywind when she was eight months pregnant, highlighting the shocking epidemic of violence against Native American women in America and the societal ramifications of government inaction.
In the summer of 2017, twenty-two-year-old Savanna LaFontaine-Greywind vanished. A week after she disappeared, police arrested the white couple who lived upstairs from Savanna and emerged from their apartment carrying an infant girl. The baby was Savanna’s, but Savanna’s body would not be found for days.
The horrifying crime sent shock waves far beyond Fargo, North Dakota, where it occurred, and helped expose the sexual and physical violence Native American women and girls have endured since the country’s colonization.
With pathos and compassion, Searching for Savanna confronts this history of dehumanization toward Indigenous women and the government’s complicity in the crisis. Featuring in-depth interviews, personal accounts, and trial analysis, Searching for Savanna investigates these injustices and the decades-long struggle by Native American advocates for meaningful change.
An incredibly comprehensive exploration of the tragic and infamous Waco siege from the author of THE ROAD TO JONESTOWN. Much more than simply a recount of the 51-day raid, this is an in-depth look at the history of the Branch Davidians’ beginnings, the evolution of the ATF, and the simmering rage and violent reactions that are still affecting this country.
“Impressively researched and written with storytelling verve” (The Wall Street Journal), this is the definitive account of the disastrous siege at the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas, featuring never-before-seen documents, photographs, and interviews, from former investigative reporter Jeff Guinn, bestselling author of Manson and The Road to Jonestown.
For the first time in thirty years, more than a dozen former ATF agents who participated in the initial February 28, 1993, Waco raid speak on the record about the poor decisions of their commanders that led to this deadly confrontation. The revelations in this book include why the FBI chose to end the siege with the use of CS gas; how both ATF and FBI officials tried and failed to cover up their agencies’ mistakes; where David Koresh plagiarized his infamous prophecies; and direct links between the Branch Davidian tragedy and the modern militia movement in America. Notorious conspiracist Alex Jones is a part of the Waco story. So much is new and stunning.
Guinn puts you alongside the ATF agents as they embarked on the disastrous initial assault, unaware that the Davidians knew they were coming and were armed and prepared to resist. His you-are-there narrative continues to the final assault and its momentous consequences. Drawing on this new information, including several eyewitness accounts, Guinn again does what he did with his bestselling books about Charles Manson and Jim Jones, revealing “gripping” (Houston Chronicle) new details about a story that we thought we knew.
Based on thirty years of work with serious offenders, Dr. Gwen Adshead reveals fascinating insight into what drives a person to commit terrible crimes. THE DEVIL YOU KNOW is a comprehensive and thought-provoking look at the human mind, its capacity for evil, and also for compassion.
In this “unmissable book” (The Guardian), an internationally renowned forensic psychiatrist and psychotherapist demonstrates the remarkable human capacity for radical empathy, change, and redemption.
What drives someone to commit an act of terrible violence? Drawing from her thirty years of experience in providing therapy to people in prisons and secure hospitals who have committed serious offenses, Dr. Gwen Adshead provides fresh and surprising insights into violence and the mind. Through a collaboration with coauthor Eileen Horne, Dr. Adshead brings her extraordinary career to life in a series of unflinching portraits.
Alongside doctor and patient, we discover what human cruelty, ranging from serial homicide to stalking, arson or sexual offending, means to perpetrators, experiencing firsthand how minds can change when the people some might label as “evil” are able to take responsibility for their life stories and get to know their own minds. With outcomes ranging from hope to despair, from denial to recovery, these men and women are revealed in all their complexity and shared humanity. In this era of mass incarceration, deep cuts in mental health care and extreme social schisms, this book offers a persuasive argument for compassion over condemnation.
Moving, thought-provoking, and brilliantly told, The Devil You Know is a rare and timely book with the power to transform our ideas about cruelty and violence, and to radically expand the limits of empathy. “A welcome contribution to the literature of crime and rehabilitation” (Kirkus Reviews).
The unforgettable and heart-wrenching tale of a mother abducted in front of her children from her Belfast home in 1972. Both an expansive history of the horror of The Troubles in Ireland and a family’s personal quest for answers and justice, SAY NOTHING is so much more than a true crime book. It is a haunting elegy of a divided island and how the trauma of The Troubles still reverberate throughout it.
An unforgettable and pulse-pounding search for justice, RACE AGAINST TIME follows investigative reporter Jerry Mitchell on his quest to ensure that the perpetrators behind some of the most horrendous murders during the Civil Rights Movement are put behind bars. This is moving, crucial, and timeless reading for all Americans.
“For almost two decades, investigative journalist Jerry Mitchell doggedly pursued the Klansmen responsible for some of the most notorious murders of the civil rights movement. This book is his amazing story. Thanks to him, and to courageous prosecutors, witnesses, and FBI agents, justice finally prevailed.” —John Grisham, author of The Guardians
On June 21, 1964, more than twenty Klansmen murdered three civil rights workers. The killings, in what would become known as the “Mississippi Burning” case, were among the most brazen acts of violence during the Civil Rights Movement. And even though the killers’ identities, including the sheriff’s deputy, were an open secret, no one was charged with murder in the months and years that followed.
It took forty-one years before the mastermind was brought to trial and finally convicted for the three innocent lives he took. If there is one man who helped pave the way for justice, it is investigative reporter Jerry Mitchell.
In Race Against Time, Mitchell takes readers on the twisting, pulse-racing road that led to the reopening of four of the most infamous killings from the days of the Civil Rights Movement, decades after the fact. His work played a central role in bringing killers to justice for the assassination of Medgar Evers, the firebombing of Vernon Dahmer, the 16th Street Church bombing in Birmingham and the Mississippi Burning case. Mitchell reveals how he unearthed secret documents, found long-lost suspects and witnesses, building up evidence strong enough to take on the Klan. He takes us into every harrowing scene along the way, as when Mitchell goes into the lion’s den, meeting one-on-one with the very murderers he is seeking to catch. His efforts have put four leading Klansmen behind bars, years after they thought they had gotten away with murder.
Race Against Time is an astonishing, courageous story capturing a historic race for justice, as the past is uncovered, clue by clue, and long-ignored evils are brought into the light. This is a landmark book and essential reading for all Americans.
Photo credit: iStock / Andranik Hakobyan