From the one-of-kind mind of Bill James, famous for revolutionizing the way we think about baseball, comes a “thought-provoking meditation” (Seattle Times) and epic tour through American crime—now available in paperback.
The man who revolutionized the way we think about baseball examines our cultural obsession with murder—delivering a unique, engrossing, brilliant history of tabloid crime in America.
Celebrated writer and contrarian Bill James has voraciously read true crime throughout his life and has been interested in writing a book on the topic for decades. With Popular Crime, James takes readers on an epic journey from Lizzie Borden to the Lindbergh baby, from the Black Dahlia to O. J. Simpson, explaining how crimes have been committed, investigated, prosecuted and written about, and how that has profoundly influenced our culture over the last few centuries—even if we haven’t always taken notice.
Exploring such phenomena as serial murder, the fluctuation of crime rates, the value of evidence, radicalism and crime, prison reform and the hidden ways in which crimes have shaped, or reflected, our society, James chronicles murder and misdeeds from the 1600s to the present day. James pays particular attention to crimes that were sensations during their time but have faded into obscurity, as well as still-famous cases, some that have never been solved, including the Lindbergh kidnapping, the Boston Strangler and JonBenet Ramsey. Satisfyingly sprawling and tremendously entertaining, Popular Crime is a professed amateur’s powerful examination of the incredible impact crime stories have on our society, culture and history.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
After reading the Kindle sample for this book, I was looking forward to reading a book about detailed, historically-significant crimes told from an tongue-in-cheek, enthusiastic perspective. This is not that book.
Popular Crime takes on a "here's a heavily biased reflection on certain crimes focusing at length on what I think of them" theme. It is difficult to follow, preachy and largely unengaging.
On multiple occasions, James goes so far as to disregard cited facts about the crimes that he haphazardly summarizes simply to posit his own gut-feeling theories.
Far better books detailing crimes and history are The Poisoner's Handbook and the ubiquitous The Devil in the White City.
A good and interesting read, but . . . I finally understand why some people didn't like James's baseball books as much as I did. The organization of the book is just about non-existent. The silly thoughts and the significant, thought-provoking points are jumbled together with no particular effort on James's part to pick among them. I loved that in his baseball writing; everything was fresh and new, and for fans of baseball and baseball statistics it was wonderful to find someone who thought seriously about them and who let his fine writing follow the thoughts. This book is fun, and James's thinking is fun to read and to follow. But I wanted more.
Early on in its almost 500 pages, James indicates that this book will be a study of the place of true crime stories in american culture, how their role has evolved over time, and the positive and negative effects that our fascination with such stories has on our society. This seemed to me to be an interesting subject. What the book turned out to be, however, was mostly the recounting of many american crimes from the 18th century to today, some famous and some not, using them as springboards for James to blather on about whatever he had on his mind at the time - politics, the law, prison reform, statistics, the meaning of evidence, problems with police proceedures, the excesses of the press, the faults of crime book writers, and on and on and on. Many of these topics are themselves quite interesting and James frequently has insightful things to say about them, but I found his scattershot method (and I'm being very generous in calling it a method) increasingly annoying. The book...
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