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11 True Crime Books Offering a Unique Historical Perspective

By Ashly Moore Sheldon • October 11, 2022

Historical true crime offers a perfect mix of entertainment and education. We love the opportunity to learn a little something while also reading a gripping story. Here's our roundup of eleven excellent true crime books that shine a light on a particular moment in history.

The Poisoner's Handbook by Deborah Blum

In Jazz Age New York, poisons offered an easy path to the perfect crime. But that all changed with the 1918 appointment of chief medical examiner Charles Norris. Together with toxicologist Alexander Gettler, the duo fought a corrupt system to become the pioneers of forensic chemistry and the gatekeepers of justice.

Devil in the White City by Erik Larson

The true tale of the 1893 World's Fair in Chicago and the cunning serial killer who used the magic and majesty of the fair to lure his victims to their death. Combining meticulous research with nail-biting storytelling, this narrative offers newly discovered history along with a twisty, thrilling tale.

Code Name: Lise by Larry Loftis

Experience the gripping true story of Odette Sansom, the decorated British spy who operated in occupied France and fell in love with her commanding officer during World War II. Weaving together touching romance with incredible heroism, this account paints a portrait of courage, patriotism, and love.

Highway of Tears by Jessica McDiarmid

For decades, Indigenous women and girls have gone missing or been found murdered along an isolated stretch of highway in British Columbia. This book offers a piercing exploration of the systemic racism that has led to a climate in which Indigenous women and girls are overpoliced yet underprotected.

American Brutus by Michael W. Kauffman

After killing Abraham Lincoln in Ford's Theatre, John Wilkes Booth escaped on foot, eluding capture for twelve days until he met his fiery end in a Virginia barn. The ensuing national uproar resulted in multiple arrests. These familiar events make a great thriller on their own. But the untold story is even better.

Say Nothing by Patrick Radden Keefe

In 1972, masked intruders dragged Jean McConville, a 38-year-old widow and mother of ten, from her Belfast home. In this meticulously reported bestseller—as finely paced as a novel—McConville's murder serves as a prism to tell the history of the Troubles in Northern Ireland.

Unmask Alice by Rick Emerson

In 1971, Go Ask Alice came out cementing LSD's fearsome reputation and fueling support for the War on Drugs. In 1979, Jay's Journal rattled the culture, setting off a national Satanic Panic. In reality, both anonymous "diaries" came from the same author. This is a story of contagious deception by a literary vampire.

Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann

In the 1920s, after oil was discovered beneath their land, the newly wealthy members of the Osage Nation in Oklahoma began to be murdered one by one. As the death toll rose, the newly created FBI took up the case, turning to a former Texas Ranger named Tom White to try to unravel the mystery.

The Dillinger Days by John Toland

For thirteen violent months in the 1930s, John Dillinger and his gang swept through the Midwest, eluding the lawmen of a half-dozen states and the growing power of the FBI. His career is vividly chronicled here along with others of the outlaw era, like Baby Face Nelson, Bonnie and Clyde, and Ma Barker.

The Gangs of New York by Herbert Asbury

The basis of Martin Scorcese's acclaimed 2003 film, this is a dramatic and entertaining glimpse at a city's dark past. From the saloon halls and gambling dens to the winding alleys of the Bowery and the notorious Five Points district, take a whirlwind tour of the criminal underbelly of nineteenth-century New York.

Columbine by Dave Cullen

Ten years in the works, this is the definitive account of the Columbine massacre, its aftermath, and its significance from an acclaimed journalist. In the wake of more and more school shootings, the imperative to understand the crime that sparked this plague grows more urgent every year.

These stories represent key moments and important shifts in history. Enjoy the thrills of true crime while gaining a bit of historical context. As always, if you have any favorites to add to the list, let us know!

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