Popular Crime

Popular Crime

Reflections on the Celebration of Violence

By Bill James

Scribner Book Company, Hardcover, 9781416552734, 496pp.

Publication Date: May 3, 2011


The man who revolutionized the way we think about baseball now 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. Now, 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.

About the Author
Bill James has been called "the Elmore Leonard of Britain's underworld" (Kirkus Reviews) and has been named a "Master of Crime" in a mystery roundup by the London Sunday Times, which said, "There is nothing else quite like this series of police procedurals. James is concerned with the dilemmas and difficulties of policing Britain's inner cities, and he addresses these in hard-edged narratives that leave readers gasping and flinching, praying the people in these stories never come to live in their streets." In addition to the Harpur and Iles series, James is the author of other mystery series and a book on Anthony Powell. He lives in Wales.

Praise For Popular Crime

"The book is a success, thoughtful and thought provoking. It is also gruesome, ghoulish, and appalling--and utterly fascinating."--The Daily Beast

"[An] insightfully unorthodox history of famous murders."--New York magazine

"James turns out to be not just the most important writer/thinker on baseball of our generation but also—completely unexpectedly—to have read more books in the true crime genre than maybe anyone else alive. In Popular Crime he works his way though every major true crime story of the last 200 years— from Lizzie Borden to JonBenet Ramsey—making (as one would expect) all kinds of brilliant, wildly entertaining and occasionally completely nutty Jamesian observations."—Malcolm Gladwell


"Great, cozy bedtime reading."—Gillian Flynn, author of Gone Girl