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50 essential true crime books

True crime books

Published in 1966, Truman Capote's true crime book In Cold Blood details a brutal quadruple murder in small town Kansas. An instant success, the book launched the true crime genre that today consists of thousands of titles, television shows, films and even podcasts. Disturbing as the subject matter may be, true crime books (and the like) are a fascinating look into the human mind. We're compelled by our desire to understand how the criminal mind works, and can't help but wonder what we'd do in a similar situation. It's what makes true crime books one of the most popular non-fiction genres, and it certainly explains why we binge watch true crime documentaries like Making a Murderer and obsessively listen to true crime podcasts like My Favorite Murder and Serial.

There's no shortage of fascinating true crime books out there - this list of the 50 best true crime books only scratches the surface. How many have you read?

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Essential true crime books

By Truman Capote
Controversial and compelling, In Cold Blood reconstructs the 1959 murder of a Kansas farmer and his family. Arguably the book that launched the True Crime genre.
By John E. Douglas
The author recounts some his most gruesome and challenging cases during his 25-year career with the FBI and its elite Investigative Support Unit.
By Rabia Chaudry
From the accused's family friend, a detailed account of the case that inspired the podcast Serial.
By Beverly Lowry
The murder of four girls, countless other ruined lives, and the evolving complications of the justice system that frustrated the massive attempts to find and punish those who committed it.
By David Grann
Grann revisits a shocking series of crimes in which dozens of Osage people were murdered in cold blood.
By Jeff Guinn
A comprehensive, authoritative, and tragic story of preacher Jim Jones, who was responsible for the largest murder-suicide in American history.
By Jeff Guinn
Drawing on new information, bestselling author Jeff Guinn tells the definitive story of how this ordinary delinquent became a murderer.
By Norman Mailer
In the summer of 1976 Gary Gilmore robbed two men. Then he shot them in cold blood. His execution turned into the most gruesome media event of the decade.
By Mikal Gilmore
Gary Gilmore, the infamous murderer immortalized by Norman Mailer in The Executioner's Song, campaigned for his own death and was executed by firing squad in 1977. Writer Mikal Gilmore is his younger brother.
By Erik Larson
The true tale of the 1893 World's Fair and the cunning serial killer who used the fair to lure his victims to their death.
By John Berendt
A true story of intrigue, murder, forgery and eccentricity set in the steamy, surreal atmosphere of Savannah, Georgia.
By Calvin Trillin
These stories, which originally appeared in The New Yorker between 1969 and 2010, are vivid portraits of lives cut short.
By Ann Rule
With a slow chill that intensifies with each heart-pounding page, Rule describes her dawning awareness that Ted Bundy, her sensitive coworker on a crisis hotline, was one of the most prolific serial killers in America.
By Vincent Bugliosi
Vincent Bugliosi was the prosecuting attorney in the Manson trial, and this book is his enthralling account of how he built his case.
By Alice Sebold
The author of Lovely Bones reveals how her life was transformed when, as an 18-year-old college freshman, she was brutally raped and beaten in a park near campus.
By Ann Rule
The true story of a case involving more than 49 female victims and one unrelenting killer.
By Robert Graysmith
Graysmith was on staff at the San Francisco Chronicle in 1969 when Zodiac first struck, triggering in the resolute reporter an unrelenting obsession with seeing the hooded killer brought to justice.
By John Grisham
Impeccably researched, grippingly told, filled with eleventh-hour drama, John Grisham's first work of nonfiction reads like a page-turning legal thriller.
By Bill James
An epic journey from Lizzie Borden to 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.
By Patricia Cornwell
Patricia Cornwell utilizes the demanding methods of modern forensic investigation to re-examine the evidence in the Jack the Ripper murders.
By Susan Orlean
The world of the orchid hunters, breeders and showmen and their crimes provide the backdrop to a fascinating exploration of one of the byways of human nature, the obsessive world of the collector, and the haunting beauty of the flowers themselves.
By Richard Lloyd Parry
21-year-old Lucie Blackmantall stepped out into the vastness of Tokyo in the summer of 2000, and disappeared forever. The following winter, her dismembered remains were found buried in a seaside cave.
By Val McDermid
A journey through forensics takes us to war zones, fire scenes, and autopsy suites, revealing both extraordinary bravery and true wickedness, as we trace the history of forensics from its earliest beginnings to the cutting-edge science of the modern day.
By Sebastian Junger
From the acclaimed author of A Perfect Storm comes a powerful chronicle of three lives that collide in the vortex of one of America's most controversial serial murder cases.
By Janet Malcolm
The story of the lawsuit between Jeffrey MacDonald, a convicted murderer, and Joe McGinniss, the author of a book about the crime.
By Robert Kolker
Award-winning investigative reporter Robert Kolker delivers a haunting and humanising account of the true-life search for a serial killer still at large on Long Island, in a compelling tale of unsolved murder and Internet prostitution.
By Mara Leveritt
The most comprehensive, insightful reporting ever done on the investigation, trials, and convictions of three teenage boys who became known as the West Memphis Three.
By Judith Tebbutt
Judith Tebbutt and her husband David set out on a holiday to Kenya - this is the story of how Judith was torn away from the life she knew at the hands of Somali pirates.
By Jon Krakauer
The story of an appalling double murder committed by two Mormon Fundamentalist brothers, Ron and Dan Lafferty, who insist they received a revelation from God commanding them to kill their blameless victims.
By Roberto Saviano
Gomorrah is both a bold and engrossing piece of investigative writing and one heroic young man's impassioned story of a place under the rule of a murderous organisation.
By Simon Baatz
It was a crime that shocked the nation, a brutal murder in Chicago in 1924 of a child, by two wealthy college students who killed solely for the thrill of the experience.
By Alston Chase
This is a radically new interpretation of the life and motives of the infamous Unabomber.
By Jason Moss
It started with a college course assignment, then escalated into a dangerous obsession. Eighteen-year-old honor student Jason Moss wrote to men whose body counts had made criminal history: men named Dahmer, Manson, Ramirez, and Gacy.
By Beth Macy
The true story of two African-American brothers who were kidnapped and displayed as circus freaks, and whose mother endured a 28-year struggle to get them back.
By Jeffrey Toobin
The definitive account of the kidnapping and trial that defined an insane era in American history.
By Jeffrey Toobin
The whole story, from the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman to the ruthless gamesmanship behind the scenes of the trial of the century.
By Ethan Brown
Murder in the Bayou chronicles the twists and turns of a high-stakes investigation into the murders of eight women in a troubled Louisiana parish.
By Eli Sanders
A Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter's gripping account of one young man's path to murder-and a wake-up call for mental health care in America.
By Jeremy Grimaldi
A sinister plot by a young woman left her mother dead and her father riddled with bullets.
By Sam Quinones
From a small town in Mexico to the boardrooms of Big Pharma, an explosive and shocking account of addiction and black tar heroin in the heartland of America.
By Monica Hesse
The arsons started on a cold November midnight and didn't stop for months. Night after night, the people of Accomack County waited to see which building would burn down next, regarding each other at first with compassion, and later suspicion.
By Roy Wenzl
Written by four award-winning crime reporters who covered the story for more than 20 years, Bind, Torture, Kill is the most intimate and complete account of the BTK nightmare told by the people who were there from the beginning.
By Dennis L. Breo
On July 14th, 1966, Richard Franklin Speck swept through a quiet Chicago townhouse like a summer tornado and stabbed, strangled, and killed eight young nurses in a violent sexual rampage.
By Erik Larson
A stunning, eyewitness perspective on events in Berlin, 1933 as they unfold in real time, revealing an era of surprising nuance and complexity.
By Richard Hammer
Winner of the Edgar Award, a gripping account of a gruesome mass murder in gritty 1980s New York and the relentless hunt for a coldblooded killer.
By Patricia Cornwell
A comprehensive and intriguing exposé of one of the world's most chilling cases of serial murder and the police force that failed to solve it.
By Kate Winkler Dawson
A gripping, historical narrative of a serial killer, an environmental disaster, and an iconic city struggling to regain its footing.
By Maury Terry
On August 10, 1977, the NYPD arrested David Berkowitz for the Son of Sam murders that had terrorized New York. Terry details the chilling events, proving that Berkowitz was an affiliate of - and triggerman for - a Satanic cult known as the Process Church of the Final Judgment.
By Beverly Lowry
Crossed Over is an intimate portrait of a life gone tragically awry and then redeemed behind bars.
By Errol Morris
In this profoundly original meditation on truth and the justice system, Errol Morris, a former private detective and director of The Thin Blue Line, delves deeply into the infamous Jeffrey MacDonald murder case.

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