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Popular Crime: Reflections on the Celebration of Violence Hardcover – Bargain Price, May 3, 2011


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 496 pages
  • Publisher: Scribner; First Edition edition (May 3, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1416552731
  • ISBN-13: 978-1416552734
  • ASIN: B005SN4RYO
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 6.4 x 1.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (58 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #967,120 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

“An engagingly written history of well-publicized deadly crimes.”—Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

For true-crime afficianados, this book is a hoot. James has to be the least starchy serious writer I’ve run across in years. He has the gift of writing the way a person talks—no easy task, believe me—giving Popular Crime a folksy, conversational feel.”—The New York Times Book Review



“A very entertaining book, and it will instigate arguments even as it scores many important points.”—The Washington Post

“Running through Popular Crime is an exploration of the enduring popularity of true crime. James' thought-provoking meditations elevate his book far above any routine recitation of facts.”—The Seattle Times

About the Author

Bill James made his mark in the 1970s and 1980s with his Baseball Abstracts. He has been tearing down preconceived notions about America's national pastime ever since. He is currently the Senior Advisor on Baseball Operations for the Boston Red Sox. James lives in Lawrence, Kansas, with his wife, Susan McCarthy, and three children.

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Customer Reviews

This is a great book, unlike any other I've come across in my years of reading true crime.
Beverle Myers
There are also a few passages in the book that make Mr James appear bigoted toward certain minority groups; and that kind of intolerance is never welcome.
Robert Chadwick
I don't remember the last time I was so disappointed by a book I'd been looking forward to.
I. Zawilski

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

44 of 50 people found the following review helpful By T. Frank on May 14, 2011
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I've been reading Bill James since the 1982 Baseball Abstract, so I was going to read this, too.

Ironically, James is at his best in this book when he just has fun thinking outside the box and plays detective, challenging conventional wisdom on a variety of random crime cases. When he tries to play sabremetrician, however, the results are embarrassing. There's a murder-classification system that he must have created for data analysis, but then there's no data analysis--perhaps because he correctly realized there was little quantifiable about the series of anecdotes. He tries to create a 100-point guide to guilt or innocence, but the metrics are all pulled out of thin air and are entirely unpersuasive.

But it is good to hear James expose the emperor's clothes on a feature of the American justice system: how much it is a gameshow of obfuscation on both sides, and how little criminal trials have to do with the truth. There are the obvious examples of recent Los Angeles celebrity cases, but the book earns its keep when it explores the historical record with tales of the corruption of Clarence Darrow and other noted criminal defense attorneys.

The book is entirely readable, but it's less a coherent book than a series of anecdotes: your eccentric uncle shooting the breeze about things he wants to talk about on the subject of crime and crime books. One gets the sense that the book wasn't published because it was finished, but it was finished because it was time to be published. So we see themes raised and dropped without rhyme or reason; the organization is chronological. Chronological, but not systematic: for example, the Stanford White case is disposed of quickly with the assumption that the reader already knows about it. (I don't, so I felt let down.
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29 of 34 people found the following review helpful By David Dubbert on May 20, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I enjoyed this book a lot, but I think I would have been better served by understanding exactly what it is before I started. It's subtitled, "Reflections on the Celebration of Violence," and the key word here is "reflections." This book is effectively hundreds of pages made up of a huge number of reflections. A reader searching for a single theme, or thesis that James is positing will be disappointed. Instead, readers should think of it as more of an invitation to go along for the ride as James thinks through a lot of the crimes that have gained popular attention throughout our American history. That's not to say that there aren't a couple of general themes, but the value in this book is simply the opportunity to see and think about these crimes the way Bill James does. He's a fiercely independent thinker, and isn't afraid to weigh in on these issues, though he makes a modest attempt to remain humble in light of his lack of practical experience in these matters. In the end, the book was anything but a waste of time, though I can't really say that I now understand crime in America any better than I did before. That's not the point of the book, of course. But I think I could forgive you for thinking that it's what the book was supposed to be about.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Kevin Killian HALL OF FAME on September 3, 2012
Format: Paperback
Reading this book is like being in the same room with the author, and for some that must be a virtue, for he creates an intimate tone as though he were telling only you what's on his mind. But the room is a bar and he's like one of those taproom windbags who won't shut up until they've proven how brilliant they are a thousand times, and you just can't get away. If you object to some point he's making, or some twist in his argument that doesn't hold up, he just tells you how stupid you are and once again, how he revolutionized thinking about baseball and now he has a similar gimmick with crime. Even when I agreed with him (as in the Jonbenet Ramsey case) I kept squirming, thinking if this jackass is on my side, then maybe I'm on the wrong side. But usually he's found the answer long ago, and it's often the predictable one. James isn't much for subtlety, for the simple reason that most criminals are not brain scientists, no, most of them do what seems like the easy way out. On the other hand then there's Sam Sheppard. James must have had a fit when he saw The Fugitive with its not very hidden subtext that Sheppard was railroaded. I wish I was with him when the TV show came on the air and seen his rage well up. He's sort of an angry guy, but he's got the answer to everything, and if he doesn't, then the case itself doesn't merit inclusion in a book on popular crime. One of those elastic categories that will fit everything James wants to tell you about, and one that excludes everything he's grown stale on. Oh well, I should have read the Amazon reviews in the first place before plunging into a book with such high expectations.
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43 of 55 people found the following review helpful By I. Zawilski TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on June 1, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Where to begin? I don't remember the last time I was so disappointed by a book I'd been looking forward to.

It started as early as page 7. This is where the author began sneering at "the NPR crowd" and intellectuals who "write like trolls." Variations on this theme continued throughout the book. I was surprised to find that Mr. James attended college. I was sure he was a high school dropout with extreme higher education envy. Some of the passages in the book contradicted themselves and seemed illustrative of muddled thinking. His "jokes" often fell flat, like on page 300, where he compared President Obama to Ted Bundy.

The author also displays throughout the book a kind of defensiveness about his topic. He says that "if you are a writer and you try to talk your editor into working on a book about famous crimes, he or she will instantly begin hedging you toward something more...decent." It seems to me that despite what Mr. James says, there are loads of books on famous crimes. Maybe the author's editor was more worried about the limitations of the author than the appropriateness of the topic. (Mr. James describes himself as "not an easy man to edit." I don't doubt it; a giant ego will do that.)

Mr. James enjoys setting up strawman arguments and bashing the heck out of them. He makes many statements about what society, culture, liberals, or academics think about this or that subject and these opinions are presented as fact. For example, he says bookstores are ashamed of their true crime stories and shelve them next to the pornography. He also cites TruTv a lot. TruTv's schedule hasn't had much to do with crime and forensics in the past few years, except for Forensic Files, and I've heard that's being canceled.
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