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Popular Crime: Reflections on the Celebration of Violence Hardcover – May 3, 2011
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"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
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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Top Customer Reviews
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.) Some crime books get extensive reviews; others don't. As others have noted, it feels insufficiently edited.
I don't regret purchasing it, as I enjoyed reading it, but I can see the potential for disappointment. Don't think of it as a Baseball Abstract revolutionizing the field; it's more like the baseball books James wrote in the 1990s with Rob Neyer where the two dug through the historical archives to tell interesting anecdotes about baseball players in an alphabetical catalog that ended before it even got to the letter B: entertaining in places, inconsistent with spotty insights, and not remotely complete.