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Popular Crime: Reflections on the Celebration of Violence Hardcover – May 3, 2011
The Amazon Book Review
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"[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
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.Read more ›
Lizzie Borden, the Lindbergh Baby, Sam Shepard, the Boston Strangler, JonBenet Ramsay-- these and dozens of others are covered in some detail. James is an inveterate wise-ass, so his commentary is larded with humor as well as trenchant scholarship. His love of statistics stands him in good stead throughout. He applies common-sense argumentation to bolster his opinions, and I enjoyed the book right up to the last chapters. There, he becomes prescriptive and polemical, telling us how to rescue our penal system-- the preachiness is less appealing than what goes before.
Overall, a really fun read for crime aficionados. If you fall into that category, you'll find much to admire-- and to argue with-- in this fine book.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
This is a book about true crime, most of which are murders, written by a man who usually writes books about baseball. Read morePublished 2 months ago by Nancy A
I would only recommend this to the diehard Jamesian. The Amazon customer reviews are very accurate. He is at his best here when applying his contrarian thinking to famous cases but... Read morePublished 3 months ago by Kindle Customer
This is a brisk and entertaining read. I was fascinated by some of the older crimes that captivated the public's attention. Read morePublished 4 months ago by B. Wall
Superb. Bill James makes some wonderful observations on how high-profile crime fits into American culture as a whole. Quite a few interesting revelations too. Read morePublished 9 months ago by C. Martin
Bill James has certainly done his research on the most newsworthy crimes of the past two-hundred years. Read morePublished 16 months ago by Practor Fime
It was a good read, a little opinionated but I didn't mind that at all. A little surprised he didn't talk much about Ramirez, Bundy, Gacy, or Fish but some very interesting people... Read morePublished 16 months ago by Tom R. Renick