The best books on 20th century American history, scandal, corruption, the rise & fall of the FBI, and true crime

Paul Letersky Author Of The Director: My Years Assisting J. Edgar Hoover
By Paul Letersky

Who am I?

My entire fifty-year professional life has been dedicated to law and order, investigating crime and corruption at its highest levels in government and the private sector. I’ve worked on hundreds of cases together with local, state, and federal law enforcement. Also, internationally with Scotland Yard, GSG9, New South Wales, and the Soviet KGB. There is deep gratification in taking the “bad” guy off the street, protecting those who cannot protect themselves. I have a law degree and am an Adjunct Professor of Constitutional Law looking forward in contributing to winning the battle of “equality for all” in the justice system.

I wrote...

The Director: My Years Assisting J. Edgar Hoover

By Paul Letersky, Gordon L. Dillow,

Book cover of The Director: My Years Assisting J. Edgar Hoover

What is my book about?

From the 1920’s “Palmer Raids” and later during the ’60s and ’70s with a backdrop of the Vietnam War, protests, riots, and domestic terrorism ravaged most cities. Political assassinations and corruption found their way to the highest levels of government,

I was there in the late ’60s; a member of J. Edgar Hoover’s personal office staff. Meeting with icons and legends, setting up appointments with dignitaries, celebrities, and politicians; witnessing Hoover’s reaction when I informed him of the shooting of Martin Luther King. Bits of untold history unfolded daily as we became privy to the quid pro quo of political poker as played in Washington. There were internal politics and serious national events, often interrupted by the quirky demands of the Director.

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission.

The books I picked & why

Book cover of Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI

Why did I love this book?

This book is brilliantly researched by its author. The oil rich land of the Osage Indian nation became a magnet for government corruption, greed, evil, and serial murders. The Osage murder investigations of the 1920s in Oklahoma became a showcase for the new, modern Bureau of Investigation and its twenty-nine-year-old Director, J. Edgar Hoover. I worked directly for Hoover during his final years and was not aware of the Osage murders until reading Grann’s book. The popular FBI tour in Washington offered displays of the “Gangster Era”, the scourge of Communism, and successful investigations of major crimes—but nothing of the sensational Osage murders. Killers of the Flower Moon answers the reasons why.

By David Grann,

Why should I read it?

13 authors picked Killers of the Flower Moon as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In the 1920s, the richest people per capita in the world were members of the Osage Indian nation in Oklahoma. After oil was discovered beneath their land, they rode in chauffeured automobiles, built mansions and sent their children to study in Europe.

Then, one by one, the Osage began to be killed off. As the death toll climbed, the FBI took up the case. But the bureau badly bungled the investigation. In desperation, its young director, J. Edgar Hoover, turned to a former Texas Ranger named Tom White to unravel the mystery. Together with the Osage he and his undercover…

Book cover of Donnie Brasco: My Undercover Life in the Mafia - A True Story by FBI Agent Joseph D. Pistone

Why did I love this book?

First, full disclosure: Joe Pistone, aka, Donnie Brasco is a close friend and former FBI Agent partner. That is not why I’m recommending his book. It is a can’t-put-me-down, high suspense true story of his six year undercover infiltration of the Mafia. His life was in constant jeopardy and took its toll on his family, but they remained together. Joe’s work resulted in 200 criminal federal indictments of mob members and six execution-style murders of those who allowed him to penetrate their ranks. He left the mob with a five hundred thousand dollar mafia price tag on his head and confided in me that he was frightened he would become one of them if he remained undercover much longer.

By Joseph D. Pistone,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked Donnie Brasco as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In 1978, the US government waged a war against organised crime. One man was left behind the lines. From 1976 until 1981, Special Agent Pistone lived undercover with the Mafia. Only able to visit his young family once every few months, Pistone - under the alias Donnie Brasco - ate, drank, partied, worked and sometimes killed with the wiseguys. He got so close that his Mafia partner, Lefty Ruggiero, asked him to officiate as best man at his wedding. Pistone's eventual testimony, in such spectacular prosecutions as 'the Pizza Connection' and 'the Mafia Commission' resulted in more than 200 indictments…

Book cover of Mindhunter: Inside the FBI's Elite Serial Crime Unit

Why did I love this book?

John Douglas and I were FBI Agents during the same time period. He is the Bureau’s criminal profiling pioneer specializing in serial killers and was a member of its Investigative Support Unit while I was assigned to the Criminal Investigations Squad. Currently, I am an Adjunct Professor in the Criminal Justice Program at a Community College in Oregon. In curriculum courses that include aggression and violence my resources emphasize books written by both Douglas and Olshaker for their thoroughness and true crime exposure of those sick minds of the criminal subjects. I was personally involved in the investigation of one of the most wanted serial killers, Ted Kaczynski, aka, Unabomber, and can vouch for the difficulty in solving these cases.

By John E. Douglas, Mark Olshaker,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked Mindhunter as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Now a Netflix original series

Discover the classic, behind-the-scenes chronicle of John E. Douglas’ twenty-five-year career in the FBI Investigative Support Unit, where he used psychological profiling to delve into the minds of the country’s most notorious serial killers and criminals.

In chilling detail, the legendary Mindhunter takes us behind the scenes of some of his most gruesome, fascinating, and challenging cases—and into the darkest recesses of our worst nightmares.

During his twenty-five year career with the Investigative Support Unit, Special Agent John Douglas became a legendary figure in law enforcement, pursuing some of the most notorious and sadistic serial…

Book cover of Five Presidents: My Extraordinary Journey with Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, and Ford

Why did I love this book?

Clint Hill’s legacy is his courageous action in the presidential motorcade during the JFK assassination. His career and mine overlapped. We address events occurring during the same era but from different perspectives. His as a Secret Service Agent on protective details and mine as an FBI Agent investigating criminal cases and personally assisting J. Edgar Hoover who worked under eight presidents and sixteen attorneys general. Hill had to be politically correct under all circumstances while I could get away with a blurred PC often to solve a criminal case. At times, our observance of historic events varied—but again we viewed them relative to our positions.

By Clint Hill, Lisa McCubbin Hill,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Five Presidents as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The #1 New York Times bestselling author of Mrs. Kennedy and Me and Five Days in November reflects on his seventeen years in the Secret Service for presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, and Ford.
The assassination of one president, the resignation of another, and the swearing-in of the two who followed those traumatic events. Clint Hill was there, on duty, through Five Presidents.
After an extraordinary career as a Special Agent on the White House Detail, Clint Hill retired in 1975. His career spanned the administrations of Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, Richard M. Nixon, and…

Book cover of Blue on Blue: An Insider's Story of Good Cops Catching Bad Cops

Why did I love this book?

Police departments are comprised of, and are considered, the largest gangs in the country. They have developed a culture all its own. Within that culture are good cops and bad cops. I have personally encountered both while an FBI Agent and working cases of joint jurisdiction. Corruption within certain departments was so great during my tenure with the Bureau that we were ordered not to share information. That is why the author’s position as head of NYPD’s Internal Affairs Bureau for nearly two decades is incredible. It is a position where its chief is the most disliked cop in the entire department. Blue on Blue goes deep into the world of cops. Its content has provided a major portion of my Criminal Justice syllabus and teachings on “Leading Police Resilience.”

By Charles Campisi,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Blue on Blue as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In one of the most illuminating portraits of police work ever, Chief Charles Campisi describes the inner workings of the world’s largest police force and his unprecedented career putting bad cops behind bars. “Compelling, educational, memorable…this superb memoir can be read for its sheer entertainment or as a primer on police work—or both” (Kirkus Reviews, starred review).

From 1996 to 2014 Charles Campisi headed NYPD’s Internal Affairs Bureau, working under four police commissioners and gaining a reputation as hard-nosed and incorruptible. During Campisi’s IAB tenure, the number of New Yorkers shot, wounded, or killed by cops every year declined by…

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in the FBI, police corruption, and murder?

9,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about the FBI, police corruption, and murder.

The FBI Explore 97 books about the FBI
Police Corruption Explore 13 books about police corruption
Murder Explore 828 books about murder