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.

The books I picked & why

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

By David Grann,

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

Why 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.


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

By Joseph D. Pistone,

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

Why 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.


Mindhunter: Inside the FBI's Elite Serial Crime Unit

By John E. Douglas, Mark Olshaker,

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

Why 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.


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

By Clint Hill, Lisa McCubbin Hill,

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

Why 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.


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

By Charles Campisi,

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

Why 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.”


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in the FBI, murders, and serial killers?

5,309 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about the FBI, murders, and serial killers.

The FBI Explore 42 books about the FBI
Murders Explore 302 books about murders
Serial Killers Explore 109 books about serial killers

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like Murder Notes (Lilah Love), Her Darkest Secret, and In the Name of the Children: An FBI Agent's Relentless Pursuit of the Nation's Worst Predators if you like this list.