The best books about awful people who get what they deserve

Who am I?

I’ve long been fascinated by what people do when no one is watching. Of course someone is watching all the time, for we are always a witness to our own behavior. The ripples from what we do in the dark emanate in ways that are most often unpredictable, which leads to twists and turns that make for compelling reading and writing. Other variations spring from this theme, like forgiveness, redemption, and growth. They say bad decisions make great stories. I believe it and am constantly looking to explore such ideas in the books I read and the ones I write.

I wrote...


By Steve Piacente,

Book cover of Pretender

What is my book about?

A disgraced journalist stumbles on a story that will let him reclaim his career, but redemption comes with a price: he must place his faith in the racist senator he once exposed as a murderer.

The books I picked & why

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By Fredrik Backman,

Book cover of Beartown

Why this book?

You could describe Fredrik Backman’s Beartown as the story of a broken Swedish forest town whose fate is tied to the success of a kids’ hockey team. This is accurate but woefully incomplete. In fact, I’m confident you’ll feel all the anger, empathy, and tenderness Backman has woven into a sports story that transcends pucks and goals. You will be ushered forward and backward in time. You’ll feel carried ahead even as the author freezes moments that deliver depth and perspective. The pivotal event will make your heart race. And in the end, you will wind up missing the people you come to meet and know in Beartown

The Shipping News

By Annie Proulx,

Book cover of The Shipping News

Why this book?

Heaven help the reporter who cannot write, whose skill lies in filling notebooks with facts, quotes, and observations, but who simply cannot tell a story. That readers are willing, eager even, to cheer on clumsy Quoyle—the would-be journalist in The Shipping Newsis due to Annie Proulx’s raw, honest prose. It’s hard to find a wasted word throughout. Each and every page moves the story forward or reveals insights that carry us down deep with Quoyle and then, slowly, toward better times. Mostly what you’ll feel is that if this oaf can find happiness, there’s hope for anyone.


By Laura Hillenbrand,

Book cover of Unbroken

Why this book?

Laura Hillenbrand spent years writing a non-fiction tale that is packed with well-sourced facts, anecdotes, and grainy photos for delivery to a click-and-get world where thoughts can’t exceed 280 characters and effective communication is measured by how fast we get to the point. But that’s okay, because the tale of Louie Zamperini is too compelling to rush. Zamperini is an optimist and a survivor. He is resourceful, the kind of man who bends without breaking. These traits reappear time and again throughout an incredible wartime obstacle course that would have killed a lesser man. If this book doesn’t inspire you, it’s hard to imagine what will. 

Shuggie Bain

By Douglas Stuart,

Book cover of Shuggie Bain

Why this book?

As Shuggie Bain comes of age, he learns some terrible truths—his mother is an alcoholic. His cab-driving father is a wild womanizer. And his older brother and sister can’t do much about any of it. Shuggie and his older siblings have two goals: survival and escape. But Shuggie takes on a third mission. He will save his mother. Make her well and leave the booze behind. What would it be like to wear this kid’s shoes? To battle such a potent enemy? To weather the neighbors’ harsh indifference? And to top it all, question your sexuality before you even understand the difference between straight and gay. This is not an easy read, but the prose is stunning. You’ll walk away enriched by the experience. 

American Pastoral

By Philip Roth,

Book cover of American Pastoral

Why this book?

Sometimes the problems we face blow up with such force they become public, and the image we strived forthe one that says all is fine, we’re doing very well, thank youis shattered forever. That’s what happens to the Swedethe protagonist in American Pastoralwhen his precious, stuttering daughter Merry grows into an anti-Vietnam war zealot and dynamites a rural post office in their quiet New Jersey town. Roth’s prose is distinctive. The arguments between the Swede and his daughter will make you feel like you’re behind a curtain in their living room. When all is said and done, you’ll think about America and Americans, and about yourself, your family, and your beliefs. Some of it may be painful; all of it will be worthwhile.

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in family, prisoners, and Japan?

5,888 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about family, prisoners, and Japan.

Family Explore 384 books about family
Prisoners Explore 56 books about prisoners
Japan Explore 318 books about Japan

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like We Band of Angels, Japan at War, and The Forgotten 500 if you like this list.