The best books on the psychology and emotions behind human violence

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m deeply interested in the psychology and emotions behind human violence. I’ve been exploring this subject for the past 35 years in 13 non-fiction books about crime, many of them high-profile cases. I have a passion to understand more about this phenomenon.


I wrote...

Unholy Messenger: The Life and Crimes of the BTK Serial Killer

By Stephen Singular,

Book cover of Unholy Messenger: The Life and Crimes of the BTK Serial Killer

What is my book about?

Behind a facade of Midwestern normalcy, Dennis Rader hid a life of bloodlust, sadism, and murder beyond imagining. The upstanding family man, Scout leader, and church board president was well liked and trusted by his Wichita community. Kansans -- and all of America -- would never recover from the truth: He was BTK, the madman who bound, tortured, and killed ten victims over the course of three decades. Drawing on extensive interviews, including exclusive access to Rader's pastor and congregation, bestselling author Stephen Singular chronicles the horrific crimes, the investigation, the capture, and confession of BTK -- and, more deeply than any other account, reveals how his 2005 arrest shattered and challenged those in a circle of faith who thought they knew him best.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Crime and Punishment

Stephen Singular Why did I love this book?

The classic 19th Century novel about a young man who commits a murder and is then forced to confront what he’s done. What’s the value of a human life? The cost of taking one? Can he live with his actions or will his guilt destroy him?

By Fyodor Dostoevsky, Richard Pevear (translator), Larissa Volokhonsky (translator)

Why should I read it?

13 authors picked Crime and Punishment as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Hailed by Washington Post Book World as “the best [translation] currently available" when it was first published, this second edition has been updated in honor of the 200th anniversary of Dostoevsky’s birth.

With the same suppleness, energy, and range of voices that won their translation of The Brothers Karamazov the PEN/Book-of-the-Month Club Prize, Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky offer a brilliant translation of Dostoevsky's astounding pyschological thriller, newly revised for his bicentenniel. 

When Raskolnikov, an impoverished student living in the St. Petersburg of the tsars, commits an act of murder and theft, he sets into motion a story that is…


Book cover of The Stranger

Stephen Singular Why did I love this book?

The 1942 in-depth examination of a man accused of murder or was it self-defense? The book shows how complex and entangled the truth around crime can be and how quickly society turns on those charged with homicide. It raises timeless questions that we struggle with today with the media and talk shows playing such a large role in current high-profile criminal cases.

By Albert Camus,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked The Stranger as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

With the intrigue of a psychological thriller, The Stranger—Camus's masterpiece—gives us the story of an ordinary man unwittingly drawn into a senseless murder on an Algerian beach. With an Introduction by Peter Dunwoodie; translated by Matthew Ward.

Behind the subterfuge, Camus explores what he termed "the nakedness of man faced with the absurd" and describes the condition of reckless alienation and spiritual exhaustion that characterized so much of twentieth-century life. 

“The Stranger is a strikingly modern text and Matthew Ward’s translation will enable readers to appreciate why Camus’s stoical anti-hero and ­devious narrator remains one of the key expressions of…


Book cover of In Cold Blood

Stephen Singular Why did I love this book?

The 1965 title set the standard for all true crime books to come. It examines the senseless murder of a family of four in western Kansas in 1959. Capote captures the inner life of the killer, Perry Smith, in all its torment and tragedy. The subject of other books and several movies, In Cold Blood continues to fascinate contemporary audiences with its penetration of the mind and emotions of a mass killer.

By Truman Capote,

Why should I read it?

17 authors picked In Cold Blood as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The chilling true crime 'non-fiction novel' that made Truman Capote's name, In Cold Blood is a seminal work of modern prose, a remarkable synthesis of journalistic skill and powerfully evocative narrative published in Penguin Modern Classics.

Controversial and compelling, In Cold Blood reconstructs the murder in 1959 of a Kansas farmer, his wife and both their children. Truman Capote's comprehensive study of the killings and subsequent investigation explores the circumstances surrounding this terrible crime and the effect it had on those involved. At the centre of his study are the amoral young killers Perry Smith and Dick Hickcock, who, vividly…


Book cover of The Executioner's Song

Stephen Singular Why did I love this book?

In this 1979 book, the esteemed novelist took on the subject of Gary Gilmore, a double murderer in Utah in the 1970s. Gilmore demanded to be executed by a firing squad – very rare for a confessed killer – and was granted his wish in 1977. His case set off legal questions reaching the U.S. Supreme Court and he was the first person to be put to death by the state in America in nearly a decade.

By Norman Mailer,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked The Executioner's Song as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

WITH AN INTRODUCTION BY ANDREW O'HAGAN

In the summer of 1976 Gary Gilmore robbed two men. Then he shot them in cold blood. For those murders Gilmore was sent to languish on Death Row - and could confidently expect his sentence to be commuted to life imprisonment. In America, no one had been executed for ten years.

But Gary Gilmore wanted to die, and his ensuing battle with the authorities for the right to do so made him into a world-wide celebrity - and ensured that his execution turned into the most gruesome media event of the decade.


Book cover of Fatal Vision: A True Crime Classic

Stephen Singular Why did I love this book?

A highly controversial 1983 book about Dr. Jeffrey MacDonald who was accused of murdering his wife and two children in their home in 1970. Initially, MacDonald hired McGuiniss to prove his innocence, but the author eventually changed his mind about the physician’s guilt. He was convicted and the book underscored the perils of writers getting too close to their subjects, especially when they're criminals.

By Joe McGinniss,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The electrifying true crime story of Dr. Jeffrey MacDonald, the handsome, Princeton-educated physician convicted of savagely slaying his young pregnant wife and two small children—murders he vehemently denies committing...

Bestselling author Joe McGinniss chronicles every aspect of this horrifying and intricate crime and probes the life and psyche of the magnetic, all-American Jeffrey MacDonald—a golden boy who seemed destined to have it all. The result is a penetration to the heart of darkness that enshrouded one of the most complex criminal cases ever to capture the attention of the American public. It is a haunting, stunningly suspenseful work that no…


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Thorn City

By Pamela Statz,

Book cover of Thorn City

Pamela Statz

New book alert!

What is my book about?

Dressed to kill and ready to make rent, best friends Lisa and Jamie work as “paid to party” girls at the Rose City Ripe for Disruption gala, a gathering of Portland's elite.

Their evening is derailed when Lisa stumbles across Ellen, a ruthless politician and Lisa’s estranged mother. And to make matters worse, Lisa’s boyfriend, Patrick, crashes the party to meet his new boss, Portland's food cart drug kingpin. Lisa makes a fateful choice that traps her, Jamie, and Patrick in Ellen’s web. In this gripping thriller, Lisa must reconcile a painful past and perilous present.

Thorn City

By Pamela Statz,

What is this book about?

Suspected murder, eclectic food trucks, and artisanal cocaine: just another day in Thorn City.

It’s the night of the Rose City Ripe for Disruption gala—a gathering of Portland’s elite. Dressed to kill in sparkling minidresses, best friends Lisa and Jamie attend as “paid to party” girls. They plan an evening of fake flirtations, karaoke playlists, and of course, grazing the catering.

Past and present collide when Lisa stumbles across Ellen, a ruthless politician who also happens to be Lisa’s estranged mother. Awkward . . . When Lisa was sixteen, Ellen had her kidnapped and taken to the Lost Lake Academy—a…


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Interested in murder, murder mystery, and death row?

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