The best books on the psychology and emotions behind human violence

The Books I Picked & Why

Crime and Punishment

By Fyodor Dostoevsky, Richard Pevear, Larissa Volokhonsky

Book cover of Crime and Punishment

Why 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?

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The Stranger

By Albert Camus

Book cover of The Stranger

Why 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.

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In Cold Blood

By Truman Capote

Book cover of In Cold Blood

Why 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.

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The Executioner's Song

By Norman Mailer

Book cover of The Executioner's Song

Why 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.

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Fatal Vision: A True Crime Classic

By Joe McGinniss

Book cover of Fatal Vision: A True Crime Classic

Why 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.

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