The best books on the psychology and emotions behind human violence

Who am I?

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.

The books I picked & why

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Crime and Punishment

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

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?

Crime and Punishment

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

Why should I read it?

6 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…


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.

The Stranger

By Albert Camus,

Why should I read it?

1 author 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…


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.

In Cold Blood

By Truman Capote,

Why should I read it?

11 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…


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.

The Executioner's Song

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.


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.

Fatal Vision: A True Crime Classic

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…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in murder, psychology, and St. Petersburg?

7,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about murder, psychology, and St. Petersburg.

Murder Explore 497 books about murder
Psychology Explore 304 books about psychology
St. Petersburg Explore 24 books about St. Petersburg

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, The Devil in the White City, and Mindhunter if you like this list.