The best books on crime and criminal justice

Wes Denham
By Wes Denham

Who am I?

I write books and newspaper columns on criminal justice and criminal defense. As an investigator for criminal defense attorneys, I spent years in the jails and prisons of Florida and Georgia interviewing felony defendants—murderers, child molesters, con men, robbers, drug dealers, whores, wife beaters, and shooters for hire. Some were insane; most weren’t. My interest is personal as well as professional. I live in Police Zone 1, the most dangerous area of my city. It’s a place where kids and church ladies can distinguish a Chinese AK from a Glock nine by sound alone. It’s a place where I carry an extra-large can of pepper spray and a combat knife, just to walk the dog!


My newsletter is...

Crime City

I run Crime City, a newsletter on Substack that is a series of columns about crime, cops, and criminal justice. And, what is going on in the mean streets of America. Crime City is about criminal justice, or the lack thereof, as it actually happens, not as it appears in the polemics of pundits and politicians or as enumerated by the mad quants of the Department of Justice Bureau of Criminal Statistics in their West Virginia fortress.

The books I picked & why

Shepherd is reader supported. We may earn an affiliate commission when you buy through links on our website. This is how we fund this project for readers and authors (learn more).

The Crime Fighter: How You Can Make Your Community Crime Free

By Jack Maple, Chris Mitchell,

Book cover of The Crime Fighter: How You Can Make Your Community Crime Free

Why this book?

Maple was the architect of the tactics that allowed the NYPD to lower homicides by 60% in two miraculous years from 1990–1992. This book is easy to read and often funny, which doesn’t obscure Maple’s tactical genius. The story of how a lowly transit cop who fancied suits, vests, bow ties, and homburgs became Assistant Commissioner of Police in New York is astonishing. You can only regret that Maple was never able to use his fake “Gun-Sniffing Dog” ploy to flush suspects with concealed firearms. It was sheer genius.

The Crime Fighter: How You Can Make Your Community Crime Free

By Jack Maple, Chris Mitchell,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Crime Fighter as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Former NYPD Deputy Commissioner Jack Maple was a man in a bow tie and homburg--he was also on a mission to revolutionize the way crime is fought: how cops go after crooks, and how they prevent crime in the first place. And he succeeded.

But Maple is not satisfied. In The Crime Fighter, he shows how crime can be attacked all across America. Laced with fascinating, incredible, and often very funny tales of Maple's adventures as a cop, the book is as entertaining as it is informative. Anyone interested in how criminals think and act, and how the police should…


The Turnaround: How America's Top Cop Reversed the Crime Epidemic

By William Bratton, Peter Knobler,

Book cover of The Turnaround: How America's Top Cop Reversed the Crime Epidemic

Why this book?

This book describes the harum-scarum changes to the NYPD that made possible an astonishing reduction in crime and homicide in a city in the midst of the crack cocaine wars. When Bratton began promoting hotshot cops on merit rather than seniority, half the senior commanders retired in horror. The result? A lot of fat ex-cops retired to Florida and the renaissance of New York City.

The Turnaround: How America's Top Cop Reversed the Crime Epidemic

By William Bratton, Peter Knobler,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

When Bill Bratton was sworn in as New York City's police commissioner in 1994, he made what many considered a bold promise: The NYPD would fight crime in every borough...and win.  It seemed foolhardy; even everybody knows you can't win the war on crime.  But Bratton delivered.  In an extraordinary twenty-seven months, serious crime in New York City went down by 33 percent, the murder rate was cut in half--and Bill Bratton was heralded as the most charismatic  and respected law enforcement official in America..  In this outspoken account of his news-making career, Bratton reveals how his cutting-edge policing strategies…


Beat Cop to Top Cop: A Tale of Three Cities

By John F. Timoney,

Book cover of Beat Cop to Top Cop: A Tale of Three Cities

Why this book?

As chief of the Philadelphia Police Department, Timoney ended the notorious practice of “juking” crime statistics to soothe politicians. For example, if you want to lower the murder rate, just book the killers on “manslaughter! This book is by the third of brilliant cops who reformed the NYPD. Compare what they did in 1990 to the current misrule and chaos in the Big Apple and I can truly say to you, “Read it and weep!”

Beat Cop to Top Cop: A Tale of Three Cities

By John F. Timoney,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Beat Cop to Top Cop as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Born in a rough-and-tumble neighborhood of Dublin, John F. Timoney moved to New York with his family in 1961. Not long after graduating from high school in the Bronx, he entered the New York City Police Department, quickly rising through the ranks to become the youngest four-star chief in the history of that department. Timoney and the rest of the command assembled under Police Commissioner Bill Bratton implemented a number of radical strategies, protocols, and management systems, including CompStat, that led to historic declines in nearly every category of crime. In 1998, Mayor Ed Rendell of Philadelphia hired Timoney as…


Collaborate or Perish!: Reaching Across Boundaries in a Networked World

By William Bratton, Zachary Tumin,

Book cover of Collaborate or Perish!: Reaching Across Boundaries in a Networked World

Why this book?

Bill Bratton had the original insight that crime is a city problem, not just a cop problem. In this book, he discusses how collaboration between city, state, and federal agencies is essential to reduce murder and violent felonies. How easy is it to get government agencies to cooperate? Like herding cats, you say? More like herding rabid lions and tigers. You’re dealing with bureaucrats who imbibed the subtleties of the double and triple cross with their mothers’ milk!

Collaborate or Perish!: Reaching Across Boundaries in a Networked World

By William Bratton, Zachary Tumin,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Collaborate or Perish! as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In Collaborate or Perish! former Los Angeles police chief and New York police commissioner William Bratton and Harvard Kennedy School’s Zachary Tumin lay out a field-tested playbook for collaborating across the boundaries of our networked world. Today, when everyone is connected, collaboration is the game changer. Agencies and firms, citizens and groups who can collaborate, Bratton and Tumin argue, will thrive in the networked world; those who can’t are doomed to perish.

No one today is better known around the world for his ability to get citizens, governments, and industries working together to improve the safety of cities than William…


The Valachi Papers

By Peter Maas,

Book cover of The Valachi Papers

Why this book?

This book, published in 1968, is based on the prison memoirs of Joe Valachi, a mob button who was the first made man to rat out the Genovese crime family. Valachi’s testimony before a U.S. Senate committee created a sensation. He revealed publicly, and for the first time, the Italian mob’s structure, rituals, membership, and business practices.

What struck me on reading this book was how inept the mob was in its criminal enterprises. Their success was based solely on their willingness to kill whoever got in their way. For bozos who didn’t pay, it was two in the heart and one in the head. Account closed!

The Valachi Papers

By Peter Maas,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Valachi Papers as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The First Inside Account of the Mafia

In the 1960s a disgruntled soldier in New York's Genovese Crime Family decided to spill his guts. His name was Joseph Valachi. Daring to break the Mob's code of silence for the first time, Valachi detailed the organization of organized crime from the capos, or bosses, of every Family, to the hit men who "clipped" rivals and turncoats. With a phenomenal memory for names, dates, addresses, phone numbers—and where the bodies were buried—Joe Valachi provided the chilling facts that led to the arrest and conviction of America's major crime figures.

The rest is…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in New York State, police, and business networking?

7,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about New York State, police, and business networking.

New York State Explore 488 books about New York State
Police Explore 164 books about police
Business Networking Explore 8 books about business networking

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like The Godfather, Wise Guy, and Donnie Brasco if you like this list.