The best Irish American true crime books

Why am I passionate about this?

I’ve been a newspaperman for 40 years, the last 25 at The New York Times, and crime is the meat and potatoes of the business. My mother came from an Irish American clan in the Pennsylvania township where the Molly Maguires were born – my great-uncle died at 13 in the mine where the Mollies made one of their first recorded appearances. So I’ve been fascinated by Irish American true crime ever since the Sean Connery film The Mollies Maguires came out in 1970. I’ve spent most of my adult life researching the subject, and have given lectures on it all over the country.


I wrote...

The Sons of Molly Maguire: The Irish Roots of America's First Labor War

By Mark Bulik,

Book cover of The Sons of Molly Maguire: The Irish Roots of America's First Labor War

What is my book about?

Sensational tales of true-life crime, the devastation of the Irish potato famine, the upheaval of the Civil War, and the turbulent emergence of the American labor movement come together in this captivating exploration of the origins of the Molly Maguires. A secret society of peasant rebels in famine-era Ireland, the Mollies re-emerged in Pennsylvania’s hard-coal region in the 1860s, organizing strikes, murdering mine bosses, and fighting the Civil War draft. Their shadowy twelve-year duel with the all-powerful coal companies marked the beginning of class warfare in America. Combining sweeping history and cultural analysis with an intensely local focus, The Sons of Molly Maguire is the eloquent and fascinating story of when, where, how, and why the first of America’s labor wars began.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Westies: Inside New York's Irish Mob

Mark Bulik Why did I love this book?

This is a gritty, riveting look at the Irish Mob on New York’s West Side in the 1980s.

The author grabs you by the arm and propels you at breakneck speed through the blood-stained streets and barrooms of Hell’s Kitchen. Along the way, he introduces the reader to a crew of crazy characters that you definitely wouldn’t want to meet in a dark alley.

The parts about the Irish mob’s connections to the Mafia were especially enlightening. It’s a very atmospheric look at a part of the city where I worked as a newspaperman in the decade the book came out (and downed pints in some of those bars.)

By T.J. English,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Even among the Mob, the Westies were feared. Out of a partnership between two sadistic thugs - James Coonan and Mickey Featherstone - the gang dominated the decaying slice of New York City's West Side known as Hell's Kitchen in the 1970s and '80s. Excelling in extortion, numbers running, loansharking and drug-peddling, they became the most notorious gang in the history of organized crime. The then prosecutor Rudolf Giuliani called them 'the most savage organisation in the long history of New York street gangs'. Upping the ante on brutality and depravity, their speciality when it came to punishment and killings…


Book cover of The Man Who Rocked the Boat: The Story of a Troublesome Lawyer who Learned Almost Too Much About Life, Crime and Politics

Mark Bulik Why did I love this book?

This forgotten masterpiece of a memoir by a prosecutor who took on corruption on the docks of New York came out in 1956, two years after that Marlon Brando classic, On the Waterfront.

William Keating, a hard-nosed, relentless, and incorruptible crime-fighter, gives an inside look at the reign of terror imposed on honest, hard-working longshoremen by the gangsters who ran their union.

Keating was by no means anti-labor – at the start of Chapter 2, he mentions that his father was an official in the United Mine Workers, and that his great-grandfather was a prominent Molly Maguire in the hard-coal fields of Pennsylvania. That earned points with me – I come from a long line of Irish American coal miners in that area. 

Book cover of Black Mass: The Irish Mob, the Boston FBI and a Devil's Deal

Mark Bulik Why did I love this book?

Murder, gunrunning, drug-dealing, extortion, informers – it’s all there, but it pales in comparison to the tale of how Whitey Bulger, Boston’s pre-eminent Irish gangster, managed to turn an F.B.I. agent from his old neighborhood into a willing ally in the city’s mob wars.

To me, the most fascinating part was the bang-up job that the authors, two Boston Globe reporters, do in chronicling how the Massachusetts State Police were long frustrated in bringing the crime lord to justice because he was being protected from on high.

I loved this one, because I have a buddy who is a retired Massachusetts state cop, and we’d talk about Whitey Bulger on summer vacations, sitting on the beach.

By Dick Lehr, Gerard O'Neill,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A gripping, epic true story of violence, double-cross, and brutal murders involving Irish mobsters and corrupt FBI agents in South Boston.. Two boys--John Connolly, and James "Whitey" Bulger--grew up together on the streets of South Boston. Decades later, in the late 1970s, they would meet again. By then, Connolly was a major figure in the FBI's Boston office and Whitey had become godfather of the Irish Mob. What happened between them--a dirty deal to trade secrets and take down Boston's Italian Mafia in the process--would spiral out of control, leading to murders, and drug dealing, and racketeering indictments. And, ultimately,…


Book cover of The Gangs of New York: An Informal History of the Underworld

Mark Bulik Why did I love this book?

This work came out in the Roaring Twenties, but the gangsters of that decade had nothing on the 19th-century outfits like the Dead Rabbits and the Gas House Gang.

When the dive bars have names like the Tub of Blood and they’re kept in business by the likes of Razor Riley, One-Lung Curran, and Stumpy Malarkey, you can’t go wrong. But to me the most compelling part was Asbury’s account of New York’s horrendous Civil War draft riots.

The Molly Maguires of Pennsylvania were born in opposition to that same draft, after a Protestant Republican allied with the coal industry used conscription to try to rid the coal fields of Irish Catholic Democrats and mine labor activists before a crucial election. 

By Herbert Asbury,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

First published in 1928, Herbert Asbury's whirlwind tour through the low-life ofnineteenth-century New York has become an indispensible classic of urban history.

Focusing on the saloon halls, gambling dens, and winding alleys of the Bowery and the notorious Five Points district, The Gangs of New York dramatically evokes the destitution and shocking violence of a turbulent era, when colorfully named criminals like Dandy John Dolan, Bill the Butcher, and Hell-Cat Maggie lurked in the shadows, and infamous gangs like the Plug Uglies, the Dead Rabbits, and the Bowery Boys ruled the streets. A rogues gallery of prostitutes, pimps, poisoners, pickpockets,…


Book cover of Seven Million: A Cop, a Priest, a Soldier for the IRA, and the Still-Unsolved Rochester Brink's Heist

Mark Bulik Why did I love this book?

In 1993, a gang of thieves got away with $7 million in a heist at a Brink’s depot in Rochester, N.Y – and the bulk of it has never been recovered.

The cast of characters includes a former I.R.A. man who’d done prison time in Northern Ireland, an activist priest, an ex-cop who became a suspect, and a charismatic prizefighter whose dismembered body was found in Lake Ontario.

I liked this because at the center of it all is the lingering question of whether the missing money ended up with the Irish Republican Army. 

By Gary Craig,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

On a freezing night in January 1993, masked gunmen walked through the laughably lax security at the Rochester Brink's depot, tied up the guards, and unhurriedly made off with $7.4 million in one of the FBI's top-five armored car heists in history. Suspicion quickly fell on a retired Rochester cop working security for Brinks at the time-as well it might. Officer Tom O'Connor had been previously suspected of everything from robbery to murder to complicity with the IRA. One ex-IRA soldier in particular was indebted to O'Connor for smuggling him and his girlfriend into the United States, and when he…


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Book cover of The Chomsky Effect: A Radical Works Beyond the Ivory Tower

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