The best books for learning about investigative reporting

The Books I Picked & Why

All the President's Men

By Carl Bernstein, Bob Woodward

Book cover of All the President's Men

Why this book?

When I was a young reporter in east Texas, a burned-out editor asked me what I wanted to do in journalism. I muttered something about investigative reporting. He took a long drag on a Marlboro and asked, “Have you read All the President’s Men?” I told him I’d seen the movie but that I hadn’t read the book. He stabbed at the air with his cigarette. “Read the book,” he said, “and study how they use attribution.”

I did as he said, and the book became my bible on investigative reporting. Read this book and understand how to do investigative reporting. More importantly, read this book and understand why good journalism is the lifeblood of democracy.

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By John Hersey

Book cover of Hiroshima

Why this book?

When young reporters ask for an example of great journalism, I hand them a copy of John Hersey’s Hiroshima. There is no better example of great reporting and great storytelling than this one.

In 1946, Hersey slipped into Japan and interviewed survivors of the Hiroshima bombing. He told the story through six of them. The article filled the entire New Yorker, which sold out at newsstands. ABC pre-empted its radio schedule to broadcast a reading of the entire piece. Later that year, Alfred A. Knopf published the article in book form, which has sold more than 3 million copies. The power of that story has never faded. Three-quarters of a century later, the book is still in print.

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Crusade for Justice: The Autobiography of Ida B. Wells

By Ida B. Wells

Book cover of Crusade for Justice: The Autobiography of Ida B. Wells

Why this book?

Ida B. Wells is my hero. In 1892, a white mob destroyed her presses in Memphis after she dared to write about local lynchings. The mob threatened to kill her, but she kept reporting and kept writing. “Nowhere in the civilized world save the United States of America do men, possessing all civil and political power, go out in bands of 50 and 5,000 to hunt down, shoot, hang or burn to death a single individual, unarmed and absolutely powerless,” she wrote. “We refuse to believe this country, so powerful to defend its citizens abroad, is unable to protect its citizens at home.”

There are few places more moving in the U.S. than the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama, which documents the lynchings of thousands of Black Americans. Inside the museum is a reflection space that honors Ida B. Wells.

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Slouching Towards Bethlehem: Essays

By Joan Didion

Book cover of Slouching Towards Bethlehem: Essays

Why this book?

Just because it’s journalism doesn’t mean the writing has to be boring. Just read Joan Didion:

“This is the California where it is easy to Dial-A-Devotion, but hard to buy a book. This is the country in which a belief in the literal interpretation of Genesis has slipped imperceptibly into a belief in the literal interpretation of Double Indemnity, the country of the teased hair and the Capris and the girls for whom all life’s promise comes down to a waltz-length white wedding dress and the birth of a Kimberly or a Sherry or a Debbi and a Tijuana divorce and return to hairdressers’ school. … The future always looks good in the golden land, because no one remembers the past.”

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Ten Days in a Mad-House

By Nellie Bly

Book cover of Ten Days in a Mad-House

Why this book?

Nellie Bly was one of the great muckraking reporters in American history. She pretends to be insane and is admitted to the “mad house.” Along the way, she exposes the horrible treatment of those suffering from mental illness, but of her treatment in a boarding home, where spoiled beef was served.

Many at the Women’s Lunatic Asylum on Roosevelt Island suffered no mental illness; they simply didn’t know how to speak English, she wrote. “I left the insane ward with pleasure and regret—pleasure that I was once more able to enjoy the free breath of heaven; regret that I could not have brought with me some of the unfortunate women who lived and suffered with me, and who, I am convinced, are just as sane as I was and am now myself.”

Her reporting led to a grand jury investigation and reforms inside the asylum.

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