The best books for learning about investigative reporting

Who am I?

The stories of investigative reporter Jerry Mitchell have helped put four Klansmen and a serial killer behind bars. His stories have also helped get two people off Death Row. The author of Race Against Time, Mitchell is a Pulitzer Prize finalist and a winner of more than 30 other national awards, including a $500,000 MacArthur “genius” grant. After working for three decades for the statewide Clarion-Ledger, Mitchell left in 2019 and founded the Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting, a nonprofit that exposes corruption and injustices, investigates cold cases, gives voice to the voiceless, and raises up the next generation of investigative reporters.

I wrote...

Race Against Time: A Reporter Reopens the Unsolved Murder Cases of the Civil Rights Era

By Jerry Mitchell,

Book cover of Race Against Time: A Reporter Reopens the Unsolved Murder Cases of the Civil Rights Era

What is my book about?

Investigative reporter Jerry Mitchell shares the real-life detective story of how courageous families, prosecutors, and others helped bring justice in some of the nation’s most notorious killings—decades after Klansmen had gotten away with murder. Follow the author on his journey as he meets one-on-one with the assassin of NAACP leader Medgar Evers, the Klansman who bombed the Birmingham church that killed four girls, and the Klan leader who orchestrated the killings of three young civil rights workers (Mississippi Burning). Oprah magazine recommended the book as “nail-bitingly exciting … Readers can expect an electric feeling on every page … as his remarkable shoe-leather effort finally brings the justice that [Martin Luther] King dreamed of.” Erik Larson, author of The Splendid and The Vile, called it “chilling and gripping. And rest assured, Jerry Mitchell is the real deal—a dogged, fearless crusader for truth, and one hell of a storyteller.”

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The books I picked & why

All the President's Men

By Carl Bernstein, Bob Woodward,

Book cover of All the President's Men

Why did I love 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.

By Carl Bernstein, Bob Woodward,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked All the President's Men as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

50th Anniversary Edition—With a new foreword on what Watergate means today.

“The work that brought down a presidency...perhaps the most influential piece of journalism in history” (Time)—from the #1 New York Times bestselling authors of The Final Days.

The most devastating political detective story of the century: two Washington Post reporters, whose brilliant, Pulitzer Prize-winning investigation smashed the Watergate scandal wide open, tell the behind-the-scenes drama the way it really happened.

One of Time magazine’s All-Time 100 Best Nonfiction Books, this is the book that changed America. Published just months before President Nixon’s resignation, All the President’s Men revealed the…


By John Hersey,

Book cover of Hiroshima

Why did I love 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.

By John Hersey,

Why should I read it?

7 authors picked Hiroshima as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

“One of the great classics of the war" (The New Republic) that tells what happened in Hiroshima through the memories of survivors—from a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist. 

On August 6, 1945, Hiroshima was destroyed by the first atom bomb ever dropped on a city. This book, John Hersey's journalistic masterpiece, tells what happened on that day. Told through the memories of survivors, this timeless, powerful and compassionate document has become a classic "that stirs the conscience of humanity" (The New York Times).

Almost four decades after the original publication of this celebrated book, John Hersey went back to Hiroshima in search…

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

Why did I love 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.

By Ida B. Wells,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Crusade for Justice as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"She fought a lonely and almost single-handed fight, with the single-mindedness of a crusader, long before men or women of any race entered the arena; and the measure of success she achieved goes far beyond the credit she has been given in the history of the country."-Alfreda M. Duster

Ida B. Wells is an American icon of truth telling. Born to slaves, she was a pioneer of investigative journalism, a crusader against lynching, and a tireless advocate for suffrage, both for women and for African Americans. She co-founded the NAACP, started the Alpha Suffrage Club in Chicago, and was a…

Book cover of Slouching Towards Bethlehem: Essays

Why did I love 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.”

By Joan Didion,

Why should I read it?

6 authors picked Slouching Towards Bethlehem as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Joan Didion's savage masterpiece, which, since first publication in 1968, has been acknowledged as an unparalleled report on the state of America during the upheaval of the Sixties Revolution.

We forget all too soon the things we thought we could never forget. We forget the loves and the betrayals alike, forget what we whispered and what we screamed, forget who we were

In her non-fiction work, Joan Didion not only describes the subject at hand - her younger self loving and leaving New York, the murderous housewife, the little girl trailing the rock group, the millionaire bunkered in his mansion…

Book cover of Ten Days in a Mad-House

Why did I love 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.

By Nellie Bly,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Ten Days in a Mad-House as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Ten Days in a Mad-House (1887) is a book by American investigative journalist Nellie Bly. For her first assignment for Joseph Pulitzer's famed New York World newspaper, Bly went undercover as a patient at a notorious insane asylum on Blackwell's Island. Spending ten days there, she recorded the abuses and neglect she witnessed, turning her research into a sensational two-part story for the New York World later published as Ten Days in a Mad-House.

Checking into a New York boardinghouse under a false identity, Bly began acting in a disturbed, unsettling manner, prompting the police to be summoned. In a…

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in mental disorders, Japan, and Watergate?

9,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about mental disorders, Japan, and Watergate.

Mental Disorders Explore 137 books about mental disorders
Japan Explore 413 books about Japan
Watergate Explore 14 books about Watergate

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like The Blood of Free Men, Anne Frank, and The Infiltrator if you like this list.