The best narrative non-fiction books that interweave crime and history

Why am I passionate about this?

I’ve been enthralled with history since childhood thanks to my late father, a college professor with a passion for the past. Our house was always filled with history books of all types and my father was a veritable encyclopedia who enjoyed answering my questions. When I became a crime reporter in the early 2000s, my predilection for history merged with my interest in crime and I ended up writing four books centered around historical crimes ranging in time from the 1700s to the 1960s. 


I wrote...

Satellite Boy: The International Manhunt for a Master Thief That Launched the Modern Communication Age

By Andrew Amelinckx,

Book cover of Satellite Boy: The International Manhunt for a Master Thief That Launched the Modern Communication Age

What is my book about?

Spanning the underworld haunts of Montreal to Havana and Miami in the early days of the Cold War, Satellite Boy reveals the unlikely connection between an audacious bank heist and the “other Space Race” that gave birth to the modern communication age. 

Satellite Boy tells the largely forgotten, high-stakes story of two equally driven men—a criminal mastermind named Georges Lemay, and Harold Rosen, a brilliant engineer—who inadvertently launched the modern era when their lives briefly collided in the spring of 1965. Brimming with criminal panache and technological intrigue, the book is set against the turbulent and iconic period that includes the moon landing and the civil rights movement.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Thunderstruck

Andrew Amelinckx Why did I love this book?

Erik Larson is a master at combining crime and history with perfect pacing and interweaving narratives.

While best known for Devil in the White City, Thunderstruck, the next book in his bibliography, released in 2006, deserves as much acclaim. Larson does a brilliant job of combining the stories of the hunt for murderer Hawley Crippen, and that of Guglielmo Marconi, the inventor and electrical engineer, responsible for the wireless telegraph, which revolutionized mass communication.

The real star of the book is Larson’s vivid descriptions that bring to life turn-of-the-century London and the lives of the two men at the center of the narrative. The book is a must-read for anyone interested in crime, history, science, and a fast-paced true-life adventure.

By Erik Larson,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A true story of love, murder, and the end of the world’s “great hush.”

In Thunderstruck, Erik Larson tells the interwoven stories of two men—Hawley Crippen, a very unlikely murderer, and Guglielmo Marconi, the obsessive creator of a seemingly supernatural means of communication—whose lives intersect during one of the greatest criminal chases of all time.

Set in Edwardian London and on the stormy coasts of Cornwall, Cape Cod, and Nova Scotia, Thunderstruck evokes the dynamism of those years when great shipping companies competed to build the biggest, fastest ocean liners; scientific advances dazzled the public with visions of a world…


Book cover of The Poison Squad: One Chemist's Single-Minded Crusade for Food Safety at the Turn of the Twentieth Century

Andrew Amelinckx Why did I love this book?

In The Poison Squad, Deborah Blum explores the era in American history before food and drugs were regulated, a wild time indeed when many patent medicines contained not only morphine or cocaine but a plethora of poisonous substances that killed many users.

Even worse, unregulated candy containing adulterated ingredients led to many children’s deaths. Blum not only does a wonderful job breaking down the science and politics involved in this fascinating story but gives a vivid picture of the late 19th century and early 20th in the U.S.

Today, when many are calling for deregulation, The Poison Squad is even more relevant. 

By Deborah Blum,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A New York Times Notable Book 

The inspiration for PBS's AMERICAN EXPERIENCE film The Poison Squad.

From Pulitzer Prize winner and New York Times-bestselling author Deborah Blum, the dramatic true story of how food was made safe in the United States and the heroes, led by the inimitable Dr. Harvey Washington Wiley, who fought for change

By the end of nineteenth century, food was dangerous. Lethal, even. "Milk" might contain formaldehyde, most often used to embalm corpses. Decaying meat was preserved with both salicylic acid, a pharmaceutical chemical, and borax, a compound first identified as a cleaning product. This was…


Book cover of Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President

Andrew Amelinckx Why did I love this book?

Destiny of the Republic brings to life an era in American history full of incredible change in science, politics, and culture following the end of the Civil War.

Candice Millard beautifully draws the various threads of the story of the presidency, assassination, and death of James Garfield together in lucid detail. Millard’s dive into the politics around advancements in medical science with Garfield as its unwitting victim is the centerpiece of this fascinating book.

By Candice Millard,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked Destiny of the Republic as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

NATIONAL BESTSELLER • The extraordinary account of James Garfield's rise from poverty to the American presidency, and the dramatic history of his assassination and legacy, from the bestselling author of The River of Doubt.
 
James Abram Garfield was one of the most extraordinary men ever elected president. Born into abject poverty, he rose to become a wunderkind scholar, a Civil War hero, a renowned congressman, and a reluctant presidential candidate who took on the nation's corrupt political establishment. But four months after Garfield's inauguration in 1881, he was shot in the back by a deranged office-seeker named Charles Guiteau. Garfield…


Book cover of Norco '80: The True Story of the Most Spectacular Bank Robbery in American History

Andrew Amelinckx Why did I love this book?

Norco '80 is the kind of book that sticks with you long after you’ve finished reading it.

Peter Houlahan captures late 1970s Southern California in all its strangeness and gives a blow-by-blow account of one of America’s wildest bank robberies with perfect pacing that continues to ratchet up the action page after page. The shockingly violent robbery by five landscapers whose leader was an apocalyptic born-again Christian reshaped American law enforcement.

And we’re still feeling the aftereffects more than forty years later in the form of militarized police forces across the country. It’s a book that will keep you up at night telling yourself you’ll quit reading after one more chapter but, most likely, you’ll just keep going. 

By Peter Houlahan,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Norco '80 as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

5 young men. 32 destroyed police vehicles. 1 spectacular bank robbery. This “cinematic” true crime story transports readers to the scene of one of the most shocking bank heists in U.S. history―a crime that’s almost too wild to be real (The New York Times Book Review).

Norco ’80 tells the story of how five heavily armed young men―led by an apocalyptic born-again Christian―attempted a bank robbery that turned into one of the most violent criminal events in U.S. history, forever changing the face of American law enforcement. Part action thriller and part courtroom drama, this Edgar Award finalist for Best…


Book cover of Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI

Andrew Amelinckx Why did I love this book?

David Grann’s Killers of the Flower Moon gives the viewer a window into a piece of Native American culture in 1920s Oklahoma as well as the inner workings of the brand-new FBI under its narcissistic and despotic head J. Edgar Hoover.

For me, the heart of the story is the Osage people and their struggle to prosper in the face of racism, corruption, and murder. That’s not to say that Grann doesn’t do a brilliant job with the FBI investigation into the killings. 

By David Grann,

Why should I read it?

17 authors picked Killers of the Flower Moon as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In the 1920s, the richest people per capita in the world were members of the Osage Indian nation in Oklahoma. After oil was discovered beneath their land, they rode in chauffeured automobiles, built mansions and sent their children to study in Europe.

Then, one by one, the Osage began to be killed off. As the death toll climbed, the FBI took up the case. But the bureau badly bungled the investigation. In desperation, its young director, J. Edgar Hoover, turned to a former Texas Ranger named Tom White to unravel the mystery. Together with the Osage he and his undercover…


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American Daredevil: Comics, Communism, and the Battles of Lev Gleason

By Brett Dakin,

Book cover of American Daredevil: Comics, Communism, and the Battles of Lev Gleason

Brett Dakin Author Of Another Quiet American: Stories of Life in Laos

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Lawyer Traveler Dog lover Reader Swimmer

Brett's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

Meet Lev Gleason, a real-life comics superhero! Gleason was a titan among Golden Age comics publishers who fought back against the censorship campaigns and paranoia of the Red Scare. After dropping out of Harvard to fight in World War I in France, Gleason moved to New York City and eventually made it big with groundbreaking titles like Daredevil and Crime Does Not Pay.

Brett Dakin, Gleason's great-nephew, opens up the family archives—and the files of the FBI—to take you on a journey through the publisher's life and career. In American Daredevil, you'll learn the truth about Gleason's rapid rise…

American Daredevil: Comics, Communism, and the Battles of Lev Gleason

By Brett Dakin,

What is this book about?

MEET LEV GLEASON, A REAL-LIFE COMICS SUPERHERO!

Gleason was a titan among Golden Age comics publishers who fought back against the censorship campaigns and paranoia of the Red Scare. After dropping out of Harvard to fight in France, Gleason moved to New York City and eventually made it big with groundbreaking titles like Daredevil and Crime Does Not Pay.

Brett Dakin, Gleason's great-nephew, opens up the family archives-and the files of the FBI-to take you on a journey through the publisher's life and career. In American Daredevil, you'll learn the truth about Gleason's rapid rise to the top of comics,…


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