91 books like First in Violence, Deepest in Dirt

By Jeffrey S. Adler,

Here are 91 books that First in Violence, Deepest in Dirt fans have personally recommended if you like First in Violence, Deepest in Dirt. Shepherd is a community of 9,000+ authors and super readers sharing their favorite books with the world.

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Book cover of The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America

Mary Shanklin Author Of American Castle: One Hundred Years of Mar-a-Lago

From the list on nonfiction with fantastic storytelling.

Who am I?

As a lifelong journalist, I’m riveted by stories that dissect actual events. Nonfiction is my wheelhouse and I’m fortunate to have a related body of distinguished work. Over the decades, I’ve written for exceptional newspaper and magazine editors who taught me the craft of making reality not only engaging – but also meaningful. Instead of ignoring the not-so-convenient truths – details that might be swept away by a historical fiction writer – I hunt for them. My coverage of inequities, hurricanes, and real estate scams has taught me: show, don’t tell. Any author who can take a mountain of interviews, details, facts and color and transform it into a thought-provoking story, they have my attention. 

Mary's book list on nonfiction with fantastic storytelling

Why did Mary love this book?

Erik Larson lays out Chicago’s efforts to remake its seedy, 1880s image with a World’s Fair cast in all white. Sadly, a serial killer lurked. 

Devil in the White City kept me engaged by conjuring up that feeling of dread you have when you know something monumental is about to be undone. The scene-setting put me smack in the middle of the Fair preparation as organizers toil against pressing deadlines. So many young women coming to help launch the spectacle. I could feel my heartbeat quicken as the dueling storyline introduces yet another of Herman Mudgett’s 27 victims. 

Best yet for me – this was not historical fiction. This was real.

By Erik Larson,

Why should I read it?

17 authors picked The Devil in the White City as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The Chicago World Fair was the greatest fair in American history. This is the story of the men and women whose lives it irrevocably changed and of two men in particular- an architect and a serial killer. The architect is Daniel Burnham, a man of great integrity and depth. It was his vision of the fair that attracted the best minds and talents of the day. The killer is Henry H. Holmes. Intelligent as well as handsome and charming, Holmes opened a boarding house which he advertised as 'The World's Fair Hotel' Here in the neighbourhood where he was once…

This Republic of Suffering

By Drew Gilpin Faust,

Book cover of This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War

Evie Yoder Miller Author Of Shadows

From the list on the intertwinings of war, conscience, and religion.

Who am I?

The main reason I care about the relationship of war, conscience, and religion is because I believe strongly in the separation of church and state. A country’s methods of pursuing its best interests, include the use of power and warfare. Religions, however, make central: love your neighbor as much as you love yourself. People need to develop a conscience about what principle matters most. In the Civil War, the old tenet, an “eye for an eye,” was used to justify killing others for reasons of advantage or revenge. But I want to be involved instead in creating peace and justice for all.

Evie's book list on the intertwinings of war, conscience, and religion

Why did Evie love this book?

Death is everywhere in war: on the battlefield, in a disease-ridden hospital, or in childbirth on the home front. Drew Gilpin Faust’s non-fiction book, This Republic of Suffering, brings eye-popping numeric data to the prevalence of death in war. But she never stops at the surface level of how many deaths, or how many unidentified soldiers or improper burials occur during the Civil War. I was caught up entirely as Faust’s words, riveting and respectful of all the pain and loss, showed how death became an ennobling transformation for many people, either in the cause of racial standing or of Union/secessionist preservation.

By Drew Gilpin Faust,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

NATIONAL BESTSELLER • NATIONAL BOOK AWARD FINALIST • An "extraordinary ... profoundly moving" history (The New York Times Book Review) of the American Civil War that reveals the ways that death on such a scale changed not only individual lives but the life of the nation.

More than 600,000 soldiers lost their lives in the American Civil War. An equivalent proportion of today's population would be six million. In This Republic of Suffering, Drew Gilpin Faust describes how the survivors managed on a practical level and how a deeply religious culture struggled to reconcile the unprecedented carnage with its belief…

Book cover of Remembering the Modoc War: Redemptive Violence and the Making of American Innocence

Peter Boag Author Of Pioneering Death: The Violence of Boyhood in Turn-Of-The-Century Oregon

From the list on death and violence of late-19th-century America.

Who am I?

As a student, the Gilded Age bored me to no end. Since then, I have come to understand that the era’s paradoxes, contingencies, and uncertainties are what has created modern America; they have preoccupied my research and writing since. I undertook Pioneering Death as a meditation on how one of the darkest and most intensely personal events—parricide—is both an expected and unexpected outcome of the interconnectedness between place, region, and nation during the Gilded Age. I hope my very select booklist about death, violence, and brutal killings assists you to recognize how these are central to the human condition and how they are foundational to modern America. 

Peter's book list on death and violence of late-19th-century America

Why did Peter love this book?

Cothran’s beautifully written chronicle tells a sad and all-too-common story from the 19th century, the effects of which continue to haunt America today. While he focuses on the Modoc people of southern Oregon and Northern California and one of the most famous “Indian Wars” that is largely forgotten today, this tale is relevant to any place in the world where indigenous people have suffered the brutalities of colonization, are blamed for the very brutalities that they have suffered, and then become further victimized in histories that paint the colonizers and their murderous acts as innocent. 

By Boyd Cothran,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Remembering the Modoc War as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

On October 3, 1873, the U.S. Army hanged four Modoc headmen at Oregon's Fort Klamath. The condemned had supposedly murdered the only U.S. Army general to die during the Indian wars of the nineteenth century. Their much-anticipated execution marked the end of the Modoc War of 1872-73. But as Boyd Cothran demonstrates, the conflict's close marked the beginning of a new struggle over the memory of the war. Examining representations of the Modoc War in the context of rapidly expanding cultural and commercial marketplaces, Cothran shows how settlers created and sold narratives of the conflict that blamed the Modocs. These…

Wisconsin Death Trip

By Michael Lesy,

Book cover of Wisconsin Death Trip

F. Brett Cox Author Of The End of All Our Exploring

From the list on the old (and new) weird America.

Who am I?

Author Greil Marcus’ phrase “the old, weird America” gave me exactly the right words for something I’ve always felt: that there is a specific weirdness to the American landscape, an uncontrollable current of strange that runs beneath the carefully cultivated surface of heroes and neighbors and shared, stable dreams. Of course, as William Faulkner observed, the past isn’t past, and America is as weird as it’s ever been. Maybe weirder. Look at the news. Look out your window. No surprise, then, that I’m drawn to such a perspective when I read other people’s stories, and seldom get completely away from it when I write my own.

F.'s book list on the old (and new) weird America

Why did F. love this book?

A stunning assembly of archival photographs and newspaper clippings from Jackson County, Wisconsin, in the last decade and a half of the 19th century, and the definitive explanation of why nobody in old-time photographs is ever smiling—and, I choose to believe, the real reason the parts of The Wizard of Oz set in Kansas were filmed in black and white. Economic privation, unceasing bereavement, disease both physical and mental—in other words, Tuesday. Was there any joy in Jackson County? Somewhere, I’m sure. What’s documented here is a stark, powerful beauty. The most real book I’ve ever encountered, and one of two on face-out display on my bookshelves.

By Michael Lesy,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Wisconsin Death Trip as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This book is about life in a small turn-of-the-century Wisconsin town. Lesy has collected and arranged photographs taken between 1890 and 1910. Against these are juxtaposed excerpts from the Badger State Banner, from the Mendota State (asylum) Record Book, and occasionally quotations from the writings of Hamlin Garland and Glenway Wescott.

He Had It Coming

By Kori Rumore, Marianne Mather,

Book cover of He Had It Coming: Four Murderous Women and the Reporter Who Immortalized Their Stories

Silvia Pettem Author Of In Search of the Blonde Tigress: The Untold Story of Eleanor Jarman

From the list on mysterious and intriguing women in history.

Who am I?

I've been writing for decades, as one genre evolved into another. Local Colorado history led to the identification of "Boulder Jane Doe," a murder victim. During that journey I learned a lot about criminal investigations and forensics. I devoured old movies (especially film noir), and I focused on social history including mysterious and intriguing women. Midwest Book Review (see author book links) credits In Search of the Blonde Tigress as "rescuing" Eleanor Jarman "from obscurity." So true! Despite Eleanor's notoriety as "the most dangerous woman alive," she actually was a very ordinary woman. I've now found my niche pulling mysterious and intriguing women out of the shadows.

Silvia's book list on mysterious and intriguing women in history

Why did Silvia love this book?

Using photo and newspaper archives from the Chicago Tribune, the authors of He Had It Coming tell the stories of four Chicago female murderers from the 1920s.

The documentation (both primary and secondary sources) and, especially, the newspaper's original high-quality historical photographs inspired me to dig deeply into similar archives when researching and writing my book.

By Kori Rumore, Marianne Mather,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked He Had It Coming as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Beulah Annan. Belva Gaertner. Kitty Malm. Sabella Nitti. These are the real women of Chicago.

You probably know Roxie and Velma, the good-time gals of the 1926 satirical play Chicago and its wildly successful musical and movie adaptations. You might not know that Roxie, Velma, and the rest of the colorful characters of the play were inspired by real prisoners held in "Murderess Row" in 1920s Chicago-or that the reporter who covered their trials for the Chicago Tribune went on to write the play Chicago.

Now, more than 90 years later, the Chicago Tribune has uncovered photographs and newspaper clippings…

Leopold and Loeb

By Hal Higdon,

Book cover of Leopold and Loeb: The Crime of the Century

Erik Rebain Author Of Arrested Adolescence: The Secret Life of Nathan Leopold

From the list on the Leopold-Loeb case.

Who am I?

I’ve been researching the Leopold-Loeb case for around a decade, ever since a documentary sparked my interest back in high school. That sent me on a quest for knowledge: devouring all the books I could find on the subject, before turning to archival collections to look at the primary source material. Flash forward to today and I’ve read thousands of newspaper stories, hundreds of scholarly articles and books on the subject and travelled around the country searching in over 50 archives, trying to understand this case as much as I possibly can. Here’s a list of books I found particularly helpful or inspiring on my journey.

Erik's book list on the Leopold-Loeb case

Why did Erik love this book?

Despite being published in 1975, Hal Higdon’s book about the Leopold and Loeb case remains the definitive account, at least to me.

If you’re looking for a factual, in-depth look at the crime, investigation, and sentencing hearing, look no further. Higdon was able to interview and correspond with dozens of people who were close to the case and who personally knew the killers and victim. He weaved those recollections into the narrative along with newspaper reports and quotes from the court documents in addition to the rest of his vast research, which gives his book a wonderful richness and depth. 

By Hal Higdon,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Among the criminal celebrities of Prohibition-era Chicago, not even Al Capone was more notorious than two well-educated and highly intelligent Jewish boys from wealthy South Side families. In a meticulously planned murder scheme disguised as a kidnapping, Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb chose fourteen-year-old Bobby Franks at random as their victim, abandoning his crumpled body in a culvert before his parents had a chance to respond to the ransom demand. Revealing secret testimony and raising questions that have gone unanswered for decades, Hal Higdon separates fact from myth as he unravels the crime, the investigation, and the trial, in which…

Eight Faces at Three

By Craig Rice,

Book cover of Eight Faces at Three: A John J. Malone Mystery

Angela M. Sanders Author Of Witch upon a Star

From the list on screwball mysteries from the golden age of detection.

Who am I?

Between humor and pathos, I lean humor. Even the saddest, most shocking events—murder, for instance—can be wrapped in kookiness. Combine this outlook with my love of old things (I’m sitting on a 1920s Chinese wedding bed and drinking from an etched Victorian tumbler at this very moment), and you’ll understand why I’m drawn to vintage screwball detective fiction. Although my mystery novels are cozies, I can’t help but infuse them with some of this screwball wackiness. I want readers to laugh, of course, but also to use my stories as springboards to see the hilarity and wonder in their own lives. 

Angela's book list on screwball mysteries from the golden age of detection

Why did Angela love this book?

If screwball detective fiction intrigues you, you must read Craig Rice. Why not start with Eight Faces of Three, the mystery introducing the wacky, rye-soaked team of Jake Justus, Helene Brand, and John Joseph Malone?

Justus is a good-looking press agent and the book’s moral center; Brand is a gorgeous heiress and non-stop partier; and Malone is a stumpy lawyer-slash-PI with good instincts and better luck. Imagine Philip Marlowe meets the Marx Brothers.

In Eight Faces of Three, a young woman awakes to find her aunt murdered, all the house’s clocks set to 3 am, and herself the prime suspect.

Craig Rice was the first mystery writer to grace the cover of Time magazine. Her private life was strewn with ex-husbands and empty booze bottles, and she died way too young at 49.

However, her literary legacy—one critic dubbed her the “Dorothy Parker of detective fiction”—will keep her…

By Craig Rice,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Eight Faces at Three as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Pioneering woman crime writer Craig Rice introduces her series sleuth, gin-soaked Chicago lawyer John J. Malone

John J. Malone, defender of the guilty, is notorious for getting his culpable clients off. It’s the innocent ones who are problems. Like Holly Inglehart, accused of piercing the black heart of her well-heeled and tyrannical aunt Alexandria with a lovely Florentine paper cutter. No one who knew the old battle-ax liked her, but Holly’s prints were found on the murder weapon. Plus, she had a motive: She was about to be disinherited for marrying a common bandleader.

With each new lurid headline, Holly’s…

For the Thrill of It

By Simon Baatz,

Book cover of For the Thrill of It: Leopold, Loeb, and the Murder That Shocked Jazz Age Chicago

Rebecca Frost Author Of Words of a Monster: Analyzing the Writings of H.H. Holmes, America's First Serial Killer

From the list on crimes you've never heard of.

Who am I?

I picked up my first book about Jack the Ripper the summer after college and never looked back. Since then my collection of true crime has grown to overflow my office bookshelves and I’ve written a PhD dissertation and multiple books about true crime, focusing on serial killers. The genre is so much more than Bundy, Gacy, and Dahmer and I love talking with people about the less mainstream cases that interest them, and the newer victim-centered approaches that—fingers crossed—mark a change in how we talk about criminals and victims.

Rebecca's book list on crimes you've never heard of

Why did Rebecca love this book?

Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb set out to commit the perfect crime and ended up in newspapers as the perpetrators of “the crime of the century.” They kidnapped and murdered a teenage boy in Chicago in 1924, but both Leopold and Loeb were still considered boys themselves at the time. Clarence Darrow defended them at trial, arguing that they were guilty but that the situation had extenuating circumstances. Baatz’s book explores how two college students from good families ended up in prison for murder. Leopold’s family even came from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, near where I currently live, so even though the case is almost 100 years old, it’s not as distant as it might seem.

By Simon Baatz,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked For the Thrill of It as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

It was a crime that shocked the nation: the brutal murder in Chicago in 1924 of a child by two wealthy college students who killed solely for the thrill of the experience. Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb were intellectuals—too smart, they believed, for the police to catch them. When they were apprehended, state's attorney Robert Crowe was certain that no defense could save the ruthless killers from the gallows. But the families of the confessed murderers hired Clarence Darrow, entrusting the lives of their sons to the most famous lawyer in America in what would be one of the most…

Nature's Metropolis

By William Cronon,

Book cover of Nature's Metropolis: Chicago and the Great West

Jake Bittle Author Of The Great Displacement: Climate Change and the Next American Migration

From the list on modern society’s relationship with nature.

Who am I?

My name is Jake Bittle, and I’m a staff writer at the environmental magazine Grist, where I cover climate change and energy. I’m also the author of The Great Displacement: Climate Change and the Next American Migration, published by Simon & Schuster. In that book I try to explore how human beings interact with nature, and how we try to control nature by building a systematic and inflexible society. This is a theme that has always captivated me, ever since I moved as a teenager to a Florida subdivision built on the edge of a swamp, and it’s something I’m always on the lookout for in fiction as well as nonfiction.

Jake's book list on modern society’s relationship with nature

Why did Jake love this book?

A book that forever changed how I viewed the United States, this seminal work of history showed how the expansion of the railroads helped make Chicago into the center of nationwide commodity trade.

The rise of Chicago as a mercantile capital had a profound effect on the ecology of the surrounding countryside: prairie grass was cut up and replaced with endless fields of corn and wheat, old forests in Wisconsin were felled down to their stumps, and buffalo were eradicated to create room for cows to graze.

By William Cronon,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked Nature's Metropolis as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In this groundbreaking work, William Cronon gives us an environmental perspective on the history of nineteenth-century America. By exploring the ecological and economic changes that made Chicago America's most dynamic city and the Great West its hinterland, Mr. Cronon opens a new window onto our national past. This is the story of city and country becoming ever more tightly bound in a system so powerful that it reshaped the American landscape and transformed American culture. The world that emerged is our own.

Winner of the Chicago Tribune Heartland Prize

There Are No Children Here

By Alex Kotlowitz,

Book cover of There Are No Children Here: The Story of Two Boys Growing Up in the Other America

Mae Elise Cannon Author Of Beyond Hashtag Activism: Comprehensive Justice in a Complicated Age

From the list on justice that you don’t need a PhD to understand.

Who am I?

Growing up in rural Southern Maryland, I first began to notice a difference between Blacks and whites because of the way I was treated when I hung out with my African American friends. South of the Mason Dixon line, racial differences are often clear. Throughout my childhood and young adult life some of the most influential people who invested in me were African American. As I began to learn about their stories, my heart grew with a love for racial justice and equality. My work and adult life has focused on righting wrongs, responding to global and domestic poverty, to writing and working against inequality and oppression.

Mae's book list on justice that you don’t need a PhD to understand

Why did Mae love this book?

Having lived in Chicago for more than a decade, this first-hand glimpse of two young boys growing up in the inner city changed my perspective and understanding of the realities of domestic urban poverty. A moving and powerful read, you can follow the journey after There are No Children Here in Kotlowitz’s follow-up story, An American Summer: Love and Death in Chicago.

By Alex Kotlowitz,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked There Are No Children Here as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

NATIONAL BESTSELLER • A moving and powerful account by an acclaimed journalist that "informs the heart. [This] meticulous portrait of two boys in a Chicago housing project shows how much heroism is required to survive, let alone escape" (The New York Times).

"Alex Kotlowitz  joins the ranks of the important few writers on the  subiect of urban poverty."—Chicago Tribune

The story of two remarkable boys struggling to survive in Chicago's  Henry Horner Homes, a public housing complex disfigured by crime and neglect.

5 book lists we think you will like!

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