15 books directly related to investigative journalism 📚

All 15 investigative journalism books as recommended by authors and experts. Updated weekly.

Book cover of 1979

1979

By Val McDermid,

Why this book?

Thriller writer and contemporary ‘queen of crime’ Val McDermid draws deeply on her own years as a tabloid journalist to bring fictional reporter Allie Burns to life during the winter of discontent. This unputdownable tale of a newspaper investigation into matters of life, death, and corruption is so evocative of a 1970s Glasgow newsroom that I could practically smell the fags and taste the whisky. More Allie Burns stories are promised, and I for one can’t wait.

From the list:

The best books about journalists as heroes

Book cover of Fletch

Fletch

By Gregory McDonald,

Why this book?

Who said crime fiction couldn’t be hilarious? McDonald created the former Marine turned investigative reporter Irwin Maurice "Fletch" Fletcher in 1974, and eventually wrote nine novels in the series. Fletch and the second, Confess, Fletch, was the only time a novel and its sequel won back-to-back Edgars. 

In 1985, Fletch was adapted into a movie with Chevy Chase in the title role.

From the list:

The best old-school crime fiction novels that stood the test of time

Book cover of The Odessa File

The Odessa File

By Frederick Forsyth,

Why this book?

Searching for a story, a young German crime reporter stumbles on a case of suicide by a Holocaust survivor.

Having read the dead man’s diary, he starts investigating the allegations it contained. What he comes across shocks him and propels him into the dangerous territory of covert Nazi activities. From then on he finds not only his own, but also his girlfriend’s life being threatened. 

Fascism and the Nazis played a great part in my formative years and I had not only witnessed, but actually suffered their ruthlessness. 

From the list:

The best books (with photos) about the incredible struggles of a family over three generations, WWII and beyond

Book cover of Night Film

Night Film

By Marisha Pessl,

Why this book?

Night Film is a great example of impactful mixed media storytelling. It is a cult horror novel about a journalist’s obsession with a cult horror director. By combining mixed media ‘found objects’ like film posters, interviews, and newspaper articles with the main character’s narration, the novel achieves a high level of suspense as the reader is fully immersed into this dark ghostly world. I admire this book because it speaks to my own love for dark, cult movies; and I believe it is also a great learning text for all writers who want to develop their own mixed media storytelling…
From the list:

The best horror books with mixed media format

Book cover of The Journalist and the Murderer

The Journalist and the Murderer

By Janet Malcolm,

Why this book?

I could name any number of Malcolm’s books as favorites but I have to go with the granddaddy of ‘em all, The Journalist and the Murderer. Malcolm dissects a trial in which a man convicted of murder sues an author who wrote about his crime for libel. And the murderer wins. Can you believe?! Malcolm uses the case to analyze the journalistic transaction between writer and subject and thirty-three years after publication the book reads as contemporary. When talking about Malcolm’s writing, what doesn’t get mentioned enough is how laceratingly funny she is, and this book showcases that humor…

From the list:

The best true crime-adjacent books

Book cover of And the Band Played on: Politics, People, and the AIDS Epidemic

And the Band Played on: Politics, People, and the AIDS Epidemic

By Randy Shilts,

Why this book?

This book characterizes the discovery and spread HIV and AIDS. Shits an investigative journalist provides an extensive look into the disease itself, the politics and politicians battling to control or ignoring the disease. Also discussed are the events that shaped the pandemic leading to its expansion or its control. 

From the list:

The best books to understand how viruses cause disease and shaped history

Book cover of Gator Aide (Rachel Porter Mysteries)

Gator Aide (Rachel Porter Mysteries)

By Jessica Speart,

Why this book?

The Rachel Porter Mysteries by Jessica Speart are not well known, but they deserve to be. These books are available now only as Kindle ebooks and used mass-market paperbacks. Based on years of experience as an investigative journalist focusing on wildlife law enforcement and endangered species issues, the author created protagonist Rachel Porter, a new wildlife agent who is determined to protect animals wherever she is assigned, no matter what dangers and challenges may erupt from the environment, the local citizens, or her own bosses, who typically believe that she doesn’t belong in the field. Speart writes amazing scenes that…

From the list:

The best novels of women sleuths in wild places

Book cover of All the President's Men

All the President's Men

By Carl Bernstein, Bob Woodward,

Why this book?

I know, I know...non-fiction. But as far as I’m concerned, definitely still a thriller, and to this day, the quintessential political scandal. There are so many iconic facets to the story: the anonymous whistleblower Deep Throat’s invocation to follow the money; Woodward and Bernstein’s dogged refusal to drop the story, even when all appeared to be lost; the slow burn of revelation upon revelation.

This wasn’t about car chases and guns. It was about paper trails and getting sources on the record. 

The bravery of that never left me, and was always in my mind while writing my book…

From the list:

The best political thriller books that dared to be different

Book cover of Gun Baby Gun: A Bloody Journey into the World of the Gun

Gun Baby Gun: A Bloody Journey into the World of the Gun

By Iain Overton,

Why this book?

An astonishing well-researched and detailed analysis of the arms trade and the omnipresence of guns in the world today. Full of startling and worrying statistics, for example, that there are 12 billion bullets produced every year which kill at least 500,000 people. The book reveals how in some places it is easier to get a gun than to get a glass of water. Solo killers, the military, the hunters, the paranoid suburban Americans, they are all here, and it is not a pretty picture.

From the list:

The best books on how the world works

Book cover of The Overachievers: The Secret Lives of Driven Kids

The Overachievers: The Secret Lives of Driven Kids

By Alexandra Robbins,

Why this book?

In the year of her tenth reunion, journalist Alexandra Robbins returns to her former high-pressure public high school in Bethesda, MD. For the next year, she follows eight intelligent, motivated, and overachieving high school students through their daily lives. The author presents a host of complicated issues plaguing high-achieving suburban high schools including intense stress amongst students in AP courses, an epidemic of cheating, parental pressures to perform, unprescribed ADD drug use, and a cutthroat college admissions process. Although this is a nonfiction book scaffolded by investigative journalism, it reads like a novel. Robbins presents a clear warning to students…
From the list:

The best books about the experiences of underprepared college freshmen

Book cover of Around the World in Seventy-Two Days

Around the World in Seventy-Two Days

By Nellie Bly,

Why this book?

Bly was a brilliant investigative journalist best known in the United States for her exposé of the Women’s Lunatic Asylum based on her feigning of insanity as an undercover patient … until she became even more famous for her circumnavigation of the globe, inspired by Jules Verne’s fictional Around the World in 80 Days. Sponsored and encouraged by Joseph Pulitzer (editor of the tabloid newspaper, The New York World) and written in a witty, breezy style, Bly’s pithily-told tale upends every stereotype of fragile Victorian womanhood; her gutsy candor about her madcap race around what was supposed to…
From the list:

The best books on travel and exploration written by women in the Victorian Era

Book cover of Buzz: A Year of Paying Attention

Buzz: A Year of Paying Attention

By Katherine Ellison,

Why this book?

Katherine Ellison is a Pulitzer Prize winning investigative reporter. When she and her pre-teen son were both diagnosed with ADHD in the same year it became her personal and professional mission to find out as much as she could about this increasingly common diagnosis. Anyone who knows and loves someone who’s been diagnosed with ADHD would do well to read this book as a guide through the often bewildering landscape of ADHD treatments. As serious and personal as Buzz is, Ellison is a great writer and her memoir is equal parts science, expert interviews and analysis, parenting angst, and humor.

From the list:

The best books for helping kids become themselves

Book cover of The History Thieves: Secrets, Lies and the Shaping of a Modern Nation

The History Thieves: Secrets, Lies and the Shaping of a Modern Nation

By Ian Cobain,

Why this book?

Ian Cobain is an exceptional British investigative journalist and was on the staff of The Guardian and is now with Middle East Eye. This book is broader than the Cold War but is a brilliant analysis of how the state uses secrecy to hide the truth of how the public is governed. He has done some groundbreaking work on how Foreign Office’s Information Research Department methods have been incorporated into modern anti-terrorism techniques.

From the list:

The best books on the madness of the Cold War

Book cover of The American Way of Death Revisited

The American Way of Death Revisited

By Jessica Mitford,

Why this book?

This is the classic, the moment at which the industrialization of death—like so much else in our lives—was made visible. And it was the start of a social movement to reclaim death as part of our social, interconnected lives. Mitford focused on the funeral industry, and how it turned death into a commodity – ‘ashes’ isn’t a good word because people would scatter them, but call them ‘human remains’ and you can charge to put them somewhere. Death often makes people feel remorse, even guilt – ah! That can be ‘satisfied’ by the purchase of a fine funeral. 

Mitford closed…

From the list:

The best books on the ever-more-timely topic of death and dying

Book cover of The Wave: In Pursuit of the Rogues, Freaks, and Giants of the Ocean

The Wave: In Pursuit of the Rogues, Freaks, and Giants of the Ocean

By Susan Casey,

Why this book?

A non-fiction deep dive into the power of the ocean and those obsessed with riding the largest waves.

This is a wide-ranging book; exploring a history of wave destruction, some detail on the science of waves; in particular why it is so difficult to predict when freak waves will occur, before giving us a more human story of the big wave riders who constantly push the boundaries of what we think a surfer can do.

From the list:

The best books on the power of the ocean