Fancy yourself a master sleuth? Check out 22 mind-blowing true crime books for anyone who is obsessed with the criminal mind! They’re a must-have for summer!
Okay, so true crime books don’t exactly scream “easy beach reads,” but sometimes you just want something a little meatier than the latest chick lit book, right? I’ve always been fascinated by what goes on inside the minds of the worst criminals as well as the people who chase them for a living. I mean, there’s a reason Criminal Minds is one of my favorite shows!
I’ve rounded up the best of the best among thousands of books. Some of these newer while others are oldies but goodies. I’ve also tried to include a good mix of serial killers and other criminals, because let’s be honest, you can only read about serial murder for so long before you stop sleeping at night! Let’s check them out!
22 Most Mind-Blowing True Crime Books
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I’m breaking this up into my personal top ten, then X more fabulous true crime books to read in case my favorites don’t excite you (or in case you’ve already read them).
Top 10 Must-Read True Crime Books
1- In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
A must-read for every true crime book, Capote’s In Cold Blood pretty much started the whole genre. Written way back in the mid-60s, Capote tells the dark and disturbing tale of the 1959 murders of Herbert Clutter family in the small farming community of Holcomb, Kansas. Capote worked with fellow author and friend, Harper Lee (of To Kill a Mockingbird), taking thousands of pages of notes before penning the second best-selling true crime book of all time. The first? Well, that would be…
2- Helter Skelter by Vincent Bugliosi
I don’t think any other murderer in the history of the US captured people’s attention quite the way Charles Manson did. The craziest part? He didn’t actually participate in the two horrific murders that he went to jail for! Don’t get me wrong, Manson was FAR from innocent, but it was his influence over his cult that led to the Tate/LaBianca murders. Bugliosi was the prosecutor during the 1970 trial and Helter Skelter retells his experience trying the case. It is the #1 best-selling true crime book of ALL time.
3-Columbine by Dave Cullen
On April 20, 1999, America experienced one of the most tragic and horrific school shootings in our history. It almost sparked a plague, with way too many more shootings following. Dave Cullen was one of the first reporters on the scene, and he spent over a decade writing this definitive study on Columbine. He poured over notes, interviewed professionals and even delved into the killers’ own words and drawings to give us as accurate an understanding of what happened on that fateful day.
4- Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt
A best-seller that became a movie, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil explores the darker side of Savannah, Georgia, a city known for its manners. It follows four different trials for four very different crimes, including one particularly shocking murder. While the criminals in this story weren’t exactly national news, this book exposes the fact that even the sweetest town has its secrets. That’s what really makes it one of the top true crime books.
5- Lucky by Alice Sebold
Lucky is an incredibly hard book to read, especially if you’ve ever been the victim of sexual assault. In the book, Sebold accounts the story of her rape in college, as well as the trial of her attacker. She also shares the story of how she struggled to get her life back afterward. The title comes from what the police said to her as she reported her attack. A girl was murdered in the same tunnel as where she was raped, and apparently she was “lucky” that she was “just” sexually assaulted. That sort of attitude is why so many women refuse to report their assault. Books like Lucky help give back a little courage to step forward.
6- Zodiac Unmasked by Robert Graysmith
Back in 1987, Graysmith published his first Zodiac book, which became a bestseller. Back then, no one knew the identity of one of America’s most notorious serial killers. Zodiac not only murdered 37 women, he taunted the media while doing it. Then one day in 1969, he just stopped. For decades, we had no idea who he was. In 2007, Graysmith published an updated version, Zodiac Unmasked, which finally solved the mystery once and for all. I suggest reading both books if you want the whole experience!
6- Catch Me if You Can: The True Story of a Real Fake by Frank W. Abagnale
You may know the story of Catch Me if You Can from the popular movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio, but did you know that it was based on a true story? Frank W. Abagnale, the author and the real fake behind the movie, tells his tale of conning his way around the world, always one step ahead of the cops. While we never advocate crime, Abagnale is one criminal that is kind of hard to not root for! Just don’t try his stunts at home, folks!
8-All the Presidents Men by Woodward and Bernstein
If political crime is more your cup of tea, All the President’s Men is a must-read true crime book! You’re familiar with the term “gate,” when it comes to political scandals, right? Everything is “gate” this and “gate” that. Well, it all started with Watergate, the greatest political scandal of our parents and grandparents’ generation. Perhaps the biggest scandal of all time! The scandal, which involved Nixon, wasn’t what makes this book a must-read, though. Presidents have been doing scandalous things since Washington was in office. Watergate was more about the reporting, and this book covers the breaking of the story. As a journalism major, it was required reading for me.
9- The Complete Jack the Ripper by Donald Rumbelow
Countless books have been written about Jack the Ripper, including one by Patricia Cornwell that claimed to solve the mystery once and for all. If you’re going to read just one, though, I recommend this one. It’s a pretty robust roundup of all the facts, fictions and fantasies surrounding the world’s greatest mystery. I don’t think we’ll ever really know who the real killer was, and that will drive us nuts until the end of time!
10-Depraved by Harold Schechter
Depraved tells the story of America’s “first” serial killer, Dr. H.H. Holmes and his heinous acts that took place during the Chicago World Fair. Part of the fascination with Holmes isn’t just that he was the first, but also that he was seemingly so kind and normal. He was a doctor and druggest by day, architect of a Castle of Horrors by night. He brutally tortured his victims, enjoying the chase as much as the kill. Holmes and his horror house have appeared numerous times over the years in TV shows, movies and books, including in an episode of Supernatural and, most recently, in the show Timeless.
More mind-blowing true crime books to read
If those ten don’t blow your mind, here are 12 more suggestions to add to your to be read pile!
- The Stranger Beside Me: Ted Bundy The Shocking Inside Story by Ann Rule
- Mind Hunter: Inside the FBI’s Elite Serial Crime Unit by John E. Douglas
- I: The Creation of a Serial Killer by Jack Olsen
- Cellar of Horror: The Story of Gary Heidnik by Ken Englade
- The Darkest Night: The Murder of Innocence in a Small Town by Ron Franscell
- JonBenet: Inside the Ramsey Murder Investigation by Steve Thomas and Donald A. Davis
- Green River, Running Red: The Real Story of the Green River Killer by Ann Rule
- Donnie Brasco by Joseph D. Pistone
- The Hillside Stranglers by Darcy O’Brien
- Bully: a True Story of High School Revenge by Jim Schutze
- True Hollywood Noir: Filmland Mysteries and Murders by Dina Di Mambro
- Female Serial Killers: How and Why Women Become Monsters by Peter Vronsky
If those don’t make you want to sleep with your lights on and install 20 dead bolts on your doors, I don’t know what will!