We’ve given you the top sci-fi and fantasy books on Goodreads. With the rise of channels dedicated to true crime along with true crime podcasts, documentaries, and inspired dramas, the true crime genre is more popular than ever. Now seems the perfect time to share some of the top true crime books on Goodreads that are worth the read or the listen.
What We Mean By Top True Crime Books
In another non-scientific list curated by perusing Goodreads for a few hours, we have a list of the site’s most popular true crime books. Similar to our previous lists, the true crime books that made the list must have an average rating of 4+ stars with at least 4,000 ratings. Did some books slip through the cracks? Probably. We’re only human, so we may have missed a book or three. Also, there were a number of great books that didn’t make the cut because they didn’t fit the criteria. Feel free to tag them in your Facebook or Twitter comments.
The true crime books most highly rated by Goodreads users also lack diversity. Recently, we asked, “Does the general population still prioritize white male authors?” When it comes to the true crime books that Goodreads users love the most, the answer to that question seems to be “Yes,” which is quite disappointing. There are plenty of terrific true crime books written by authors of color that should be more popular on Goodreads. America’s First Female Serial Killer: Jane Toppan and the Making of a Monster by Book Riot’s own Mary Kay McBrayer and There are No Dead Here: A Story of Murder and Denial in Colombia by Maria McFarland Sanchez-Moreno are examples of true crime books by writers of color that are highly rated and need more visibility. Next time we round up the most popular true crime books on Goodreads, we want to see them along with more authors of color. Until then…
Top True Crime Books About Infamous Murders
If you’re into true crime, then you are most likely into mass murderers and serial killers, the OGs of the true crime genre. This list of top true crime books includes household names along with a few possible unknowns. These books are not for the faint of heart or the squeamish. This is your final warning!
1. American Predator: The Hunt for the Most Meticulous Serial Killer of the 21st Century by Maureen Callahan
(4.08 • 11,929 ratings)
Most of us have probably never heard of Israel Keyes, but he is one of the most frightening serial killers in modern American history. Over 14 years, he would fly to a city, rent a car, and drive thousands of miles for the kill kits he buried in remote locations. Keyes would then break into a stranger’s house, abduct, kill, and dispose of their body in mere hours. Afterward, Israel Keyes would return home and resume his life as a quiet, reliable construction worker and devoted father.
Journalist Maureen Callahan first heard of Keyes in 2012 and proceeded to uncover the story behind how Israel Keyes was finally caught by the FBI in the culmination of interviews with key figures from the investigation and from Keyes’s life and using research from classified FBI files.
2. Columbine by Dave Cullen
(4.29 • 66,159 ratings)
What really happened on April 20, 1999, at Columbine High School? The horror from the Columbine massacre left an indelible mark on the American psyche and became the template for a new generation of spectacle killers from Virginia Tech to Parkland. However, most of what we think we know from this event is wrong. Dave Cullen was one of the first reporters on the scene and spent ten years researching to bring this definitive account of Columbine.
3. The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper by Hallie Rubenhold
(4.23 • 13,194 ratings)
For decades, we’ve been told Jack “The Ripper” preyed on prostitutes. However, historian Hallie Rubenhold discovered that narrative is false and finally sets the record straight with this revealing portrait of Victorian London. Polly, Annie, Elizabeth, Catherine, and Mary-Jane never met, but they were murdered in 1888 by a person who was never identified. The Five tells the story of these victims who died because they were women who were in the wrong place at the wrong time.
4. Helter Skelter: The True Story of the Manson Murders by Vincent Bugliosi
(4.04 • 119,545 ratings)
Vincent Bugliosi was the prosecuting attorney in the Manson trial and held a unique insider’s perspective to one of the most horrifying criminal cases of the twentieth century, the Tate-LaBianca murders. Helter Skelter tells the gripping story of this infamous crime and the madman behind it from Bugliosi’s firsthand account of the infamous case.
5. I’ll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer by Michelle McNamara
(4.14 • 129,644 ratings)
For more than a decade, a violent predator committed 50 sexual assaults in Northern California. He then moved south and committed 10 murders before disappearing. At the time of the crimes, the rapist turned murderer was an athletic white man between the ages of 18 and 30 who preferred to attack suburban couples while they slept. Nearly 30 years later, true crime journalist Michelle McNamara became determined to find the man she referred to as “Golden State Killer.”
McNamara died unexpectedly on April 21, 2016 before completing her work. The book was posthumously updated by McNamara’s colleagues and husband and published on February 27, 2018. Nearly two years after McNamara’s death, on April 25, 2018, the man alleged to be the Golden State Killer, Joseph James DeAngelo, was arrested.
6. The Stranger Beside Me: Ted Bundy: The Shocking Inside Story by Ann Rule
(4.14 • 66,689 ratings)
In the early 1970s, Ann Rule was a correspondent for True Detective magazine while volunteering for a suicide hotline in Seattle, Washington. At the crisis center, she worked alongside a sensitive and personable 24-year-old college student named Ted Bundy. In 1974, Rule was commissioned to write a book on the unsolved murders of young women in Washington. Over the course of researching and writing the book, it becomes clear to Rule that the savage serial killer was Ted, her colleague and close friend.
Top True Crime Books That Are All About the Money
Not all crimes involve blood and murder. Some of the most devious crimes are white collar crimes, the financially motivated nonviolent crimes committed by business professionals and government officials. These crimes include fraud, bribery, Ponzi schemes, and money laundering. These books are full of that!
7. Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup by John Carreyrou
(4.44 • 141,901 ratings)
In 2014 Elizabeth Holmes, founder and CEO of Theranos, was seen as the female Steve Jobs. The brilliant Stanford dropout’s multi billion-dollar startup promised to revolutionize the medical industry with a machine that could rapidly perform blood tests with only small amounts of blood. However, the technology did not work, and Holmes misled investors, FDA officials, and even her own employees for years. By 2017, the company was worth nothing and Holmes faced legal action from both the government and her investors. Bad Blood is the full inside story from the journalist who first revealed the fraud.
8. Billion Dollar Whale: The Man Who Fooled Wall Street, Hollywood, and the World by Tom Wright and Bradley Hope
(4.04 • 15,127 ratings)
In 2009, the dust had not yet settled on the global financial crisis and a Wharton Business School graduate was perpetrating a fraud of unmitigated gall and unprecedented magnitude. Jho Low was a Malaysian businessman who used his connections to the country’s former Prime Minister Najib Razak to create the investment fund 1MDB. The fund was supposed to invest in green energy and tourism to create high-quality jobs for Malaysians. In addition to the government money used to finance the fund, Low worked with Goldman Sachs and other banks to help raise $10 billion for the fund. Then, approximately $5 billion from the fund disappeared. Wall Street Journal reporters Tom Wright and Bradley Hope reveal how a young social climber pulled off one of the biggest financial heists in history.
9. Black Edge: Inside Information, Dirty Money, and the Quest to Bring Down the Most Wanted Man on Wall Street by Sheelah Kolhatkar
(4.21 • 7,363 ratings)
Black Edge is the story of billionaire trader Steven Cohen, the rise and fall of his hedge fund SAC Capital, and the largest insider trading investigation in history. Steven Cohen changed Wall Street through speculation and making market bets that were right more often than wrong. In 1992, Cohen launched SAC Capital and built a $15 billion empire based on his stock trading wizardry. He was revered as a genius and one of the greatest traders of all time. However, that façade shattered when SAC Capital became the target of a seven year investigation that revealed a vast insider trading scheme.
10. The Smartest Guys in the Room: The Amazing Rise and Scandalous Fall of Enron by Bethany McLean and Peter Elkind
(4.20 • 16,369 ratings)
Enron was the epitome of a New Economy company with its skyrocketing profits and share price until Fortune magazine published an article by McLean that asked the seemingly innocent question, “How exactly does Enron make money?” From there, Enron’s house of cards started to crumble. This meticulously researched and character driven book takes the investigation deeper to offer the definitive account of the Enron scandal and the involved characters.
Popular Adapted True Crime Books
These books are for readers who are looking for a true crime story so good that Hollywood couldn’t resist adapting it. With these true crime books, you can read the book, then watch the adaptation. Although some of the stories include plenty of bloodshed and murder, there are a couple of nonviolent stories focused on fraud and political corruption.
11. All the President’s Men by Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward
(4.19 • 44,844 ratings)
This landmark book in investigative journalism chronicles the biggest scandal in American politics, the June 1972 break-in at the Watergate Office Building. Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward reported on the Watergate scandal for The Washington Post from the initial break-in to the resignation of top officials from the Nixon Administration.
12. Casino: Love and Honor in Las Vegas by Nicholas Pileggi
(4.02 • 4,404 ratings)
In this riveting in-depth account into 1970s Las Vegas, Pileggi reveals how Chicago bookie Frank “Lefty” Rosenthal and Anthony Spilotro worked together to oversee Las Vegas casino operations for the mob. For years, they had a stranglehold on Sin City and skimmed millions from their bosses, but their schemes started to crumble when Rosenthal started making mistakes and Spilotro fell for his partner’s wife, a troubled showgirl named Geri. Soon, betrayal, an FBI investigation, and multiple convictions led to the end of the Mafia’s grip on the multi billion-dollar Las Vegas gaming industry.
13. Catch Me If You Can: The True Story of a Real Fake by Frank Abagnale
(4.07 • 45,903 ratings)
With aliases like Frank Williams, Robert Conrad, and Ringo Monjo, Frank W. Abagnale co-piloted a Pan Am jet, practiced law without a degree or license, pretended to be a college professor, and cashed over $2.5 million in forged checks before his 21st birthday. Known in 26 countries and in all 50 states as “The Skywayman,” Abagnale lived a luxurious and fantastical life on the run until the law caught up with him.
14. I Heard You Paint Houses: Frank the Irishman Sheeran & Closing the Case on Jimmy Hoffa by Charles Brandt
(4.08 • 10,374 ratings)
Mafia stories are beloved by
Martin Scorsese Hollywood, and I Heard You Paint Houses is no exception. The first words Jimmy Hoffa spoke to Frank “The Irishman” Sheeran were, “I heard you paint houses,” which refers to Sheeran’s role as a hitman for the mob. Sheeran learned to kill as a member of the U.S. Army during World War II. Upon returning home, he became a hustler and hitman for legendary crime boss Russell Bufalino. During nearly five years of interviews with Brandt, Frank Sheeran provided rare insight into American Mafia history and confessed to more than 25 mob hits including killing Jimmy Hoffa.
15. In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
(4.07 • 501,271 ratings)
If there is a classic true crime book, it is most certainly In Cold Blood. In this seminal work, Truman Capote reconstructs the murder of the Clutter family in Holcomb, Kansas, on November 15, 1959, and the investigation that lead to the capture, trial, and execution of the accused killers, Perry Smith and Dick Hickcock.
16. Mindhunter: Inside the FBI’s Elite Serial Crime Unit by John E. Douglas and Mark Olshaker
(4.07 • 33,901 ratings)
During his 25 year career with the FBI Behavioral Science Unit, Special Agent John Douglas hunted some of the most notorious killers like The Atlanta Child Murderer and The Trailside Killer in San Francisco. Douglas was one of the first criminal profilers and ushered in a new age in behavior science and criminal profiling. He is also the model for Jack Crawford from the crime thrillers Red Dragon and The Silence of the Lambs. Following retirement, Douglas was finally able to tell his unique and compelling story in Mindhunter.
Popular International True Crime Books
The following books are for true crime fans looking to read about crime from a more global perspective.
17. The Feather Thief: Beauty, Obsession, and the Natural Heist of the Century by Kirk Wallace Johnson
(4.02 • 13,309 ratings)
In June 2009, after performing at the London Royal Academy of Music, American flautist Edwin Rist took a train to the British Museum of Natural History. Inside, the Tring Museum houses one of the world’s largest ornithological collections, full of rare birds whose feathers were worth staggering amounts of money to those like Edwin who are obsessed with the Victorian art of salmon fly-tying. Once inside the museum, Rist grabbed hundreds of priceless bird skins and escaped into the darkness. Two years later, Kirk Wallace Johnson became consumed by the case of the feather thief and began an intensive worldwide investigation in search of answers.
18. Papillon by Henri Charrière
(4.25 • 52,851 ratings)
In 1931 Paris, Henri “Papillion” Charrière was convicted for a murder he did not commit and was sentenced to life imprisonment in French Guiana’s penal colony. After many years of planning, executing, and failing to escape, Charrière was eventually sent to the notorious Devil’s Island, where no one had ever escaped until Charrière.
Top True Crime Books Concerning Sexual Assault
The following books deal with rape and sexual assault against women. A couple of books touch upon the Harvey Weinstein abuse scandals. Others are memoirs from assault survivors.
19. Catch and Kill: Lies, Spies, and a Conspiracy to Protect Predators by Ronan Farrow
(4.5 • 44,918 ratings)
The term “catch and kill” refers to the practice of disreputable media companies buying stories just to bury them. In Catch and Kill, Ronan Farrow recounts the many challenges he faced while investigating the widespread allegations of rape, sexual assault, and sexual abuse of women by one of Hollywood’s most powerful producers.
20. Hope: A Memoir of Survival in Cleveland by Amanda Berry and Gina DeJesus
(4.30 • 12,475 ratings)
On May 6, 2013, Amanda Berry fled a Cleveland home, dialed 911, and said, “Help me, I’m Amanda Berry. I’ve been kidnapped, and I’ve been missing for ten years.” On separate occasions, Ariel Castro, a local school bus driver, kidnapped Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus, and Michelle Knight. For the next decade, Castro kept them chained in his basement where he raped and tortured them. Drawing on their recollections and Berry’s diary, along with reports on the original efforts to find the missing girls, Hope tells the full story about two women who survived captivity and who ultimately regained their lives and families.
21. Know My Name: A Memoir by Chanel Miller
(4.7 • 33,178 ratings)
In June 2016, BuzzFeed posted the victim impact statement from “Emily Doe” in the People v. Turner case after Brock Turner was sentenced to six months for sexually assaulting her on Stanford’s campus. In 2019, Emily Doe revealed herself as Chanel Miller in her memoir to reclaim her identity and to tell her story of trauma and transcendence. Miller’s story illuminates our culture’s bias to protect perpetrators and indicts the criminal justice system designed to fail the most vulnerable.
22. She Said: Breaking the Sexual Harassment Story That Helped Ignite a Movement by Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey
(4.40 • 17,612 ratings)
On October 5, 2017, The New York Times published the article Harvey Weinstein Paid Off Sexual Harassment Accusers for Decades, but nothing prepared Kantor and Twohey for the Pandora’s box of sexual harassment and abuse accounts. Women who suffered in silence for years came forward to share their stories, and hundreds of men from all industries and walks of life would be outed for harassing and abusing their female colleagues. She Said focuses on the gatekeepers and systemic structures of power that enabled Weinstein for years along with the social shift that catalyzed the #MeToo movement.
23. Spilled Milk by K.L. Randis
(4.28 • 31,299 ratings)
Although a novel, Spilled Milk is based on the author’s own abusive childhood because she wanted to make a resource that read like a novel, but educated like a counselor.
Brooke Nolan is a battered child who makes an anonymous call about the abuse she and her siblings suffer at home, but it is a glass of spilled milk that makes her finally speak out about the abuse suffered at the hands of her father.
True Crime Books from Your Favorite True Crime Podcasts
24. Adnan’s Story: The Search for Truth and Justice After Serial by Rabia Chaudry
(4.11 • 7,657 ratings)
Adnan Syed was convicted and sentenced to life in prison plus 30 years for the murder of his ex-girlfriend Hae Min Lee. Syed has maintained his innocence, and family friend Rabia Chaudry has always believed him. In 2013, Rabia contacted Sarah Koenig, a producer at This American Life. Koenig’s investigation turned into Serial, a Peabody Award-winning podcast with more than 500 million listeners. However, Serial didn’t tell the whole story. In this narrative, Chaudry presents new key evidence to dismantle the State’s case along with Adnan’s life in prison and his personal reflections.
25. Stay Sexy & Don’t Get Murdered: The Definitive How-To Guide by Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark
(4.15 • 40,767 ratings)
“Stay sexy and don’t get murdered.” is the famous tagline for the popular true crime comedy podcast My Favorite Murderer. Stay Sexy & Don’t Get Murdered is a dual memoir of the show’s hosts Kilgariff and Hardstark. The authors share never-before-heard stories about their struggles with depression, eating disorders, and addiction and reflect on the events that shaped them the most. Along the way there are plenty of mentions of the famous true crimes like the Jonestown massacre and the murder of Polly Klass.
Now that you know the true crime books that Goodreads users enjoyed reading the most, are you ready to take a stab at this TBR?
If you’re dying for even more (and diverse) true crime books, then look no further than Book Riot’s own book recommendation service, TBR: Tailored Book Recommendations to find the perfect books for you or your mystery book club.