Popular Crime

Popular Crime

Reflections on the Celebration of Violence

Book - 2011
Average Rating:
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The man who revolutionized the way we think about baseball now examines our cultural obsession with murder--delivering a unique, engrossing, brilliant history of tabloid crime in America.

Celebrated writer and contrarian Bill James has voraciously read true crime throughout his life and has been interested in writing a book on the topic for decades. Now, with Popular Crime, James takes readers on an epic journey from Lizzie Borden to the Lindbergh baby, from the Black Dahlia to O. J. Simpson, explaining how crimes have been committed, investigated, prosecuted and written about, and how that has profoundly influenced our culture over the last few centuries-- even if we haven't always taken notice.

Exploring such phenomena as serial murder, the fluctuation of crime rates, the value of evidence, radicalism and crime, prison reform and the hidden ways in which crimes have shaped, or reflected, our society, James chronicles murder and misdeeds from the 1600s to the present day. James pays particular attention to crimes that were sensations during their time but have faded into obscurity, as well as still-famous cases, some that have never been solved, including the Lindbergh kidnapping, the Boston Strangler and JonBenet Ramsey. Satisfyingly sprawling and tremendously entertaining, Popular Crime is a professed amateur's powerful examination of the incredible impact crime stories have on our society, culture and history.
Publisher: New York : Scribner, 2011.
Edition: 1st Scribner hardcover ed.
ISBN: 9781416552734
1416552731
Branch Call Number: 364.10973/JAMES
Characteristics: xii, 482 p., [8] p. of plates : ill. ; 24 cm.

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Marlowe Mar 22, 2016

This book was frustrating, in part because I entered with certain expectations, and in part due to James' approach and commentary. My understanding of Bill James was that he revolutionized baseball through statistical analysis, and therefore hoped this work took a similar approach to crime. This book is simply a chronological survey of American crime from the turn of the 20th century until approx. 2010. James speeds through cases assuming the reader has prior knowledge, and does not give equal weight to cases. James alludes to the OJ Simpson case throughout the book, and then only spends 3 pages on the crime, while he goes into length about JonBenet Ramsey. James constantly claims not be an expert, and then proceeds to cut down experts; he is highly critical with an overtly rude tone, and is strangely rough on women. James also focuses heavily on evidence, yet cites Wikipedia for some of his own research. Part of James' approach is to review books and movies of famous crimes, which may help if you are looking for further reading, but spends too much time here and not enough on the actual crime. Interspersed with James' chronology are his opinions about the state of the American justice system, and his ideas for reform. Overall the book is interesting despite James, but probably not what you thought t would be.

KateHillier Feb 16, 2016

This book is written by a man who has primarily written about baseball stats. You can tell by the thoroughness of our tour through sensational American Crime from the earliest recollection to JonBenet Ramsay. He summarizes literally every major media circus murder and nit picks every little detail. Sometimes it's mostly opinion - there's a great deal of "I've read a heck of a lot of true crime books and therefore I know things" - but if you're interested in the subject matter the summary and commentary can be interesting. I admit to flipping past a few.

What's missing is an overall analysis. Given the title of the book I was expecting some overall conclusion but there really isn't one. There is certainly for each individual case but not overall. Or maybe it was in the bits I skimmed.

It's very long, a little dense, not hard to understand but it just becomes tedious after a point. True crime buffs may have a different opinion, however.

r
rpavlacic
Jan 07, 2016

From the man who changed the way the Big Four sports scout for new prospects with "sabermetrics" comes this book that takes a look at why so many crimes have taken hold in the public's imagination. Among the numerous cases discussed are Lizzie Borden, the Lindbergh baby, Sam Shepard, the Boston Strangler, OJ and JonBenet Ramsey. In each case, Bill James takes a look at the facts of the case, whether the right culprit was found, and what made the case notorious. He also posits a theory as to why the US is such a violent country compared to other democracies - I won't give it away here, but it is certainly a plausible one. Well worth reading - but take your time on this one because you're bound to miss something if you just skim through it.

m
moviefan01
Sep 28, 2013

I certainly agree: Bill James has a very
fluid writing style that makes this book
enjoyable. In addition, James makes some thoughtful comments about crime
in the U.S. It's my understanding that
he's some sort of sports statistician--wish he'd write more of these books for general readers.

t
threelions
Jul 19, 2013

I like the way this guy writes. Would read something else he's done.

r
rennlc
Jan 09, 2013

It's an entertaining mix of observation, opinion, and estimation about crimes and the effects of their exposure in the media on both our culture and the cases themselves. It's thought provoking, entertaining, and only occasionally lacking depth in the narrative about the information he used to develop some of his theories.

t
tamaravh
Jun 25, 2011

Bill James has written many True Crime novels but has always wanted to write a book about the genre. 'Popular Crime' is a very neat book for everyone from True Crime novices to enthusiasts. James selects some of history’s most famous crimes and examines the suspects, evidence, and circumstances of each one explaining and theorizing about why the judgements in each case were reached. He also illustrates how modern techniques and hindsight either support or disprove the decisions. My favourite case was his look at the Lizzie Borden case. James showed that even with the small window of time she could have had to commit and clean up after the crime (3 minutes) it was the gossip and hype leading up to and including her trail that sealed her fate. He also shows how, thanks to modern techniques how Lizzie would have been discounted as a suspect almost right away. A very interesting read and recommended to all.

6L3N Jun 01, 2011

an excellent book. great pacing, entertaining and witty style, and displaying an erudition about the subject. james also peppers his narrative with large, philosophical questions about the big issues that arise here. his opinions are interesting and well-argued.

debwalker May 07, 2011

"Bill James, known for his annual Baseball Abstract series, turns his statistical eye and sharp wit to crime stories – the nectar of popular culture – and explains our enduring fascination with them."
Globe & Mail May 6 2011

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