True Crime Non-Fiction: 10 Recommendations

To follow from my January post on two American true crime non-fiction books, here is my list of 10 further recommendations in the true crime genre. It is in no particular order and I purposely left out books that I already reviewed on my blog – Roberto Saviano’s Gomorrah and Tom Wainwright’s Narconomics.

I. Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI [2017]

No other non-fiction has had as much effect on me in recent years as this book by David Grann. This is an outrageous story about a series of inexplicable murders of the Osage people in Oklahoma in the 1920s after big oil deposits were found on their land. High levels of local corruption meant that a completely independent force had to take charge of a covert investigation and subsequently uncovered some very shocking facts. I also enjoyed Grann’s book The Lost City of Z, and Killers of the Flower Moon is currently being adapted as a film by no other than Martin Scorsese and starring Leonardo DiCaprio (no, not in a “good guy” role), Robert De Niro and Jesse Plemons (The Power of the Dog).

II. Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup [2018]

The story of Stanford drop-out Elizabeth Holmes must be one of the most shocking to come out in the 21st century. Holmes started her company Theranos in California in 2003, emulating Steve Jobs, and persuaded a number of influential people (alongside millions of onlookers!) to part with their cash and invest in her new medical technology that, from her words, could revolutionise blood testing and lead to accurate diagnoses years before any symptoms appeared. Only no such “miracle” technology was ever in existence, and this book by a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter not only tells of Holmes’s tale of ambition and deception, but also of the company’s later attempts to cover-up and intimidate as snippets of truth started to emerge around 2015. In January 2022, Elisabeth Holmes was convicted of four out of eleven charges laid down against her.

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Recent American True Crime Non-Fiction Reads

I. The Skies Belong to Us: Love and Terror in the Golden Age of Hijacking [2013] by Brendan I. Koerner – ★★★★

This book by journalist Brendan I. Koerner focuses on the “Golden Age of Aircraft Hijacking” and on a peculiar case of an airplane hijacking operation carried out by Vietnam veteran William Roger Holder and his girlfriend Cathy Kerkow in 1972. Before airport X-ray machines and the careful vetting of all passengers, Holder and Kerkow had accomplished a crime feat in the air of unbelievable proportions, later escaping to and from Algeria and much later even becoming “celebrities” in France, mingling with the elite. This book is not only a fascinating story of their case that often reads like an exciting thriller, but also a deep insight into the most unbelievable period in the American commercial aviation history when airplane hijacking was so common people thought of it as just “one of those annoying inconveniences of flying” similar to jet lag.

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Recent Non-Fiction Reads

I. Making Movies [1995] by Sidney Lumet ★★★★

This book on movie-making is by American director Sidney Lumet (1924 – 2011) who was probably best known for directing a number of “legal” films including 12 Angry Men [1957], Murder on the Orient Express [1974] and The Verdict [1982]. It provides a deep insight into the “magical” process of making movies, from deciding whether to do a movie (Lumet almost always decided “instinctively”) to the final editing process and running previews. Lumet was a “trier” and a “doer”. He tells us in his book that he did not believe in waiting around for opportunities and liked to create his own luck. His eagerness to create chances reflected the sheer variety of films he directed. Cinematic success is hard to pin down, he states. That is also his first lesson to us: “nobody knows what that magic combination is that produces a first-rate piece of work” [Vintage, 1995: 9]. Even a great script or a great star-actor does not guarantee success.

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Review: The Minds of Billy Milligan by Daniel Keyes

The Minds of Billy Milligan [1981/2018] – ★★★★1/2

This non-fiction book comes from Daniel Keyes, the writer of classic sci-fi Flowers for Algernon [1959]. The Minds of Billy Milligan tells the amazing story of Billy Milligan, the first man in the US history to successfully plead the insanity defence in court based on his proven multiple personality disorder and, therefore, be held not responsible for his major crimes (three counts of robbery and rape). Billy Milligan had twenty-four personalities (or “people”) living inside him, competing for spotlight (or consciousness) at any one time, and some of them developed when he was a toddler and suffering from trauma. This is no fiction as numerous eminent psychiatrists who observed Milligan for years testified repeatedly to his condition and the chances that Milligan could have somehow faked all twenty-four personalities over so many years are close to zero. This is because his personalities were truly different people, observed to have different body temperatures, hand-writing, accents, vocabulary, speech patterns, mannerism, IQ, skills, knowledge, experience and even brain waves. Daniel Keyes traces Milligan’s case, beginning from his arrest and childhood and culminating with Milligan being dragged from one hospital to another, battling public prejudice. This is a mind-blowing account of the most remarkable case of a disorder that lies at the very heart of uncovering the mystery of the human mind and consciousness.

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