9 Historical True Crime Books That Will Show You The Creepier Side Of History
History, science, memoir, suspense — many true crime book have elements of each of these. So, of course, if you're a history buff who's also obsessed with true crime, you're definitely in luck: History is filled with remarkable, true mysteries that make for excellent books.
As with any historical text, there books use the crimes of the past to teach readers a lesson about today's world. Many of these books deal with the question of our cultural obsession with crime: How and why does crime fascinate society so much? From the first detective novels to the modern-day obsession with true crime podcasts, these books take a valuable look at what it is that draws our curiosity to these heinous acts.
Others center on specific moments in history that still have ramifications today. Others — including Sons of Cain and Lady Killers — choose to tell the stories of many different murderers and murderesses. And one book even takes a look at the true crime solved by the man who created one of the most infamous detectives of all time, Sherlock Holmes.
So, if you're eager to learn about the darker side of history, here are some endlessly fascinating historical true crime books that you absolutely cannot miss:
'The Poisoner's Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York' by Deborah Blum
This book transports you to New York City in the Roaring Twenties, as trailblazing forensic scientists work to uncover the secrets to deadly toxins and setting the stage for an entirely new era of forensic discovery.
'Sons of Cain: A History of Serial Killers from the Stone Age to the Present' by Peter Vronsky
In Sons of Cain, historian Peter Vronsky dives into the history of serial killers. His books spans millennia in its quest to uncover the roots of evil, taking readers on a journey from 15,000 B.C. to the present day. This is a fascinating read that might just illuminate the truth about the darkest parts of human nature.
'Lady Killers: Deadly Women Throughout History' by Tori Telfer
'The Art of the English Murder: From Jack the Ripper and Sherlock Holmes to Agatha Christie and Alfred Hitchcock' by Lucy Worsley
The inspiration for the TV series A Very British Murder, this book examines the English obsession with crime. Lucy Worsley revisits a number of notorious crimes, including the Ratcliff Highway Murders of the 19th century, and explores how these crimes affected the English psyche and led to the creation of books, plays, and other art forms.
'The Invention of Murder: How the Victorians Revelled in Death and Detection and Created Modern Crime' by Judith Flanders
Judith Flanders explores the crimes of the 19th century that gave rise to both detective agencies and detective fiction. You might even recognize some of the murderers she examines — including Sweeney Todd and Jack the Ripper.
'Hell's Princess: The Mystery of Belle Gunness, Butcher of Men' by Harold Schechter
This book zeroes in on Belle Gunness, a serial killer you probably haven't heard about yet. Between 1902 and 1908, Gunness (AKA Lady Bluebeard) went on one of the most sensational killing sprees in American history, luring a series of unsuspecting victims to her Indiana “murder farm.”
'Conan Doyle for the Defense: The True Story of a Sensational British Murder, a Quest for Justice, and the World's Most Famous Detective Writer' by Margalit Fox
Here's something I bet you didn't know: The creator of Sherlock Holmes lent his own investigative skills to a real-life murder case, and the information he uncovered eventually freed a wrongly-convicted man. In this book, Margalit Fox writes of this little-discussed aspect of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's life.
'The Inheritor's Powder: A Tale of Arsenic, Murder, and the New Forensic Science' by Sandra Hempel
Author Sandra Hempel actually solves a 200-year-old murder in this riveting book about the case that changed forensic science forever. In the Victorian era, arsenic was an ubiquitous, untraceable poison. But after the suspicious death of George Bodle, the debate over his will led chemist James Marsh to search out a way to pinpoint this deadly poison.