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Popular Crime: Reflections on the Celebration of Violence
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Popular Crime: Reflections on the Celebration of Violence

3.69  ·  Rating Details  ·  1,709 Ratings  ·  232 Reviews
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 Crim
Hardcover, 496 pages
Published May 3rd 2011 by Scribner (first published April 28th 2011)
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Nate Johnson
Sep 01, 2011 Nate Johnson rated it it was ok
I am seldom compelled to write reviews on this site - but I just finished a book that cannot think to describe other than something that includes the phrase "written by an asshole." James:

1. goes on distracting asides attacking forms of literature he doesn't like
2. evaluates books as good or bad while giving no support for his arguments
3. speculates endlessly on the "real events" of crimes while lambasting others for doing so
4. offers solid reader advice like, "I won't mention it here; you knw w
Apr 28, 2016 VictoriaNickers rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, 2016, crime
Sometimes you just need that non-fiction read to shake things up in your reading life. This was that book for me. I actually enjoyed it. I have always had an interest and read many books on the theories of crime. This was a slow read. I spent a lot of time googling different cases that he brought up in the book, just to get more background.

Don't pick up this book thinking it will magically provide you with some fascinating insight on crime and the media. In fact, he actually admits himself in t
Sep 11, 2011 Dara rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
I found this difficult to rate. The good: fascinating subject (if you're into it, which presumably if you buy a book called "Popular Crime" you are), very readable summaries and writing style, and it's great for someone like me, who will never ever read a book all about Jon Benet Ramsey, but will happily read a ten-page lit review of those books about Jon Benet Ramsey.

The bad: sometimes his style gets a bit too colloquial and entirely disorganized (dozens of pages will go by rattling off crime a
Curtis Edmonds
Jun 20, 2012 Curtis Edmonds rated it really liked it
Bill James has spent most of the last few years in Boston. I do not know if he spent any or all of that time sitting on a barstool in some Beacon Street bar, dispensing wisdom and nonsense co-mingled in the way of the barroom know-it-all. But if he did, and if you were there to hear it, and if you wrote all of it down, you would come up with a book like "Popular Crime." It is breezy, self-assured, all over the map in every direction, and told with the absolute certainty of the taproom blowhard. ...more
Mary Ronan Drew
May 16, 2011 Mary Ronan Drew rated it it was amazing
Bill James is an unusual writer. He is best known for sabermetrics, a new way of collecting baseball statistics that better reflects the performance of players. But during all the years that he has been writing his baseball books and advising teams he has also been reading books about crime. Not mysteries or thrillers, true crime. He estimates he has read about 1,000 of these books, about murders ranging from Lizzie Borden to Jon Benet Ramsey.

James approaches any subject in an almost entirely un
Gabe Perna
If the name of the guy who wrote this piece of crap was James Bill, not only would it have not gotten published, but the publisher would have laughed him out of the building. At no point in this book did the author write anything but a series of rambling, opinionated jags on popular crime stories. Most of what he had an opinion on was pure speculation. He then had the gall to criticize other people's work. People who, unlike James, actually did real research and work. I hate to say "stick to wha ...more
Oct 22, 2011 KC rated it did not like it
Shelves: dnf
I got about 150 pages in, skimmed the rest, and gave up. At first, I found the short anecdotes and sidebars to be interesting, even if the writing read more like punditry than exposition. After a while, though, I found myself annoyed by the author's tendency to draw sweeping conclusions without any effort to corroborate his personal opinions. His disdain for the law and lawyers prevents him from engaging in a meaningful and comprehensive critique of either (and we need those critiques, believe m ...more
Apr 14, 2013 Stringy rated it really liked it
This is a fascinating book, although it's a bit odd in places. James' writing style is all over the place, he's opinionated but not tactful, he pulls numbers and facts out of unnamed places (maybe his arse, maybe somewhere legit... there are no footnotes or references in my Kindle version). I really enjoyed reading it :) It's like having a meandering conversation with someone who alternately makes you yell "Whaaat?! No way, dude!" and "Yeah! Well said, spot on!".

I liked his categorisation of cr
Feb 19, 2013 Groucho rated it did not like it
One of the blurbs on the cover describes the book as “sabermetrics meets the Coen Brothers.” That is a bizarre combination, but given that Bill James is the author a reader could be forgiven for believing the hype.

If only.

In truth, I don’t understand what the point of this book was. The subtitle is “Reflections on the Celebration of Violence,” which again—like sabermetrics meeting the Coen Brothers—seems like an interesting topic. But the bulk of the book is devoted only to given brief summari
Jun 12, 2011 Amber rated it really liked it
This is a strange book. I mean that not in a bad way, but in a very literal sense--different from anything else I've read. Granted, I've not read James' Historical Abstracts, which probably would have given me a better idea what this is like.

Anyway, I was a little bit disappointed, because based on my love for baseball statistics and more than passing interest in crime and the criminal justice system, I thought I would love this book, and instead merely liked it. James is definitely not a great
Richard Finney
Dec 16, 2011 Richard Finney rated it really liked it
I was looking forward to reading this book because I grew up reading his books on baseball statistics, which completely changed the way most serious fans look at the sport.

This book on crime was a solid triple... most of the times totally illuminating, passionately written and completely absorbing if you are interested in reading about some of the most famous violent crimes in the last hundred years. The chapters on Lizzie Borden and the Boston Strangler are real stand outs. I especially love t
Mark Desrosiers
Aug 07, 2011 Mark Desrosiers rated it it was ok
Shelves: crime
I think Bill James is misusing his obvious and potent powers here. As a baseball expert, his outside-the-box, everydude, quantitative methods of looking at baseball have transformed the game, instilled strategic wisdom in some managers, emboldened the mathemagicians, caused the Red Sox to win two world series, etc. And he writes that way too -- lots of "look, I don't know much about this, but..." asides, as if he's sitting on the next barstool, bouncing another brilliant earth-shaking insight of ...more
Dec 28, 2014 Lori rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, crime

Very interesting....made me Google a lot. But the repeated uses of Wikipedia as a source caused me anxiety.
Aug 18, 2015 Dave rated it liked it
I love the Baseball Abstract, which is a terrific mixture of solid statistical analysis and totally random opinion. But when James gets away from baseball, there are no stats to help him. He's very readable--especially when he takes the time to break down a crime and show why he holds a particular opinion about it (ex: Lizzie Borden, JonBenet Ramsey), or when he takes the time to carefully argue a position (ex: his argument for more, smaller prisons). Whether or not you agree with him, he can be ...more
Jun 27, 2012 Em rated it it was amazing
I adored this book. Bill James has the kind of dry, witty writing style that makes everything interesting. His take on how popular crime has affected our lives and history is amazing and I cannot say enough good things about it. If you've ever felt guilty reading true crime books, this will make you feel so much better as it teaches you things you never thought you'd learn.
Dec 06, 2015 Veleda rated it it was ok
I had a hard time deciding what to rate this book. On the one hand, it was a genuinely entertaining read. On the other hand, I grew so weary of James' bluster. James has no problem admitting that he's an amateur in the field of crime. However, this fails to stop from him from firmly declaring that he has all (or at least a good many) of the solutions to the American criminal justice system that those lawyers are just too lawyer-like to understand. (Nor does this confidence extend only to the sub ...more
Aug 30, 2015 Mark rated it did not like it
I probably never give this book the time of day if it were not written by Bill James (and the book wouldn't exist without him ... as you might realize), the arguable godfather of modern baseball analytics and the proprietor of the before-their-time Baseball Abstracts.

1. James, I think, is very intelligent but Popular Crime comes off as a candidate for self-publishing. As noted, James has created a career out of writing about baseball statistics. However, baseball is as much a passion turned car
Christopher Day
Mar 06, 2014 Christopher Day rated it liked it
Exactly the type of book about true crime that you would expect a baseball statistician to write. Basically a survey of "popular" crime (the murders and kidnappings that captured the imagination of the public and the press) in the US over the past 150 years or so, it also tries to be many other things. It is a survey of the books that have been written about those crimes. It is a collection of rants by the author on the failures of the courts, lawyers, police, media, and public, and his theories ...more
David Gross
Sep 04, 2012 David Gross rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction
Bill James has read a whole lot of true-crime books. Popular Crime summarizes the crimes in these books (almost all of them murders), in roughly chronological order, and comments a little bit also about how certain varieties of crime caught the public eye at different periods.

He makes nods at making the book more than just a catalog of the lurid, but his analyses of how the criminal justice system has changed, of cultural attitudes toward crime and criminals, and of the popularity of crime stori
Jun 13, 2011 Allison rated it liked it
It probably isn't fair for me to rate this book as I didn't read the entire thing but rather most of it; that is, I skipped straight to all the essays about the murders I was interested in to get this author's take.
While Bill James is not the best writer out there, he is humorous and thorough and makes clear what are often complicated cases. I thoroughly enjoyed his take on the Jon-Benet Ramsey murder. His reviews of other books on the cases he presents are often funny and provide a good perspe
Aug 02, 2012 Kiof rated it it was ok
This book is home to some of the most unprofessional writing I've read in a book this mainstream; he even regales us with GR-esque reviews (including letter grades) of tawdry paperback crime books. James' goal is to elevate the study of the True Crime genre to some sort of art, but his attempt basically fails. The book, in the end, is just a compendium of crime stories and the stories are what holds the reader's interest, not James' needless and overly-argumentative insights and assertions. As a ...more
May 15, 2012 Rachel rated it did not like it
I did not finish this book.
Too much unnecessary detail - six degrees of separation facts were interesting in the first few examples, but later became irritating like namedropping.
This led me to stop reading the book from beginning to end and start skipping around to what I thought would be interesting cases.
Some crimes were covered exhaustively and others barely a paragraph. For example Nancy Spungen (from Sid and Nancy) was so short that as I continued on to the next paragraph, I was left wonde
Apr 16, 2016 Jesse rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-in-2016
Maybe this business of forcing myself to read books all the way through isn't working out for me, since it took me months to get through this out of my dislike for it, while I could reasonably have been reading things I enjoyed. I was fascinated by its premise of tracing the history of crime in the US as absorbed by the public interest, and at first I enjoyed it. Then a hundred or so pages in I began to notice the author's pattern: sum up the crime in more or less detail, mention the true crime ...more
Sep 26, 2015 Katherine rated it it was amazing
I loved this book. I didn't know Bill James as a baseball personality (I'm not much of a sports person), so I didn't have any expectations going in, other than being excited to read the book because I love true crime. Well, I thought I loved true crime-- Until I saw how many true crime books Bill James has read. It's unbelievable just how widely he's read about all these crimes.

The book is a history of popular crime, jumping from crime to crime throughout each chapter. James seems to have done w
Aug 24, 2015 Stig rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I really enjoyed this book! The structure is infinitely readable, basically 2-3 true crime anecdotes per chapter and then an explanation of how these crimes/investigations have influenced our society's opinions and reactions to similar crimes. It's amazing how many "crimes of the century" we've had in the west that have long since passed out of popular memory. It's also fascinating to learn how our law enforcement agencies and legal systems have stumbled & bumbled into their current, imperfe ...more
R.G. Belsky
Jul 17, 2014 R.G. Belsky rated it liked it
This is probably the most disappointing book for me in a long time. I'm a huge Bill James fan and I devour all his baseball books. But I also love his take on non-baseball topis in those books. So I was eagerly looking forward to his views on popular crime cases. Ugh. He brings little to the discussion of our biggest crimes in this book. Frankly, much of it is superficial and naive at points.

The part that annoyed me the most was the way he completely wrote off the importance of the JFK assassin
Dec 22, 2014 Joe rated it it was ok
I read this in a day...doing some judicious skimming throughout the second half. As someone who never reads true crime I enjoyed the experience. James provides nice summaries of the major American crimes since the 18th century that have captivated the public. That being said this is a tough read. He's like a pretentious old blow-hard at a dive bar...he's got some interesting tales (none of which is based on anything other than true crime paperbacks he's read) and he's got some long-winded rants. ...more
Hugh Hunter
Dec 27, 2015 Hugh Hunter rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I really enjoyed this book but could definitely see how it may not appeal to everyone. It moves between discussion of theory surrounding popular crime and a pseudo-history of popular crime in the US. I found out about this book from a podcast called "the last podcast on the left" and the podcast is simply a must listen for anyone interested in conspiracies and popular crime.
May 08, 2015 Akin rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, crime
"Criminal justice calls for the careful balancing of competing interests within a complex problem." It take Bill James 421 pages to get to the point. Fortunately, the journey there isn't half bad.

Actually, that depends. James' style is that of the raconteur, the seen-it-all-and-know-a-bit-more-besides barstool pundit. His subject is popular crime stories, his material three hundred years of accounts of the notorious and the less-so crimes of passion, anger, depravity and, quite occasionally, gr
Jim Cupples
Jan 19, 2015 Jim Cupples rated it really liked it
Really enjoyed this book. Bill James is a contrarian thinker who looks at "common" things in different ways. He did it with baseball (what he's most known for) and now he's done it with crime, with a special focus on serial killers. The book can be a little bit scary, and it is a little long, but the best part is that you can pick it up and put it down very easily. You can skip forward chapters and go backwards, and there's only a few times where you might miss something from doing this. He's al ...more
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George William “Bill” James (born October 5, 1949, in Holton, Kansas) is a baseball writer, historian, and statistician whose work has been widely influential. Since 1977, James has written more than two dozen books devoted to baseball history and statistics. His approach, which he termed sabermetrics in reference to the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR), scientifically analyzes and st ...more
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“Let me suggest some other things that I think may have contributed. Police officers are much more professional now than they were a hundred years ago. Police officers a hundred years ago were often not respected by juries because, in truth, they very often were not worthy of much respect. They are better educated now; they have better uniforms and better PR guys. This probably causes juries to give them more credence. This is perhaps unfortunate. Professionals lie just as often as amateurs, only more skillfully.” 0 likes
“The Warren Court swung the balance of power toward the accused—and the counterbalance of skepticism moved the other way. Trials were once spontaneous, quick and dramatic; now they are rehearsed, endless and often boring, interminable bullshit from professional witnesses who have practiced their skills at sparring with defense attorneys. The jury looks upon the accused as if he must be guilty, or why would he be here?” 0 likes
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