Jean's Reviews > Popular Crime: Reflections on the Celebration of Violence

Popular Crime by Bill James
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's review
Aug 03, 2011

really liked it
bookshelves: non-fiction

Bill James is a baseball writer, but he has read a LOT about popular crimes, from the early 1800s to the present. He discusses these crimes in detail and offers his opinion on the unsolved crimes. In the Sam Shepard case (Cleveland osteopath, model for "The Fugitive"), James posits a new theory I hadn't heard before. Because I've also done a lot of reading about these crimes and the people who commit them, I have really enjoyed this book. James' style is conversational; it's as if he's talking to you. It would be great in audiobook, to take on a trip.
James doesn't admit to being an expert; I could tell he read a lot about each case and his opinions about "who done it" in some cases were just an amateur's opinions. I didn't agree with all of his opinions (in the Michael Jackson case, for example), but I did in most. The best discussions were: (1) the Kennedy assassination. You would think there is nothing more to be said about this event, but James finds something new and surprising about it. And his conclusion makes sense,
(2) the JonBenet Ramsey case. James goes through the whole case and describes what he thinks happened. Another case like OJ Simpson in which the police and prosecutor really messed things up. (3) speaking of OJ, James does a nice job of wrapping up this case and the effect it had on society.
The best feature of the book was James' categorization system for popular crimes, using the elements (mystery, political, famous person, etc.) and a 1-10 rating system. The Lindberg case, I'd say is a 1, OJ and JonBenet are #2, and the rest are #3 and below. (That's not his ranking.)
The reason I didn't give this book 5 stars was that James sometimes gets off track. For example, he spent many pages discussing how he thinks we can fix the prison system (by having many small prisons instead of a few big ones) and I found myself thinking "enough, already, Bill."
I would highly recommend the book if you like true crime.

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