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Popular Crime: Reflections on the Celebration of Violence

3.7  ·  Rating Details ·  2,029 Ratings  ·  264 Reviews
From the one-of-kind mind of Bill James, famous for revolutionizing the way we think about baseball, comes a “thought-provoking meditation” (Seattle Times) and epic tour through American crime—now available in paperback.

The man who revolutionized the way we think about baseball examines our cultural obsession with murder—delivering a unique, engrossing, brilliant history o
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Paperback, 496 pages
Published May 8th 2012 by Scribner (first published April 28th 2011)
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(showing 1-30)
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Nate Johnson
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
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VictoriaNickers
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
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Dara
Sep 11, 2011 Dara rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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Groucho
Aug 08, 2012 Groucho rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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
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Curtis Edmonds
Jun 20, 2012 Curtis Edmonds rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Apr 06, 2011 Mary Ronan Drew rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
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Stringy
Apr 14, 2013 Stringy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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Veleda
Nov 22, 2011 Veleda rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
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
KC
Oct 17, 2011 KC rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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
Em
Jun 27, 2012 Em rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
Lori
Dec 28, 2014 Lori rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, crime

Very interesting....made me Google a lot. But the repeated uses of Wikipedia as a source caused me anxiety.
Mark Desrosiers
May 10, 2011 Mark Desrosiers rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
Mark
Aug 20, 2015 Mark rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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
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Amber
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
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Richard Finney
Sep 20, 2011 Richard Finney rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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Hugh Hunter
Nov 16, 2015 Hugh Hunter rated it really liked it
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.
Slagle Rock
Apr 13, 2017 Slagle Rock rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Oustanding book. As much about popular crime itself as it is the literature of popular crime. I like Bill James' approach to the subject: He's not a credentialed expert on the subject, just a guy who's read a hell of a lot of True Crime books and formed some interesting opinions on them (and how society copes with violent crime). I understand James mostly writes about baseball and I think there is evidence of that in the way he uses statistics, metrics and logic to write about crime literature. ...more
Andrew Campbell
Apr 24, 2017 Andrew Campbell rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I put Bill James in with Chuck Klosterman and Malcolm Gladwell. It doesn't matter if they're right about everything, what matters is that they are divergent thinkers who communicate how perhaps things are not exactly as we think they are.
David
Dec 31, 2016 David rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
There were some fascinating parts to this but the book was all over the place in a way that'd make it really hard to recommend.

There's a couple different books in here: one is about how to devise a system of scoring evidence in criminal cases to yield better and more consistently justice-oriented outcomes, one is an entertaining romp through popular crimes through the ages (though mostly 19th and 20th centuries), and one is a weird political screed about how civil libertarians and especially the
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Bill reilly
Jun 20, 2017 Bill reilly rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Bill James is best known for esoteric books involving baseball statistics. He takes a detour with Popular Crime. It begins with a couple of short stories; one in Rome and the other in Victorian England. A few unsolved crimes from the 1700’s and 1800’s follow. The first major case is one that everyone remembers from childhood, Lizzy Borden. James declares her innocent after an extensive analysis of the murder. Chapter six examines crimes of the wealthy and by the wealthy. The most famous was the ...more
Chris
Jan 30, 2014 Chris rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jun 09, 2012 David Gross rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
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Dave
Aug 12, 2015 Dave rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Allison
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
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Kiof
Aug 02, 2012 Kiof rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
Rachel
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
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Xenophon Hendrix
This book is partly about popular crime, partly about press coverage of crime, and partly about books about popular crime. Bill James is a good writer, and Popular Crime has some of the humor, flashes of intelligence, and turns of phrase that made his old Baseball Abstracts so enjoyable, but the book meanders around so much that it annoyed me. Still, I'm not sorry I read it.
Kirsti
Quirky, intelligent, highly opinionated discussion of how crime coverage has affected (and still affects) Americans throughout our history. James sometimes becomes indignant, as when he talks about the police's dismissal of the man who should have been the prime suspect in the Hall-Mills murder case: "Is there some sort of law that mousy, ineffectual people don't commit murder in New Jersey?"

Valerie
Why do some crimes capture the media's attention, and others make barely a ripple? That, ostensibly, is the central theme to the book. He does address this issue from time to time, but he also reviews other true crime books, lays out what he thinks happened in assorted famous murders, and provides some pretty sound suggestions for prison reform.

An interesting, if choppy read.
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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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“praetor” 0 likes
“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
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