Not a definitive listing, just some of my favorite non-fiction books.
Have you ever watched an episode of CSI or any other crime show and gone that cannot possibly happen! Guess what, it can and does. Emily Craig is a forensics expert and this book is about some of her most infamous crime scenes. Craig got interested in forensic anthropology while working as a medical examiner. While creating a model of a murder victim’s face, Craig decided to make a dramatic midlife career change. This led to her going back to college and becoming the forensic anthropologist for the state of Kentucky. While still in school, she worked with the FBI investigating the Waco Massacre of the Branch Davidians. Then she became the anthropologist for Kentucky, a state with an alarmingly high murder rate and thousands of miles of rural backcountry. Her career was never boring. Teasing Secrets from the Dead is a well written and engaging read. Forensic anthropology is an interesting field of study and is fascinating to read about.
Teasing Secrets from the Dead, Crown, 2004, ISBN 9781400049226
This is the first nonfiction book I started and could not put down until the last page. The writing is easy going and the book moves quickly. Joseph Petro worked for twenty-three years as a Secret Service Agent, eleven years with president and vice-presidents and then the Pope. Four of those years were spent guarding President Ronald Reagan; these years make up the majority of the narrative. Petro started out as a Navy Lieutenant in Vietnam and parlayed his military service into a career with the Secret Service. The book is more a series of connected vignettes from his time of service. This includes stories of riding horses with Regan, eluding the press to snake the President and First Lady out of the White House, rehearsing assassination attempts, negotiating trips around the world, working out security with the KGB, witnessing Reagan’s meeting with Mikhail Gorbachev, and leading Pope John Paul II’s 1987 visit to the United States. Standing Next to History is a fascinating look into the inner workings of the White House.
Standing Next to History, St. Martin’s Griffin, 2006, ISBN 9780312332228
Ever since watching Catch Me if You Can, I have been fascinated by reformed career criminals. It is an odd fascination, I fully acknowledge that, but their autobiographies make interesting reads. Bill Mason is a reformed jewel thief who robbed the rich and famous all while keeping up the façade of normal life. Over a thirty year period Mason charmed and dazzled his way into the upper echelons of society and stole more than $35 million worth of jewels. Victims of his sticky fingers included Robert Goulet, Armand Hammer (great-grandfather of actor Armie Hammer) Phyllis Diler, Bob Hope, Truman Capote, Margaux Hemingway, Johnny Weissmuller, and the Mafia. In between heist jobs, he managed to seduce a high-profile socialite, nearly died from a gunshot wound, tricked Christie’s & Sothby’s into selling stolen items, and became the target of a nationwide manhunt. The best part is when Mason is granted immunity by a Federal Prosecutor and then confesses to all his crimes, which the Prosecutor can no longer charge him for due to the immunity. The real story about Mason’s double life is a lot more intense than the numerous tabloid features about his exploits. This is a unique true crime confession book.
Confessions of a Master Jewel Thief, Villard, 2005, ISBN 9780375760716
One of the ways the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) controlled its subjects was through the abolition of religion. The “official” religion was atheism and anyone confessing otherwise was brutally punished. Ivan Mosieyev “Vanya” was a soldier in the Soviet Red Army and a confessing Christian. Throughout his life and Army service he was ruthlessly persecuted and incarcerated for his Christianity. Despite all the horrific hardships and tortures he was put through, he never hesitated to share the Gospel with anyone willing to listen. This is an inspiring tale of a young man who never backed down and refused to let his fellow man break his belief in God. Myrna Grant does an excellent job writing Vanya’s story and certain passages brought me to tears. This is a dramatic, inspiring, and moving read.
Vanya: A True Story, Charisma House, 1996, ISBN 9780884190097
Diamonds are a girl’s best friend and a thief’s worst nightmare. This is the real-life Ocean’s Eleven, only with less polish, stupid mistakes, and no George Clooney suaveness. On February 15 2003, a group of thieves broke into an airtight vault in Antwerp, Belgium and walked out with $108 million in diamonds and other baubles. All of this was done without tripping off an alarm or injuring a single guard. The crime might have been perfect but the getaway was terrible. Leonardo Notarbartolo, a charming Italian, was eventually identified as the ringleader of the thieves. However, no one knew how the crime was actually committed. Scott Andrew Selby and Greg Campbell undertook a global expedition to put together all the pieces of the heist puzzle. This is part diamond heist, investigative journalism, and glittering true crime. Flawless merely shows that truth is stranger than fiction. JJ Abrams bought the rights to this book several years ago and supposedly plans on turning it into a movie eventually.
Flawless, Union Square Press, 2010, ISBN 9781402766510