One of the biggest changes I made in 2019 is that I’ve become a fan of nonfiction. I used to dislike reading nonfiction (see this post), but this year I’ve found myself enjoying nonfiction just as much—if not more—than fiction.
One of my favorite sub-genres of true crime is non-violent true crime. From my list below, Bad Blood and The Library Book are non-violent (Catch and Kill details sexual assault and rape, which is by definition violent). I have an active enough imagination without reading real-life stories of murder, so I’ve been pleased to find lots of great true crime books that don’t center around a body. On my list to read next are The Feather Thief, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, and The Spy Who Couldn’t Spell.
Read more about my reading reflections on 2019 and goals for 2020 here!
1. Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup by John Carreyrou
Elizabeth Holmes and her mult-billion dollar startup sold the world on a lie: that a full range of blood tests could be completed on a single drop of blood in her machines. This book is the story of her rise and fall.
This story is straight up BONKERS.
I am completely fascinated by cults and charismatic individuals that are able to deceive and charm people into believing lies. Theranos founder and CEO Elizabeth Holmes is a master liar. One investor in the company was so determined to believe Holmes’ was legitimate that he shunned his own grandson (who worked at the company) for accusing Holmes of wrongdoing.
There were three components of this book that I found interesting: First, Carreyrou explored Elizabeth Holmes’ life, and questioned whether she had good intentions and truly believed in her product at the beginning, or if she was intentionally deceitful from the start. Next, Carreyrou explores the toxic work environment Holmes created, and how her gaslighting and intimidation tactics kept current and former employees silenced.
Finally, the book examines how Holmes positioned herself as a female Steve Jobs, and how her focus on branding Theranos as a tech startup (rather than medical supply company) created an illusion that attracted powerful investors and made her a media darling—and distracted from the company’s shortcomings and lack of actual results.
This is a must-read if you enjoy nonviolent true crime!
2. Catch and Kill: Lies, Spies, and a Conspiracy to Protect Predators by Ronan Farrow
“In the end, the courage of women can’t be stamped out. And stories—the big ones, the true ones—can be caught but never killed.”
This book is horrific in the way it details the pervasiveness of sexual harassment, particularly by Harvey Weinstein, and the lengths powerful people and organizations will go to cover up misconduct.
When Farrow began exploring rumors into sexual misconduct, assault, and even rape by Harvey Weinstein, he discovered a disturbing history of cover-ups, payouts, and nondisclosure agreements that spanned decades. In the process, Farrow encountered resistance to the story within NBC, and eventually suspected he was being followed and monitored.
It’s shocking to realize how little organizations (like the Weinstein Company and NBC and FOX, among others) actually care about the string of women assaulted, as long as it doesn’t interfere with their bottom line. I was FLOORED at the money paid out to women for their silence. And the cruel machinations of a system that exploits them, shames them, and convinces them the pursuit of justice isn’t worth it (hint: it’s usually not). And there are only apologies when these twisted webs are finally out in the open. UGH.
All that to say, this book made me grateful to Farrow and other courageous reporters who pursued the story of Weinstein’s abusive power, while exposing the rot within news organizations themselves. I’m thankful some predators have been removed from power, and hopeful that the fight to bring more to justice will continue.
Side note: In addition to this book and the podcast, I also read She Said, the New York Times account of the Harvey Weinstein story, but I found Catch and Kill to be a more gripping and personal story than She Said, although both were good. (The main thing I did’t like about She Said was the addition of Christine Blasey Ford’s story, not because her story is unimportant, but it’s been covered so extensively in the news that it felt tacked-on and an unnecessary addition to the Harvey Weinstein story.)
3. The Library Book by Susan Orlean
I initially picked up this book because (spoiler alert) I’m a librarian. But I’ve recommended this title to several people and I can confirm that it’s not just for librarians!
Part love letter to the library, part true crime book, part history of the Los Angeles Public Library (it’s C-O-L-O-R-F-U-L), The Library Book is a great read for anyone who has ever loved their local library. When I worked at a library in high school, my mom told me I should write a book about all the weird things I experienced on a daily basis. But the longer I’ve worked in a public library, the more I realize my experiences are not unusual: the crazy experiences and people I encounter each day are part of what makes the library such and interesting place to work. (Some librarians have written books—I Work at a Public Library is on my TBR list!)
I liked how Orlean shifted the narrative around between past and present, and her descriptions of the fire that destroyed the Los Angeles Central Library were truly terrifying. I actually felt panicky reading about all the irreplaceable documents that were destroyed. Another interesting fact—did you know fire could burn so hot that it’s almost clear in color? I didn’t, but apparently the fire that destroyed parts of the library was so hot it’s legendary among the firefighters who were there.
If you haven’t been to your library recently or if you’re a lifelong library lover, this is a great book to learn more about how libraries are modern service centers, and how the LA public library came into existence—it’s more interesting than I could have imagined!