My Favourite Investigative Journalism Books

Investigative journalism is a form of journalism in which reporters deeply investigate a single topic of interest, such as serious crimes, political corruption, or corporate wrongdoing.”

I am currently reading Catch and Kill by Ronan Farrow and it is incredible so far. If you tell me that a book is investigative journalism I am very likely to add it to my TBR. This has inspired me to share some of the books of this genre I have loved in the past. I would also love any recommendations you have for me. Next week I will share the investigative journalism books that I hope to read in the future. 

Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup by John Carreyrou

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In 2014, Theranos founder and CEO Elizabeth Holmes was widely seen as the female Steve Jobs: a brilliant Stanford dropout whose startup “unicorn” promised to revolutionize the medical industry with a machine that would make blood tests significantly faster and easier. Backed by investors such as Larry Ellison and Tim Draper, Theranos sold shares in a fundraising round that valued the company at $9 billion, putting Holmes’s worth at an estimated $4.7 billion. There was just one problem: The technology didn’t work.

For years, Holmes had been misleading investors, FDA officials, and her own employees. When Carreyrou, working at The Wall Street Journal, got a tip from a former Theranos employee and started asking questions, both Carreyrou and the Journal were threatened with lawsuits. Undaunted, the newspaper ran the first of dozens of Theranos articles in late 2015. By early 2017, the company’s value was zero and Holmes faced potential legal action from the government and her investors. Here is the riveting story of the biggest corporate fraud since Enron, a disturbing cautionary tale set amid the bold promises and gold-rush frenzy of Silicon Valley.

Bad Blood is one of those books that I find myself constantly recommending. It is such a wild ride. I knew nothing about Elizabeth Holmes or Theranos before I picked up Bad Blood and my jaw was on the floor. I appreciate reading John Carreyrou’s point of view as he played such a big part in breaking the story. I continue to follow this story and I am so invested.

Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann

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In the 1920s, the richest people per capita in the world were members of the Osage Indian Nation in Oklahoma. After oil was discovered beneath their land, the Osage rode in chauffeured automobiles, built mansions, and sent their children to study in Europe.

Then, one by one, they began to be killed off. One Osage woman, Mollie Burkhart, watched as her family was murdered. Her older sister was shot. Her mother was then slowly poisoned. And it was just the beginning, as more Osage began to die under mysterious circumstances.

In this last remnant of the Wild West—where oilmen like J. P. Getty made their fortunes and where desperadoes such as Al Spencer, “the Phantom Terror,” roamed – virtually anyone who dared to investigate the killings were themselves murdered. As the death toll surpassed more than twenty-four Osage, the newly created F.B.I. took up the case, in what became one of the organization’s first major homicide investigations. But the bureau was then notoriously corrupt and initially bungled the case. Eventually the young director, J. Edgar Hoover, turned to a former Texas Ranger named Tom White to try to unravel the mystery. White put together an undercover team, including one of the only Native American agents in the bureau. They infiltrated the region, struggling to adopt the latest modern techniques of detection. Together with the Osage they began to expose one of the most sinister conspiracies in American history.

A true-life murder mystery about one of the most monstrous crimes in American history. 

The injustice that the Osage Indian Nation was met with was devastating to read. Truly a tragedy and beyond infuriating. It upsets me that I knew nothing about their story before I picked up Killers of the Flower Moon. I appreciate David Grann for shining a light on this horrible part of America’s history. If you are interested in history and/or true crime, I see this as a must read.

Columbine by Dave Cullen

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What really happened April 20, 1999? The horror left an indelible stamp on the American psyche, but most of what we “know” is wrong. It wasn’t about jocks, Goths, or the Trench Coat Mafia. Dave Cullen was one of the first reporters on scene, and spent ten years on this book-widely recognized as the definitive account. With a keen investigative eye and psychological acumen, he draws on mountains of evidence, insight from the world’s leading forensic psychologists, and the killers’ own words and drawings-several reproduced in a new appendix. Cullen paints raw portraits of two polar opposite killers. They contrast starkly with the flashes of resilience and redemption among the survivors. 

This book continues to haunt me. I thought that David Cullen took such a difficult topic and treated it with care and respect. The amount of thought and research that he put into writing this book is incredible. He does a great job of breaking down what exactly happened that day as well as discussing what lead up to the shooters making the decisions that they did. He also does not ignore the victims or survivors. I have plans to read Parkland eventually. I just don’t think I am ready for it.

The Only Plane in the Sky: An Oral History of 9/11 by Garrett M. Graff

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More than simply a collection of eyewitness testimonies, The Only Plane in the Sky is the historic narrative of how ordinary people grappled with extraordinary events in real time: the father and son working in the North Tower, caught on different ends of the impact zone; the firefighter searching for his wife who works at the World Trade Center; the operator of in-flight telephone calls who promises to share a passenger’s last words with his family; the beloved FDNY chaplain who bravely performs last rites for the dying, losing his own life when the Towers collapse; and the generals at the Pentagon who break down and weep when they are barred from rushing into the burning building to try to rescue their colleagues.

At once a powerful tribute to the courage of everyday Americans and an essential addition to the literature of 9/11, The Only Plane in the Sky weaves together the unforgettable personal experiences of the men and women who found themselves caught at the center of an unprecedented human drama. The result is a unique, profound, and searing exploration of humanity on a day that changed the course of history, and all of our lives. 

The Only Plane in the Sky was my top nonfiction title of 2019, and arguably my favourite nonfiction of all time. Graff has done a lot of research and shares personal accounts from a wide variety of people who were affected by 9/11. The entire thing is incredibly emotional but so respectful. Please listen to the audiobook for this one. I think about it all of the time.

So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson

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For the past three years, Jon Ronson has travelled the world meeting recipients of high-profile public shamings. The shamed are people like us – people who, say, made a joke on social media that came out badly, or made a mistake at work. Once their transgression is revealed, collective outrage circles with the force of a hurricane and the next thing they know they’re being torn apart by an angry mob, jeered at, demonized, sometimes even fired from their job.
 
A great renaissance of public shaming is sweeping our land. Justice has been democratized. The silent majority are getting a voice. But what are we doing with our voice? We are mercilessly finding people’s faults. We are defining the boundaries of normality by ruining the lives of those outside it. We are using shame as a form of social control.
 
Simultaneously powerful and hilarious in the way only Jon Ronson can be, So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed is a deeply honest book about modern life, full of eye-opening truths about the escalating war on human flaws – and the very scary part we all play in it.

I have become fascinated by social media and both of it’s advantages and disadvantages. Ronson follows the stories of people who have been cancelled online and how that affects every aspect of their lives. It is an interesting conversation and something I think about from time to time. I appreciate Jon Ronson’s voice and look forward to reading more from her.

The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women by Kate Moore

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The Curies’ newly discovered element of radium makes gleaming headlines across the nation as the fresh face of beauty, and wonder drug of the medical community. From body lotion to tonic water, the popular new element shines bright in the otherwise dark years of the First World War.

Meanwhile, hundreds of girls toil amidst the glowing dust of the radium-dial factories. The glittering chemical covers their bodies from head to toe; they light up the night like industrious fireflies. With such a coveted job, these “shining girls” are the luckiest alive — until they begin to fall mysteriously ill.

But the factories that once offered golden opportunities are now ignoring all claims of the gruesome side effects, and the women’s cries of corruption. And as the fatal poison of the radium takes hold, the brave shining girls find themselves embroiled in one of the biggest scandals of America’s early 20th century, and in a groundbreaking battle for workers’ rights that will echo for centuries to come.

Written with a sparkling voice and breakneck pace, The Radium Girls fully illuminates the inspiring young women exposed to the “wonder” substance of radium, and their awe-inspiring strength in the face of almost impossible circumstances. Their courage and tenacity led to life-changing regulations, research into nuclear bombing, and ultimately saved hundreds of thousands of lives…

Another absolutely devastating and shocking story. I felt myself getting more and more angry as I continued to read. I love that Kate Moore thoughtfully gave the Radium Girls a voice. The way they were treated was disgusting and it brought tears to my eyes. I love that this group of women rose up and fought for what was right. I hope Kate Moore writes more books in a similar vain in the future!

I’ll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer by Michelle McNamara

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I’ll Be Gone in the Dark—the masterpiece McNamara was writing at the time of her sudden death—offers an atmospheric snapshot of a moment in American history and a chilling account of a criminal mastermind and the wreckage he left behind. It is also a portrait of a woman’s obsession and her unflagging pursuit of the truth. Framed by an introduction by Gillian Flynn and an afterword by her husband, Patton Oswalt, the book was completed by Michelle’s lead researcher and a close colleague. Utterly original and compelling, it is destined to become a true crime classic—and may at last unmask the Golden State Killer.

I’ll Be Gone is the Dark is the book that made me fascinated by true crime. What makes it fall more into the investigative journalism genre is that Michelle McNamara herself is very much a part of the story. We read about her obsession and all of the intense research she does trying to hunt down the Golden State Killer. Those sections were just as captivating as the sections about the Golden State Killer himself. The letter she writes to him at the end of the book is fantastic. It is such a shame that she passed away before was caught.

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