Bill James, perhaps best known for his historical research, and statistical influence on modern baseball (specifically through the field of sabremetrics), now directs his obsessive attention to detail to another topic many Americans spend much of their free time reading and debating about: popular crime.
In his new 456 page tome, Popular Crime: Reflections on the Celebration of Violence, James reflects on dozens upon dozens of popular violent crimes, mainly in America from the 1880s until the present day. Peppered throughout the revisiting of each of these crimes is James’ opinions about why the convicted may not have actually committed the crime, why that particular crime was so newsworthy in its day, and what about the state of the judicial system, the prisons, or organized police force played into said crime and its moment in America’s checkered criminal past.
In revisiting the Lizzie Borden case (Borden was acquitted of murdering her father and stepmother with an ax in 1892), James questions the amount of evidence that ever existed in the first place, let alone the time for Lizzie to commit the dirty deeds.
According to all of the “ear” witnesses, as well as the forensic reports, her parents were killed between 10:55pm and 10:58pm with their maid having heard Lizzie’s screams for help by 11pm. Once Lizzie was in view, she had not a trace of blood on her, which certainly would have been hard having just finished murdering her parents with an ax! James points to these discrepancies, as well as presents his 100 point system for evidence.
Of the many flaws and foibles with the American justice system, or popular culture’s notion of how violent American history actually is, James seems most intent in communicating that JonBenet Ramsey was not killed by either, or both, of her parents. James pleads on page 406 “my greatest fear in writing this book, is that I will be unable to convince you that John and Patsy Ramsey had nothing to do with the death of their daughter.”
If you are interested in crime rates, the history of violence in America, older popular crimes that may not have been on your radar, as well as well-researched, primary documentation, and intriguing opinions as to why some of the more contemporary popular crimes today might not have “all the facts” then Popular Crime is the book for you.
Popular Crimes- Reflections on the Celebration of Violence by Bill James was received free for review by Boston Book Bums