I used to love true crime. For my first research paper in high school, I wrote about the 1964 murder of Kitty Genovese and the phenomena of the bystander effect. In college, Investigation Discovery was my background noise while working. More recently, murder podcasts and true crime audiobooks accompanied my commute to work, and I unwound with Netflix miniseries that dissected cold cases.
But my tastes are changing. Death got a little too close to me over the last two years. A podcaster made me question the ethics of finding entertainment in another’s pain. And becoming a parent obliterated my tolerance for stories where terrible things happen to small and vulnerable beings. Don’t get me wrong – I’m still fascinated by the darkness. I just need to be more selective. Minimal death and violence. Minimal gore. Thefts, forgeries, con artists. White collar crimes. Maybe the occasional plane crash or disaster.
So I present you with an updated list of true crime stories in various formats for those who, like me, have to say “hard pass” to serial killers and kidnappers.
Flying Blind : The 737 MAX Tragedy and the Fall of Boeing by Peter Robison. A fast-paced look at the corporate dysfunction–the ruthless cost-cutting, toxic workplaces, and cutthroat management–that contributed to one of the worst tragedies in modern aviation.
- Related media: Downfall: The Case Against Boeing documentary on Netflix and the Crash of the Boeing 737 Max 8 episode of Black Box Down podcast
Bad Blood : Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup by John Carreyrou. Recounts the story behind Theranos, the medical equipment company that misled investors to believe they developed a revolutionary blood testing machine, detailing how its CEO, Elizabeth Holmes, perpetuated the lie to bolster the value of the company by billions.
- Related media: The Dropout podcast, Bad Blood: The Final Chapter podcast, and The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley documentary on HBO
Empire of Pain : The Secret History of the Sackler Dynasty by Patrick Radden Keefe. Presents a narrative account of how a prominent wealthy family sponsored the creation and marketing of one of the most commonly prescribed and addictive painkillers of the opioid crisis.
- Further reading: Pharma : Greed, Lies, and the Poisoning of America by Gerald Posner
- Related media: The Sackler Family episode one and episode two on Behind the Bastards podcast and The Crime of the Century documentary on HBO Max
Midnight in Chernobyl : The Untold Story of the World’s Greatest Nuclear Disaster by Adam Higginbotham. Journalist Adam Higginbotham’s definitive, years-in-the-making account of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant disaster–and a powerful investigation into how propaganda, secrecy, and myth have obscured the true story of one of the twentieth century’s greatest disasters.
- Further reading: Voices from Chernobyl: The Oral History of a Nuclear Disaster by Svetlana Alexievich and Chernobyl : The History of a Nuclear Catastrophe by Serhii Plokhy.
- Related media: Chernobyl: The Lost Tapes documentary and the award-winning dramatized miniseries Chernobyl, both on HBO. The latter will make your skin crawl, when it’s not making you cry.
Confident Women : Swindlers, Grifters, and Shapeshifters of the Feminine Persuasion by Tori Telfer. The art of the con has a long and venerable tradition, and its female practitioners are some of the best– or worst. Telfer introduces us to a host of lady swindlers whose scams ranged from the outrageous to the deadly.
- Related media: The Opportunist podcast, The Lady and the Dale documentary series on HBO, and LuLaRich documentary series on Amazon Prime
The Gardner Heist : The True Story of the World’s Largest Unsolved Art Theft by Ulrich Boser. Shortly after midnight on March 18, 1990, two men broke into the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston and committed the largest art heist in history. But after thousands of leads, hundreds of interviews, and a $5-million reward, not a single painting has been recovered. Worth a total of $500 million, the missing masterpieces have become the Holy Grail of the art world and one of the nation’s most extraordinary unsolved mysteries.
- Further reading: Master Thieves : The Boston Gangsters Who Pulled Off the World’s Greatest Art Heist by Stephen Kurkjian
- Related media: Last Seen podcast and This Is a Robbery: The World’s Biggest Art Heist documentary series on Netflix