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Crime Bibliography

Early American Crime Books

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More Books on Crime History

  • Bandits by Eric Hobsbawm.
  • Hobsbawm tackles the idea of the social bandit: robbers whose actions are not considered clear acts of crime and in some cases serve as heroes to disenfranchised groups of people.

  • The Cambridge Companion to Crime Fiction edited by Martin Priestman.
  • This edited collection presents a comprehensive overview of crime fiction, beginning with the eighteenth century. Some of the topics include the Newgate novel of the 1830s and 1840s, French crime fiction, the private eye, the thriller, post-war British crime fiction, women detectives, and crime in film and on TV.

  • Child Murder and British Culture, 1720-1900 by Josephine McDonagh.
  • Against the backdrop of court records, newspaper accounts, and other historical records, McDonagh explores the treatment of infanticide in law, economics, medicine, and literature.

  • City of Dreadful Delight: Narratives of Sexual Danger in Late-Victorian London by Judith R. Walkowitz.
  • Walkowitz analyzes representations of sexual danger in nineteenth-century London, examining newspapers, journals, legal and medical treatises, and literature. The case of Jack the Ripper looms in the background throughout her analysis, since the notoriety of this case had widespread political, legal, and cultural implications.

  • Convict Maids: The Forced Migration of Women to Australia by Deborah Oxley.
  • Oxley examines the lives and backgrounds of female convicts who were transported to Australia and shows their important role in the establishment of the colony.

  • Crime and Punishment in England, 1100-1990: An Introductory History by Briggs, John, Christopher Harrison, Angus McInnes, and David Vincent.
  • A general survey of the history of crime, punishment, and criminal justice in England from the Middle Ages up to 1990.

  • Crime and Society in England 1750-1900 by Clive Emsley.
  • Emsley seeks to discover how people perceived patterns of crime in 18th- and 19th-century England, what patterns were actually at work, who committed the crimes, and how people tried to prevent crime.

  • Crime in Seventeenth-Century England: A County Study by J. A. Sharpe.
  • Sharpe studies the assizes and quarter sessions from 1620-1680 in the county of Essex, covering crimes considered less serious–drinking offenses, sex crimes, and popular disturbance–to those seen as more serious, which involved property and violence.

  • Crime, Justice, and Discretion in England 1740-1820 by Peter King.
  • King takes a close look at property crime, the most problematic crimes in the eighteenth century, and the administration put into place to manage the capture and prosecution of criminals.

  • Daughters of Joy, Sisters of Misery: Prostitutes in the American West, 1865-90 by Anne M. Butler.
  • Butler seeks to lay aside notions of the prostitute in the West as an accepted community member, who inhabited the local saloon and provided fun and entertainment for the clientele.

  • Discipline & Punish: The Birth of the Prison by Michel Foucault.
  • Foucault’s book opens with a memorable passages describing in gruesome detail the 1757 execution of a man convicted of regicide and contrasts it with an account with a precise timetable of activities meant to regulate the behavior of young inmates housed in a prison written eighty years later. He uses the stark differences between the two to show how punishment was redistributed within a relatively short time to work on the mind rather than on the body.

  • The Fatal Shore: The Epic of Australia’s Founding by Robert Hughes.
  • Hughes brings to light the experience of convicts who were transported from Great Britain to Australia, paying close attention to the voices of the convicts themselves.

  • The Fortunes and Misfortunes of the Famous Moll Flanders, & C. by Daniel Defoe.
  • The story of Moll Flanders, who was “born in Newgate, . . . was Twelve Year a Whore, five times a Wife (whereof once to her own Brother), Twelve Year a Thief, Eight Year a Transported Felon in Virginia, at last grew Rich, liv’d Honest, and died a Penitent.”

  • The Gunfighter: Man or Myth? by Joseph G. Rosa.
  • Rosa attempts to separate legend from history in his book about the gunfighter of the American West.

  • Gunfighters, Highwaymen, and Vigilantes: Violence on the Frontier by Roger McGrath.
  • Setting out to discover if the Wild West was as violent as portrayed in movies and on television, McGrath examines cases of violence and lawlessness and finds that some of our long-held views about the West were indeed false, and some of what we thought to be myths were in actuality true.

  • The Hanging Tree: Execution and the English People 1770-1868 by V. A. C. Gatrell.
  • Gatrell recounts the horrors surrounding public execution during the years before it was abolished in England in his examination of diaries, broadsides, images, and literature.

  • Imagining the Penitentiary: Fiction and the Architecture of Mind in Eighteenth-Century England by John Bender.
  • Bender argues that crime literature in the eighteenth century simulates the regulatory effect of the Panopticon–a circular prison where prisoners as meant to feel as though they are always being watched–in the way it addresses the reader, thereby creating the conditions for conceptualizing new institutions that control social behavior.

  • The London Hanged: Crime and Civil Society in the Eighteenth Century by Peter Linebaugh.
  • Linebaugh examines accounts of criminals that circulated among the public to show how the poor were forced into lives of crime in order to survive, as capitalism drove common people to the cities and into wage labor.

  • The Oxford History of the Prison: The Practice of Punishment in Western Society edited by Norval Morris and David J. Rothman.
  • This book serves as a general introduction to and rich overview of the history of prisons, covering such topics as prisons in early modern Europe and the United States, the convict colony of Australia, prisons for women, and juvenile reform schools.

  • Policing and Punishment in London, 1660-1750: Urban Crime and the Limits of Terror by J. M. Beattie.
  • Beattie explores the pressure on London to deal with a perceived increase in crime, resulting in new forms of punishment, such as transportation and confinement with hard labor.

  • Reconstructing the Criminal: Culture, Law, and Policy in England, 1830-1914 by Martin J. Wiener.
  • Wiener shows how Victorian notions of the criminal requiring discipline were replaced by conceptions of the criminal as a product of social structures, who therefore required more therapeutic punishments.

  • Tales from the Hanging Court by Tim Hitchcock and Robert Shoemaker.
  • Hitchcock and Shoemaker use the published trials at the Old Bailey in London from 1674 to 1834 to present a history of crime that focuses on the lives of common criminals.

  • Women, Crime, and the Courts in Early Modern England edited by Jennifer Kermode and Garthine Walker.
  • This collection of essays looks at the position of women in the context of crime in early modern England. Some of the topics include slander, theft, witchcraft, and scolds.

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  1. tony wename wrote:

    looking for books of early american crime fiction/’true-crime’ stories (tabloid stories and the like). 1700’s to 1860. any ideas? having difficulty, though i remember reading some as an undergrad many years ago.

    Monday, November 24, 2008 at 7:37 pm | Permalink
  2. Hi Tony,

    A few of the books listed above may interest you. Two of them are retellings of early crimes based on further research: “Naked Quaker: True Crimes and Controversies from the Courts of Colonial New England” and “Witches, Rakes, And Rogues: True Stories of Scam, Scandal, Murder, And Mayhem in Boston, 1630-1775.”

    “Pillars of Salt: An Anthology of Early American Criminal Narratives” by Daniel Williams is out of print, but it can be found on the used book market. For something a bit more broad, you can try “True Crime: An American Anthology” by Harold Schechter.

    If you like to dig for these stories yourself, you can also take a look at the citations in “Murder Most Foul: The Killer and the American Gothic Imagination” and “Pillars of Salt, Monuments of Grace: New England Crime Literature and the Origins of American Popular Culture, 1674-1860” to see if they cite any books or stories of interest.

    Good luck! Let me know if you have any success in finding what you want and if I should add anything to the list above.

    Anthony Vaver

    Tuesday, November 25, 2008 at 12:30 pm | Permalink