Feature

Best books … chosen by Bryan Burrough

The author and <em>Vanity Fair</em> correspondent has just published his fourth book, <em>The Big Rich,</em> a chronicle of the rise and fall of Texas&rsquo; greatest oil fortunes.

The author and Vanity Fair correspondent has just published his fourth book, The Big Rich, a chronicle of the rise and fall of Texas’ greatest oil fortunes.

In Cold Blood by Truman Capote (Vintage, $15). The original true-crime thriller, it inspired a generation of young writers—including me—to try to tell ­stories as if the reader were there. Capote’s masterpiece remains one of the best tales ever told. The murder of the Clutter family and the story of their wastrel young killers provide a grimy window into the American soul.

Serpentine by Thomas Thompson (Running Press, $11) The follow-up to Thompson’s excellent Blood and Money tells the story of the serial killer and jewel thief Charles Sobhraj, who preyed on young Western tourists during the 1970s. Tracing Sobhraj’s bloody trail, Serpentine evokes the exotic sights and smells of workaday Asia’s back alleys like nothing before or since.

Indecent Exposure by David McClintick (HarperBusiness, $17). This book, which chronicles a late-1970s Hollywood embezzlement scandal, brought Capote’s narrative techniques to the corporate world for the first time, showing that the boardroom can be every bit as sexy as the bedroom. It still ranks among the very best business books ever written.

The Polish Officer by Alan Furst (Random House, $14). Furst’s spy novels are fiction for people who don’t read fiction. This one tells the story of a refugee finding his way through the shadowy intrigues of prewar Europe before emerging into the bullets and bombs of the Nazi onslaught. You will believe every word.

Jesse James by T.J. Stiles (Vintage, $17). A fascinating retelling of James’ story. Stiles’ 2002 biography throws open a window into the wondrously complex politics of post–Civil War Missouri, demonstrating how ordinary people, newspaper editors, and politicians used James to keep fighting the Civil War for years after the last shots were fired.

The Informant by Kurt Eichenwald (Broadway, $17). Probably the best business-centered narrative of the last 15 years. The Informant tells the incredible true story of Mark Whitacre, an Archer Daniels Midland whistle-blower who informs the FBI about a massive price-fixing scheme. Unfortunately, Whitacre proves far less stable than the government’s case. A triumph of storytelling.

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