Bill James's new book is Popular Crime: Reflections on the Celebration of Violence.
From his Q & A with Randy Dotinga of the Christian Science Monitor:
Q: Plenty of high-and-mighty people act appalled when the country gets obsessed by celebrity crime instead of paying attention to, say, poverty or the deficit. Why are stories of true crime are actually worth our attention?--Marshal Zeringue
A: Crime stories reveal things about human nature that we keep very carefully hidden most of the time. We're fascinated with crime cases because we're fascinated by what goes on in people's heads, really deep down where you can't normally get to.
We are in a long process of eliminating crime from our society, a process that was thousands of years old before the Romans. The process has come a great distance since the time of the Romans; it has come a good distance in the last 150 years; it has come some distance in our lifetimes, in the last 30 or 40 years. But the process is so slow and so gradual that one can only see the progress by staring back across the centuries.
Eliminating these terrible events from society is not one problem. It is, rather, hundreds of similar and interlocking problems, which we attack one at a time. Crime stories are the knowledge base for that campaign, that endless and eternal struggle to rid the world of events of this nature.
Q: In your years of reading about true crime, what are some of the major lessons you've learned about the justice system?
A: • Well-meaning people create injustice because they are absolutely convinced of things that are not true.
Prosecutors dig in and double down on convictions in cases in which they are just absolutely wrong. Prosecutors don't want to convict anyone who is innocent. So when they accidentally convict someone who is in fact innocent, they very often – and I would say almost always – go into denial. They begin to insist that the accused/convicted person is in fact guilty, even if the evidence to the contrary is obvious and overwhelming.
The best protection against injustice is...[read on]