6 Thrilling Books About Real-Life Corruption

Where money and power collide, and ethics are nowhere to be found

July 28, 2019 1:57 pm
Envelope full of money
Corruption can take many forms
Chris Potter/Creative Commons

Nearly every day brings with it news of some form of corruption. That might be the wealthy and powerful buying access for themselves, or it could involve politicians or other public figures accepting bribes and shirking their duties in favor of personal gain. Corruption can take root in the private sector and government alike: it harms public opinion of numerous institutions, and makes the world a more cynical place. And, in certain cases, corruption can have lethal consequences. 

The six books that follow are only the tip of the iceberg as far as narratives of corruption are concerned. They illustrate the various ways in which corruption can take hold in a society, and they demonstrate the means by which corruption and its consequences can damage for years to come. 

Sheelah Kolhatkar, Black Edge: Inside Information, Dirty Money, and the Quest to Bring Down the Most Wanted Man on Wall Street

Author Sheelah Kolhatkar has a wealth of knowledge (no pun intended) that’s relevant to writing about financial misdeeds: she worked as a hedge fund analyst before making the move into journalism and covering the financial and tech worlds. In Black Edge, she explores the world of trader Steven A. Cohen, and the investigation into how he made absurdly large amounts of money over the course of his career. 

Mary Papenfuss and Teri Thompson, American Huckster: How Chuck Blazer Got Rich from-and Sold Out-the Most Powerful Cabal in World Sports

If you’ve followed global soccer in the last few years, you’ve probably noticed that the sport has attracted no small amount of scandal, from the Football Leaks revelations to the controversy around the USMNT being underpaid. For over-the-top accounts of soccer scandal, the story of corrupt soccer official Chuck Blazer, who accepted bribes and embezzled money for years, is hard to top — and American Huckster memorably recounts the strange saga of his life. 

David Grann, Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI

Corruption narratives frequently involve breaches of trust — whether it’s a public official opting for personal gain rather than the public good or something more personal. At the heart of David Grann’s Killers of the Flower Moon, about a number of suspicious deaths in the Osage community in the early 20th century, readers will find a host of shocking betrayals and haunting instances of greed triumphing over human decency. 

Michela Wrong, It’s Our Turn to Eat: The Story of a Kenyan Whistle-Blower

Michela Wrong’s long experience as a foreign correspondent offered her an expansive look at governmental corruption in Kenya — and the one man who took a stand in favor of good government. After Kenya’s 2003 election, John Githongo was appointed to an anticorruption position within the government, but what he found shocked him and sent reverberations throughout Kenyan society. It’s Our Turn to Eat documents his time in office, and the repercussions of his findings.  

Francisco Goldman, The Art of Political Murder: Who Killed the Bishop?

What happens when the institutions of a society come into conflict with one another? Francisco Goldman’s The Art of Political Murder tells the story of Guatamala in the late 1990s, when the release of a report condemning the military for human rights abuses led to a high-profile murder. Goldman’s riveting account explores the fallout from that killing, and the fraught investigation that followed. 

Maria Alyokhina, Riot Days

The current state of Russia is one where totalitarian power and repression abound, and unexpected and unethical alliances between powerful entities affect the everyday lives of many. Maria Alyokhina, a member of the group Pussy Riot, encountered this firsthand after being arrested following a protest performance in a Moscow cathedral. Her trial and subsequent experiences provide a detailed account of how justice can be manipulated to serve the interests of the powerful. 

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