10 Best Books on Investigative Journalism

Check out our guide, including the 10 best books on investigative journalism, to upgrade your writing skills.

To paraphrase Chris Clyde– investigative journalism is there to expose corruption by brandishing the truth for all to see. Therefore, this type of reporting holds a special place within our society, and those who conduct investigative reporting and teach it should be celebrated. Accordingly, we have compiled a list of our ten best books on the subject. We hope it both informs those with interest in journalism and also inspires the newshounds of the future.

1. A Hack’s Progress by Philip Knightley

First published in 1997, A Hack’s Progress is the memoir of Phillip Knightley, an acclaimed investigative reporter and journalism professor. It discusses his journey within the media landscape, from a lowly messenger boy in Australia to one of the best journalists of his generation. It also touches on Knightley’s renowned investigations, including the Six Day War, thalidomide, the Profumo scandal, and the Hitler diaries fiasco.

“He was there to be consulted as the story developed, to advise on what extra work might be needed to make it legally watertight and then to work through the writing with the journalist, fine-tuning phrases and sentences to lessen the libel risk, testing the journalist’s sources and his proof, until finally he would say, ‘We can’t get rid of risk altogether, and he may sue, but I don’t think he’ll go into the witness box.” Phillip Knightley

A Hack's Progress
  • Phillip Knightley (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 267 Pages - 08/30/2005 (Publication Date) - Roli Books Pvt Ltd (Publisher)

2. All the President’s Men by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein

In what has been described as “the most devastating political detective story of the century,” All the President’s Men tells the story of the Washington Post’s Watergate investigation, which rocked the world. It does so via Woodward and Bernstein, two investigative reporters involved. First released in 1974, the book was later adapted into a critically acclaimed movie starring Robert Redford.

“June 17, 1972. Nine o’clock Saturday morning. Early for the telephone. Woodward fumbled for the receiver and snapped awake. The city editor of the Washington Post was on the line. Five men had been arrested earlier that morning in a burglary attempt at Democratic headquarters, carrying photographic equipment and electronic gear. Could he come in?” Carl Bernstein, Bob Woodward 

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All the President's Men
  • Simon Schuster
  • Woodward, Bob (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 400 Pages - 06/03/2014 (Publication Date) - Simon & Schuster (Publisher)

3. In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

Best Books on Investigative Journalism: In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/2/2d/Truman_Capote_Moscot.jpg

First published in 1966, In Cold Blood details Capote’s investigation into the 1959 murders of four members of the Clutter family in Kansas. The writer took thousands of notes and spent six years working on the book. There is some controversy on whether In Cold Blood could be considered a product of investigative journalism, as there are questions about the truth of Capote’s account of the story. 

However, it is an interesting case study on what happens when investigative writers completely immerse themselves in their work. It’s also an interesting example of ‘new journalism,’’ where reporters use literary devices to tell their stories.

 “The village of Holcomb stands on the high wheat plains of western Kansas, a lonesome area that other Kansans call “out there.” Truman Capote

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In Cold Blood
  • Great book!
  • Truman Capote (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 343 Pages - 02/01/1994 (Publication Date) - Vintage (Publisher)

4. The New Journalism by Tom Wolfe

Speaking of mixing the best of investigative journalism with literary devices, Tom Wolfe’s The New Journalism is a defining work that is a must-read for all prospective reporters. It is an anthology introduced by Wolfe, which details the writing of some of the best journalists and writers of a generation. For instance, there are chapters from Michael Herr, Truman Capote, Rex Reed, and many more.

“I have no idea who coined the term ‘the New Journalism,’ or when it was coined. I have never even liked the term. Any movement, group, party, program, philosophy or theory that goes under a name with ‘new’ in it is just begging for trouble, of course.” Tom Wolfe

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The New Journalism
  • Wolfe, T. (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 432 Pages - 12/01/1975 (Publication Date) - Pan (Publisher)

5. Catch and Kill: Lies, Spies, and a Conspiracy to Protect Predators by Ronan Farrow

Released in 2019, Farrow details his powerful investigation into the abuse women suffered at the hands of powerful men in Hollywood. The New York Times bestseller also reveals the investigative journalist’s intimidation tactics as he researched this story. It also shares the story of the brave women who came forward to Farrow and thus helped start a global movement.

“In the end, the courage of women can’t be stamped out. And stories – the big ones, the true ones – can be caught but never killed.” Ronan Farrow

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Catch and Kill: Lies, Spies, and a Conspiracy to Protect Predators
  • Hardcover Book
  • Farrow, Ronan (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 464 Pages - 10/15/2019 (Publication Date) - Little, Brown and Company (Publisher)

6. Betrayal: The Crisis in the Catholic Church by The Investigative Staff of the Boston Globe

Betrayal: The Crisis in the Catholic Church is a book that demonstrates the power of investigative journalism and its ability to keep those in power accountable. It illustrates the immense work done by a team of investigative reporters at the Boston Globe when their investigative reporting uncovered sexual abuse on a vast scale which the Catholic Church was covering up. This work later inspired ‘Spotlight,’ winner of Best Picture at the 2016 Oscars.

“Church paid more than $3 billion to settle abuse complaints between 1950 and 2015. In Boston, the archdiocese paid $154 million to settle with 1,230 victims from 2002 through June 30, 2014, the most recent figures available. Between 2004 and 2015, twelve dioceses nationwide filed for bankruptcy protection.” The Boston Globe

Betrayal: The Crisis In the Catholic Church: The Findings of the Investigation That Inspired the Major Motion Picture Spotlight
  • PROFILE BOOKS
  • Globe, The Investigative Staff of the Boston (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 304 Pages - 02/04/2016 (Publication Date) - Profile Books (Publisher)

7. Kill the Messenger by Nick Schou

Schou’s book is an incredible piece of investigative journalism that focuses on the life of another investigative reporter, Gary Webb. Kill the Messenger tells of Webb’s ‘Dark Alliance’ work in the San Jose Mercury News, where he wrote about the so-called CIA-crack cocaine connection. The writer also looks at Webb’s connection with his editors and pairs it with an overall outlook on the state of investigative journalism.

“In a democratic society, there is always a struggle between the machinery of national security and press freedom…” Nick Schou

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Kill the Messenger
  • Schou, Nick (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 233 Pages - 09/09/2014 (Publication Date) - Bold Type Books (Publisher)

8. Dopesick by Beth Macy

Dopesick: Dealers, Doctors and the Drug Company that Addicted America is a fantastic piece of investigative journalism that uncovers the story of America’s reliance on opioids. In one of the most important contemporary pieces of investigative journalism, Macy pieces together the story of corporate greed and communities destroyed by the drug. Her work helped uncover the organizations profiting off the misery opioids are bringing to the daily lives of Americans.

“America’s approach to its opioid problem is to rely on Battle of Dunkirk strategies—leaving the fight to well-meaning citizens, in their fishing vessels and private boats—when what’s really needed to win the war is a full-on Normandy Invasion.” Beth Macy

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Dopesick: Dealers, Doctors, and the Drug Company that Addicted America
  • Hardcover Book
  • Macy, Beth (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 384 Pages - 08/07/2018 (Publication Date) - Little, Brown and Company (Publisher)

9. Dispatches by Michael Herr

Working as a journalist for Esquire during the Vietnam War, Dispatches is a mixture of New Journalism and immersive investigative journalism. It is also one of the defining pieces of literature of its time. The book was released in 1977 and acclaimed by fellow writers, with John Le Carre calling it “the best book I have ever read on men and war in our time.” Recently, it has been included on iconic lists, including The Guardian’s The 100 greatest non-fiction books.

“I met this kid from Miles City, Montana, who read the Stars and Stripes every day, checking the casualty lists to see if by some chance anybody form his home town had been killed. He didn’t even know if there was anyone else from Miles City in Vietnam, but he checked anyway because he knew for sure that if there was someone else and they got killed, he would be all right. “I mean, can you just see *two* guys from a raggedy-ass town like Miles City getting killed in Vietnam?” Michael Herr

Dispatches (Picador Classic)
  • PICADOR
  • Herr Michael (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 01/01/2015 (Publication Date) - PAN MACMILLAN (Publisher)

10. Tell Me No Lies: Investigative Journalism and its Triumphs by John Pilger

Tell Me No Lies: Investigative Journalism and its Triumphs by John Pilger
Taken by Flickr user walnut whippet.[1], CC BY 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Tell Me No Lies is the last book on our list and what better way to end than with a celebration of investigative journalism? It includes writing from some of the best reporters, with Pilger setting the scene for the reader via insightful introductions. This book also calls aspiring investigative journalists to grasp the job wholeheartedly and keep the powerful accountable with top-notch reporting.

“Never believe governments,’ she wrote, ‘not any of them, not a word they say; keep an untrusting eye on all they do.” John Pilger

Tell Me No Lies: Investigative Journalism and Its Triumphs
  • VINTAGE
  • Pilger, John (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 448 Pages - 11/22/2005 (Publication Date) - Vintage Books (Publisher)

Looking for more? Check out our article on watchdog journalism!

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