cover image Crimes of the Centuries: The Cases That Changed Us

Crimes of the Centuries: The Cases That Changed Us

Amber Hunt. Union Square, $29.99 (384p) ISBN 978-1-4549-4910-7

Hunt (Unsolved Murders) effectively translates her true crime podcast of the same name with this diverting dive into cases that prompted major changes in the American legal system between the late 19th century and 1982. Dividing the cases into five categories—“Civil Rights Catalysts,” “Law Changers,” “Forensic Advancers,” “Societal Shifters,” and “Unsolved with Impact”—Hunt highlights five examples per category, summarizing each case’s known facts before analyzing its cultural consequences. Some, like the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in New York City, are widely known: the blaze killed nearly 150 people due to a lack of adequate safeguards, leading to sweeping labor reforms. Others, like the 1964 murder of Queens, N.Y., bartender Kitty Genovese (which led to the creation of the nation’s first 911 system), get reframed: Hunt notes that the persistent narrative that multiple witnesses knew Genovese was being attacked and did nothing to help her is broadly inaccurate. Throughout, Hunt goes for breadth rather than depth. As a result, some chapters, like her brief rundown of the Osage Nation murders covered by David Grann in Killers of the Flower Moon, feel rushed and slightly superficial. Still, readers seeking a springboard for additional research will be rewarded with a brisk and fascinating overview of American criminal history. Photos. (Jan.)