For most people, there's something very unsettling about reading stories of infamous serial killers, gang members, and murderers. It's the reason why so many true crime books are addictive and why people find killers to be the ultimate bogeymen.
It's hard for most people to figure out what drives a person to murder, or how certain people seem to operate without any form of empathy. That's why there's an entire field of study devoted to figuring out what makes violent criminals' tick: forensic psychology.
Over the years, there have been a plethora of forensic psychology books that graced store shelves—but very few have been able to fully pinpoint what goes on in a criminal's mind. According to experts and criminal investigators, the following books are the most informative (and fascinating) in the genre.
So, if you're wondering what makes a criminal mind work, you might want to grab one of these for a read...
Inside the Criminal Mind by Stanton Samenow
Without a doubt, Inside the Criminal Mind is one of the best forensic psychology books ever written. The reason why is because it rails against common perceptions of what a murderer looks like, and because it took over 20 years of research to create this book.
A veteran of law enforcement, Samenow has been an expert called in for the "Washington Sniper" court case, worked in child custody disputes, and made incredible contributions to cutting down crime. If anyone knows what a criminal is thinking, it's him.
Stanton Samenow's approach to the field is one that regularly dispels myths about what makes killers kill—and what causes a criminal to be created.
Without Conscience by Robert D. Hare
Robert D. Hare is one of the leading experts on the disorder known as "psychopathy." In popular culture, psychopaths are seen as wild, crazy, remorseless killers who have very little in common with their victims—but is that really true?
Most people who have run into a psychopath might not even know it if they believed mainstream media hype. Without Conscience is a book that shows that psychopaths are very well-aware that what they're doing is wrong; they just don't care.
What Hare drives home is that psychopaths are more common than you think, and don't fit the Hollywood stereotype at all. Hare's 25 years of study are all compiled into this book, and the results make it one of the most chilling forensic psychology books you'll ever read.
The Sociopath Next Door by Martha Stout
Psychopath and sociopath are often used interchangeably, with sociopathy often connoting a more "controlled" form of evil. No matter how you label it or define it, sociopaths absolutely are more prone to criminal actions than others out there.
Martha Stout's The Sociopath Next Door is one of the more unusual forensic psychology books on the market—primarily because it's part relationship book, part criminal psychology book.
You see, most people don't realize that they already deal with sociopaths in their daily lives. It could be an abusive husband, that bullying neighbor next door, or even your boss. We often cast these people as "stressed" or "misunderstood."
This book will make you realize that those "misunderstood bullies" weren't misunderstood; they were sociopaths. And, better yet, Stout tells you how to handle them with minimal issue.
The Evil That Men Do: FBI Profiler Roy Hazelwood's Journey into the Minds of Serial Killers by Stephen G. Michaud
It's often said that if you stare too long at the void, the void stares back. Such was the case with FBI profiler Roy Hazelwood, who spent his life studying the most vicious serial killers anyone had ever seen. His investigation specialty was something most investigators shy away from: sex killers.
This page-turning book is noted as one of the most graphic forensic psychology books ever written—and realistically, it's not for the faint of heart. You will feel a bit paranoid after reading The Evil That Men Do, and possibly rightfully so.
As one reader on GoodReads said, "You won't find my doors and windows unlocked anymore."
The Devil's Dozen: 12 Notorious Serial Killers Caught by Cutting-Edge Forensics by Katherine Ramsland
The Devil's Dozen can be found among both forensic psychology books and true crime textbooks, primarily because of its excellent storytelling. Katherine Ramsland takes a look at some of the most intense investigations involving famous serial killers—and how criminal profilers were able to catch them.
Unlike other books on this list, The Devil's Dozen doesn't solely revolve around the mental aspect of crime. Criminal investigation technology plays a heavy role here, and if you've ever wondered how police investigate major crimes, you'll find this book to be a serious eye-opener.
That being said, this book is regularly seen as a more "pop culture" text than an educational text. So, if you're looking for a thrill, this will be your best option.
Serial Murderers and Their Victims by Eric W. Hickey
If you could figure out how serial killers chose their targets, could you prevent a crime? Eric Hickey thinks so, and that's exactly why he took a look at both serial murderers as well as the people that they killed.
What Hickey found was that killers exhibited a lot of a lot of similar traits, and that the same could be said of victims. His research has been used by forensic psychologists ever since, often with much success.
Everything in this book is presented in a data-oriented, scholarly style—which is why it's a required textbook for criminal justice majors in college.
The Myth of the Out of Character Crime by Stanton Samenow
Every time there's a mass shooter or a particularly gruesome murder in the suburbs, we hear it: "It's just so unlike them to do this."
Stanton Samenow wants to tell you that, no, it wasn't unlike them to do this. The Myth of Out of Character Crime is a book that's all about explaining that most violent crime can be predicted—and that almost all of it is very much in character for the perpetrators.
Samenow's explanation shows how we often tend to get desensitized to the warning signs someone exhibits before they get violent, and why we are so prone to excusing dangerous behavior until it's too much too ignore.
The Gift of Fear by Gavin DeBecker
Even if you don't typically read forensic psychology books, you should pick up The Gift of Fear. Having grown up in a broken home, Gavin DeBecker spent much of his life wondering why makes a person become a violent criminal—and the answer he came up with was quite jarring.
Violence is a human instinct, and so is defense from violence. In his eyes, almost anyone can become a killer depending on the circumstances. There is some good news, though. Our bodies and "gut feelings" are naturally equipped to pick up on threats before your minds register it.
When we feel a threat, we get creeped out or fearful. The Gift of Fear shows you how to predict violent behavior, how to protect yourself from people who want to hurt you, and how you can help yourself avoid becoming a victim.
Profiling: The Psychology of Catching Killers by David Owen
Most people have heard that cops profile violent criminals, but we often hear that in terms of socio-economic background or race. Profiling takes a different, more holistic approach on how high-level criminal investigators use psychological profiling to catch killers.
Unlike other books on this list, Profiling is heavy on the visuals and presented in a manner that's very "graphic novel-like" in its approach. While it may have a lot of illustrations, it still remains chock-full of information.
This beautifully illustrated collection of 50 different cases and the stories of investigations behind them is a great choice for teens and young who want to check out some forensic psychology books in their spare time.
Dark Dreams: Sexual Violence, Homicide, and the Criminal Mind by Roy Hazelwood
Considering that a lot of forensic psychology books mention the wild and (at times) terrifying career of criminal investigator Roy Hazelwood, it's not surprising that he penned one of the greatest books in the genre.
Dark Dreams is Roy Hazelwood's magnum opus in terms of books and it's a terrifying glimpse into the minds of rapists, serial killers, and sex offenders. If you've ever wondered why sex killers do what they do, or wanted to know the skin-crawling details of horrific crimes and their investigation, Dark Dreams will promise to be a great read.