Mindhunter by John Douglas and Mark Olshaker is the inspiration for Netflix’s Mindhunter series, The Silence of the Lambs, and many true crime-based films and TV shows. It provides a window into the life of an FBI agent, and how John Douglas became the FBI agent he was, focusing on his neonate days within the agency in the early ’70s until the mid-’90s.
The book gives us his perspective on the early days in the Investigative Support Unit, the creation of the Serial Crimes Unit, and on the development of profiling and other techniques to catch criminals based upon their behavior and psychology.
It does not glamorize criminals, nor does it turn them into one-dimensional monsters for the reader’s entertainment. It also emphasizes the victims much more than TV portrays — as finding out what keyed a killer into them can help figure out what motivates the killer, and how to find them. While blurbs point out the graphic horrors of some of the cases described within and simplify the criminals as ‘evil’, the incidents and tactics within make it clear that these monsters are, indeed, human. And that is how you catch them.
In addition to the focus on criminals and their victims, Mindhunter details many of the personalities within the FBI and doesn’t hold back from describing the culture of the agency in a time when women and people of color were not much of a part of it.
The book is 350 pages long; a decent paperback read, and while entertaining, is solidly nonfiction. Its subject matter includes horrendous, graphic, and violent crimes, and it does not shy away from this fact; though it goes not give in to salaciousness. The writing is crisp and formal, meshing with the seriousness of the topic at hand, and with the time period of Douglas’s training, education, occasionally bordering on the common ‘dry’ tone one might read in peer-reviewed papers. It takes around six to seven hours to read.
If you enjoy popular crime shows, the many true crime podcasts out there, and want to know what the reality that inspired Netflix’s Mindhunter series, this is the book for you.
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