We’re Livin’ In a Political World: The Bookshelf

Books About (American) Politics & Detective Fiction


Listed chronologically:

  • Madden, David, ed.,
    Tough Guy Writers of the Thirties Buy this book
    Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press: 1968.
    Simply a pivotal, landmark work, one of the first to take an in-depth look at the genre, delving into political and cultural issues. Includes Herbert Ruhm’s “Raymond Chandler: From Bloomsbury to the Jungleand Beyond,” Kingsley Widmer on “The Literary Tough Guy and the Proleterian Hero,” and Philip Durham on “The Black Mask School.”
  • Haut, Woody,
    Pulp Culture: Hardboiled Fiction and the Cold War Buy this book
    Actually, Woody’s titles are a bit misleading. This one refers to the paperback originals that took the place of pulp magazines in the period from 1945 to 1963, and the follow-up, Neon Noir, likewise, has more to do with literature than film. Still, his contention that hard-boiled fiction has been neglected by serious literary criticism “precisely because it is a class-based literature,” is an intriguing one. Haut unapologetically brings politics to the table, and holds forth on how these books, focussing on how “capitalism’s relationship to crime, corruption, desire and power,” managed to reflect the darkness of 1950’s. He doesn’t offer much new on Raymond Chandler, Chester Himes, Ross Macdonald, Jim Thompson, or Mickey Spillane, but he shines when he discusses more neglected writers like Leigh Brackett, Dolores Hitchens, Dorothy B. Hughes, William McGivern, Gil Brewer, Lionel White, Charles Williams and Charles Willeford.
  • Haut, Woody,
    Neon Noir: Hardboiled Films and Fiction from the 1960’s to the Present Buy this book
    London: Serpent’s Tail, 1999.
    The sequel to Haut’s acclaimed Pulp Culture. File this one under Performing Arts/Dance; Film Noir; Arts In General (Multi- Subject); Pop Arts / Pop Culture; Performing Arts; Film – History & Criticism; Mystery & Detective Literature- Hard-Boiled; History & Criticism and all that other good stuff. What’s happened to crime fiction since the fifties. And why.
  • McCann, Sean,
    Gumshoe America: Hard-Boiled Crime Fiction and the Rise and Fall of New Deal Liberalism | Buy this bookKindle it!
    Duke University Press Books, 2000.
    A thoughtful, well-researched and ballsy take on hard-boiled lit and its literary and political significance, suggesting that American writers between the wars like Hammett, Cain and Chandler used the genre to “confront and wrestle with many of the paradoxes and disappointments of New Deal liberalism.” McCann then follows through with deep-cut examinations of the work of post-WWII authors Jim Thompson, Ross Macdonald, Charles Willeford, Chester Himes and Mickey Spillane.
  • Smith, Erin A.,
    Hard-Boiled: Working Class Readers and Pulp Magazines | Buy this book
    Temple University Press, 2000.
    University of Texas at Dallas professor Smith rolls up her sleeves and digs into the American working class culture that produced and supported a new kind of detective story that found a home in  the pages of  Black Mask, Dime Detective, Detective Fiction Weekly, Clues and all the rest. She argues that the crime pulps were a truly proletarian literature, written for and largely by the working class, and that in spite of its obvious misogyny, homophobia, racism and all the other macho bullshit, it also allowed for “a great deal of transgressive potential.” A gutsy and valuable contribution to the study of a too often dismissed genre of American literature.
  • Gifford, Justin,
    Pimping Fictions Buy this book Kindle it!
    American Literatures Initiative, 2013.
    The sub-title is “African American Crime Literature and the Untold Story of Black Pulp Publishing,” and it pretty much delivers. In spades. Eveything you ever wanted to knpw about black pulp fiction, from Cheser Himes, Iceberg Slim and Donald Goines to Holloway House and the commercial rebirth of the genre — mostly by women — is covered; a long overdue overview that serves as both a literary and cultural history.
  • Lee, Susanna,
    Hard-Boiled Crime Fiction & the Decline of Moral Authority | Buy this book Kindle it!
    Ohio State University Press, December 2016.
    A Georgetown prof tears into the guts of the hard-boiled mythos, tracking its long history and evolution, positing the hard-boiled hero not as the defender of the status quo but as a figure of “individual autonomy and accountability in modern Western culture,” with plenty of moral, ethical and sociological and political questions raised. Thoughtful and eye opening, it’ll really give your brain something to chew over.
  • Tadié, Benoît,
    Front criminel: Une historie du polar américain Buy this book Kindle it!
    Presses Universitaires De France, 2018.
    En français! Our old friend Benoit, one of the earliest supporters of this site, finally releases his own personal labour of love: a passionate & provocative look into the heart of darkness, both social and political, of American crime fiction.
  • Lee, Susanna,
    Detectives in the Shadows: A Hard-Boiled History | Buy this book | Kindle it!
    Johns Hopkins University Press, August 2020.
    Literary and cultural critic Susanna Lee tracks the evolution of the American private eye, from Race Williams to Jessica Jones, what makes him tick, and why we’re obsessed with the “good guy with a gun.” I LOVED this book!


  • Fuller, Ken,
    Dashiell Hammett: Hardboiled Activist | Buy this book
    Glasgow: Praxis Press, 2017.
    A provocative and in-depth study of Hammett’s life and his works, with an unapologetic focus on his increasingly progressive politics.
  • Fuller, Ken,
    Raymond Chandler: The Man Behind the Mask | Buy this book Kindle it!
    Fuller goes for another deep dive, this time into Chandler’s life–his needs, his desires, his politics and yes, his sexuality. Brace yourself.


Respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith.

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