Patricia Cornwell — the author behind the bestselling Scarpetta novels — celebrates her birthday on June 9. To mark the occasion, we’re taking a look at some of her favorite reads. These Patricia Cornwell book recommendations feature something for everyone, including gripping thrillers and laugh-out-loud memoirs. Publishers’ descriptions included below.
The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith
Since his debut in 1955, Tom Ripley has evolved into the ultimate bad boy sociopath. Here, in this first Ripley novel, we are introduced to suave Tom Ripley, a young striver, newly arrived in the heady world of Manhattan. A product of a broken home, branded a “sissy” by his dismissive Aunt Dottie, Ripley meets a wealthy industrialist who hires him to bring his playboy son, Dickie Greenleaf, back from gallivanting in Italy. Soon Ripley’s fascination with Dickie’s debonair lifestyle turns obsessive as he finds himself enraged by Dickie’s ambivalent affections for Marge, a charming American dilettante. A dark reworking of Henry James’s The Ambassadors, The Talented Mr. Ripley serves as an unforgettable introduction to this smooth confidence man, whose talent for murder and self-invention is chronicled in four subsequent Ripley novels.
Cornwell’s recommendation: Cornwell says The Talented Mr. Ripley is a notable “study of psychopathy.”
American Sniper by Chris Kyle
From 1999 to 2009, US Navy SEAL Chris Kyle recorded the most career sniper kills in United States military history. His fellow American warriors, whom he protected with deadly precision from rooftops and stealth positions during the Iraq War, called him “The Legend”; meanwhile, the enemy feared him so much they named him al-Shaitan (“the devil”) and placed a bounty on his head. Kyle, who was tragically killed in 2013, writes honestly about the pain of war — including the deaths of two close SEAL teammates — and in moving first-person passages throughout, his wife, Taya, speaks openly about the strains of war on their family, as well as on Chris. Gripping and unforgettable, Kyle’s masterful account of his extraordinary battlefield experiences ranks as one of the great war memoirs of all time.
Cornwell’s recommendation: “It’s an amazingly detailed account of fighting in Iraq — a humanizing, brave story that’s extremely readable.”
Victoria by A. N. Wilson
When Queen Victoria died in 1901, she had ruled for nearly 64 years. She was the mother of nine and grandmother of 42 and the matriarch of royal Europe through her children’s marriages. To many, Queen Victoria is a ruler shrouded in myth and mystique, an aging, stiff widow paraded as the figurehead to an all-male imperial enterprise. But in truth, Britain’s longest-reigning monarch was one of the most passionate, expressive, humorous, and unconventional women who ever lived, and the story of her life continues to fascinate.
A. N. Wilson’s exhaustively researched and definitive biography includes a wealth of new material from previously unseen sources to show us Queen Victoria as she’s never been seen before. Wilson explores the curious set of circumstances that led to Victoria’s coronation, her strange and isolated childhood, her passionate marriage to Prince Albert and his pivotal influence even after death, and her widowhood and subsequent intimate friendship with her Highland servant John Brown, all set against the backdrop of this momentous epoch in Britain’s history — and the world’s.
Born at the very moment of the expansion of British political and commercial power across the globe, Victoria went on to chart a unique course for her country even as she became the matriarch of nearly every great dynasty of Europe. Her destiny was thus interwoven with those of millions of people — not just in Europe but in the ever-expanding empire that Britain was becoming throughout the nineteenth century. The famed queen had a face that adorned postage stamps, banners, statues, and busts all over the known world.
Wilson’s Victoria is a towering achievement, a masterpiece of biography by a writer at the height of his powers.
Cornwell’s recommendation: “Queen Victoria was a forward-thinking woman with a voracious mind — and a sleuth who had advice for the police.”
The Anatomy of Violence by Adrian Raine
Why do some innocent kids grow up to become cold-blooded serial killers? Is bad biology partly to blame? For more than three decades Adrian Raine has been researching the biological roots of violence and establishing neurocriminology, a new field that applies neuroscience techniques to investigate the causes and cures of crime. In The Anatomy of Violence, Raine dissects the criminal mind with a fascinating, readable, and far-reaching scientific journey into the body of evidence that reveals the brain to be a key culprit in crime causation.
Raine documents from genetic research that the seeds of sin are sown early in life, giving rise to abnormal physiological functioning that cultivates crime. Drawing on classical case studies of well-known killers in history — including Richard Speck, Ted Kaczynski, and Henry Lee Lucas — Raine illustrates how impairments to brain areas controlling our ability to experience fear, make good decisions, and feel guilt predispose us to violence. He contends that killers can actually be coldhearted: Something as simple as a low resting heart rate can give rise to violence. But arguing that biology is not destiny, he also sketches out provocative new biosocial treatment approaches that can change the brain and prevent violence.
Finally, Raine tackles the thorny legal and ethical dilemmas posed by his research, visualizing a futuristic brave new world where our increasing ability to identify violent offenders early in life might shape crime-prevention policies, for good and bad. Will we sacrifice our notions of privacy and civil rights to identify children as potential killers in the hopes of helping both offenders and victims? How should we punish individuals with little to no control over their violent behavior? And should parenting require a license? The Anatomy of Violence offers a revolutionary appraisal of our understanding of criminal offending, while also raising provocative questions that challenge our core human values of free will, responsibility, and punishment.
Cornwell’s recommendation: “A fascinating scientific look at the brains of society’s so-called monsters.”
Cleopatra by Stacy Schiff
Though her life spanned fewer than 40 years, it reshaped the contours of the ancient world. She was married twice, each time to a brother. She waged a brutal civil war against the first when both were teenagers. She poisoned the second. Ultimately she dispensed with an ambitious sister as well; incest and assassination were family specialties. Cleopatra appears to have had sex with only two men. They happen, however, to have been Julius Caesar and Mark Antony, among the most prominent Romans of the day. Both were married to other women. Cleopatra had a child with Caesar and — after his murder — three more with his protégé. Already she was the wealthiest ruler in the Mediterranean; the relationship with Antony confirmed her status as the most influential woman of the age. The two would together attempt to forge a new empire, in an alliance that spelled their ends. Cleopatra has lodged herself in our imaginations ever since.
Famous long before she was notorious, Cleopatra has gone down in history for all the wrong reasons. Shakespeare and Shaw put words in her mouth. Michelangelo, Tiepolo, and Elizabeth Taylor put a face to her name. Along the way, Cleopatra’s supple personality and the drama of her circumstances have been lost. In a masterly return to the classical sources, Stacy Schiff here boldly separates fact from fiction to rescue the magnetic queen whose death ushered in a new world order. Rich in detail, epic in scope, Schiff ‘s is a luminous, deeply original reconstruction of a dazzling life.
Cornwell’s recommendation: Cornwell says Schiff’s historical account is a book she’d require the president to read: “If we don’t learn from the past, we will repeat it.”
Charles Dickens by Claire Tomalin
Award-winning author Claire Tomalin sets the standard for sophisticated and popular biography, having written lives of Jane Austen, Samuel Pepys, and Thomas Hardy, among others. Here she tackles the best recognized and loved man of 19th-century England, Charles Dickens; a literary leviathan whose own difficult path to greatness inspired the creation of classic novels such as Great Expectations, David Copperfield, Oliver Twist, and Hard Times.
From his sensational public appearances to the obsessive love affair that led him to betray, deceive, and break with those closest to him, Charles Dickens: A Life is a triumph of the biographer’s craft, a comedy that turns to tragedy in a story worthy of Dickens’ own pen.
Cornwell’s recommendation: “[Dickens] almost single-handedly drew attention to the wretched poverty that… created breeding grounds for crime.”
Everybody’s Got Something by Robin Roberts
“Regardless of how much money you have, your race, where you live, what religion you follow, you are going through something. Or you already have or you will. As momma always said, “Everybody’s got something.”
So begins beloved Good Morning America anchor Robin Roberts’s new memoir in which she recounts the incredible journey that’s been her life so far, and the lessons she’s learned along the way. With grace, heart, and humor, she writes about overcoming breast cancer only to learn five years later that she will need a bone marrow transplant to combat a rare blood disorder, the grief and heartbreak she suffered when her mother passed away, her triumphant return to GMA after her medical leave, and the tremendous support and love of her family and friends that saw her through her difficult times.
Following her mother’s advice to “make your mess your message,” Robin taught a nation of viewers that while it is true that we’ve all got something — a medical crisis to face, aging parents to care for, heartbreak in all its many forms — we’ve also all got something to give: hope, encouragement, a life-saving transplant or a spirit-saving embrace. As Robin has learned, and what readers of her remarkable story will come to believe as well, it’s all about faith, family and friends. And finding out that you are stronger, much stronger, than you think.
Cornwell’s recommendation: “Looks what just landed on my desk… Can’t wait!”
Bonkers by Jennifer Saunders
Jennifer Saunders’s comic creations have brought joy to millions. From Comic Strip to Comic Relief, from Bolly-swilling Edina in Ab Fab to her takes on Madonna or Mamma Mia, her characters are household names.
But it’s Jennifer herself who has a place in all our hearts. This is her funny, moving and frankly bonkers memoir, filled with laughter, friends and occasional heartache — but never misery.
Bonkers is full of riotous adventures: accidentally enrolling on a teacher training course with a young Dawn French, bluffing her way to each BBC series, shooting Lulu, trading wild faxes with Joanna Lumley, touring India with Ruby Wax and Goldie Hawn.
There’s cancer, too, when she becomes ‘Brave Jen’. But her biggest battle is with the bane of her life: the Laws of Procrastination. As she admits, ‘There has never been a Plan. Everything has been fairly random, happened by accident or just fallen into place. I’m off now, to do some sweeping…’
Prepare to chuckle, whoop, and go BONKERS.
Cornwell’s recommendation: “I love memoirs and just started reading Jennifer Saunders’s Bonkers: My Life in Laughs.”
Have you read any of these books? Let us know in the comments!