The Bad Guys: The 25 Most Incorrigible Imposters, Villains, and Killers Ever to Walk the Earth

by Sarah Dowdey and Deblina Chakraborty Shanna Freeman, Katie Lambert, Jessika Toothman, Josh Clark, Cristen Conger, and Molly Edmonds

What's in the book?

    Learn about history’s greatest villains, including:
    • Bluebeard
    • John Dillinger
    • Al Capone
    • Guy Fawkes
    • Genghis Khan
    • And More!


A deep, abiding passion for a modern-day tyrant, sociopath, or fraud might be cause for concern among the newshound's friends and family. But let the story be strange enough, and let enough time pass, and, suddenly, the subject becomes obsession-worthy: something to share at trivia night, to pore over at the library, or, as it turns out, to recommend to us.

Since starting our podcast, Stuff You Missed in History Class, listeners have written in to request countless villains, tyrants, and imposters, representing all eras of history and all corners of the world.

Sometimes the stories of these no-good characters turn out to be worse than imagined, like the nightmarish murders committed by the real Bluebeard, Gilles de Rais. Other times, though, the villains revealed a surprisingly human side, like the fierce female pirate Zheng Yi Sao's plans for a comfy retirement, or master thief Adam Worth's deep devotion to his family and his code.

This book pulls together the exploits of these historically bad and worse-than-bad figures into one collection, arranged into chapters we thought made sense. You'll find tyrants like Caligula with conquerors like Tamerlane; the questionably bad gangster Ma Barker grouped with mastermind mobster Al Capone; and folk hero criminal D.B. Cooper paired up with the charmingly fraudulent Princess Caraboo.

And if by the end you're not already losing sleep thanks to terrifying visions of the pirate Blackbeard with his beard alight, we've included some bonus content on creepy hotels and mysterious hidden passageways to kick off your next research obsession. Enjoy!

-Sarah and Deblina

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