IRE’s annual list of investigative books can be viewed here and seen below. More than 200 books published in 2011 made the list. The annual list is compiled by Steve Weinberg. 

If you know of an investigative/explanatory book written by an American journalist published last year for public sale and fail to see it listed, please contact Steve Weinberg, weinbergs@missouri.edu.

Here are Weinberg’s thoughts on a few of the books:

Retirement Heist: How Companies Plunder and Profit From the Nest Eggs of American Workers, by Ellen E. Schultz, Penguin/ Portfolio. The embedded lesson in Schultz’s entry form, and the book itself, is how journalists must be prepared to question the morality of what is technically legal. As Schultz learned: “Though pension plans had vast surpluses just 12 years ago, over the past decade employers have drained billions from the pension plans and used the money to pay for restructuring. Others used the assets to pay for executive pensions and parachutes, or sold the pension assets in merger deals. Thanks to these practices, there was no cushion in the plans when the markets cratered, and the pensions are now underfunded.” New accounting rules made the plundering technically legal. It is also legal for employers to buy life insurance policies on their workers and then collect the death benefits tax free. The proceeds from the insurance pay for the pensions of top executives. Schultz documents how numerous companies “kept many of these practices hid- den, and deliberately de- ceived workers, lawmakers, shareholders and the me- dia.” One resource used by Schultz: “transcripts of actu- arial consulting conferences that took place in the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s, because the consultants spoke can- didly about some of their strategies.”

The Wizard of Lies: Bernie Madoff and the Death of Trust, by Diana B. Henriques, Times Books/Holt. The author sug- gests “looking for the big uni- versal themes, drawn from the common folklore we all share, reflected in your story to ex- pand your audience. A Ponzi scheme story isn’t just about fi- nancial fraud, with which a few people are familiar. It’s about the betrayal of trust, something familiar to everyone. So look for those big themes as you go.”

Render Unto Rome: The Secret Life of Money in the Catholic Church, by Jason Berry, Crown Publishers. Berry has been documenting sexual assaults by priests for many years. His new book expands the scandals by showing how local parishes are being milked by Catholic bishops to pay for awards in clergy abuse lawsuits, among other destinations for the money. One resource used by Berry – Chapter 11 bankruptcy filings by dioceses. Berry says: “Dioceses, as religious or- ganizations, are under no legal obligation to file statements like ordinary nonprofits. Many do post financial statements of a sort.” Like so many wise journal- ists, Berry found an expert on a university campus, an account- ing professor at Western Michi- gan University who has been researching the topic of Berry’s book for a long, long time.

A Hole at the Bottom of the Sea: The Race to Kill the BP Oil Gusher, by Joel Achenbach, Simon & Schuster. Achenbach notes that the most difficult task was understanding the engineering behind the attempt to cap the oil contaminating vast water resources. “Every morning, first thing, I read petroleum engineering handbooks,” he says, “not so that I would fully understand what is involved but so that I would be ca- pable of discussing the technology with experts and interpreting the testimony about what went wrong.” Achenbach realized he needed to rely less on government officials “trying to exaggerate the effective- ness of their efforts.” In tandem, he realized statements from the private companies involved were sometimes “simply incorrect.” As a result, Achenbach began placing more emphasis on the testimony of people “with direct knowledge of what happened, such as the witnesses at the Marine Board of Investigation hearings.”