‘Crisis of Conscience’ author Tom Mueller finds respite from fraud in fiction

Tom Mueller has lived around the globe, and spent the past 20 years in a small town near Genoa, Italy.
Tom Mueller has lived around the globe, and spent the past 20 years in a small town near Genoa, Italy.Dave Yoder

When Tom Mueller finished “Crisis of Conscience: Whistleblowing in an Age of Fraud,” President Obama was still in office. When it was published this fall, a whistle-blower’s report had led to the impeachment hearing of President Trump. The author quickly had to write an epilogue. A longtime journalist, Mueller has lived around the globe, and spent the past 20 years in a small town near Genoa, Italy. His previous book, “Extra Virginity: The Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil,” was a bestseller.

BOOKS: What are you reading?

MUELLER: I’m reading widely in things around whistle-blowing, about institutional corruption, and, more broadly, American society, such as the decay of democracy. There are seemingly endless books about these topics.


BOOKS: What are some of the highlights from your reading?

MUELLER: “The Chickenshit Club” by Jesse Eisinger, which is about the loss of moral courage in the Department of Justice, even before William Barr came along. Another book that deals with the revolving door syndrome between the D.O.J. and major defense law firms is “Too Big to Jail” by Brandon L. Garrett. Then on the military-industrial complex side there’s “Twilight of the American Century” by Andrew J. Bacevich, which is incredibly damning. He’s one of these retired colonels who were senior enough to know the game but never drank the Kool-Aid. I’m not listing very happy, uplifting reading.

BOOKS: What do you read to relax?

MUELLER: I immerse myself in those kind of books so much that I don’t get much respite, but I will hit fiction and poetry. I’ll read anything by Seamus Heaney, including his essays, such as the collection “Finders Keepers,” and I just started reading Olga Tokarczuk. Oh my god, “Flights” is such a great book.

BOOKS: Do you have any other favorite poets?

MUELLER: William Stafford. When I read “The Darkness Around Us is Deep,” a collection he wrote in a mid career, it shot a million volts through me.


BOOKS: What was a more recent book that hit you hard?

MUELLER: “La Guerra de los Zetas” by Diego Enrique Osorno, who is Mexican, reads like great detective fiction. I read it in Spanish. I hope it’s translated because everyone in America should know about the narco wars. The Zetas is a drug syndicate that came from the special forces of the Mexican Army. I just picked it up by chance waiting in the office of the Italian power company to get a contract sorted out. They had an impressive reading library right in the waiting room.

BOOKS: How many languages can you read?

MUELLER: Spanish, Italian, German, a little bit of Portuguese. Greek and Latin, too. I like to read in foreign languages. It keeps my brain from ossifying more than it already has. I’ve been reading an enormous amount of Roman history because I’ve been working on a historical novel for ages. I read the classics, like Horace, in the original Latin. That is really challenging but is good for sleep. It’s so tiring that I stop thinking of the horrors of modern day America and drift off.

BOOKS: Before your whistle-blower book, what were your favorite subjects in nonfiction?

MUELLER: All my degrees are in history, so always history. I read authors like Mary Beard, who is one of the great writers and thinkers, and Peter Brown. Gorgeous writing as well as gorgeous thinking.


BOOKS: What is on your upcoming pile?

MUELLER: I’m reading a ton about health care fraud and health care abuse, which is what my next book is about. I’m reading some tangential stuff like “Evicted,” by Matthew Desmond, and “On the Run,” by Alice Goffman, as well as books like “White Coat, Black Hat,” by Carl Elliott. That’s a wonderful book. He is a doctor and an ethicist. “The Social Transformation of American Medicine,” by Paul Starr, is heartbreaking, riveting stuff about how bigger is not better and how Wall Street does not look after your best interests.

BOOKS: How many books do you have?

MUELLER: They are stacked on everything, even the stairs. My wife is totally fed up. Of course the other night I got this gorgeous book that weighs a ton. Where the hell do we put it? But there’s always a place.

Follow us on Facebook or Twitter @GlobeBiblio. Amy Sutherland is the author, most recently, of “Rescuing Penny Jane’’ and she can be reached at amysutherland@mac.com