The best books about dehumanization and the impact of this phenomenon

Who am I?

I have an international reputation as an expert on dehumanization. I have researched this subject for the past fifteen years, and have written three books and many articles, and given many talks on it, including a presentation at the 2012 G20 economic summit. I believe that dehumanization is an extremely important phenomenon to understand, because it fuels the worst atrocities that human beings inflict upon one another. If phrases like "never again" have any real meaning, we need to seriously investigate the processes, including dehumanization, that make such horrific actions possible.


I wrote...

Making Monsters: The Uncanny Power of Dehumanization

By David Livingstone Smith,

Book cover of Making Monsters: The Uncanny Power of Dehumanization

What is my book about?

Making Monsters offers a poignant meditation on the philosophical and psychological roots of dehumanization. Drawing on harrowing accounts of lynchings, the book establishes what dehumanization is and what it isn’t. When we dehumanize our enemy, we hold two incongruous beliefs at the same time: we believe our enemy is at once subhuman and fully human. To call someone a monster, then, is not merely a resort to metaphor—dehumanization really does happen in our minds.

Turning to an abundance of historical examples, Making Monsters explores the relationship between dehumanization and racism, the psychology of hierarchy, what it means to regard others as human beings, and why dehumanizing others transforms them into something so terrifying that they must be destroyed.

The books I picked & why

Shepherd is reader supported. We may earn an affiliate commission when you buy through links on our website. This is how we fund this project for readers and authors (learn more).

Genocide: A Comprehensive Introduction

By Adam Jones,

Book cover of Genocide: A Comprehensive Introduction

Why this book?

There are not very many books that are specifically concerned with dehumanization, but there are very many books that are relevant to it. I begin my list with two of these. Because genocidal violence is almost always fueled by the dehumanizing impulse, Adam Jones’ Genocide: A Comprehensive Introduction is my first choice. It is an astonishingly thorough and accessible introduction to genocide studies, covering both factual and theoretical issues, and covers well-known genocides, as well as lesser-known ones. This book is an ideal entry point into the vast and harrowing literature on genocide, and I, for one, have learned a lot from reading it.


At the Hands of Persons Unknown: The Lynching of Black America

By Philip Dray,

Book cover of At the Hands of Persons Unknown: The Lynching of Black America

Why this book?

In my own work, I draw extensively on the lynching to document and analyze racial dehumanization. From the time of the collapse of reconstruction during the late nineteenth century until well into the twentieth century, thousands of African Americans, most of them men, were murdered by white mobs. If you are like most people, you think of lynching as nothing more than extrajudicial execution, but in fact it often involved hours of the most hideous torture imaginable, ending with the victim being burned alive before a crowd of hundreds or even thousands of avid spectators. Philip Dray’s book is a fine entry point into the historical literature on lynching.


The Dreaded Comparison: Human and Animal Slavery

By Marjorie Spiegel,

Book cover of The Dreaded Comparison: Human and Animal Slavery

Why this book?

To properly understand dehumanization—which represents human beings as subhuman creatures—it is important to recognize our less-than-humane relations with other animals.  In this compact, vividly-written book, Marjorie Spiegel powerfully juxtaposes the oppressive and cruel treatment of enslaved people with the terrible treatment of nonhuman animals. The book is largely concerned with the dehumanization of enslaved Africans and their descendants, but it is also pertinent to other episodes of racial dehumanization.


The Routledge Handbook of Dehumanization

By Maria Kronfeldner (editor),

Book cover of The Routledge Handbook of Dehumanization

Why this book?

There is surprisingly little research literature dealing specifically with dehumanization outside of academic papers by social psychologists. But this state of affairs is changing, as more and more scholars recognize that understanding this harrowing phenomenon is crucial for the future of humanity. This unique volume, with contributions from thirty scholars from a whole range of academic disciplines, provides an excellent snapshot of the vibrant state of dehumanization studies today.


The Origins of Nazi Genocide: From Euthanasia to the Final Solution

By Henry Friedlander,

Book cover of The Origins of Nazi Genocide: From Euthanasia to the Final Solution

Why this book?

Many people are unaware that the Nazi genocide of Jews and Roma was built on their earlier mass extermination of disabled people, beginning with children. The killing methods used in places like Auschwitz and Treblinka were pioneered in the murder of many thousands of people with physically and mentally disabled people, whom members of the German medical profession referred to as “life unworthy of life” and “useless eaters.” This book by a distinguished Holocaust scholar meticulously documents the journey from the first child killed on Hitler’s orders to the inferno of the Polish extermination camps.


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in dehumanization, genocide, and animal rights?

5,888 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about dehumanization, genocide, and animal rights.

Dehumanization Explore 4 books about dehumanization
Genocide Explore 30 books about genocide
Animal Rights Explore 11 books about animal rights

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like Blood and Soil, Small Country, and A Problem from Hell if you like this list.