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.

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission.

The books I picked & why

Book cover of Genocide: A Comprehensive Introduction

Why did I love 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.

By Adam Jones,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Genocide as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Genocide: A Comprehensive Introduction is the most wide-ranging textbook on genocide yet published. The book is designed as a text for upper-undergraduate and graduate students, as well as a primer for non-specialists and general readers interested in learning about one of humanity's enduring blights.

Fully updated to reflect the latest thinking in this rapidly developing field, this unique book:

Provides an introduction to genocide as both a historical phenomenon and an analytical-legal concept, including the concept of genocidal intent, and the dynamism and contingency of genocidal processes. Discusses the role of state-building, imperialism, war, and social revolution in fuelling genocide.…

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

Why did I love 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.

By Philip Dray,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked At the Hands of Persons Unknown as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

WINNER OF THE SOUTHERN BOOK CRITICS CIRCLE AWARD FOR NONFICTION • “A landmark work of unflinching scholarship.”—The New York Times

This extraordinary account of lynching in America, by acclaimed civil rights historian Philip Dray, shines a clear, bright light on American history’s darkest stain—illuminating its causes, perpetrators, apologists, and victims. Philip Dray also tells the story of the men and women who led the long and difficult fight to expose and eradicate lynching, including Ida B. Wells, James Weldon Johnson, Walter White, and W.E.B. Du Bois. If lynching is emblematic of what is worst about America, their fight may stand…

Book cover of The Dreaded Comparison: Human and Animal Slavery

Why did I love 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.

By Marjorie Spiegel,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Dreaded Comparison as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Considered a seminal book in the fields of Bioethics and Human-Animal
Studies, and a classic in the field of humane thought, Marjorie
Spiegel's The Dreaded Comparison makes a significant contribution to
our efforts to understand the roots of individual and societal
violence, tying current cultural practices to the legacy of human
bondage, and introducing new and diverse audiences to the history of
slavery and institutionalized racism in the United States.

Spanning history, psychology, and current events-- and ground-breaking
for its thesis which presents the first in-depth exploration of the
similarities between the violence humans have wrought against other
humans, and…

The Routledge Handbook of Dehumanization

By Maria Kronfeldner (editor),

Book cover of The Routledge Handbook of Dehumanization

Why did I love 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.

By Maria Kronfeldner (editor),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Routledge Handbook of Dehumanization as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A striking feature of atrocities, as seen in genocides, civil wars, or violence against certain racial and ethnic groups, is the attempt to dehumanize - to deny and strip human beings of their humanity. Yet the very nature of dehumanization remains relatively poorly understood.

The Routledge Handbook of Dehumanization is the first comprehensive and multidisciplinary reference source on the subject and an outstanding survey of the key concepts, issues, and debates within dehumanization studies. Organized into four parts, the Handbook covers the following topics:

The history of dehumanization from Greek Antiquity to the 20th century, contextualizing the oscillating boundaries, dimensions,…

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

Why did I love 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.

By Henry Friedlander,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Origins of Nazi Genocide as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Tracing the rise of racist and eugenic ideologies, Henry Friedlander explores how the Nazi programme of secretly exterminating the handicapped and disabled evolved into the systematic destruction of Jews and Gypsies. He describes how the so-called euthanasia of the handicapped provided a practical model for the later mass murder, thereby initiating the Holocaust. The Nazi regime pursued the extermination of Jews, Gypsies and the handicapped based on a belief in the biological, and thus absolute, inferiority of those groups. To document the connection between the assault on the handicapped and the Final Solution, Friedlander shows how the legal restrictions and…

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in genocide, dehumanization, and humanitas?

9,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about genocide, dehumanization, and humanitas.

Genocide Explore 73 books about genocide
Dehumanization Explore 6 books about dehumanization
Humanitas Explore 10 books about humanitas