The best books about the Hollywood blacklist

Why am I passionate about this?

Years ago, as part of my research, I interviewed Elia Kazan and Abraham Polonsky, two key figures in the blacklist story, and two men who were on different sides in terms of how they responded to the postwar Congressional investigations. These personal encounters – in New York and Los Angeles – fed a fascination with the anti-Communist purge in Hollywood, its dramaturgy, and the way filmmakers of that generation were caught up in it in different ways. There are more specialized works but the books recommended provide a substantive introduction to this still globally resonant topic, calling attention to the problematic and still difficult relationships between citizenship and cultural identity.


I wrote...

Book cover of Film and Politics in America: A Social Tradition

What is my book about?

I sweated long and hard over this, and could not have been happier that some ‘big names’ liked it. The object was to explore the blacklist era by focusing on the work and experiences of a number of key directors, and some writers. Most of them began in Hollywood in the forties, having been politicized by the artistic and political movements of the 1930s, often in New York. The book examines how they responded to manifestations of post-war anti-Communism in their work and behaviour, and discusses key contexts of filmmaking into the fifties and beyond, including censorship, the evolving studio system, the rise of independents, and changing styles and genres including social realism and film noir.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Inquisition in Hollywood: Politics in the Film Community, 1930-60

Brian Neve Why did I love this book?

When I was growing up there was, amongst enthusiasts of American film, much excited if not always well-informed discussion of the Hollywood Blacklist. This was the book that first provided chapter and verse, documenting the phenomenon and placing it in the context of American history, the politics of Hollywood, the industry unions, and the role of the studios from the 1930s onward. There is important research on key organizations such as the Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals, and the Committee for the First Amendment. This is still the best, most empirically grounded, and most comprehensive treatment – the classic history.

By Larry Ceplair, Steven Englund,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Inquisition in Hollywood as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The history of political struggle in Hollywood back to the formation of the Screen Writers Guild in 1933 with the culmination of the blacklists of the House Un-American Activites Commmitee. The definitive work on the blacklist ear.


Book cover of Naming Names

Brian Neve Why did I love this book?

I was in New York waiting to interview Elia Kazan, a somewhat notorious figure in the history of the blacklist, when I first spotted a newly published book that sought to explore events from the perspective of those involved, both those who cooperated with the Committee and those who refused to do so. Drawing on oral histories and interviews, Navasky’s book focused on the motives and rationales of those (like Kazan) who ‘named names’ and those who pleaded the fifth amendment or took other routes to avoid becoming, in the author’s nuanced but ultimately uncompromising judgment, an informer. This book prompted later writing and debate; it is full of raw detail about the painful decisions that filmmakers of this era were forced to make. 

By Victor S. Navasky,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Naming Names as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Winner of the National Book Award: The definitive history of Joe McCarthy, the Hollywood blacklist, and HUAC explores the events behind the hit film Trumbo.

Drawing on interviews with over one hundred and fifty people who were called to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee—including Elia Kazan, Ring Lardner Jr., and Arthur Miller—award-winning author Victor S. Navasky reveals how and why the blacklists were so effective and delves into the tragic and far-reaching consequences of Joseph McCarthy’s witch hunts.
A compassionate, insightful, and even-handed examination of one of our country’s darkest hours, Naming Names is at once a morality…


Book cover of Tender Comrades: A Backstory of the Hollywood Blacklist

Brian Neve Why did I love this book?

In Tender Comrades, those with experience of the Blacklist tell their stories, prompted expertly by the editors. The book explores the experiences of around forty individuals who were part of the left-wing and liberal community that thrived in Hollywood from the 1930s and 1940s. They involved themselves in political causes and issues, while contributing to some of the key films of that era. The book also captures first-hand accounts of the dynamics of the ‘naming’ process, and how people responded to it – some of them by leaving the country. It is a fascinating story of the impact of these events on private lives and political choices.

By Patrick McGilligan, Paul Buhle,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

This text offers an account of the McCarthy era in Hollywood. Using oral history techniques, the authors involve 30 of those who were suppressed and unable to talk at the time, owing to the prevailing anti-Communist witch-hunt.


Book cover of Communism in Hollywood: The Moral Paradoxes of Testimony, Silence, and Betrayal

Brian Neve Why did I love this book?

While several books have offered accounts of the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC) hearings and the blacklist in the entertainment industry, Alan Casty questions liberal perspectives on the subject, and develops a distinctive perspective. In particular he challenges what he sees as an overly simple moral take on the actions of those who cooperated with HUAC and those who did not. He discusses the role of the Communist Party in Hollywood and the impact of Cold War politicsand the politics of Stalin and the Soviet Union—on the decisions that politicians and witnesses took. There is particularly interesting material here on Robert Rossen’s experience, as someone who ‘resisted’ the Committee but later cooperated with it. This Is the best account of those that challenge the dominant perspectives in the literature. 

By Alan Casty,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Communism in Hollywood as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Much has been written about the history of Communism in America, including the Party's appeal to many in the Hollywood community of the 1930s and 40s. While several books have offered standard accounts of the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) hearings and the blacklist in the entertainment industry, Alan Casty provides a fresh and provocative perspective. In Communism in Hollywood: The Moral Paradoxes of Testimony, Silence, and Betrayal, Casty challenges the absolute dualisms of the period: cowardly informers and heroic martyrs. Drawing on newly available material, Casty illustrates the control by the international Communist movement and the role of the…


Book cover of Show Trial: Hollywood, HUAC , and the Birth of the Blacklist

Brian Neve Why did I love this book?

Renowned cultural historian Thomas Doherty provides a granular, blow-by-blow retelling of the events that led to the Hollywood blacklist. He places particular emphasis on the hearings as a ‘media-political spectacle,’ seeing it as the first such media event of the postwar era. He reexamines the events through a close and careful reading of press and media responses of the time. Less cinema-centric than other accounts, and less mesmerized by key individuals, Doherty gives us a cool, skeptical perspective on what is often an emotive or partisan discourse. There is much detail on how filmmakers, activists, politicians, newspaper and radio figures acted, and for what reasons, and how and why the post-war hearings played out as they did. The result is a sophisticated cultural history of the blacklist era.

By Thomas Doherty,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Show Trial as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In 1947, the Cold War came to Hollywood. Over nine tumultuous days in October, the House Un-American Activities Committee held a notorious round of hearings into alleged Communist subversion in the movie industry. The blowback was profound: the major studios pledged to never again employ a known Communist or unrepentant fellow traveler. The declaration marked the onset of the blacklist era, a time when political allegiances, real or suspected, determined employment opportunities in the entertainment industry. Hundreds of artists were shown the door-or had it shut in their faces.

In Show Trial, Thomas Doherty takes us behind the scenes at…


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Book cover of The Wonder of Jazz: Music that changed the world

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Why am I passionate about this?

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What is my book about?

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What is this book about?

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