The best books that uncover hidden and marginalized histories

Why am I passionate about this?

I am a scholar of European history who spent the last twenty years studying how minorities relate to each other and how their efforts to communicate their silenced histories are entwined. I remain fascinated by the many ways we think we know—and so frequently fail—to grasp the suffering and ambitions of others. All of this makes me ultimately a historian of the hidden stories of marginalized people and of the struggle to document and understand them.


I wrote...

Rain of Ash: Roma, Jews, and the Holocaust

By Ari Joskowicz,

Book cover of Rain of Ash: Roma, Jews, and the Holocaust

What is my book about?

A major new history of the genocide of Roma and Jews during World War II and their entangled quest for historical justice.

Jews and Roma died side by side in the Holocaust, yet the world did not recognize their destruction equally. In the years and decades following the war, the Jewish experience of genocide increasingly occupied the attention of legal experts, scholars, educators, curators, and politicians, while the genocide of Europe’s Roma went largely ignored. Rain of Ash is the untold story of how Roma turned to Jewish institutions, funding sources, and professional networks as they sought to gain recognition and compensation for their wartime suffering.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History

Ari Joskowicz Why did I love this book?

Trouillot explains like no other why we need to care about how history is made.

Whatever your area of expertise or level of knowledge about Haiti, Trouillot will make you care about the country’s forgotten history. Each essay in this volume demonstrates why we remember certain aspects of the past and ignore others and how those ignored parts are so often not just forgotten but actively silenced.

I teach this book to history undergraduates and graduate students alike. They always tell me that it was one of their favorites. It’s also a book that I wished I had known when I started studying history.

By Michel-Rolph Trouillot,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked Silencing the Past as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Now part of the HBO docuseries Exterminate All the Brutes, written and directed by Raoul Peck

The 20th anniversary edition of a pioneering classic that explores the contexts in which history is produced—now with a new foreword by renowned scholar Hazel Carby
 
Placing the West’s failure to acknowledge the Haitian Revolution—the most successful slave revolt in history—alongside denials of the Holocaust and the debate over the Alamo, Michel-Rolph Trouillot offers a stunning meditation on how power operates in the making and recording of history.

This modern classic resides at the intersection of history, anthropology, Caribbean, African-American, and post-colonial studies, and…


Book cover of A History of the Grandparents I Never Had

Ari Joskowicz Why did I love this book?

Jablonka, a French historian, tells a story that is both personal and profound.

He traces the history of his grandparents, who fled to France in 1938 as communists and Jews. Jablonka reconstructs their attempts to evade arrest and deportation up to their eventual death at the hands of the Nazis in the most meticulous detail.

In his capable hands, the challenge of writing histories with limited documentation becomes a source of ingenuity. I learned from A History of the Grandparents I Never Had that there are ways to think about your family’s past in ways that are not merely sentimental but also surprising and illuminating. (It even made me briefly consider calling my own recent book The Stories My Grandparents Never Told). 

By Ivan Jablonka, Jane Kuntz (translator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A History of the Grandparents I Never Had as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Ivan Jablonka's grandparents' lives ended long before his began: although Mates and Idesa Jablonka were his family, they were perfect strangers. When he set out to uncover their story, Jablonka had little to work with. Neither of them was the least bit famous, and they left little behind except their two orphaned children, a handful of letters, and a passport. Persecuted as communists in Poland, as refugees in France, and then as Jews under the Vichy regime, Mates and Idesa lived their short lives underground. They were overcome by the tragedies of the twentieth century: Stalinism, the mounting dangers in…


Book cover of The Jewish Century

Ari Joskowicz Why did I love this book?

While other books use small subjects to make big points, Slezkine’s book is nothing if not ambitious in its breadth.

A provocative book that is not afraid to make sweeping claims, Slezkine manages to convey the story of twentieth-century Russian Jews as a transnational drama between the Soviet Union, Israel, and the United States on an epic scale. Hidden histories need not be small.

By Yuri Slezkine,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked The Jewish Century as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This masterwork of interpretative history begins with a bold declaration: "The Modern Age is the Jewish Age, and the twentieth century, in particular, is the Jewish Century." The assertion is, of course, metaphorical. But it drives home Yuri Slezkine's provocative thesis: Jews have adapted to the modern world so well that they have become models of what it means to be modern. While focusing on the drama of the Russian Jews, including emigres and their offspring, The Jewish Century is also an incredibly original account of the many faces of modernity-nationalism, socialism, capitalism, and liberalism. Rich in its insight, sweeping…


Book cover of Domination and the Arts of Resistance: Hidden Transcripts

Ari Joskowicz Why did I love this book?

This is another big book that tells us about something we miss about past societies in general.

When I teach a course on “Histories of the Margins,” this is the first book I assign. It’s clear, provocative, and makes us think about why the most fascinating stories of people’s resistance to their own oppression are, by definition, hard to find because the oppressed are so often forced to express their disagreement in hidden ways.

Some of my students dislike the book when they read it first because its claims are so broad, yet many of these same students—and various others—end up referring back to the book again and again as the class progresses. 

By James C. Scott,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Domination and the Arts of Resistance as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"A splendid study, surely one of the most important that has appeared on the whole matter of power and resistance."-Natalie Zemon Davis

Confrontations between the powerless and powerful are laden with deception-the powerless feign deference and the powerful subtly assert their mastery. Peasants, serfs, untouchables, slaves, laborers, and prisoners are not free to speak their minds in the presence of power. These subordinate groups instead create a secret discourse that represents a critique of power spoken behind the backs of the dominant. At the same time, the powerful also develop a private dialogue about practices and goals of their rule…


Book cover of The Archive Thief: The Man Who Salvaged French Jewish History in the Wake of the Holocaust

Ari Joskowicz Why did I love this book?

Leff’s book is the story of a Polish-born historian of French Jewish history who first salvaged lost documents after the Holocaust before eventually coming to steal and resell them to US and Israeli libraries and archives.

A great read, the book is the best kind of biography: it offers a vivid image of a largely forgotten group of post-Holocaust scholars and raises big questions about who has the right to own historical documents and the way their assembly determines what we know about the past.

I found this book inspiring because it shows how exciting a story about archives and the making of history can be.

By Lisa Moses Leff,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Born into poverty in Russian Poland in 1911, Zosa Szajkowski (Shy-KOV-ski) was a self-made man who managed to make a life for himself as an intellectual, first as a journalist in 1930s Paris, and then, after a harrowing escape to New York in 1941, as a scholar. Although he never taught at a university or even earned a PhD, Szajkowski became one of the world's foremost experts on the history of the Jews in modern France, publishing in Yiddish, English, and Hebrew.
His work opened up new ways of thinking about Jewish emancipation, economic and social modernization, and the rise…


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Marriage and Fatherhood in the Nazi SS

By Amy Carney,

Book cover of Marriage and Fatherhood in the Nazi SS

Amy Carney Author Of Marriage and Fatherhood in the Nazi SS

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Historian Professor Curl up with a good book reader Traveler – Berlin is my happy place!

Amy's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

When I was writing this book, several of my friends jokingly called it the Nazi baby book, with one insisting it would make a great title. Nazi Babies – admittedly, that is a catchy title, but that’s not exactly what my book is about. SS babies would be slightly more on topic, but it would be more accurate to say that I wrote a book about SS men as husbands and fathers.

From 1931 to 1945, leaders of the SS, a paramilitary group under the Nazi party, sought to transform their organization into a racially-elite family community that would serve…

Marriage and Fatherhood in the Nazi SS

By Amy Carney,

What is this book about?

From 1931 to 1945, leaders of the SS, a paramilitary group under the Nazi party, sought to transform their organization into a racially-elite family community that would serve as the Third Reich's new aristocracy. They utilized the science of eugenics to convince SS men to marry suitable wives and have many children.

Marriage and Fatherhood in the Nazi SS by Amy Carney is the first work to significantly assess the role of SS men as husbands and fathers during the Third Reich. The family community, and the place of men in this community, started with one simple order issued by…


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