The best books about the history of horror and science fiction

Brian E. Crim Author Of Planet Auschwitz: Holocaust Representation in Science Fiction and Horror Film and Television
By Brian E. Crim

Who am I?

I am a historian of twentieth century Germany and the Holocaust, but I am also a voracious consumer of popular culture. How do I justify spending so much time watching and analyzing horror and science fiction film and television? Well, write a book about it, of course. The first thing I realized is that many other brilliant scholars have thought about why this imagery permeates contemporary culture, even if I asked different questions about why. I hope you are as inspired and enlightened by this book list as I was.


I wrote...

Planet Auschwitz: Holocaust Representation in Science Fiction and Horror Film and Television

By Brian E. Crim,

Book cover of Planet Auschwitz: Holocaust Representation in Science Fiction and Horror Film and Television

What is my book about?

Planet Auschwitz explores the diverse ways in which the Holocaust influences and shapes science fiction and horror film and television by focusing on notable contributions from the last fifty years. The supernatural and extraterrestrial are rich and complex spaces with which to examine important Holocaust themes – including the dangerous afterlife of Nazism after World War II. Planet Auschwitz explores why the Holocaust continues to set the standard for horror in the modern era and asks if the Holocaust is imaginable here on Earth, at least by those who perpetrated it, why not in a galaxy far, far away? The pervasive use of Holocaust imagery and plotlines in horror and science fiction reflects both our preoccupation with its enduring trauma and our persistent need to “work through” its many legacies.

The books I picked & why

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From Caligari to Hitler: A Psychological History of the German Film

By Siegfried Kracauer,

Book cover of From Caligari to Hitler: A Psychological History of the German Film

Why this book?

This is an oldie but a goodie. Written just a few years after World War II, famed sociologist and cultural critic Siegfried Kracauer looked to pre-Hitler era cinema for clues about the collective German psyche. Maybe a society obsessed with dark expressionist monsters and fairy tales is just waiting for a real-life monster to take the reins of power. It is a controversial (and flawed) thesis, but it remains one of the most influential pieces of cultural criticism ever written.


Hitler's Monsters: A Supernatural History of the Third Reich

By Eric Kurlander,

Book cover of Hitler's Monsters: A Supernatural History of the Third Reich

Why this book?

Eric Kurlander is a brilliant historian of modern Germany who finally treats this topic with the seriousness it deserves. Lots of charlatans and amateurs on the History Channel love to speculate about the Nazis and the occult, but Kurlander brings a historian’s rigor to the subject and reveals a complex relationship between the supernatural and the Nazi worldview. Among his findings is that key Nazi figures used the vast propaganda machinery, including film, to depict its “racial enemies” as monstrous. Kurlander also breaks down absurd beliefs like World Ice Theory and determines the truth behind Hitler’s fascination with the “Spear of Destiny.”


The Wounds of Nations: Horror Cinema, Historical Trauma and National Identity

By Linnie Blake,

Book cover of The Wounds of Nations: Horror Cinema, Historical Trauma and National Identity

Why this book?

How do nations process a trauma like Auschwitz, the Vietnam War, 9/11, or Hiroshima and Nagasaki? Linnie Blake argues in The Wounds of Nations that the horror genre provides a medium through which nations can process recent historical traumas “from a distance.” Examining horror films produced in Germany, the US, Japan, and others countries with a vested interest in burying violent history can tell us a great deal about national identity formation in the wake of war, terrorism, and seismic political changes.  


The Living and the Undead: Slaying Vampires, Exterminating Zombies

By Gregory A. Waller,

Book cover of The Living and the Undead: Slaying Vampires, Exterminating Zombies

Why this book?

Before you can understand contemporary manifestations of zombies and vampires in shows like The Walking Dead or The Strain, it helps to know the long and varied cultural history of these monsters. Gregory Waller explores how each generation imagined and interpreted zombies and vampires, both in print and on-screen. How do they speak to our fears and prejudices, or even desires? I found it very helpful in writing Planet Auschwitz.


The Horror Film

By Stephen Prince,

Book cover of The Horror Film

Why this book?

The great film scholar Stephen Prince brings together over a dozen experts on the horror genre, contributing chapters on everything from the silent film era to postmodernism, the military horror film, and the Holocaust. The book is a must for anyone who wants to look beyond the screams and gore and understand why the genre speaks to us on more than just a visceral level. 


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