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.

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The books I picked & why

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

Why did I love 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.

By Siegfried Kracauer,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked From Caligari to Hitler as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

An essential work of the cinematic history of the Weimar Republic by a leading figure of film criticism

First published in 1947, From Caligari to Hitler remains an undisputed landmark study of the rich cinematic history of the Weimar Republic. Prominent film critic Siegfried Kracauer examines German society from 1921 to 1933, in light of such movies as The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, M, Metropolis, and The Blue Angel. He explores the connections among film aesthetics, the prevailing psychological state of Germans in the Weimar era, and the evolving social and political reality of the time. Kracauer makes a startling…

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

Why did I love 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.”

By Eric Kurlander,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Hitler's Monsters as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The definitive history of the supernatural in Nazi Germany-the occult ideas, esoteric sciences, and pagan religions touted by the Third Reich in the service of power

"[Kurlander] shows how swiftly irrational ideas can take hold, even in an age before social media."-Michael Dirda, The Washington Post

"A careful, clear-headed, and exhaustive examination of a subject so lurid that it has probably scared away some of the serious research it merits."-National Review

The Nazi fascination with the occult is legendary, yet today it is often dismissed as Himmler's personal obsession or wildly overstated for its novelty. Preposterous though it was, however,…

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

Why did I love 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.  

By Linnie Blake,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The wounds of nations: Horror cinema, historical trauma and national identity explores the ways in which the unashamedly disturbing conventions of international horror cinema allow audiences to engage with the traumatic legacy of the recent past in a manner that has serious implications for the ways in which we conceive of ourselves both as gendered individuals and as members of a particular nation-state.

Exploring a wide range of stylistically distinctive and generically diverse film texts, its analysis ranges from the body horror of the American 1970s to the avant-garde proclivities of German Reunification horror, from the vengeful supernaturalism of recent…

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

Why did I love 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.

By Gregory A. Waller,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Living and the Undead as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

With a legacy stretching back into legend and folklore, the vampire in all its guises haunts the film and fiction of the twentieth century and remains the most enduring of all the monstrous threats that roam the landscapes of horror. In The Living and the Undead, Gregory A. Waller shows why this creature continues to fascinate us and why every generation reshapes the story of the violent confrontation between the living and the undead to fit new times. Examining a broad range of novels, stories, plays, films, and made-for-television movies, Waller focuses upon a series of interrelated texts: Bram Stoker's…

The Horror Film

By Stephen Prince,

Book cover of The Horror Film

Why did I love 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. 

By Stephen Prince,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Here, Stephen Prince has collected essays reviewing the history of the horror film and the psychological reasons for its persistent appeal, as well as discussions of the developmental responses of children and young adult viewers to the genre. The book focuses on recent post-modern examples such as ""The Blair Witch Project"". Controversially, the book also includes a discussion of Holocaust films in relation to horror. Part One features essays on the silent and classical Hollywood eras. Part Two focuses on the post World War II era and examines the historical, aesthetic and psychological characteristics of contemporary horror films. In contrast…

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