The best books on the sociology of genocide and evil

Why am I passionate about this?

I'm an immigrant child-survivor of the Holocaust, came to America after living in a DP camp in Linz, Austria in 1947 with my wonderful parents. We lost 25 members of our family to the Nazis so I “know evil”. I grew up in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, went to Washington High School, University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee, and Northwestern University where I received a Ph.D. in sociology and studied with one of the best sociologists of deviance (Howie Becker). I combined sociology with deviance, evil, the Holocaust, and genocide, but as a progressive Zionist, I added socialist and kibbutz-life. All these things make up my memoir If Only You Could Bottle It: Memoirs of a Radical Son.


I wrote...

If Only You Could Bottle It: Memoirs of a Radical Son

By Jack Nusan Porter,

Book cover of If Only You Could Bottle It: Memoirs of a Radical Son

What is my book about?

My book reflects how a survivor of the Holocaust grows up in a small town like Milwaukee (even though now it’s a bit bigger); it’s a close-knit Jewish community and I have all these American dreams—a Midwestern love of Hollywood, growing up in the 1950s with pink petticoats and white sport coats, then leaving for Israel, working on a socialist Kibbutz near the Lebanese border, then the radical 60s and 70s fighting against the Vietnam war, poverty and racism, getting married, and “selling out” to the world of real estate, and coming around full circle, fighting against genocide and war and human rights abuses.

I've gone through at least four or five careers—professor of sociology, rabbi, real estate developer, editor, writer, and political activist and it's all described in my memoirs.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Explaining Hitler: The Search for the Origins of His Evil

Jack Nusan Porter Why did I love this book?

I am fascinated with evil people like Hitler or Putin.

What explains evil? I have spent half a century trying to understand it and it keeps getting more and more complex. Just look around at all the killings, stabbings, bombings—the world has gone mad!

Is it childhood trauma? Yes, to a certain degree. Hitler’s father was very abusive yet his mother loved him; but allowed the beatings so he grew up with tremendous rages against women, gays, Jews, and authority.

One myth is that serial killers are people with low self-esteem; actually, it’s the very opposite—they have too much ego; they think they can outsmart everyone; that they are smarter than anyone else—they often have a “messiah complex”.

So, one hope is to intervene quickly in abusive relationships and get the wife and children to safety as quickly as possible. This would reduce the number of evil killers in the world. But it still would not help because there so many factors in the development of evil people.

One could fill not just one book but a dozen trying to explain evil: Start with Roy F. Baumeister’s Evil: Inside Human Violence and Cruelty.

By Ron Rosenbaum,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Hitler did not escape the bunker in Berlin but, seven decades later, he has managed to escape explanation in ways both frightening and profound. Explaining Hitler is an extraordinary quest, an expedition into the war zone of Hitler theories. This is a passionate, enthralling book that illuminates what Hitler explainers tell us about Hitler, about the explainers, and about ourselves.


Book cover of Genocide: A Comprehensive Introduction

Jack Nusan Porter Why did I love this book?

As one of the founders of the field of modern genocide studies, I’m still learning; it is still a relatively new discipline, having been started in the late 1970s;  in fact, the first organization on genocide was founded in only 1994, just 30 years ago, the IAGS, the International Association of Genocide Scholars.

It took a long time to create a textbook; most of the earlier books were anthologies like my own book, and textbooks may not be the most titillating of books to read but the best one is by my Canadian colleague Adam Jones, Genocide: A Comprehensive Introduction, second edition.

Jones is not only a good writer but also a photographer. There are dozens of good books and good writers dealing with genocide; a reader might want to consider books by Samantha Power, Timothy Snyder, Martin Shaw, Helen Fein, and Israel Charny.

It’s a gruesome topic but handled with the utmost respect by these authors.

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 Outsiders

Jack Nusan Porter Why did I love this book?

I studied with a most fascinating sociologist of deviance Howard S. (but we called him, Howie) Becker.

His most famous book is Outsiders. The topics may seem tame by today’s standards but at a time when graduate school was often boring and filled with inscrutable jargon, Howie’s topics were fun: becoming a marijuana smoker, a jazz pianist, even a medical student.

He sent out us out into the city of Chicago to do “participant observation”, meaning, become part of the people you study, usually people deviating from the norm. Observe, observe, observe! At all hours of the day. I remember my paper was on a “hippie pot store”; other classmates studied drug dealers, cross-dressers, or people who work at an abortion clinic. In short, these were dangerous observations at times.

Other sociologists of deviance and their books that influenced me were Erving Goffman (Stigma); Laud Humphreys (Tea-Room Trade) and Marcello Truzzi (Sociology and Everyday Life). I loved them all, especially Marcello who came from a family of circus performers and magicians.

By Howard S. Becker,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

One of the most groundbreaking sociology texts of the 20th century, Howard S. Becker's Outsiders revolutionized the study of social deviance.

Howard S. Becker's Outsiders broke new ground in the early 1960s-and the ideas it proposed and problems it raised are still argued about and inspiring research internationally. In this new edition, Becker includes two lengthy essays, unpublished until now, that add fresh material for thought and discussion. "Why Was Outsiders a Hit? Why Is It Still a Hit?" explains the historical background that made the book interesting to a new generation coming of age in the 60s and makes…


Book cover of Social Theory and Social Structure

Jack Nusan Porter Why did I love this book?

As I said, sociology can be filled with inscrutable jargon, but there are still classic theory books that I recommend.

Ok, it pays to have taken some sociology classes, but the following two books are important: Robert K. Merton’s Social Theory and Social Structure with its twin essays: the bearing of social theory on research and the bearing of research on social theory.

But despite Merton’s elegant theorizing, he was a genius at coining phrases that have entered out language: anomie, bureaucratic structure, reference groups, the self-fulfilling prophecy, and my favorite, actually taken from the Bible—the Mathew Effect, those who have will have more and those who don’t have will have less; meaning if you get a lot of honors, you’ll get more honors; if you have a lot of money, you’ll get more money and the poor people on the bottom will get few honors and money and will receive even less in the future. 

The other classic book is by one of the most brilliant yet irascible sociologists in history (and I don’t mean C. Wright Mills) but Alvin W. Gouldner’s The Coming Crisis of Western Sociology. It is an eloquent and grandly conceived history of Western sociology. He boldly says that sociology can never be “value-free” and “objective”—it will always be political and ideological. We still debate that issue today.

By Robert K. Merton,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Social Theory and Social Structure as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Social Theory and Social Structure was a landmark publication in sociology by Robert K. Merton. It has been translated into close to 20 languages and is one of the most frequently cited texts in social sciences. It was first published in 1949, although revised editions of 1957 and 1968 are often cited. In 1998 the International Sociological Association listed this work as the third most important sociological book of the 20th century. The book introduced many important concepts in sociology, like: manifest and latent functions and dysfunctions, obliteration by incorporation, reference groups, self-fulfilling prophecy, middle-range theory and others


Book cover of Tearoom Trade: Impersonal Sex in Public Places

Jack Nusan Porter Why did I love this book?

Here again I mean not only the sexuality of deviance or the deviance of sexuality such as crossdressers, transvestites, homosexuals, and lesbians but also historical phenomena such as the gay rights movement or the suppression of gays in Nazi Germany.

The book that most influenced me in the 1970s was Laud Humphrey’s “Tea-Room Trade”. His book was so radical, so astounding in its utter chutzpah that it could never be replicated today at research universities. It was a time when gay consciousness was erupting. The problem was that those gay activists were out in the open, but what about the closeted man? (His study dealt only with men.)

These men may not even label themselves as homosexual or bisexual or Trans. I am speaking of men who go to “hidden” bathrooms in parks or buildings and wait for anonymous sex; then go home to their wives and children and live “normal” lives.

No one had ever studied or observed them or more astonishingly, talked to them in their own homes!

It was the only time that one could make generalizations of these men who frequented these "tea-rooms”. (It is a British phrase—“tea-room” is slang for urinal in England).

By Laud Humphreys,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

From the time of its first publication, 'Tearoom Trade' engendered controversy. It was also accorded an unusual amount of praise for a first book on a marginal, intentionally self-effacing population by a previously unknown sociologist. The book was quickly recognized as an important, imaginative, and useful contribution to our understanding of "deviant" sexual activity. Describing impersonal, anonymous sexual encounters in public restrooms-"tearooms" in the argot-the book explored the behavior of men whose closet homosexuality was kept from their families and neighbors. By posing as an initiate, the author was able to engage in systematic observation of homosexual acts in public…


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Book cover of Mindleap: A Fresh View of Education Empowered by Neuroscience and Systems Thinking

Jim Brown Author Of Mindleap: A Fresh View of Education Empowered by Neuroscience and Systems Thinking

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Why am I passionate about this?

I have spent my entire professional life quietly patrolling the frontiers of understanding human consciousness. I was an early adopter in the burgeoning field of biofeedback, then neurofeedback and neuroscience, plus theory and practices of humanistic and transpersonal psychology, plus steeping myself in systems theory as a context for all these other fields of focus. I hold a MS in psychology from San Francisco State University and a PhD from Saybrook Institute. I live in Mount Shasta CA with Molly, my life partner for over 60 years. We have two sons and two grandchildren.

Jim's book list on brain, mind, and consciousness

What is my book about?

In this thoroughly researched and exquisitely crafted treatise, Jim Brown synthesizes the newest understandings in neuroscience, developmental psychology, and dynamical systems theory for educators and others committed to nurturing human development.

He explains complex concepts in down-to-earth terms, suggesting how these understandings can transform education to engender optimal learning and intelligence. He explores the nature of consciousness, intelligence, and mind.

Brown then offers a model of optimal human learning through lifelong brain development within a supportive culture--drawing on the work of Piaget, Erickson, Maslow, Kohlberg, and Steiner--and how that work is being vastly expanded by neuroscience and dynamical systems thinking.

Mindleap: A Fresh View of Education Empowered by Neuroscience and Systems Thinking

By Jim Brown,

What is this book about?

In this thoroughly-researched and exquisitely crafted treatise, Jim Brown synthesizes the newest understandings in neuroscience, developmental psychology, and dynamical systems theory for educators and others committed to nurturing human development. He explains complex concepts in down-to-earth terms, suggesting how these understandings can transform education to truly engender optimal learning and intelligence. He explores the nature of consciousness, intelligence, and mind. Brown then offers a model of optimal human learning through life-long brain development within a supportive culture--drawing on the work of Piaget, Erickson, Maslow, Kohlberg, and Steiner--and how that work is being vastly expanded by neuroscience and dynamical systems thinking.


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