The best books on the worst sort of politics: fascism

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m a historian who wrote a book on antifascism. In a way, I decided to write a book on the history of antifascism because I thought it was a good way to make sense of the history of fascism. Something along the lines of: Nobody knows you like your worst enemies. But I also thought that more books on the history of antifascism itself would be a good thing. There are many books on fascism and relatively few on anti-fascism. Ultimately, I decided to write Everything Is Possible because I thought that the first antifascists had useful lessons to share about how to turn the world toward something better than the one you’ve been given.

I wrote...

Everything Is Possible: Antifascism and the Left in the Age of Fascism

By Joseph Fronczak,

Book cover of Everything Is Possible: Antifascism and the Left in the Age of Fascism

What is my book about?

Everything Is Possible is a history of antifascism, focused on its golden age—the years from antifascism’s origins to the Spanish Civil War of 1936-1939. When fascists started terrorizing working-class neighborhoods in Italy in the early 1920s, young locals organized themselves as the Arditi del Popolo and fought back. When fascists marched through New York on Memorial Day 1927, young locals punched them. When Nazis started beating up Jewish people in Germany, young working-class antifascists joined a group called Antifa and fought against fascism until the authorities banned their organization. When Brazilian fascists held a rally in São Paulo’s central square in 1934, local antifascists ambushed them. And so on. Soon enough, antifascism had become a global cause.

Everything Is Possible puts that story together. 

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Resistible Rise Of Benito Mussolini

Joseph Fronczak Why did I love this book?

This ferocious little book is brilliant. It’s as much about how to fight fascism as it is about fascism itself, but it’s still a good place to start figuring out how the fascists came to power in Italy.

The key thing to grasp, Behan insists, is that there was nothing inevitable about Benito Mussolini’s rise (hence the “resistible” in the title, which is also a clever homage to Bertolt Brecht’s classic antifascist allegory, his 1941 play The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui). Behan’s big point is that if the foes of early Italian fascism had all worked together and resisted, they could have smashed fascism before it got going. 

By Tom Behan,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Resistible Rise Of Benito Mussolini as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In 1920 Italy was on the verge of a socialist revolution. Just two years later Benito Mussolini's fascists took power and ushered in an era of repression, war and, ultimately, genocide. In this enthralling book Tom Behan shows how a group of militant anti-fascists came close to stopping Mussolini and changing the course of history. Tragically, their bravery was undermined by a combination of the left's sectarianism and naive faith in the impartiality of the police. "An important and detailed analysis of a period of Italian history which is often ignored" - WSF

Book cover of Fascist Spectacle: The Aesthetics of Power in Mussolini's Italy

Joseph Fronczak Why did I love this book?

This is a dazzling mix of theory, sociology, and history. Falasca-Zamponi is attentive to the myths, rituals, festivals and ceremonies, symbols, and recurring images of Italian fascism—and she is attentive, too, to the political power that Mussolini relentlessly drew from such cultural forms.

With tremendous analytical imagination, Falasca-Zamponi unpacks the significance of the fascist salute, Mussolini’s balcony poses, all the axe-and-bundle imagery, those omnipresent black shirts, and the fascists’ distinctive “passo romano” marching style. For me, the heart of the book is its intense analysis of fascist violence as spectacle. Not just spectacle, though. Falasca-Zamponi also makes the case that for the early fascists violence—“great, beautiful, inexorable violence,” in Mussolini’s words—was sublime, regenerative, glorious, salvific.

The early fascists made violence, Falasca-Zamponi suggests, as if it were art. 

By Simonetta Falasca-Zamponi,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A cultural history of Italian fascism, this work traces the narrative path that accompanied the making of a regime and the construction of Mussolini's power. The author reads fascist myths, rituals, images, and speeches as texts that tell the story of fascism. Linking Mussolini's elaboration of a new ruling style to the shaping of the regime's identity, she finds that in searching for symbolic means and forms that would represent its political novelty, fascism in fact brought itself into being, creating its own power and history. Falasca-Zamponi aregues that an aesthetically founded notion of politics guided fascist power's historical unfounding…

Book cover of Revolutionary Nativism: Fascism and Culture in China, 1925-1937

Joseph Fronczak Why did I love this book?

This is a wonderful book attentive to the cultural dimensions of fascism.

It is also a good book for making sense of fascism’s global attraction. Within a few years of its creation in Italy, fascism began to attract adherents around the world. To give just a few examples, there were Goldshirts in Mexico, Grayshirts in South Africa, Blackshirts everywhere from Kenya to the United States, and Greenshirts in Egypt and France. In Ireland were Blueshirts. And in China there were Blueshirts as well.

In Revolutionary Nativism, the historian Maggie Clinton details the Chinese Blueshirts’ ideological vision of exclusionary nationalism, hyper-modernist regeneration, and military authoritarianism.

The Blueshirts’ attempts to realize their vision, Clinton writes, amounted to a “Cultural Revolution from the Right.”

By Maggie Clinton,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

In Revolutionary Nativism Maggie Clinton traces the history and cultural politics of fascist organizations that operated under the umbrella of the Chinese Nationalist Party (GMD) during the 1920s and 1930s. Clinton argues that fascism was not imported to China from Europe or Japan; rather it emerged from the charged social conditions that prevailed in the country's southern and coastal regions during the interwar period. These fascist groups were led by young militants who believed that reviving China's Confucian "national spirit" could foster the discipline and social cohesion necessary to defend China against imperialism and Communism and to develop formidable industrial…

Book cover of French Peasant Fascism: Henry Dorgeres' Greenshirts and the Crises of French Agriculture, 1929-1939

Joseph Fronczak Why did I love this book?

Ask some historians of fascism what book in English they recommend as an introduction to the subject, and, I’d guess, most will recommend Robert O. Paxton’s classic 2004 book-length essay, The Anatomy of Fascism.

Fair enough, but to my mind it is Paxton’s earlier monograph French Peasant Fascism that is his outright masterpiece of historical writing. If you’ve read The Anatomy of Fascism, there’s also the joy of seeing Paxton, in French Peasant Fascism, working out the ideas and themes that animate the later, better-known book. To understand the rightwing Depression-era French farmers known as the Greenshirts, Paxton argues, don’t focus so much on their official programs and doctrinal declarations, but rather watch them in action.

Watch them as they act out their ideology, at the market-day rally or when the taxman comes

By Robert O. Paxton,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

French Peasant Fascism is the first account of the Greenshirts, a militant right-wing peasant movement in 1930s France that sought to transform the Republic into an authoritarian, agrarian state. Author Robert Paxton examines the Greenshirts in five case studies, throwing new light on French rural society and institutions during the Depression and on the emergence of a new rural leadership of authentic farmers. Paxton points out that fascism remained weak in
the French countryside because the French state protected landowners more effectively than did those of Weimar Germany and Italy, and because French rural notables were so firmly embedded in…

Book cover of The New Faces of Fascism: Populism and the Far Right

Joseph Fronczak Why did I love this book?

Enzo Traverso is a gifted thinker, the sort who doesn’t simply change his readers’ minds but rather reshapes how they might even begin to perceive the world around them.

He offers his readers intense, tragic, and peculiarly inspiring visions of the modern world. In The New Faces of Fascism, Traverso considers the twenty-first century radical right, the right of Éric Zemmour, the “great replacement,” MAGA, the Golden Dawn, and Brexit. Unlike simplistic critiques posing the new right as the “return” of fascism, Traverso’s method for understanding the new right begins with the recognition that it “inevitably awakens the memory of fascism.” Fascism haunts our world. It is a ghostly presence in the present.

Read New Faces of Fascism alongside From Fascism to Populism in History, written by another of the great present-day historians of fascism, Federico Finchelstein, and feel the press of the past on the politics of today.

By Enzo Traverso,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

What does Fascism mean at the beginning of the twenty-first century? When we pronounce this word, our memory goes back to the years between the two world wars and envisions a dark landscape of violence, dictatorships, and genocide. These images spontaneously surface in the face of the rise of radical right, racism, xenophobia, islamophobia and terrorism, the last of which is often depicted as a form of "Islamic fascism." Beyond some superficial analogies, however, all these contemporary tendencies reveal many differences from historical fascism, probably greater than their affinities. Paradoxically, the fear of terrorism nourishes the populist and racist rights,…

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Book cover of A School for Unusual Girls

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Interested in fascism, Italy, and Benito Mussolini?

10,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about fascism, Italy, and Benito Mussolini.

Fascism Explore 67 books about fascism
Italy Explore 384 books about Italy
Benito Mussolini Explore 9 books about Benito Mussolini