The best books to read when fascism is creeping in the window

Who am I?

I’m President of the Writers Guild Initiative, with a mission of giving a voice to populations not being heard (LGBT asylum seekers, exonerated death row prisoners, Dreamers, etc.). In our writing workshops I see how marginalized communities are deprived of their rights and how insidiously minority rule is seizing power. Fascism depends on demonizing the Other, which was weaponized during the Trump years and is exploding on the right. This issue animates my life and work as a writer, mentor, speaker, and teacher. In the USA, democracy is hanging by a thread. My book takes a deep dive into what this means for an American family over the next fifteen years.


I wrote...

It Happened Here

By Richard Dresser,

Book cover of It Happened Here

What is my book about?

In 2035, fourteen-year-old Louise is interviewing her family members to find out what went wrong—for the family and the nation. It seems both started falling apart around 2019. Then the 2020 elections were canceled, and the president remained in power for sixteen years. This is the story of one family divided by ideology, and of undying hope in the direst of circumstances.

In 1935, Sinclair Lewis challenged readers to imagine an America hijacked by a totalitarian president whose message was fueled by fear, division, and “patriotism.” Richard Dresser’s It Happened Here delivers a modern vision of just such an America. Told through the interwoven voices of eight different characters, it reveals how the Weeks family navigates the slow death of democracy in the country they all love.

The books I picked & why

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On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century

By Timothy Snyder,

Book cover of On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century

Why this book?

This is a short, urgently written handbook for the heart-stopping moments when you hear the sounds of fascism downstairs and realize you forgot to lock the window. “To abandon facts is to abandon freedom. If nothing is true, then no one can criticize power, because there is no basis upon which to do so. If nothing is true, then all is spectacle. The biggest wallet pays for the most blazing light.” Fake news, Fox News, alternative facts, the Big Lie, QAnon, the replacement theory, the MAGA movement, evangelical theocracy, and fascism have made their way into our house and are creeping up the stairs and we wait, foolishly believing it will listen to reason.


Berlin

By Jason Lutes,

Book cover of Berlin

Why this book?

Jason Lutes spent decades creating this masterpiece—a graphic novel that brilliantly reconstructs life in Berlin in the years before Hitler became Chancellor. The characters are fully dimensional, a diverse and compelling collection of individuals, reeling from World War I, struggling to face the fall of Weimar and the cold hands of fascism tightening around their necks. This is a perfect melding of art, narrative, and political urgency that speaks eloquently to our perilous age.


Trump: The Art of the Deal

By Donald J. Trump, Tony Schwartz,

Book cover of Trump: The Art of the Deal

Why this book?

This is the first book that credits Donald Trump as “author,” and it may well be one of the few books he has ever read. The actual “writing” was performed by Tony Schwartz, with one hand on the keyboard and the other holding his nose. This is the sacred text that introduced the term “truthful hyperbole” (lying) which later metastasized into the Big Lie, as the author slithered inexorably from real estate conman (six bankruptcies) to reality show host to, naturally, leader of the formerly free world. Tony Schwartz’s decades of mea culpas can’t erase the hideous trajectory launched by The Art of the Deal, which author Trump called his second favorite book after The Bible, and set him on his course toward overthrowing American democracy. 


It Can't Happen Here

By Sinclair Lewis,

Book cover of It Can't Happen Here

Why this book?

Sinclair Lewis’s 1935 novel was inspired by European fascism and serves as a bridge between Hitler/Mussolini and the blustery, bloviating, red-faced American version, Huey Long and Donald Trump. After winning the Presidency on a populist platform, Lewis’s demagogue, Buzz Windrip, outlaws the opposition, puts his political enemies in concentration camps, sets up The Minute Men, a personal paramilitary force, eliminates the power of Congress, and restricts rights for women and minorities. A huge number of American voters back these fascist measures as necessary to make the country great again. Sound familiar?

Full disclosure: this book was an inspiration for my own novel, which tells the story of an American family from 2020-2035 as the country careens off the rails into fascism.


Strongmen: Mussolini to the Present

By Ruth Ben-Ghiat,

Book cover of Strongmen: Mussolini to the Present

Why this book?

Strongmen reads like a Wanted: For Demagoguery all-points bulletin, so we can identify the qualities that are present in totalitarian rulers. There are specific traits that these men—and they are all men—share, like corruption, deceit, propaganda, violence, exaggerated machismo, and misogyny. Their road to power is launched by apparent idealism in reclaiming the lost power of both the country and their followers. She writes, “The strong man’s trick is to seem exceptional and yet to embody the everyman, with all his endearing flaws.” Subjects range from Mussolini and Franco to the authoritarians of today: Putin, Trump, and Erdogan. The author reveals the shockingly similar playbooks of these self-proclaimed saviors of their nation, with a goal of enabling us to see who these men are and what to do when we find that they have crept into our home.


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in totalitarianism, fascism, and Latin America?

5,309 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about totalitarianism, fascism, and Latin America.

Totalitarianism Explore 34 books about totalitarianism
Fascism Explore 23 books about fascism
Latin America Explore 45 books about Latin America

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like Amberlough (The Amberlough Dossier Book 1), Origins of Totalitarianism, and Nineteen Eighty-Four if you like this list.