The best books on the U.S. Red Scare of the Russian Revolution and World War I era

Why am I passionate about this?

I'm a professor of modern U.S. history and have spent my career researching this list's fascinating era. This moment began our modern political history. The first Red Scare in the United States, erupting in the wake of World War I and the Russian Revolution, was a conflict over the definition and limits of radicalism in a modern democracy and the limits of its repression. It was also tied to other seismic questions of the era that remain relevant, including how far the fights of women and Blacks for opportunities and rights that other Americans took for granted could succeed, whether to end mass immigration, the meaning of ‘Americanism,’ the extent of civil liberties, the limits of capitalism, and the role of social movements in the republic.


I wrote...

World War I and Urban Order: The Local Class Politics of National Mobilization

By Adam J. Hodges,

Book cover of World War I and Urban Order: The Local Class Politics of National Mobilization

What is my book about?

This book brings to life the transformation of U.S. cities during the first truly national war mobilization effort. This history of a struggle over urban order during an unprecedented crisis is one of people more than institutions and of the grassroots more than elites. The labor movement, at the heart of wartime working-class aspiration, is likewise at the heart of this story. The book also explores how those who lived in rapidly changing war boom cities experienced the era. This story captures both extraordinary events, including the internment of enemy aliens and women with venereal disease, and the fascinating everyday dynamics of conflict and cooperation in a novel moment of scarcity and opportunity that changed urban life.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of American Midnight: The Great War, a Violent Peace, and Democracy's Forgotten Crisis

Adam J. Hodges Why did I love this book?

One of the great historians of our time just published the best overview of this period we have yet and it places the Red Scare and Red Summer (widespread attacks on Black communities on an unprecedented scale) of 1919 at the center of its 1917-1921 sweep. We get a great picture of how the World War I home front escalated repression and the U.S. connections to an explosive international situation during and after the war, including the Russian Revolution.

By Adam Hochschild,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

National Bestseller • One of the year's most acclaimed works of nonfiction • A Best Book of 2022: New York Times, Washington Post, New Yorker, Chicago Tribune, Kirkus

From legendary historian Adam Hochschild, a "masterly" (New York Times) reassessment of the overlooked but startlingly resonant period between World War I and the Roaring Twenties, when the foundations of American democracy were threatened by war, pandemic, and violence fueled by battles over race, immigration, and the rights of labor

The nation was on the brink. Mobs burned Black churches to the ground. Courts threw thousands of people into prison for opinions…


Book cover of The Seattle General Strike

Adam J. Hodges Why did I love this book?

The Seattle General Strike was the local event that escalated a national Red Scare at the beginning of 1919 and caused a wave of panic that the Russian Revolution was coming home. Friedheim is great at explaining how this extraordinary event occurred, sketching the key factions in the city, and narrating the drama of the big moments. This classic account of strikers running a city until the troops were called in, first published in 1964, is back in print in a great new edition with photos.

By Robert L. Friedheim,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

"We are undertaking the most tremendous move ever made by LABOR in this country, a move which will lead-NO ONE KNOWS WHERE!" With these words echoing throughout the city, on February 6, 1919, 65,000 Seattle workers began one of the most important general strikes in US history. For six tense yet nonviolent days, the Central Labor Council negotiated with federal and local authorities on behalf of the shipyard workers whose grievances initiated the citywide walkout. Meanwhile, strikers organized to provide essential services such as delivering supplies to hospitals and markets, as well as feeding thousands at union-run dining facilities.

Robert…


Book cover of The Day Wall Street Exploded: A Story of America in Its First Age of Terror

Adam J. Hodges Why did I love this book?

Gage uses the story of the bomb explosion on Wall Street in September 1920 and the investigation that followed the most deadly terrorist attack in U.S. history at the time to sketch an era of escalating revolutionary activity and its policing. We meet revolutionaries, gain insight into their networks, and understand how both local and federal policing, the latter through the rise of J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI, responded. Gage deftly ties all of it to national debates over immigration and civil liberties in the era that resonate today.

By Beverly Gage,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Day Wall Street Exploded as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Just after noon on September 16, 1920, as hundreds of workers poured onto Wall Street for their lunchtime break, a horse-drawn cart packed with dynamite exploded in a spray of metal and fire, turning the busiest corner of the financial center into a war zone. Thirty-nine people died and hundreds more lay wounded, making the Wall Street explosion the worst terrorist attack to that point in U.S. history. In The Day Wall Street Exploded, Beverly Gage tells the story of that once infamous but now largely forgotten event. Based on thousands of pages of Bureau of Investigation reports, this historical…


Book cover of Red War on the Family: Sex, Gender, and Americanism in the First Red Scare

Adam J. Hodges Why did I love this book?

The Russian Revolution upended global politics just as women’s suffrage movements, including in the United States, were doing so as well. Modern culture and its impact on gender roles and sexuality come together with panic over revolution in Ryan’s book to link anti-feminism with anti-radicalism as core to the dynamics of the Red Scare and defining ‘Americanism’ for the 1920s. Her novel insights explain how the changing identity of the American home and family escalated a conservative politics tied to anti-communism.

By Erica J. Ryan,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Red War on the Family as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In the 1920s, cultural and political reactions to the Red Scare in America contributed to a marked shift in the way Americans thought about sexuality, womanhood, manhood, and family life. The Russian Revolution prompted anxious Americans sensing a threat to social order to position heterosexuality, monogamy, and the family as a bulwark against radicalism.

In her probing and engaging book, Red War on the Family, Erica Ryan traces the roots of sexual modernism and the history of antiradicalism and antifeminism. She illuminates how Americans responded to foreign and domestic threats and expressed nationalism by strengthening traditional gender and family roles-especially…


Book cover of 1919, The Year of Racial Violence: How African Americans Fought Back

Adam J. Hodges Why did I love this book?

We must remember that 1919 also saw unprecedented widespread bloodshed in attacks on Black communities. This wave of violence is remembered as the Red Summer not because it coincided with the Red Scare, but because the worst of it occurred in and around that summer. Krugler gives us the national saga but helpfully zooms in to some of the major clashes to help us understand why and how they occurred – and most of all – how Blacks fought back through self-defense, the Black press, and the courts.

By David F. Krugler,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked 1919, The Year of Racial Violence as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

1919, The Year of Racial Violence recounts African Americans' brave stand against a cascade of mob attacks in the United States after World War I. The emerging New Negro identity, which prized unflinching resistance to second-class citizenship, further inspired veterans and their fellow black citizens. In city after city - Washington, DC; Chicago; Charleston; and elsewhere - black men and women took up arms to repel mobs that used lynching, assaults, and other forms of violence to protect white supremacy; yet, authorities blamed blacks for the violence, leading to mass arrests and misleading news coverage. Refusing to yield, African Americans…


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The Last Whaler

By Cynthia Reeves,

Book cover of The Last Whaler

Cynthia Reeves Author Of The Last Whaler

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Arctic adventurer Eternal optimist Unrealistic realist Foodie Teacher

Cynthia's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

This book is an elegiac meditation on the will to survive. Tor, a beluga whaler, and his wife, Astrid, a botanist specializing in Arctic flora, are stranded during the dark season of 1937-38 at his remote whaling station in the Svalbard archipelago when they misjudge ice conditions and fail to rendezvous with the ship meant to carry them back to their home in southern Norway. 

Beyond enduring the Arctic winter’s twenty-four-hour night, the couple must cope with the dangers of polar bears, violent storms, and bitter cold, as well as Astrid’s unexpected pregnancy.

The Last Whaler concerns the impact of…

The Last Whaler

By Cynthia Reeves,

What is this book about?

The Last Whaler is an elegiac meditation on the will to survive under extreme conditions. Tor, a beluga whaler, and his wife, Astrid, a botanist specializing in Arctic flora, are stranded during the dark season of 1937-38 at his remote whaling station when they misjudge ice conditions and fail to rendezvous with the ship meant to carry them back to their home in southern Norway. Beyond enduring the Arctic winter's twenty-four-hour night, the couple must cope with the dangers of polar bears, violent storms, and bitter cold as well as Astrid's unexpected pregnancy. The Last Whaler concerns the impact of…


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