The best books on antisemitism

11 authors have picked their favorite books about antisemitism and why they recommend each book.

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Memoir of a Fascist Childhood

By Trevor Grundy,

Book cover of Memoir of a Fascist Childhood: A Boy in Mosley's Britain

This is a through-the-looking-glass journey into the darker side of British politics. Grundy’s parents were violently anti-Semitic and obsessed with Oswald Mosley, and he himself became active in Mosley’s post-war Union Movement, before turning away from Fascism. It is surreal, scary, and hilarious by turns. It also gives important insights into the origins of today’s Far Right politics.

Who am I?

Richard Toye is a Professor of Modern History at the University of Exeter. He has published 19 non-fiction books on historical topics and was the co-presenter of the 2018 Channel 4 documentary Churchill's Secret Affair. In 2007 he won the Times Higher Education Young Academic of the Year Award for his book Lloyd George and Churchill: Rivals for Greatness

I wrote...

Winston Churchill: A Life in the News

By Richard Toye,

Book cover of Winston Churchill: A Life in the News

What is my book about?

Before Winston Churchill made history, he made news. To a great extent, the news made him too. If it was his own efforts that made him a hero, it was the media that made him a celebrity - and it has been considerably responsible for perpetuating his memory and shaping his reputation in the years since his death.

The story of Churchill and the news is, on one level, a tale of tight deadlines, off-the-record briefings, and smoke-filled newsrooms, of wartime summits that were turned into stage-managed global media events, and of often tense interactions with journalists and powerful press proprietors, such as Lords Northcliffe, Rothermere, and Beaverbrook. Uncovering the symbiotic relationship between Churchill's political life and his media life, and the ways in which these were connected to his personal life, I ask if there was a 'public Churchill' whose image was at odds with the behind-the-scenes reality, or whether, in fact, his private and public selves became seamlessly blended as he adjusted to living in the constant glare of the media spotlight.

The Plot Against America

By Philip Roth,

Book cover of The Plot Against America: A Novel

Unlike the other books on my list, this one, of course, is a work of fiction. It imagines an alternative history, in which Charles Lindbergh, the Nazi-sympathizing celebrity pilot, wins the US presidency in 1940. Roth conveys the mounting horrors through the experiences of his narrator, a Jewish boy in New Jersey. The book is a meditation on the fragile borders between democracy and authoritarianism in the United States, it suggests that fascism could have happened (and could still happen) in our not so-exceptional democracy. 

Who am I?

I am fascinated by how and why extremist thought enters the mainstream. It is what drew me to researching American fascist sympathizers in the 1920s and 1930s, and it is what scares me about the direction of politics in the United States today. When I am not hanging out with my family in Washington, DC, I am teaching in the American studies department at the University of Amsterdam. It’s a long commute, but my students make it worth it. I love to teach courses about protest traditions and democratic challenges in the United States in the twentieth century up until the present. 

I wrote...

The Machine Has a Soul: American Sympathy with Italian Fascism

By Katy Hull,

Book cover of The Machine Has a Soul: American Sympathy with Italian Fascism

What is my book about?

My book looks at American fascist sympathizers who were at the center of cultural and political life in the 1920s and 1930s, to understand why they supported Mussolini’s regime. Many of the issues that Americans faced in the 1920s and 1930s—from technological change and economic dislocation to disillusionment with democracy—are familiar to us today. And the proposed solution of fascist authoritarianism also has parallels in our present times. That is why I wanted to write this book: it is a piece of history that feels as urgent to understand in the 2020s as it did one hundred years ago.  

The Assignment

By Liza Wiemer,

Book cover of The Assignment

Weimer is the type of storyteller who makes you think at every turn of the page. The Assignment looks at the world of discrimination and antisemitism as it is handed out in a classroom assignment by a teacher we're left wondering about from the beginning. What makes you brave under the pressure of your peers and what makes you crumble? Weimer will give you insight into that through this stirring tome.

Who am I?

I spent 16 years teaching in NYC public schools, six of them on Rikers Island the world's biggest jail where I helped incarcerated teens improve their reading and writing skills. That experience helped to launch me on my own writing career. The job of the author? To hold up a mirror to society and reflect upon the page what the reader may not have experienced yet or missed seeing in the world outside the borders of a book.

I wrote...

The Great G.O.A.T. Debate: The Best of the Best in Everything from Sports to Science

By Paul Volponi,

Book cover of The Great G.O.A.T. Debate: The Best of the Best in Everything from Sports to Science

What is my book about?

I’m so incredibly proud of my 15th book for young adults. The idea behind it is very simple. In every school I visit, I hear students debating one another — Who’s the greatest basketball player of all time? Greatest rapper? Greatest video game? Greatest sci-fi franchise? Greatest rock band? So I wrote a book that lets students debate those topics. But, while those students are investigating their favorite categories, they’ll also be exposed to these unexpected debates —Who’s the greatest scientist of all time? Greatest architect? Greatest philosopher? Greatest mathematician? Greatest chess player? Greatest jazz soloist? Greatest composer? Greatest writer? Oh, yes, it also teaches students the basic strategies of debate and how to put forth a strong argument for their candidate as the G.O.A.T. of a particular category.

The Golem's Mighty Swing

By James Sturm,

Book cover of The Golem's Mighty Swing

This book was the first time I read a graphic novel with Jewish themes other than the Holocaust. As a comic book artist who was exploring my Jewish roots, it was eye-opening to read a tale with Jewish characters, especially because it deals with the legend of the Golem, a mystical being made of mud and brought to life through Hebrew incantations.  Add to that great action scenes of 1920s baseball, and it makes for a great read.

Who am I?

My love of comics and characters goes back to when I was very young. I remember falling in love with Snoopy to the point that I would draw a snoopy head on my worksheets in first grade, and my teacher knew it was from me! Once I got older, and began exploring my Jewish heritage in a more mature way, I was astounded by how many deep and meaningful stories I kept encountering. It was my natural inclination to retell these stories in a comic book format. Part of my mission was to find like minded souls who had a love for comix and a love for Jewish stories.

I wrote...

The Book of Secrets

By Mat Tonti,

Book cover of The Book of Secrets

What is my book about?

When a strange book of stories arrives from their beloved missing grandparents, siblings Ben and Rose must dive into the book for clues that will help them in their search for their grandparents. But they are not the only ones searching... Who is the strange creature called the Doughlem who shows up in each of the stories? What other dark forces find the book to be so important? And as more and more characters from the book start showing up in real life, Ben and Rose start to wonder if the book is coming to life, or if they are getting lost in the story.

Origins of Totalitarianism

By Hannah Arendt,

Book cover of Origins of Totalitarianism

Arendt’s three-part masterwork had the same US editor as 1984 and can be read as the non-fiction equivalent. While scholars have subsequently questioned aspects of her grand theory of totalitarianism, much of it holds up. Her commanding, aphoristic prose has made this one of the most widely quoted books of recent years, especially on the subject of power creating its own alternate reality: “In an ever-changing, incomprehensible world the masses had reached the point where they would, at the same time… think that everything was possible and that nothing was true.”

Who am I?

In The Ministry of Truth, I wanted to bring together two longstanding interests: dystopian fiction and the history of totalitarianism. Nineteen Eighty-Four is of course a landmark work in both categories. In trying to explain how and why Orwell came to write his masterpiece, and its subsequent influence on fiction and political thought, I read a huge range of books that wrestled with the horrors of Nazism and Stalinism and asked how they were able to hold sway, physically and mentally, over tens of millions of people. Many of them are gripping and valuable but these five in particular make for great companions to 1984.

I wrote...

The Ministry of Truth: The Biography of George Orwell's 1984

By Dorian Lynskey,

Book cover of The Ministry of Truth: The Biography of George Orwell's 1984

What is my book about?

1984 isn't just a novel; it's a key to understanding the modern world. George Orwell's final work is a treasure chest of ideas and memes - Big Brother, the Thought Police, Doublethink, Newspeak, 2+2=5 - that gain potency with every year. Particularly in 2016, when the election of Donald Trump made it a bestseller. Its influence has morphed endlessly into novels (The Handmaid's Tale), films (Brazil), television shows (V for Vendetta), rock albums (Diamond Dogs), commercials (Apple), even reality TV (Big Brother). 

The Ministry of Truth is the first book that fully examines the epochal and cultural event that is 1984 in all its aspects: its roots in the utopian and dystopian literature that preceded it; the personal experiences in wartime Great Britain that Orwell drew on as he struggled to finish his masterpiece in his dying days; and the political and cultural phenomena that the novel ignited at once upon publication and that far from subsiding, have only grown over the decades.

The Law of Blood

By Johann Chapoutot, Miranda Richmond Mouillot (translator),

Book cover of The Law of Blood: Thinking and Acting as a Nazi

I recently described this book on social media as possibly the best book on National Socialism that I have ever read (and I’ve read quite a few). Chapoutot is a brilliant French historian, and in this book (which is a great follow-up to Coonz) he delves deeply into the Nazi mindset, focusing on the interlocking set of beliefs and values that made the extermination of the so-called inferior races not only possible but necessary. One of the unique features of this tour de force is Chapoutot’s description of how it was not just Hitler, Goebbels, and their ilk, but also distinguished German scholars and jurists, that shaped the genocidal Nazi agenda.

Who am I?

I’ve been studying dehumanization, and its relationship to racism, genocide, slavery, and other atrocities, for more than a decade. I am the author of three books on dehumanization, one of which was awarded the 2012 Anisfield-Wolf award for non-fiction, an award that is reserved for books that make an outstanding contribution to understanding racism and human diversity. My work on dehumanization is widely covered in the national and international media, and I often give presentations at academic and non-academic venues, including one at the 2012 G20 economic summit where I spoke on dehumanization and mass violence.

I wrote...

On Inhumanity: Dehumanization and How to Resist It

By David Livingstone Smith,

Book cover of On Inhumanity: Dehumanization and How to Resist It

What is my book about?

The Rwandan genocide, the Holocaust, the lynching of African Americans, the colonial slave trade: these are horrific episodes of mass violence spawned from racism and hatred. We like to think that we could never see such evils again--that we would stand up and fight. But something deep in the human psyche--deeper than prejudice itself--leads people to persecute the other: dehumanization, or the human propensity to think of others as less than human.

An award-winning author and philosopher, Smith takes an unflinching look at the mechanisms of the mind that encourage us to see someone as less than human. There is something peculiar and horrifying in human psychology that makes us vulnerable to thinking of whole groups of people as subhuman creatures. When governments or other groups stand to gain by exploiting this innate propensity, and know just how to manipulate words and images to trigger it, there is no limit to the violence and hatred that can result.

Memories of Absence

By Aomar Boum,

Book cover of Memories of Absence: How Muslims Remember Jews in Morocco

When we talk about the need to read Jewish history in the Middle East within its original context, and within the understanding that Jews lived among non-Jews, interacted with non-Jews, and had a tremendous influence on their respective societies, from time to time, we need to change the perspective and see how their non-Jewish compatriots viewed them and remember them. In this book, Aomar Boum recorded the ways in which the Muslims of Morocco remember the large Jewish communities that lived in that country for millennia and shrunk to a fraction of their former self after 1956-1967. This book allows us to examine multiple perspectives simultaneously. The national and colonial identities, the essence of Middle Eastern Zionism, and the place of the memory of Jews after they had left in the modern societies.

Who am I?

I always felt that Middle Eastern studies is different from other fields of history. Its ever-presence in our life, the news cycle, religious life, political life, yet, because of language barriers and other filters, there’s a gap in knowledge that is highly conspicuous when forming one’s opinion. When I started my academic training, I felt like I was swimming in this ocean of histories that were completely unknown to me. I studied the Jewish histories of the region only later in my training and found that this gap is even more visible when talking about the history of Jews in the Middle East, because of misconceptions of antisemitism, the Israel-Palestine conflict, political tilt of media outlet, and more. For me, entering this field was a way to understand long-term processes in my own society, and expand the body of scholarship to enrich the public conversation on top of the academic one.

I wrote...

Between Iran and Zion: Jewish Histories of Twentieth-Century Iran

By Lior B. Sternfeld,

Book cover of Between Iran and Zion: Jewish Histories of Twentieth-Century Iran

What is my book about?

Iran is home to the largest Jewish population in the Middle East, outside of Israel. At its peak in the twentieth century, the population numbered around 100,000; today about 25,000 Jews live in Iran. Between Iran and Zion offers the first history of this vibrant community over the course of the last century, from the 1905 Constitutional Revolution through the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Over this period, Iranian Jews grew from a peripheral community into a prominent one that has made clear impacts on daily life in Iran.

The House of Fragile Things

By James McAuley,

Book cover of The House of Fragile Things: Jewish Art Collectors and the Fall of France

This is a book about a group of fabulously wealthy Jewish families (the Cahen D’Anvers, the Reinachs, the Rothschilds, and others) who amassed first-class art collections and left them to the French state only to see the state turn on them during the German Occupation. With great sensitivity, McAuley explores the lives of these very elite Jews, many of whom were related through ties of friendship and marriage, painting a rich portrait of their gilded but “fragile” world. He shows the complicated motivations behind their collections—the drive to belong and to express that belonging through art. This is certainly a snapshot of a very particular class, but it reveals something profound about the nature of the French-Jewish experience.

Who am I?

As a scholar of nineteenth-century French history and literature, I had always been fascinated by a paradox: France was the first modern European country to grant the Jews full civil rights (in 1790-91) but it was also the country where modern antisemitism first took shape. I’ve explored that paradox in a series of books, including most recently The Betrayal of the Duchess. Since 2011, I’ve also directed the Yale Program for the Study of Antisemitism. Many people don’t realize that France today has the third-largest population of Jews in the world, after Israel and the United States. And it continues to be ground-zero for antisemitic attacks. So studying this history is more important than ever.

I wrote...

The Betrayal of the Duchess: The Scandal That Unmade the Bourbon Monarchy and Made France Modern

By Maurice Samuels,

Book cover of The Betrayal of the Duchess: The Scandal That Unmade the Bourbon Monarchy and Made France Modern

What is my book about?

The year was 1832 and the French royal family was in exile, driven out by yet another revolution. From a drafty Scottish castle, the duchesse de Berry hatched a plot to restore the Bourbon dynasty. For months, she commanded a guerilla army and evaded capture by disguising herself as a man. But soon she was betrayed by her trusted advisor, Simon Deutz, the son of France's Chief Rabbi. The betrayal became a cause célèbre for Bourbon loyalists and ignited a firestorm of hate against France's Jews. By blaming an entire people for the actions of a single man, the duchess's supporters set the terms for the century of antisemitism that followed.

Brimming with intrigue and lush detail, The Betrayal of the Duchess is the riveting true story of a high-spirited woman, the charming but volatile young man who double-crossed her, and the birth of one of the modern world's most deadly forms of hatred.

Not in My Neighborhood

By Antero Pietila,

Book cover of Not in My Neighborhood: How Bigotry Shaped a Great American City

A former journalist, Antero Pietila delves into the history of Baltimore’s battles over housing and race since the 1880s. He shows how racism and antisemitism shaped who could live where in Baltimore, eventually consigning working-class Black people to disintegrating neighborhoods in the inner city. Where this book is especially good is on the history of blockbusting in the 1950s and 1960s.

Pietila introduces us to the real estate agents who preyed on Black people desperate to move out of slums and shows us how they panicked white people into selling their houses cheaply to get out before Black people moved in. Pietila draws connections between this history and the more recent example of speculators who lured Baltimore residents into subprime mortgages. Baltimore successfully sued Wells Fargo for discriminatory lending in 2012.

Who am I?

As a cultural historian of 20th century America, I’m fascinated by how culture is used to rebel against the status quo and how the status quo fights back. In my first book, Class Acts: Young Men and the Rise of Lifestyle, I looked at greasers, hippies, and white hip hop lovers to understand how they used style and fashion to push back against being white and middle class. In Come and Be Shocked: Baltimore Beyond John Waters and The Wire, I went beyond looking at how individuals shape their identity to thinking about how artists and city leaders shape the identity of a place. Can artists counter the efforts of cities to create sanitized images of themselves?

I wrote...

Come and Be Shocked: Baltimore Beyond John Waters and the Wire

By Mary Rizzo,

Book cover of Come and Be Shocked: Baltimore Beyond John Waters and the Wire

What is my book about?

Is Baltimore Charm City or Bodymore? Is it the pastel-colored dream of the musical Hairspray or the grim tragedy of The Wire? Unlike other cities of its size, Baltimore has been the setting for an astonishing number of cultural texts, from John Waters movies to Anne Tyler novels. As a cultural historian, I wondered how these images shaped and reflected Baltimore’s history from the 1950s to today. What I found was that politics and culture are intertwined more than most of us realize. Policymakers and cultural creators battled over defining the meaning of Baltimore. But this isn’t only a story about culture, it’s also about race.

Charm City and Bodymore are not only slogans but also reflect the hyper segregation of the city. As I show, the representations of Charm City define it through white working-class eccentricity, while Bodymore is depicted as a dangerous place where people of color reside, with material effects on the real neighborhoods that can be connected to each idea.


By Ian Kershaw,

Book cover of Hitler: 1889-1936 Hubris

Kershaw’s double biography of the Nazi leader (the second part, almost entirely about World War II, is called Hubris) is a classic, and remains the best, most approachable look at the unusual upbringing of a young boy from provincial Austria who once wanted to be an artist, and felt in debt with the Jewish doctor who (unsuccessfully, as it turned out) treated his mother’s cancer. Hubris is most remarkable for the glimpses it provides of a different fate for that young boy Adolf: how he was scarred by family tragedy and by failure at multicultural Vienna, and how the Great War gave him an opening to become the worst possible version of himself.

Who am I?

I’m a long-time correspondent for American media across the world. I reported on Europe and Asia for the Wall Street Journal, and on Southeast Asia for Bloomberg News. I was always fascinated by deep historical layers to be found in ancient societies like those of Europe, and the sometimes accurate clichés about European tribes and their strange customs; no European tribe is weirder than the Germans, for a long time the wildest of the continent and then the most cultured and sophisticated until they came under the spell of a certain Austrian. The twelve years that followed still rank as the most insane historical period for any nation ever.

I wrote...

Geli Hitler

By David Roman,

Book cover of Geli Hitler

What is my book about?

It’s a novel about the real-life, intriguing story of what may be Adolf Hitler’s first murder. In 1931, he’s a young, ever more popular politician in Munich, but his career seems shattered when his young niece Geli Raubal is found dead in the apartment they shared. Some evidence points to suicide, and massive pressure builds up on local police (full of Nazi sympathizers) not to investigate. A Great War veteran, married to a Jewish woman, is assigned the case and immediately starts to receive threats and find obstacles. The quest for the truth about Geli’s death ends up being more difficult and stranger than he could ever imagine.

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