The best books on genocide

4 authors have picked their favorite books about genocide and why they recommend each book.

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Blood and Soil

By Ben Kiernan,

Book cover of Blood and Soil: A World History of Genocide and Extermination from Sparta to Darfur

This book is the first global history of genocide and is indispensable for understanding the phenomenon of genocide. What is so useful about the book is not merely its broad coverage but Kiernan's masterful analyses of genocides occurring in widely different times and places.

Who am I?

I am a biblical scholar who has become a historian of violence because I could no longer ignore the realities of the present or my own past. I write of violence for my childhood self, who was bullied for a decade and used to run away from school.  I write of it for my grandfather, who was born of exploitation.  I write of it for my African-American wife and daughter, in the hopes that I might contribute to the elimination of hierarchies that threaten their dignity and sometimes their lives.  Doing this work is not just intellectual for me—it is a memorialization and a ritual of healing. 


I wrote...

Violence and Personhood in Ancient Israel and Comparative Contexts

By T.M. Lemos,

Book cover of Violence and Personhood in Ancient Israel and Comparative Contexts

What is my book about?

In the first book-length work ever written on personhood in ancient Israel, I reveal widespread intersections between violence and personhood in this society and the wider region. Relations of domination and subordination were incredibly important to the culture of ancient Israel, with these relations often determining the boundaries of personhood itself. Personhood was malleable—it could be and was violently erased in many social contexts. This study exposes a violence-personhood-masculinity nexus in which domination allowed those in control to animalize and brutalize the bodies of subordinates.

Genocide

By Adam Jones,

Book cover of Genocide: A Comprehensive Introduction

There are not very many books that are specifically concerned with dehumanization, but there are very many books that are relevant to it. I begin my list with two of these. Because genocidal violence is almost always fueled by the dehumanizing impulse, Adam Jones’ Genocide: A Comprehensive Introduction is my first choice. It is an astonishingly thorough and accessible introduction to genocide studies, covering both factual and theoretical issues, and covers well-known genocides, as well as lesser-known ones. This book is an ideal entry point into the vast and harrowing literature on genocide, and I, for one, have learned a lot from reading it.


Who am I?

I have an international reputation as an expert on dehumanization. I have researched this subject for the past fifteen years, and have written three books and many articles, and given many talks on it, including a presentation at the 2012 G20 economic summit. I believe that dehumanization is an extremely important phenomenon to understand, because it fuels the worst atrocities that human beings inflict upon one another. If phrases like "never again" have any real meaning, we need to seriously investigate the processes, including dehumanization, that make such horrific actions possible.

I wrote...

Making Monsters: The Uncanny Power of Dehumanization

By David Livingstone Smith,

Book cover of Making Monsters: The Uncanny Power of Dehumanization

What is my book about?

Making Monsters offers a poignant meditation on the philosophical and psychological roots of dehumanization. Drawing on harrowing accounts of lynchings, the book establishes what dehumanization is and what it isn’t. When we dehumanize our enemy, we hold two incongruous beliefs at the same time: we believe our enemy is at once subhuman and fully human. To call someone a monster, then, is not merely a resort to metaphor—dehumanization really does happen in our minds.

Turning to an abundance of historical examples, Making Monsters explores the relationship between dehumanization and racism, the psychology of hierarchy, what it means to regard others as human beings, and why dehumanizing others transforms them into something so terrifying that they must be destroyed.

Small Country

By Gaël Faye,

Book cover of Small Country

Sometimes fiction, with its knack for getting under the skin, is the best way of grasping the human impact of something as psychologically earth-shaking as mass murder. Set in the early 1990s, this novel’s narrator is the son of a French father and Rwandan mother, living in Bujumbura, just across the border from Rwanda. Inevitably the mass killings spill over into Burundi, exacerbating existing tensions between Hutus and Tutsis there and shattering an already precariously-poised family. I get the impression this book sold well in both French and English, and I’m not surprised. Under its deceptively simple surface, it packs a punch.


Who am I?

After working as a foreign correspondent in Italy and France I was sent by Reuters news agency to Cote d’Ivoire and what was then Zaire, the latter posting coinciding with the shocking start of the genocide in neighboring Rwanda. It was the kind of assignment you don’t forget, and when I moved to the Financial Times I continued following the larger-than-life dramas unfolding in Africa’s Great Lakes region. I’ve now written five books, the first – In the Footsteps of Mr Kurtz - about Mobutu Sese Seko's imprint on the Democratic Republic of Congo and the latest – Do Not Disturb - looking at personalities and events I first started writing about a quarter of a century ago. You keep going back.


I wrote...

Do Not Disturb: The Story of a Political Murder and an African Regime Gone Bad

By Michela Wrong,

Book cover of Do Not Disturb: The Story of a Political Murder and an African Regime Gone Bad

What is my book about?

A real-life murder and spy thriller set in central Africa. Do Not Disturb uses the lurid assassination of Patrick Karegeya, Rwanda’s exiled former spy chief, to unpick the story of the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), the movement that went from united guerrilla group to unhappy post-genocide government, with one man – Paul Kagame – emerging as a ruthless despot, ready to eliminate all those who stand in his way. Kagame's victims include his old friend Karegeya, strangled in the Michelangelo Hotel in Johannesburg on his orders. This is a story about an African revolution gone bad, but it’s also a tale of treachery amongst friends, for the founders of the RPF attended school together, learned how to fight at one anothers’ sides, and made speeches at each others’ weddings. The personal IS the political in this slow-motion African tragedy.

A Problem from Hell

By Samantha Power,

Book cover of A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide

I think every historian should read works by journalists in order to see how good writing can elevate a topic. Samantha Power's work on the history of genocide and the response of American foreign policy to various global incidences of genocide takes a dark and complex topic and makes it highly engaging and readable. Power’s work is informed by her past experience as a war correspondent in the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s. Her work is important in that it is not simply a history of genocide from an observer’s standpoint, instead, she takes a moral position and makes a strong case for intervention in the face of mass atrocities. With that in mind, not only a book for every historian to read, but every politician as well.


Who am I?

I am a writer, researcher, and sometimes curator and I have a passion for history and great storytelling. While my own research has focused on the First World War, I have worked on exhibits and reports on a wide array of topics. I continue to be inspired by new ways of understanding and depicting history, and especially by the work of fellow women writers and historians. This short list is a glimpse into some of my favourite works of non-fiction writing out there that has been produced by women and that have inspired me.


I wrote...

Death or Deliverance: Canadian Courts Martial in the Great War

By Teresa Iacobelli,

Book cover of Death or Deliverance: Canadian Courts Martial in the Great War

What is my book about?

Soldiers found guilty of desertion or cowardice during the Great War faced death by firing squad. Novels, histories, movies, and television series often depict courts-martial as brutal and inflexible, and social memories of this system of frontline justice have inspired modern movements to seek pardons for soldiers executed on the battlefield. In this powerful and moving book, Teresa Iacobelli looks beyond stories of callous generals and quick executions to consider the trials of nearly two hundred soldiers who were sentenced to death but spared by a disciplinary system capable of thoughtful review and compassion.

By bringing to light these men’s experiences, Death or Deliverance reconsiders an important chapter in the history of both a war and a nation.

Over a Thousand Hills I Walk With You

By Hanna Jansen,

Book cover of Over a Thousand Hills I Walk With You

This is a beautifully written account of how 8-year-old Jeanne d'Arc Umubyeyi (Dédé) escaped the 1994 massacre of the Tutsi ethnic group at the hands of the Huti tribe. Jeanne was the only member of her family to survive. The horror of what she went through is vividly recounted in Jeanne’s words and those of her adoptive mother Hanna Jansen, who adopted her and brought her to Germany. 

It is a very powerful, true, story. I had heard of the Rwandan massacre, but knew little about it till I read this novel. 

I love the book and have re-read it several times. Young adults will identify strongly with both Jeanne and Hanna.


Who am I?

My maternal great-grandparents were Irish immigrants. My paternal grandfather left Liverpool in the late 19th century to go to Australia. I’d love to know their children’s stories! Some of the families I visited as a social worker (mid-1960s) were immigrants, struggling to make sense of a new language and a new culture. I met a child who had come here alone as an illegal immigrant and had been a house slave until the social services settled her with a foster family. I met author Hanna Jansen and her many adopted children from war-torn countries. Fiction gives us many powerful stories about children forced to flee from their homes because of war, tyranny, hunger, poverty, natural disasters.


I wrote...

The Girl Who Saw Lions

By Berlie Doherty,

Book cover of The Girl Who Saw Lions

What is my book about?

"Be strong, my Abela." These are the last words of Abela's mother in their HIV/Aids stricken African village, where it seems that to live or to die, to be sick or to be healthy, is just a matter of chance. It takes all 8-year-old Abela's strength to survive her Uncle Thomas's scheming to get her to London, where she becomes a house slave. but what will be her fate as an illegal immigrant? Abela’s story is interwoven with that of 13-year-old Rosa, in England, who is jealous and unhappy when her mother tells her she wants to adopt an orphan.

 … this latest Doherty title is a heartbreaking yet ultimately hopeful examination of HIV/Aids, child trafficking, and adoption. (Season Highlight) ― The Bookseller

Greenmantle

By John Buchan,

Book cover of Greenmantle

John Buchan served in the War Propaganda Bureau during WWI, crafting press releases that sought to preserve public morale against the terrible losses on the Western Front. Already a successful novelist, he created a new character named Richard Hannay who starred in his 1915 adventure thriller The Thirty Nine Steps. Hannay was so popular that Buchan revived him for a 1916 sequel set in the Ottoman Empire that proved an enduring classic: Greenmantle. Through his work in intelligence and propaganda, Buchan was aware of British war planners’ concerns that the Ottoman call for jihad that followed their declaration of war might provoke colonial Muslims to rise against the Entente Powers in India, Egypt, North Africa, and the Caucasus. He captured British fears of an Ottoman-inspired jihad inflaming Indian Muslims with the memorably Orientalist line: “There is a dry wind blowing through the East, and the parched grasses wait the spar.…


Who am I?

As a professional historian of the Middle East, I’ve long recognized WWI as a vital turning point in the region’s history, when the ancient Ottoman Empire fell and the modern states of the Middle East took its place. Based in Oxford, I am particularly aware of this university’s role in shaping so many of those whose book captured the British experience of the Ottoman Front. But there’s also an element of family history behind my fascination, as in following the story of my great-uncle’s death in Gallipoli in 1915, I came to appreciate the magnitude of sacrifice suffered by all sides in the Great War in the Middle East.


I wrote...

The Fall of the Ottomans: The Great War in the Middle East

By Eugene Rogan,

Book cover of The Fall of the Ottomans: The Great War in the Middle East

What is my book about?

By 1914 the powers of Europe were sliding inexorably toward war, and they pulled the Middle East along with them into one of the most destructive conflicts in human history. In The Fall of the Ottomans, award-winning historian Eugene Rogan brings the First World War and its immediate aftermath in the Middle East to vivid life, uncovering the often ignored story of the region's crucial role in the conflict. Unlike the static killing fields of the Western Front, the war in the Middle East was fast-moving and unpredictable, with the Turks inflicting decisive defeats on the Entente in Gallipoli, Mesopotamia, and Gaza before the tide of battle turned in the Allies' favor. The postwar settlement led to the partition of Ottoman lands, laying the groundwork for the ongoing conflicts that continue to plague the modern Arab world. A sweeping narrative of battles and political intrigue from Gallipoli to Arabia, The Fall of the Ottomans is essential reading for anyone seeking to understand the Great War and the making of the modern Middle East.

In the Shadow of the Holocaust

By Aaron Hass,

Book cover of In the Shadow of the Holocaust: The Second Generation

If Epstein’s book, published in 1979, was the first expose about the commonalities among the children of the Holocaust, Hass’ book was the second. Hass succeeded in melding oral history, memoir, and his professions as a clinical psychologist and university professor. This book is helpful, not only to those of the second generation, but to mental health professionals, as well. It was also helpful to me, as it explained the unique, and often difficult, relationship between the survivor parents and their children.

I am passionate about the book because as a child of survivors, I have also had to grapple with the effects of my parents’ trauma. Of course, as a young child, I had no idea that my parents’ behaviors were special or different. It was only at an older age, I began noticing the differences between the atmosphere and attitudes in my home vs. those of my friends.…


Who am I?

Born in a displaced persons camp in Germany after World War 2, Ettie immigrated with her parents to the USA. She grew up and was educated in New York City and Pennsylvania and immigrated to Israel after completing graduate school. After retiring from a career in international schools in 6 countries, she currently resides in Arizona with her husband. She is a Board member for the Phoenix Holocaust Association and devotes much time to giving presentations to youth and adults worldwide.


I wrote...

A Holocaust Memoir of Love & Resilience: Mama's Survival from Lithuania to America

By Ettie Zilber,

Book cover of A Holocaust Memoir of Love & Resilience: Mama's Survival from Lithuania to America

What is my book about?

With the Nazi occupation of Kovno (Lithuania), her life changed forever. Zlata Santocki Sidrer was Jewish, but she survived the horrors of the Holocaust. Gone was her normal life and her teenage dream of becoming a doctor. Instead, she witnessed untold deprivations, massacres, imprisonment, hunger, and slave labor before being transported to the Stutthof Concentration Camp. Her story of the death march is a testament to her fighting spirit and the limits of human endurance. Yet the challenges did not end with liberation.

Lovingly compiled from recorded interviews and researched by her eldest daughter, Ettie, this is an account of a remarkably resilient woman who raised herself out of the ashes after unimaginable hardship and sorrow. She found love and happiness where none could be expected — a secret marriage in the ghetto and life-saving friendships. She describes escapes, dangerous border crossings, and reunifications.

God Sleeps in Rwanda

By Joseph Sebarenzi, Laura Mullane,

Book cover of God Sleeps in Rwanda: A Journey of Transformation

The author, a Tutsi genocide survivor, was once a young Rwandan politician who deeply admired Paul Kagame and seemed destined for prominent public office. Instead, from his position as parliamentary speaker, he watched as his hero steadily emasculated the judiciary, undermined the country’s Hutu president – a symbol of ethnic reconciliation - and sabotaged parliamentary democracy itself,  eventually fleeing the country when his own life was threatened. His book not only offers great insights into the workings of village life in a tiny African country traumatized by its violent past, it’s a step-by-step analysis of how a dictatorship takes cynical, relentless hold.


Who am I?

After working as a foreign correspondent in Italy and France I was sent by Reuters news agency to Cote d’Ivoire and what was then Zaire, the latter posting coinciding with the shocking start of the genocide in neighboring Rwanda. It was the kind of assignment you don’t forget, and when I moved to the Financial Times I continued following the larger-than-life dramas unfolding in Africa’s Great Lakes region. I’ve now written five books, the first – In the Footsteps of Mr Kurtz - about Mobutu Sese Seko's imprint on the Democratic Republic of Congo and the latest – Do Not Disturb - looking at personalities and events I first started writing about a quarter of a century ago. You keep going back.


I wrote...

Do Not Disturb: The Story of a Political Murder and an African Regime Gone Bad

By Michela Wrong,

Book cover of Do Not Disturb: The Story of a Political Murder and an African Regime Gone Bad

What is my book about?

A real-life murder and spy thriller set in central Africa. Do Not Disturb uses the lurid assassination of Patrick Karegeya, Rwanda’s exiled former spy chief, to unpick the story of the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), the movement that went from united guerrilla group to unhappy post-genocide government, with one man – Paul Kagame – emerging as a ruthless despot, ready to eliminate all those who stand in his way. Kagame's victims include his old friend Karegeya, strangled in the Michelangelo Hotel in Johannesburg on his orders. This is a story about an African revolution gone bad, but it’s also a tale of treachery amongst friends, for the founders of the RPF attended school together, learned how to fight at one anothers’ sides, and made speeches at each others’ weddings. The personal IS the political in this slow-motion African tragedy.

Violence in War and Peace

By Nancy Scheper-Hughes (editor), Philippe I. Bourgois (editor),

Book cover of Violence in War and Peace: An Anthology

The editors of this volume are two of the most important and influential medical anthropologists in the world and major scholars of violence. In addition to collecting a set of useful texts on violence, the introduction to the volume is a piece of writing that I have returned to many times.

Who am I?

I am a biblical scholar who has become a historian of violence because I could no longer ignore the realities of the present or my own past. I write of violence for my childhood self, who was bullied for a decade and used to run away from school.  I write of it for my grandfather, who was born of exploitation.  I write of it for my African-American wife and daughter, in the hopes that I might contribute to the elimination of hierarchies that threaten their dignity and sometimes their lives.  Doing this work is not just intellectual for me—it is a memorialization and a ritual of healing. 


I wrote...

Violence and Personhood in Ancient Israel and Comparative Contexts

By T.M. Lemos,

Book cover of Violence and Personhood in Ancient Israel and Comparative Contexts

What is my book about?

In the first book-length work ever written on personhood in ancient Israel, I reveal widespread intersections between violence and personhood in this society and the wider region. Relations of domination and subordination were incredibly important to the culture of ancient Israel, with these relations often determining the boundaries of personhood itself. Personhood was malleable—it could be and was violently erased in many social contexts. This study exposes a violence-personhood-masculinity nexus in which domination allowed those in control to animalize and brutalize the bodies of subordinates.

Who Fears Death

By Nnedi Okorafor,

Book cover of Who Fears Death

Who Fears Death is one of my all-time favourite fantasy novels. Set in post-apocalyptic Sudan, this novel brings voices to the genre that are seldom heard. The story follows a girl called Onye, a child born of violence. I adored her from the first. Gifted with powers to change into any creature of her choosing, the power to heal, even the power to bring life back from death, she is loyal, flawed, and courageous, with fierce determination capable of immense love as well as focused revenge. Onyeneswu (translates to Who Fears Death), is most at home in the desert wilderness. I can still hear the sound of her singing voice communing with the desert.


Who am I?

I adore the SFF genre for its scope of limitless creativity. In particular, I look to both read and write books that incorporate contemporary issues, represent marginalised sections of society, challenge stereotypes, and generally make you think – themes that don’t shy away from tough topics, while interspersed in plenty of colour. In my own epic fantasy series, Blood Gift Chronicles, themes include wildlife and the environment, social justice and marginalisation, magic, animism, and dragons. I have a definite soft spot for complex women and girl protagonists and am excited by the range of voices coming through in the genre. I hope you enjoy my recommendations as much as I have.


I wrote...

Return of the Mantra (Blood Gift Chronicles)

By Susie Williamson,

Book cover of Return of the Mantra (Blood Gift Chronicles)

What is my book about?

16-year-old Suni has always known she is different. She and her mother, Mata, live a secretive life on the edge of society, hidden from the tyrant King and his autocratic rule. Her father abandoned them to work in the King’s crystal mines. In a land ravaged by drought, where the natural world is forsaken for profit, Mata follows the old ways of the Mantra, which the King has outlawed. When tragedy strikes, Suni is cut adrift. She sets off to find her father. Will she also find the destiny Mata wanted for her?

This award-winning, character-driven fantasy adventure chronicles Suni’s search for justice and her own identity, as she finds herself at the centre of a desperate bid to save her homeland.

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