The most recommended books on propaganda

Who picked these books? Meet our 22 experts.

22 authors created a book list connected to propaganda, and here are their favorite propaganda books.
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Book cover of She-Wolf: The Story of a Roman Icon

T. Corey Brennan Author Of The Fasces: A History of Ancient Rome's Most Dangerous Political Symbol

From my list on fascist propaganda.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m a professor of Classics at Rutgers University, where I’ve taught since 2000; before that, I spent a decade on the faculty of Bryn Mawr College. For three years I served on the staff of the American Academy in Rome, a somewhat frenetic experience that prompted me to shift my focus from ancient Roman history to the history of the city of Rome. Since 2010 I’ve been managing a private family archive in Rome, that of the papal Boncompagni Ludovisi, which covers the period from the early 1400s to the 1940s. Now completely digitized, the archive has much new material to offer, not least on the era of Mussolini, including resistance to his regime.

T.'s book list on fascist propaganda

T. Corey Brennan Why did T. love this book?

When Rome started minting coins for export markets in the third century BCE, one of the first emblems it chose was the she-wolf that, according to legend, suckled the twin infants Romulus and Remus on the site of the city not yet founded. In Italy, almost every generation since then has embraced the animal—as the author explains, “a beast that was Roman and mother, ancient and wild, fearsome and protective”—to communicate pretty much whatever message it wanted. Cristina Mazzoni amply illustrates the indeterminacy of the symbol, which Mussolini leveraged in his propaganda to elicit feelings of both patriotic pride and terror, but still found difficult to control. Case in point: just fifteen years after Mussolini’s death, the wolf with twins became the symbol of the 1960 Rome Summer Olympics.

By Cristina Mazzoni,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked She-Wolf as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Since antiquity, the she-wolf has served as the potent symbol of Rome. For more than two thousand years, the legendary animal that rescued Romulus and Remus has been the subject of historical and political accounts, literary treatments in poetry and prose, and visual representations in every medium. In She-Wolf: The Story of a Roman Icon, Cristina Mazzoni examines the evolution of the she-wolf as a symbol in western history, art, and literature, from antiquity to contemporary times. Used, for example, as an icon of Roman imperial power, papal authority, and the distance between the present and the past, the she-wolf…


Book cover of Propaganda: The Formation of Men's Attitudes

Samuel Woolley Author Of Manufacturing Consensus: Understanding Propaganda in the Era of Automation and Anonymity

From my list on helping you navigate the disinformation deluge.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’ve always been intrigued by politics and the tools and tactics people use in attempts to gain and maintain power. Since 2010, I’ve been researching and writing about propaganda and digital media. With collaborators at the University of Washington, the University of Oxford, and—currently—the University of Texas at Austin, I’ve done groundbreaking work on computational propaganda: the use of algorithms and automation in attempts to control public opinion. I’ve also worked with numerous think tanks, news organizations, policymakers, and private firms in efforts to make sense of our current informational challenges. In the summer of 2022 I testified before the U.S. congress on election-oriented disinformation challenges faced by communities of color.   

Samuel's book list on helping you navigate the disinformation deluge

Samuel Woolley Why did Samuel love this book?

This is another classic work in the subfield of propaganda studies, and it’s pretty dense. That said, its arguments on how technology and propaganda come together to enable mediated control of our very thought are powerful. Ellul’s point that propaganda is a sociological phenomenon—something that surrounds us in everything we do, everything we watch, everything we listen to—have also aided me in understanding why experimental or lab-based attempts to understand the specific effects of disinformation and propaganda often come up short. It’s difficult to study these things in a vacuum because they are so contextual, so tied to who is spreading the message, how they are spreading it, what their intentions are, and who they are targeting etc.  

By Jacques Ellul,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

This seminal study and critique of propaganda from one of the greatest French philosophers of the 20th century is as relevant today as when it was first published in 1962. Taking not only a psychological approach, but a sociological approach as well, Ellul’s book outlines the taxonomy for propaganda, and ultimately, it’s destructive nature towards democracy. Drawing from his own experiences fighting for the French resistance against the Vichy regime, Ellul offers a unique insight into the propaganda machine.


Book cover of Visions of Power in Cuba: Revolution, Redemption, and Resistance, 1959-1971

Rachel Hynson Author Of Laboring for the State: Women, Family, and Work in Revolutionary Cuba, 1959–1971

From my list on defying the narrative of early revolutionary Cuba.

Why am I passionate about this?

As the eldest daughter raised in an Evangelical home in rural Pennsylvania, I was immersed in normative, Anglo notions of gender and the family. I built on this embodied experience to cultivate expertise in discourse about the family and labor in early revolutionary Cuba. Perhaps surprisingly, the celebration of patriarchy, monogamy, and heterosexuality that bracketed my youth was also an important element of Cuban revolutionary discourse of the 1960s—albeit within a very different context. I received my PhD in Latin American and Caribbean History from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and was an Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow at Dartmouth College. I am now an independent scholar.

Rachel's book list on defying the narrative of early revolutionary Cuba

Rachel Hynson Why did Rachel love this book?

This transformative book explores the early years of the Cuban Revolution from the ground up, arguing that revolutionary leadership constructed hegemony gradually—gaining popular support by creating a “grand narrative” that envisioned the Revolution as an opportunity for spiritual and political redemption. Guerra shows that leaders also censured alternative narratives and voices that challenged their monopoly over power. And because government organizations deputized citizens to defend the state, they inadvertently created “unintended dissidents,” as well as vast numbers of supporters. These arguments and more make this exceptional book a controversial one as well.  

By Lillian Guerra,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Visions of Power in Cuba as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In the tumultuous first decade of the Cuban Revolution, Fidel Castro and other leaders saturated the media with altruistic images of themselves in a campaign to win the hearts of Cuba's six million citizens. In Visions of Power in Cuba, Lillian Guerra argues that these visual representations explained rapidly occurring events and encouraged radical change and mutual self-sacrifice.
Mass rallies and labor mobilizations of unprecedented scale produced tangible evidence of what Fidel Castro called ""unanimous support"" for a revolution whose ""moral power"" defied U.S. control. Yet participation in state-orchestrated spectacles quickly became a requirement for political inclusion in a new…


Book cover of Speak Easy: A Tale from the Effluvium

Jacey K. Dew Author Of Three Souls

From my list on fantasy to bring magic to familiar worlds.

Why am I passionate about this?

As a kid, I was consistently described as one who had her head in the clouds. I was far away imagining all sorts of fantastical things; dragons soaring in the sky, a witch blasting a fireball in the grocery store, a werewolf coming to eat the gym teacher, the coffee barista is actually a vampire, etc. There is something alluring about supernatural beings existing in our often mundane world; whether they are being subjected to the same life we are or are wreaking havoc for any reason.

Jacey's book list on fantasy to bring magic to familiar worlds

Jacey K. Dew Why did Jacey love this book?

Nanette reignites storytelling when magic and storytelling are forbidden while walking a dangerous line with her sister.

E.S. Barrison weaves a story of relationships in times of suppression of truth and how destructive state-sanctioned propaganda can be.

This story rang hard on familiar stories of real-world issues placed in a magical world, and the danger of being someone willing to go against the religious state; touching on trauma, police brutality, and the rising cost of medicine.

This novella has a lot of interesting points on the power of stories.

Book cover of The Fascist Revolution in Italy: A Brief History with Documents

T. Corey Brennan Author Of The Fasces: A History of Ancient Rome's Most Dangerous Political Symbol

From my list on fascist propaganda.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m a professor of Classics at Rutgers University, where I’ve taught since 2000; before that, I spent a decade on the faculty of Bryn Mawr College. For three years I served on the staff of the American Academy in Rome, a somewhat frenetic experience that prompted me to shift my focus from ancient Roman history to the history of the city of Rome. Since 2010 I’ve been managing a private family archive in Rome, that of the papal Boncompagni Ludovisi, which covers the period from the early 1400s to the 1940s. Now completely digitized, the archive has much new material to offer, not least on the era of Mussolini, including resistance to his regime.

T.'s book list on fascist propaganda

T. Corey Brennan Why did T. love this book?

In her decades of work on Italy’s Fascist era, Marla Stone has shown an especially keen eye for the development of the regime’s policies and ideologies, whether in the sphere of art and culture, or that of political violence and imperialist aggression. Here Stone offers a succinct and penetrating overview of the origins, rise, consolidation, and eventual crash of Fascism in Italy, followed by a translation of some three dozen primary documents—about a third of which were otherwise unavailable in English—to illustrate her narrative. Particularly chilling are the propaganda texts from 1938 on, when Mussolini’s grandiose claims to the legacy of ancient Rome took a back seat to full-blown racial politics, “as Italians were declared ‘Aryans’ and biological anti-Semitism became part of official ideology.”

By Marla Stone,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Fascist Revolution in Italy as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

As the first mass movement of the radical right to assume power in the wake of World War I, Italian Fascism became the model and inspiration for violent anti-democratic and anti-socialist forces that swept Europe between 1919 and 1945. In this volume Marla S. Stone provides an essential introduction to the rise and fall of Benito Mussolini's Fascist dictatorship. Drawing on the most recent historical scholarship, Stone explores the multifaceted nature of Fascist rule, which drew strength not only from its terror apparatus but also from popular support for its social programs. More than 35 primary sources, including speeches, decrees,…


Book cover of How to Win the War on Truth: An Illustrated Guide to How Mistruths Are Sold, Why They Stick, and How to Reclaim Reality

Dashka Slater Author Of Accountable: The True Story of a Racist Social Media Account and the Teenagers Whose Lives It Changed

From my list on facing down extremism, online and off.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’ve spent the past ten years reporting and writing true crime narratives about teenagers and hate, first in The 57 Bus and now in Accountable. My research has led me into some fascinating places and has left me convinced that we cannot prevent what we don’t understand. In both books I found that the young people who harmed others weren’t the stereotypical grimacing loners I’d always associated with hate and extremism. Instead, they were imitating behaviors that we see all around us. Being young, with brains that aren’t fully developed in important ways, and lacking the life experience that teaches us a more nuanced understanding of the world, they are ripe for radicalization.

Dashka's book list on facing down extremism, online and off

Dashka Slater Why did Dashka love this book?

After watching both a close friend and a relative get radicalized through online disinformation, I realized that no one is immune, no matter how smart or how educated, if they don’t have the tools to recognize disinformation when it comes their way.

Media scholar Samuel C. Spitale has written a compulsively readable and highly entertaining explanation of what disinformation is and how to recognize and combat it. The propaganda mills are churning out disinformation faster than ever before and even those of us who think we’re too smart to be fooled are vulnerable.

By Samuel C. Spitale, Allan Whincup (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked How to Win the War on Truth as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The average person receives 4,000 to 10,000 media messages a day. It s no wonder we struggle to separate the news from the noise and fact from fiction but in these unprecedented times, it s essential to democracy that we do. For anyone struggling to figure out how to live and vote their values, How to Win the War on Truth is here to help. You ll learn: The history of propaganda, from Edward Bernays to Fox News Why simple messages are so powerful How social messaging creates unconscious biases Who profits from propaganda How propaganda is manufactured and delivered…


Book cover of The Hidden Persuaders

Jean Kilbourne Author Of Can't Buy My Love: How Advertising Changes the Way We Think and Feel

From my list on books critiquing advertising and the popular culture.

Why am I passionate about this?

In 1968, I saw an ad that changed my life. It was typical—insulting to women, demeaning. Yet, at that moment, it somehow crystallized so many of my experiencesthe sexist slights, the terrible jobs, the sexual harassment, the catcalls, the objectification. I thought, “This is atrocious … and it is not trivial.” I started collecting ads and lecturing on the topic.  I made my first film, “Killing Us Softly: Advertising’s Image of Women” in 1979 (and have remade it three times since). Eventually I wrote and made films about alcohol and tobacco advertising. In 2015, I was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame.

Jean's book list on books critiquing advertising and the popular culture

Jean Kilbourne Why did Jean love this book?

I read this classic, published in 1957 when I was in high school. It was perhaps the first critique of advertising, and I found it fascinating.

Packard identified eight “compelling needs” that advertisers promise products will fulfill. Years later, I recognized how some of these needs were used to sell addictive products.

Although he didn’t address the objectification of women, he opened my eyes to the manipulative power of advertisers and the subconscious meaning of ads.  

By Vance Packard,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked The Hidden Persuaders as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"One of the best books around for demystifying the deliberately mysterious arts of advertising."--Salon

"Fascinating, entertaining and thought-stimulating."--The New York Times Book Review

"A brisk, authoritative and frightening report on how manufacturers, fundraisers and politicians are attempting to turn the American mind into a kind of catatonic dough that will buy, give or vote at their command--The New Yorker

Originally published in 1957 and now back in print to celebrate its fiftieth anniversary, The Hidden Persuaders is Vance Packard’s pioneering and prescient work revealing how advertisers use psychological methods to tap into our unconscious desires in order to "persuade" us…


Book cover of Russia's War

Keir Giles Author Of Moscow Rules: What Drives Russia to Confront the West

From my list on why Russia is the way it is.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m a professional explainer of Russia. For over 20 years I’ve been studying the country and trying to understand what makes it (and its leaders and people) so intent on attacking those around it and perceived adversaries further afield. That’s never been more important to understand than today when Ukraine and its soldiers are the only thing preventing Russia from once again rampaging across Europe. These books are ones that have helped me understand one part or several parts of the Russia problem, and I think they’ll be helpful for anybody else who wants to, too.

Keir's book list on why Russia is the way it is

Keir Giles Why did Keir love this book?

Another question I permanently get asked as a professional Russia-watcher is what Russia’s own population really thinks about its war on Ukraine and the atrocities committed there.

Surely, people think, if only ordinary Russians knew the truth about what their troops are doing in this unprovoked war of aggression – and how many of them are dying alongside innocent Ukrainian civilians and children – they would turn against the war. That’s why Jade McGlynn’s Russia’s War is such an important book.

Jade spent years researching Russian propaganda, its twisting of history, and the effect on what Russians think – and found, disturbingly, that yes, ordinary Russians really do support the horrors inflicted on Ukraine. It’s a disturbing read but another vital one for understanding what it will take to stop Russia.

By Jade McGlynn,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Russia's War as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In the early hours of 24 February 2022, Russian forces attacked Ukraine. The brutality of the Russian assault has horrified the world. But Russians themselves appear to be watching an entirely different war - one in which they are the courageous underdogs and kind-hearted heroes successfully battling a malign Ukrainian foe.

Russia analyst Jade McGlynn takes us on a journey into this parallel military and political universe to reveal the sometimes monstrous, sometimes misconstrued attitudes behind Russian majority backing for the invasion. Drawing on media analysis and interviews with ordinary citizens, officials and foreign-policy elites in Russia and Ukraine, McGlynn…


Book cover of Camp Ghoul Mountain Part VI: The Official Novelization

Betty Rocksteady Author Of Soft Places

From my list on story told in an unconventional manner.

Why am I passionate about this?

While I love straight-up fiction and read plenty of novels, I’ve always been just as interested in art as I have been in writing. The further into my writing career I get, the more it becomes obvious that art and illustration are just as vital to the way I want to tell my stories. I did the covers for my first few books and started experimenting with illustrating them as well with The Writhing Skies, creating a very strange blend of splatterpunk horror and Betty Boop-inspired illustration. Soft Places is a further step in the direction of telling stories in a way that’s a little different. 

Betty's book list on story told in an unconventional manner

Betty Rocksteady Why did Betty love this book?

This book is absolutely wild. It purports to be an adaption of an over-the-top gorefest of a movie, plagued by conspiracy theories. Full of footnotes and behind-the-scenes anecdotes and autobiographical details about how the book itself came to be, it not only supposedly adapts a film but tells a far darker hidden story and is overall a lot of dark and spooky fun.

By Jonathan Raab, Benjamin Holesapple (editor),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Camp Ghoul Mountain Part VI as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Camp Ghoul Mountain Part VI is one of the most infamous slasher-movie sequels of the 1980s. Known for its over-the-top gore effects, bizarre and psychedelic campground killer plot—and its legacy as a lightning rod for conspiracy theories concerning everything from UFOs and alien abductions to 9/11 and a secret cabal at the heart of world power. This book contains a complete, authorized adaptation of the infamous cult slasher movie as well as the secret history of the behind-the-scenes drama and high-strange events that inspired the filmmakers, complete with footnotes and autobiographical anecdotes. Camp Ghoul Mountain Part VI: The Official Novelization…


Book cover of Propaganda

Renee Hobbs Author Of Mind Over Media: Propaganda Education for a Digital Age

From my list on understanding propaganda and persuasion.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’ve been fascinated with propaganda and persuasion since childhood. Growing up in Detroit, our family would watch both American and Canadian TV channels. The TV commercials shown on the American TV channels were noisier, nosier, zanier, and more intrusive than the more sedate and polite forms of persuasion on Canadian shows. Because advertising and propaganda are kissing cousins, I've always appreciated how they shape politics, journalism, entertainment, activism, education, and the arts. Propaganda's greatest (and most dangerous) power is its ability to both unify and divide people, and there's never been a more important time to look carefully at how propaganda is shaping our understanding of reality through the many screens in our lives.

Renee's book list on understanding propaganda and persuasion

Renee Hobbs Why did Renee love this book?

There’s no magic wand, no defensive armor, vaccine, or potion that can inoculate people against the influence of propaganda. But learning about propaganda is essential for people of all ages who want to hold on to their democracy in the face of threats. What will surprise you when you read this classic work, written in 1928, is how timely it remains. Bernays anticipates the rise of influencers and memes because he knows that people rely on thought leaders for most of their opinions and beliefs about the world. But the most important feature of this book is what he has to say about propaganda and democracy. Bernays convinces you that propaganda is not inherently evil, and he even makes the case that propaganda is necessary for democratic societies to flourish. 

By Edward Bernays,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

“Bernays’ honest and practical manual provides much insight into some of the most powerful and influential institutions of contemporary industrial state capitalist democracies.”—Noam Chomsky

“The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country.”—Edward Bernays

A seminal and controversial figure in the history of political thought and public relations, Edward Bernays (1891–1995), pioneered the scientific technique of shaping and manipulating public opinion, which he famously dubbed “engineering of…