33 books directly related to violence 📚

All 33 violence books as recommended by authors and experts. Updated weekly.

Lynching and Spectacle: Witnessing Racial Violence in America, 1890-1940

By Amy Louise Wood,

Book cover of Lynching and Spectacle: Witnessing Racial Violence in America, 1890-1940

Why this book?

Most people’s idea of lynching is the sanitized version that they have picked up from movies and TV. However, the practice of lynching, as it was carried out in the United States from the late 19th to well into the 20th century, was far more hideous than a few people hanging a man from a tree. This classic contribution concentrates on spectacle lynchings. These were public lynchings attended by hundreds or even thousands of spectators. They involved hours of torture and bodily mutilation, often culminating in the victim being burned alive. Lynching and Spectacle is a vital read for anyone wishing to understand the full horror of American Racism.


On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society

By Lt. Col. Dave Grossman,

Book cover of On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society

Why this book?

Grossman is a former Army Ranger who digs deep into the psychological impact of taking human life through countless interviews with fellow soldiers of all kinds. Combining these accounts with thorough psychological research, Grossman comments on society's collective aversion to killing while helping us understand its complicated acceptance—and even encouragement—of wartime killing. What was most surprising to me was that historically, only about 4% of soldiers even fire their weapon during war, and how obviously that skews from the “norm” of combat portrayed in popular media. It’s an honest, eye-opening, and important piece of work that should be required reading for every service member, police officer, or anyone tasked with carrying society’s heaviest burden.


Violence in War and Peace: An Anthology

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

Book cover of Violence in War and Peace: An Anthology

Why this book?

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.


Sanctioned Violence in Early China

By Mark Edward Lewis,

Book cover of Sanctioned Violence in Early China

Why this book?

This is the classic study of the changes in violence and war in Chinese society from the Spring and Autumn Period to the Warring States Period. Lewis demonstrates that war, hunting, and the sacrifices of the Spring and Autumn chariot-riding aristocracy were key to demonstrating membership in that class. Political power moved from the feudal rulers to their ministers, who were lower-ranking members of the aristocratic class, and the struggle for power among those men transformed warfare and society. Violence was transformed from a class-defining activity into a state-building tool that had to be controlled by the feudal ruler.


Killer on the Road: Violence and the American Interstate

By Ginger Strand,

Book cover of Killer on the Road: Violence and the American Interstate

Why this book?

This unlikely thriller of a book explores a seemingly bland subject: the network of interstate highways built by the Federal Government after World War II. In fact, these highways transformed American culture, not only spelling the demise of many country roads and small towns but replacing the friendly hitchhiker with the terrifying “killer on the road.” Further, the highways led to the creation of rest stops and shadowy neighborhoods that came to harbor predators, while the interstates aided the criminals’ flight. Killer on the Road keeps you on the edge of your seat, unfolding into horror, mystery, and victimization.


At the Dark End of the Street: Black Women, Rape, and Resistance—A New History of the Civil Rights Movement from Rosa Parks to the Rise of Black Power

By Danielle L. McGuire,

Book cover of At the Dark End of the Street: Black Women, Rape, and Resistance—A New History of the Civil Rights Movement from Rosa Parks to the Rise of Black Power

Why this book?

Rosa Parks is one of a handful of American women whose names make it into our textbooks and social studies curriculum. However, the textbook version of Parks tends to sanitize her activism and skim the surface of her remarkable life. As one of my students observed, Parks’ powerful story has been reinterpreted “to make white people feel good about themselves,” as if somehow all the problems exposed by the Civil Rights movement were fixed after Parks refused to give up her seat. Danielle McGuire’s At the Dark End of the Street restores the fullness of Parks’ life and work, and places Black women and their fight against sexual violence at the center of the ongoing Civil Rights movement. This book transforms how we understand ourselves as a nation and as people. 


Hands Are Not for Hitting

By Martine Agassi, Marieka Heinlen (illustrator),

Book cover of Hands Are Not for Hitting

Why this book?

This book provides simple words and warm illustrations to reinforce the concepts that violence is never okay and that toddlers and preschoolers can learn to manage their anger without hitting. I appreciate the gentle, yet straightforward way it addressed the unacceptable behavior while offering positive things to do with your hands like hugging, helping, and shaking. The illustrations are colorful, playful, and age-appropriate. Young children adore this book and ask to listen to it again and again. As a bonus, at the end, the author included additional tips for parents and caregivers about how to handle unsafe hitting.


And Die in the West: The Story of the O.K. Corral Gunfight

By Paula Mitchel Marks,

Book cover of And Die in the West: The Story of the O.K. Corral Gunfight

Why this book?

The true story of the misdemeanor arrest in Tombstone gone terribly wrong that has resounded for almost a century and a half. There are literally dozens of books on this subject, but this is by far the best. Ms. Marks accurately, and without hyperbole, researched the motivations of the men involved in the Earp-Cowboy feud and precisely documents the conflicts which arose between them. As one reads her book, one realizes that the Earp mythos which has been and continues to be touted by other authors and the film industry is erroneous. There were really no good guys or bad guys, just regular men whose political and social ambitions led to bloodshed.


The Gift of Fear: Survival Signals That Protect Us from Violence

By Gavin de Becker,

Book cover of The Gift of Fear: Survival Signals That Protect Us from Violence

Why this book?

Fear is not the problem! Fear arises to help you deal with the problem! Gavin de Becker is a security expert who declares that fear doesn’t get in our way at all. In fact, fear contains the instincts and intuition that help us stay safe in the world.

Using stories from real cases and his own life, de Becker shows us how fear works to keep us safe – and how avoiding or ignoring fear is always a very bad idea. The Gift of Fear will help you connect to the essential intelligence in your fear, and it will help you become safer, more intuitive, and more aware of the world around you. Essential reading.


Unspeakable: The Tulsa Race Massacre

By Carole Boston Weatherford, Floyd Cooper (illustrator),

Book cover of Unspeakable: The Tulsa Race Massacre

Why this book?

I consider this book to be the late Floyd Cooper’s masterpiece. The illustrations are as powerful as the story. News of this incident was suppressed and it took 75 years for an official investigation into this tragedy to come out. The front endpaper shows a birds-eye view of the thriving African American community before the massacre and the back endpapers show an actual photograph of the same community afterward. What comes between is haunting and masterfully told.


The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined

By Steven Pinker,

Book cover of The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined

Why this book?

We often complain that the world is getting worse, but in fact, there are also positive trends in our societies that we overlook over the many daily disasters in the news. Steven Pinker describes one of these in his book. In fact, the likelihood of any one of us falling victim to a violent crime has been decreasing throughout history. Steven Pinker not only describes this unexpected phenomenon but also discusses why it has occurred. Political stability, allowing the monopoly on violence to be transferred to the state, and also the fatherly side of men have led to a decline in violence, at least up to the time the book was published nearly 10 years ago.

We see, caused in part, by the pandemic and the opposing political camps reducing societal stability, perhaps contrary trends now, but this does not make this book less important. The lessons to be learned are general and may help us to restore the conditions that lead to less violence.


Valentine

By Elizabeth Wetmore,

Book cover of Valentine

Why this book?

I am drawn to books about strong women fighting against social norms and the society that limits them. Elizabeth Wetmore’s, Valentine, shows us how challenging this fight can be, how frightening, and how it requires choices some women aren’t willing to make. In 1976, in a small town in Texas, fourteen-year-old Gloria Ramirez is violently attacked. When she drags herself to Mary Rose’s front porch, her story forces the women in Odessa to confront their own brutal experiences. Told from multiple perspectives, Whitmore’s skillful, raw prose draws us into the lives of each woman, leaving us wondering what it truly takes to stand up for our beliefs, and ourselves.


A Chorus of Stones: The Private Life of War

By Susan Griffin,

Book cover of A Chorus of Stones: The Private Life of War

Why this book?

A memoir that blends science and history with myth and memoir, Susan Griffin’s writing is like sinking into deep water to find buried treasure. Every time I pick this book up (again and again), I find relevance, for my own family and the world around me, particularly related to the earthquake that truth-telling has for individuals, families, and nations. It reminds me that interconnectedness is not just an image or an idea; the web of our lives is created and held together by the secrets we keep, and the truths that inevitably surface after years of denial.


Human Rights and Gender Violence: Translating International Law Into Local Justice

By Sally Engle Merry,

Book cover of Human Rights and Gender Violence: Translating International Law Into Local Justice

Why this book?

The initial reaction of anthropologists to the UN’s proposal for a universal declaration of human rights was to question it on the ground that it might be no more than an expression of the cultures of the world’s dominant powers. Human rights universalism was opposed by cultural relativism, the idea that no or few values are universally valid as values derive from particular cultures. Anthropologists then discovered that the cultural groups that they typically studied – `indigenous’ peoples – often suffered the most serious human rights violations and that ignoring this was ethically and scientifically unacceptable.

Although many anthropologists are still attracted to cultural relativism, some have not only embraced human rights but have made an original and distinctive contribution to our understanding of the human rights world in at least two respects: 1) understanding the culture of this world, and 2) understanding the real-world interaction of human rights and local cultures. Merry’s book is one of the finest examples of anthropological work that respects both the cultural diversity of the world and the potential of international human rights to solve the problems and enhance the rights of the socially powerless. It achieves this by focussing on the gap between gender violence in international human rights law and the lived experience of women.

The practical import of the study is to emphasise that international human rights advocacy, to be effective, must work with the grain of local cultures and not simply `blame’ them for their supposed shortcomings. People are attached to their cultures and their response to human rights advocacy will always be culturally inflected. The culture of international human rights law may seem `alien’ to those living in local cultures, but, contrary to the views of some cultural relativists, cultures are flexible and changeable, and so even `traditional’ cultures can be open to human rights influences. In such processes, `translators’ – those familiar with both global and local cultures – may be crucial.


Quantum Night

By Robert J. Sawyer,

Book cover of Quantum Night

Why this book?

I found this book to be one of the most amazing and compelling works of science fiction ever written because it dares to answer the basic question of not only who we are, but why. Have you ever wondered what makes people act the way they do to others? Why are some empathetic while others will step over their best friend’s corpse in order to get ahead? And why do many appear to simply be along for the ride, not caring one way or another, never leaving their mark on anything they touch? Once you read this book, it will all fall into place. Sawyer gave me the most profound “a-ha” moment of clarity that I have ever experienced while reading a work of fiction.


War and the Soul: Healing Our Nation's Veterans from Post-Tramatic Stress Disorder

By Edward Tick,

Book cover of War and the Soul: Healing Our Nation's Veterans from Post-Tramatic Stress Disorder

Why this book?

As a young psychologist during the Vietnam War, Edward Tick served his country not by enlisting himself but through tireless efforts to help those who returned from war traumatized. This was the first book that helped me understand that posttraumatic stress is not just some “disorder” that I’d suffer from forever. Rather, it is simply the human mind’s normal—probably unavoidable—response to combat, and, Tick argues, there is also such a thing as posttraumatic growth. He examines how ancient and modern societies train their warrior classes, noting that the ritualistic civilian-to-soldier process (we’d call it “boot camp” or “basic training”) often lacks a necessary counterpart today: that is, a formal soldier-to-civilian process, and this only compounds the issues of PTSD and the American military-civilian divide.


The Violence

By Delilah S. Dawson,

Book cover of The Violence

Why this book?

This book delivers truly striking insight into the nature of fear, the cost of survival, and cycles of violence. Dawson’s writing shines here, grounded and visceral, and deeply honest. Between the propulsive and tense plot, the exquisitely rendered characters, and the unflinching examination of the world we live in, this one kept me up late and woke me up early.


The 1972 Munich Olympics and the Making of Modern Germany: Volume 42

By Kay Schiller, Christopher Young,

Book cover of The 1972 Munich Olympics and the Making of Modern Germany: Volume 42

Why this book?

In this narrative of the Munich Olympic Games the authors demonstrate that sport and politics were closely intertwined. Much of the planning for the event was based on that of the 1936 Nazi extravaganza but aimed at promoting a different international image, that of German post-war modernity: this at a time when Cold War tensions were easing, with neighbouring East Germany receiving IOC recognition and entering a team under its own flag. The Black September terrorist attack is dealt with briefly and more time is spent discussing the political aftermath, both short and long-term. The book supports my belief that sport is intensely political: sometimes even picking a team is a political act and claiming that sport and politics do not mix is actually a political statement.


The Year We Disappeared: A Father-Daughter Memoir

By Cylin Busby, John Busby,

Book cover of The Year We Disappeared: A Father-Daughter Memoir

Why this book?

When I was 10 I disappeared from my life for a while. I left school, home, and my family to live in a hospital for several months. This break in my own childhood narrative is what got me into the Busby story. Cylin Busby was nine years old when her dad, John, a police officer, was shot. Her father survives, but the family is forced to disappear for their own protection. 

While the book is written by a father and daughter, it is Cylin’s young nine-year-old voice that pulled me in, reminding me what it is like to be a child and powerless as the world around you falls apart. That sounds dark, but children have a way of finding hope. This story has a happy(ish) ending.


In Idi Amin's Shadow: Women, Gender, and Militarism in Uganda

By Alicia C. Decker,

Book cover of In Idi Amin's Shadow: Women, Gender, and Militarism in Uganda

Why this book?

Idi Amin Dada is one of the “best known” African dictators. So many books, documentaries, and films have depicted him as a bloody, megalomaniac leader on the verge of craziness. He was even portrayed by Forest Whitaker in The Last King of Scotland. Alicia Decker shows a different story, starting by asking what if we take Idi Amin’s seriously? What if we explore the way he turned his (brutal) “hyper-masculinity” into a political resource? To me, this book was eye-opening, there are so many ways to write about African presidents, their politics, their ideas, and their resources. And of course, there are many ways to “gender” their histories and look for the women who stand in the president’s shadow.


Mighty Be Our Powers: How Sisterhood, Prayer, and Sex Changed a Nation at War

By Leymah Gbowee, Carol Mithers,

Book cover of Mighty Be Our Powers: How Sisterhood, Prayer, and Sex Changed a Nation at War

Why this book?

With two other women, Leymah Gbowee received the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize for her peace activism that helped end the 1999-2003 civil war in Liberia. Using tactics that included daily protests, a sex strike, and rehabilitation of child soldiers, Gbowee and her coworkers effectively combined religious values, social service, and direct action to advocate for peace. Although not directly about theology, Gbowee’s church and personal faith provided important motivation, resilience, and organizational support. This memoir is both honest about her struggles and provides an inspiring witness to social change.


Shadowed Ground: America's Landscapes of Violence and Tragedy

By Kenneth E. Foote,

Book cover of Shadowed Ground: America's Landscapes of Violence and Tragedy

Why this book?

Foote’s book engages the biographies of some battlefields, but I also list it because it goes beyond to include in his examination of the historic landscape sites of natural disasters, murder sites, and sites of terrorism. I find most helpful Foote’s categories: sanctification, designation, rectification, and obliteration. A marvelous, distinctive book.


Columbus and Other Cannibals: The Wetiko Disease of Exploitation, Imperialism, and Terrorism

By Jack D. Forbes,

Book cover of Columbus and Other Cannibals: The Wetiko Disease of Exploitation, Imperialism, and Terrorism

Why this book?

Why do people harm each other and the planet? Why do the rich continue to accumulate more and more wealth, when they already have all they need? When is enough, enough?

Those questions can be answered by social psychologists, environmental economists, historians, and other academics. But Jack D. Forbes’ book is perhaps the best explanation I have ever read. Drawing on the history of the colonization of North America, Forbes (Renape/Lenape) argues that modern civilization is based around “a spiritual sickness with a physical vector.” He calls it the wetiko disease: the desire to consume other beings, with no possibility of satiation. Forbes’ exploration from his indigenous perspective is one of the most important books I’ve ever read.


Crises of the Republic: Lying in Politics; Civil Disobedience; On Violence; Thoughts on Politics and Revolution

By Hannah Arendt,

Book cover of Crises of the Republic: Lying in Politics; Civil Disobedience; On Violence; Thoughts on Politics and Revolution

Why this book?

At its core, whistleblowing is an act of truth-telling, often in response to official misrepresentation and lies. While not explicitly about whistleblowing, Hannah Arendt’s 1971 essay, “Lying in Politics” is an indispensable read for anyone interested in the subject. Written in the wake of the Pentagon Papers disclosure, it situates the official lies of the Vietnam War within a broader phenomenon of political propaganda. Exploring how propaganda aimed at the public ultimately took hold within senior policymaking circles, it reveals the blurry line between official lies and self-deception. Challenging simple precepts about whistleblowing and public transparency, Arendt explores whether or not and why knowledge of the facts actually makes a difference. Along with the broader collection of essays in Crises of the Republic, this piece offers uncanny insight into post-truth politics and the breakdown of democracy in our day.


The Names of All the Flowers: A Memoir

By Melissa Valentine,

Book cover of The Names of All the Flowers: A Memoir

Why this book?

I have not read a book like Melissa Valentine's The Names of All the Flowers, which is a beautiful, painful, and exquisitely written narrative about her brother Junior, who was gunned down on the streets of Oakland when he was 19. "Say his name, say her name," we chant when yet another one of our brothers or sisters is killed. In this memoir, Valentine gives us not only Junior's name but an intimate look into his head, his heart, his fears, his dreams, his joy.


American Tabloid: Underworld USA (1)

By James Ellroy,

Book cover of American Tabloid: Underworld USA (1)

Why this book?

One of the masters of Los Angeles historical crime (along with Walter Mosely), Ellroy has written numerous outstanding novels, but my favorite is American Tabloid, which I think is Ellroy at the absolute top of his game.

Pete Bondurant, former cop and current freelance enforcer, troubleshooter, and troublemaker, just can’t keep his nose out of trouble. That trouble includes the FBI and the mob, but that’s just the start. The tendrils stretch from Cuba to the White House to the office of Howard Hughes. A sprawling, yet tightly plotted novel, American Tabloid is a masterpiece of crime fiction.


The Break

By Katherena Vermette,

Book cover of The Break

Why this book?

Fair warning, you need to be in the right mood to take on this story. And it’s not quite a hidden gem since it has won numerous awards. It starts with a Metis woman who witnesses an assault on a barren ice-covered field on an isolated strip of utilities land outside her house in the Canadian Prairies. The story weaves through multiple narratives of people connected to the victim and exposes the reader to the lives and social issues that impact multiple generations of women in this indigenous family. Although difficult to read, it’s supposed to make you uncomfortable. As with all social issues, if we ignore the reality of poverty and turn away from the harshness of the violence or pretend discrimination and injustice don’t exist, how will anything ever change?


Once a King, Always a King: The Unmaking of a Latin King

By Reymundo Sanchez,

Book cover of Once a King, Always a King: The Unmaking of a Latin King

Why this book?

What became apparent as I was writing my book was just how difficult it is for young kids to get away from a life of crime on the streets. Once a King, Always a King helped me understand the challenge – it’s not just that bad habits get absorbed into a personality from a young age, or that adults don’t help kids escape from their criminality. The social care and justice system actively collude in trapping young gang members in a cycle of violence, abuse, and poverty. 


The Sorrows of Mexico

By Juan Villoro, Marcela Turati, Anabel Hernández, Lydia Cacho, Emiliano Ruiz Parra

Book cover of The Sorrows of Mexico

Why this book?

Seven esteemed Mexican writers: analyse and dissect the repeated failings of their country’s government. Uncomfortable but necessary reportage for anyone who wants to understand the situation in modern Mexico.


Welcome to Hard Times

By E.L. Doctorow,

Book cover of Welcome to Hard Times

Why this book?

Welcome to Hard Times is a shorter novel. It is of the length of the classic western that was popular at the time that this novel came out (1960). This novel is sometimes described as an anti-western or an ironic western, as it takes a non-heroic view of people dealing with evil in a frontier town. It was made into a movie by the same title, but the movie is not well known. The novel is similar in tone to the movie McCabe and Mrs. Miller, which some people do not like because of its non-heroic or skeptical tone. Readers who like their westerns upbeat and unequivocal may not appreciate Doctorow’s novel, but readers who are willing to consider less-than-pristine views may find an interesting treatment here.


The Pinch Runner Memorandum

By Kenzaburō Ōe, Michiko N. Wilson (translator), Michael K. Wilson (translator)

Book cover of The Pinch Runner Memorandum

Why this book?

An ex-nuclear researcher takes his mentally handicapped son out of school because he fails to convince the teachers and parents that the children should be trained in combat for when society inevitably decides to kill all handicapped children in Japan. So, naturally, they set off on a divine mission concerning warring student political factions, an atomic bomb, terrorism, and a shadowy mastermind named Big Shot. Their adventure is absolutely absurd, a demented dark comedy. Yet Ōe uses his profound ability to write with dire seriousness, which results in a mind-bending story.


Sherlock Holmes Vs. Dracula: Or the Adventure of the Sanguinary Count

By John H. Watson, Loren D. Estleman (editor),

Book cover of Sherlock Holmes Vs. Dracula: Or the Adventure of the Sanguinary Count

Why this book?

I have a weakness for authors who can seamlessly write in another author’s style, and The Adventure of the Sanguinary Count blends Conan Doyle and Stoker perfectly. Holmes and Watson are drawn into the tale of Count Dracula when they are called to investigate the mystery of a ship whose crew have vanished, adding their genius to the vampire hunters working to keep the Count from the shores of England. With Dracula Daily taking the online world by storm, this is the perfect time to look up another take on these classic tales. 


Violence of Mind: Training and Preparation for Extreme Violence

By Varg Freeborn,

Book cover of Violence of Mind: Training and Preparation for Extreme Violence

Why this book?

Violence of Mind is the only book I can remember immediately reading a second time upon finishing it. While the title is somewhat misleading and will likely dissuade too many people from picking it up, the content is straightforward, intelligent, and far more insightful than any other book in the genre I’m familiar with. Freeborn delivers succinct but critical lessons in self-defense from a philosophical perspective—this isn’t tough guy fantasies squeezed into ill-advised recommendations, but a quest to help us understand how to successfully navigate dire situations in ways that align with our values.