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Ruth Ben-Ghiat's Top Book Recommendations

Want to know what books Ruth Ben-Ghiat recommends on their reading list? We've researched interviews, social media posts, podcasts, and articles to build a comprehensive list of Ruth Ben-Ghiat's favorite book recommendations of all time.


The Origins of Totalitarianism

Hannah Arendt's definitive work on totalitarianism and an essential component of any study of twentieth-century political history

The Origins of Totalitarianism begins with the rise of anti-Semitism in central and western Europe in the 1800s and continues with an examination of European colonial imperialism from 1884 to the outbreak of World War I. Arendt explores the institutions and operations of totalitarian movements, focusing on the two genuine forms of totalitarian government in our time—Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia—which she adroitly recognizes were two...
Recommended by Ruth Ben-Ghiat, and 1 others.

Ruth Ben-GhiatHer most useful (and her most chilling) conclusion for today is that totalitarian tools were not specific to Nazism or Stalinism or any ideology. Arendt’s words should be studied today by those who want to prevent the further spread of authoritarian regimes and the ideologies they are propagating. (Source)

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The Origins of Nazi Violence

In the half-century since the appearance of Hannah Arendt’s seminal work The Origins of Totalitarianism, innumerable historians have detailed the history of the Nazi years. Now, in a brilliant synthesis of this work, Enzo Traverso situates the extermination camps as the final, terrible moment in European modernity’s industrialization of killing and dehumanization of death. Traverso upends the conventional presentation of the Holocaust as an inexplicable anomaly, navigating an excess of antecedents both technical and cultural. Deftly tracing a complex lineage—the guillotine and machine... more
Recommended by Ruth Ben-Ghiat, and 1 others.

Ruth Ben-GhiatAll of Traverso’s work is fabulous, but given how concerned we should be now about how authoritarian movements come to power, this is an invaluable introduction. It’s the right book for right now. (Source)

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This richly textured cultural history of Italian fascism traces the narrative path that accompanied the making of the regime and the construction of Mussolini's power. Simonetta Falasca-Zamponi reads fascist myths, rituals, images, and speeches as texts that tell the story of fascism. Linking Mussolini's elaboration of a new ruling style to the shaping of the regime's identity, she finds that in searching for symbolic means and forms that would represent its political novelty, fascism in fact brought itself into being, creating its own power and history.

Falasca-Zamponi argues that...
Recommended by Ruth Ben-Ghiat, and 1 others.

Ruth Ben-GhiatFascist Spectacle is a valuable book from a sociologist who is quite theoretical but also very, very attentive to how policies play out in daily life and to the connection between rhetoric and action. Falasca-Zamponi looks at how fascism used aesthetics in every realm of life as an anesthetic. (Source)

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The Anatomy of Fascism

What is fascism? Many authors have proposed definitions, but most fail to move beyond the abstract. The esteemed historian Robert O. Paxton answers this question for the first time by focusing on the concrete: what the fascists did, rather than what they said. From the first violent uniformed bands beating up “enemies of the state,” through Mussolini’s rise to power, to Germany’s fascist radicalization in World War II, Paxton shows clearly why fascists came to power in some countries and not others, and explores whether fascism could exist outside the early-twentieth-century European... more
Recommended by Ruth Ben-Ghiat, and 1 others.

Ruth Ben-GhiatPaxton set out to look at what fascists do, not what they say. He’s very good at mapping the geography of power, and what I call the ‘authoritarian bargains’ among groups, parties, organs of the state and leaders. (Source)

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Family Sayings

Hailed upon publication as a groundbreaking memoir, giving the form “a new dimension, new possibilities, and . . . an aspect that is entirely new” (Times Literary Supplement), Family Sayings is Natalia Ginzburg’s masterpiece and a classic of contemporary Italian literature. Although it asks to be read as fiction, the author, one of Italy’s finest twentieth-century writers, admits that it is highly autobiographical. The book spans the period from the rise of Fascism through World War II (in which her first husband perished at the hands of the Nazis) and its aftermath. Its subject... more
Recommended by Yiyun Li, Ruth Ben-Ghiat, and 2 others.

Yiyun LiYou don’t need the author to say ‘And I experienced it like this… and I was changed by this event and then that event’, because you feel it yourself in the way she writes. (Source)

Ruth Ben-GhiatFamily Lexicon, which is more like a novelized memoir, is a valuable testimony of how private life unfolded during Fascist Italy. (Source)

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