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Rank #198 in Social Sciences category

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New Books in Genocide Studies

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Rank #198 in Social Sciences category

Science
Social Sciences
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Interviews with Scholars of Genocide about their New Books

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Interviews with Scholars of Genocide about their New Books

iTunes Ratings

18 Ratings
Average Ratings
14
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0
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1

Educational and enjoyable

By jason neihson - Aug 04 2018
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Great synopsis of intriguing books and topics

iTunes Ratings

18 Ratings
Average Ratings
14
1
0
2
1

Educational and enjoyable

By jason neihson - Aug 04 2018
Read more
Great synopsis of intriguing books and topics
Cover image of New Books in Genocide Studies

New Books in Genocide Studies

Latest release on Oct 22, 2020

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Interviews with Scholars of Genocide about their New Books

Rank #1: Richard Rashke, “Useful Enemies: John Demjanjuk and America’s Open-Door Policy for Nazi War Criminals” (Delphinium, 2013)

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You may have heard of a fellow named Ivan or John Demjanuik. He made the news–repeatedly over a 30 year period– because he was, as many people probably remember, a Nazi war criminal nick-named “Ivan the Terrible” for his brutal treatment of Jews (and others) in the Sobibor death camp. The trouble is, as Richard Rashke points out in his new book Useful Enemies: John Demjanjuk and America’s Open-Door Policy for Nazi War Criminals (Delphinium, 2013), Demjanuik was not a Nazi, was not “Ivan the Terrible,” and, though he was certainly a guard at Sobibor, it’s not entirely clear what he did (though it was likely very bad). Again and again he was brought to trial for his alleged crimes. Again and again the courts failed to agree on what he had done. Demjaniuk was and remains something of a mystery, a vital mystery that we badly want to solve but cannot. After all, we need to know who is a war criminal and who is not.


What’s most interesting about Demjaniuk–at least to this reader–is the moral complexity of his story. As Rashke shows, he was repeatedly compelled to make life and death choices as he tried to stay survive in Stalinist Russia, in Nazi-occupied Eastern Europe, and even after the war. He had options, but they were almost always bad ones, and often deadly ones. He was a “collaborator” to be sure. But, Rashke asks, what exactly is a “collaborator”? Could he have chosen differently and hoped to survive? Could he have acted “morally” in the context within which he found himself? Rashke says “yes.” Listen in and find out why.

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Apr 19 2013

1hr 20mins

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Rank #2: Hilary Earl, “The Nuremberg SS-Einsatzgruppen Trial, 1945-1958: Atrocity, Law, and History” (Cambridge UP, 2010)

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Hitler caused the Holocaust, that much we know (no Hitler, no Holocaust). But did he directly order it and, if so, how and when? This is one of the many interesting questions posed by Hilary Earl in her outstanding new book The Nuremberg SS-Einsatzgruppen Trial, 1945-1958: Atrocity, Law, and History (Cambridge UP, 2009). The book is about the trial of the leaders of the Einsatzgruppen, the mobile killing units that, in 1941 and 1942, spearheaded the Nazi effort to eradicate the Jewish people. The Einsatzgruppen murdered something on the order of a million people using almost nothing but firearms. In 1947, their commanders were brought to justice in what might be called the “other” (forgotten) Nuremberg Trials. The trial left an enormous body of reasonably fresh-after-the-fact testimony for historians to work with in trying to understand this episode in the Holocaust. Hilary does a masterful job of mining this material. She also points out that the roots of our own understanding of the Holocaust can in large measure be traced to these disturbing trials. The defendants were the first Nazi genocidaires to publicly describe what they had done and why they had done it. To be sure, their testimony was self-serving and is therefore suspect. But–and this is perhaps the most remarkable part–in many instances it was remarkably accurate. They (and Otto Ohlendorf in particular) “told it like it was” because they believed they had not really done anything wrong. Hitler had said that the Jews were the mortal enemies of the Reich; they believed him. Thus when Hitler ordered them to kill the Jews man, woman, and child they were not particularly conflicted–they were simply following orders, orders they believed to be in the objective interest of Germany. Just how they came to hold this completely irrational view is another, and very interesting, question. For those interested in it, I refer you to Claudia Koonz, The Nazi Conscience (Harvard UP, 2003).


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Feb 26 2010

1hr 6mins

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Rank #3: Lawrence R. Douglas, “The Right Wrong Man: John Demjanjuk and the Last Great Nazi War Crimes Trial” (Princeton UP, 2016)

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In his new book, The Right Wrong Man: John Demjanjuk and the Last Great Nazi War Crimes Trial (Princeton University Press 2016), Lawrence R. Douglas, the James J. Grosfeld Professor of Law, Jurisprudence and Social Thought at Amherst College examines the trial of John Demjanjuk. The Right Wrong Man examines Demjanjuk’s legal odyssey that began in 1975. Over the course of the next several decades Demjanjuk was tried twice, first in Israel where he was thought to be “Ivan the Terrible of Treblinka” only to be exonerated, owing to a case of mistaken identity. He was then tried in Munich for his actual crimes as a guard at the Sobibor death camp. The Right Wrong Man is a fascinating look at the law’s effort to bring closure to the horrific events of the Holocaust.

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Nov 27 2017

47mins

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Rank #4: Waitman Beorn, “The Holocaust in Eastern Europe: At the Epicenter of the Final Solution” (Bloomsbury Academic, 2018)

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Most of the Jews and other victims the Nazis murdered in the Holocaust were from Eastern Europe, and the vast majority of the actual killing was done there. In his new book,  The Holocaust in Eastern Europe (Bloomsbury Academic, 2018), Waitman Beorn gives us a detailed overview of the Holocaust precisely here, in what he well called “the Epicenter of the Final Solution.” Waitman does an excellent job of describing Eastern European Jewry, the crooked path the Nazis took in deciding to attempt to obliterate it, the various ways in which they put that horrible decision into practice, and the ways the Jews resisted.

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Jun 20 2018

1hr 37mins

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Rank #5: What Do We Now Know About the Rwandan Genocide Twenty Years On?

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In 1994 I was in graduate school, trying hard to juggle teaching, getting started on my dissertation and having something of a real life.


The real life part suffered most of all.  But every once in a while, the world around me would startle me out of my cave and remind me that life was proceeding without me.


The genocide in Rwanda was one of these events. Along with the ongoing ethnic cleansing in Bosnia, it made me question whether academics was a meaningful career choice and what I could and should do right then, in the midst of massive violence against innocents.


And then, by the time I had actually started thinking hard about it, the genocide in Rwanda was over.  As most people now know, something like 800,000 people were killed in about a hundred days.


July was the 20th anniversary of the end of the genocide.  To mark that occasion, we’re going to depart from the usual format of the show.  Instead of interviewing an author about his or her book, we’re going to spend an hour or so thinking more broadly about events in Rwanda and how we now understand them.  Three experts on the Rwandan genocide will help us do so:  Lee Ann Fujii, Scott Straus and Lars Waldorf.  During the discussion we’ll move from the motivations of the killers to the ways in which the genocide has been remembered (or not) to what movies and books they would recommend for people who want to learn more.


The podcast is, however, to some degree inspired by a single book, Alison des Forges remarkable Leave None to Tell the Story, published in 1999.  The book is a tour de force of careful research and analysis and set the direction for research on Rwanda.  Nevertheless, it is fifteen years old.  Since then, we’ve had hundreds of studies examining the genocide and its aftermath.


So today w’re going to spend a few minutes assessing that new research, using the broad question of “What do we know about Rwanda 20 years after the genocide?”  I hope you enjoy the discussion.

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Sep 13 2014

1hr 9mins

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Rank #6: Waitman Beorn, “Marching into Darkness: The Wehrmacht and the Holocaust in Belarus” (Harvard UP, 2013)

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The question of Wehrmacht complicity in the Holocaust is an old one. What might be called the “received view” until recently was that while a small number of German army units took part in anti-Jewish atrocities, the great bulk of the army neither knew about nor participated in the Nazi genocidal program. In other words, the identified cases were isolated exceptions. Who was at fault? Why, the SS of course. This view was spread by German generals in post-war memoirs, by the German government and courts, and by the German press and the public that read it. The “Good Wehrmacht” image was influential: many people–including scholars of the war–in countries that had fought Germany could be found rehearsing it.


In his eye-opening book Marching into Darkness: The Wehrmacht and the Holocaust in Belarus (Harvard UP, 2013), Waitman Beorn challenges the “Good Wehrmacht” image. By focusing on a few units that participated in the invasion and occupation of Belarus in the late summer and fall of 1941, he is able to show without any doubt whatsoever that regular Wehrmacht forces not only participated in executions of Jews and others, but initiated them. The leaders of these units ordered them to aid the Einsatzgruppen in organizing mass murder and to actively hunt down “partisans” who were nothing but innocent Jews. Waitman does an excellent job of not only documenting Wehrmacht complicity, but also of trying to explain it. Listen in.

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Jan 10 2014

1hr 18mins

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Rank #7: Steven Ross and Wolf Gruner, "New Perspectives on Krystallnacht" (Purdue UP, 2019)

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It's possible to organize a 20th-century German history course around the date 9 November. In 1918, Phillipp Schedemann proclaimed the creation of a new German Republic. In 1989, 9 November saw the opening of the Berlin Wall.

In between, in 1938, Krystallnacht began on the night of 9 November. Krystallnacht, as most students of the Holocaust know, was a short, intense period of state-sponsored terror against those Germans identified as Jewish. It marked a dramatic escalation in the persecution of Jews in Germany.

We often assume we know everything there is to know about such a well-studied event. But the contributions to Steven Ross and Wolf Gruner's excellent new volume of essays demonstrate how wrong this assumption is. In New Perspectives on Krystallnacht: After 80 years, the Nazi Pogrom in Global Comparison (Purdue University Press, 2019), authors examine media coverage of Krystallnacht, new understanding of the scope and location of the violence, the way in which Krystallnacht has been used in contemporary politics and several other subjects. The essays are uniformly insightful and interesting. As both Gruner and Ross point out in the interview, perhaps the most important result of the project is the identification of a number of new questions historians can ask about Krystallnacht and its meaning. This is perhaps the highest praise one can offer such a volume.

Kelly McFall is Professor of History and Director of the Honors Program at Newman University. He’s the author of four modules in the Reacting to the Past series, including The Needs of Others: Human Rights, International Organizations and Intervention in Rwanda, 1994, published by W. W. Norton Press.

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Mar 05 2020

1hr 1min

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Rank #8: Ron Grigor Suny, “They Can Live in the Desert but Nowhere Else: A History of the Armenian Genocide” (Princeton UP, 2015)

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Anniversaries are funny things. Sometimes, as with the hundredth anniversary of the outbreak of the First World War, they are accompanied by a flood of discussion and debate.  Other times they are allowed to pass in silence.


The hundredth year anniversary of the Genocide of the Armenians has gotten somewhat lost amidst the outpouring of books about the war.  Still, we’ve seen a small number of excellent historical studies, mostly focused on the memory of the event. Ron Suny’s recent book ‘They Can Live in the Desert but Nowhere Else’:  A History of the Armenian Genocide (Princeton University Press, 2015) offers a different kind of contribution.  Suny offers a deep history of the Armenian genocide.  It is simultaneously a careful explication of how and why the Armenians were killed and a carefully-reasoned engagement with the prevailing attempts to explain the genocide.


It’s a book everyone who cares about the genocide needs to read.  Suny writes well and has an eye for quotes both pithy and grim.  He fits well into the new imperial turn of historiography, seeing the emergence of the nation as a locus of identity that competed with and threatened more traditional, imperial states (for those of you interested in this, see my interview with Mark Levene).   And he masters the tricky task of balancing narration and analysis.  It’s a wonderful addition to our knowledge of the genocide, 100 years on.  It well deserves to reach a wide audience.

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Jan 19 2016

1hr 6mins

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Rank #9: Richard Weikart, “Hitler’s Ethic: The Nazi Pursuit of Evolutionary Progress” (Palgrave MacMillan, 2011)

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For many years now, historians have wondered whether Hitler had any sort of consistent ideology. His writings are rambling and confusing. His speeches are full of plain lies. His “table talk” reflects a wandering, impulsive mind distinguished by a remarkable disconnection from reality. There are obvious themes: strident German nationalism, radical racialism, vicious anti-semitism, and militarism. Do these themes add up to an internally consistent “worldview”?

Richard Weikart argues that they do. In his excellent book Hitler’s Ethic: The Nazi Pursuit of Evolutionary Progress (Palgrave MacMillan, 2011), Weickart points out that Hitler, like so many of his generation, was powerfully influenced by a particular reading of Darwin’s theory of evolution. By this interpretation, human “races” were seen as species and, as such, deemed to be in eternal struggle for life itself. “Nature,” according to these theorists (usually called “Social Darwinists”), selected the most fit races and destroyed the less fit. Weikart shows that Hitler held very fast to this idea, as can be seen both in his pronouncements and actions. He also shows that Hitler–in contrast to many other Social Darwinists–had no trouble leaping over the distinction between “is” and “ought.” According to the Fuhrer, the “fact” that the “races” were subject to evolutionary process meant that they should struggle with all their might. Here, might was ethically right by what Hitler believed was irrefutable “natural law.” It was a recipe for madness and, of course, immense tragedy. Listen in.

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May 03 2014

55mins

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Rank #10: Nitzan Lebovic, “The Philosophy of Life and Death: Ludwig Klages and the Rise of a Nazi Biopolitics” (Palgrave, 2013)

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Thomas Mann referred to Ludwig Klages (1872-1956) as a “criminal philosopher,” a “Pan-Germanist,” “an irrationalist,” a “Tarzan philosopher,” “a cultural pessimist… the voice of the world’s downfall.” Yet, Walter Benjamin urged his friend Gershom Scholem to read Klage’s latest book in 1930, at a time when Klages was increasingly bending his anti-Semitic philosophy of life (Lebensphilosophie) in a political direction. It was, Benjamin wrote, “without a doubt, a great philosophical work, regardless of the context in which the author may be and remain suspect.”

Nitzan Lebovic, historian at Lehigh University, has set himself the task of unfolding the ways in which Klages’s philosophy became both an inspiration for Nazi cultural politics and a subterranean source in the history of critical philosophy from Benjamin to Giorgio Agamben. In this podcast, we discuss his book The Philosophy of Life and Death: Ludwig Klages and the Rise of a Nazi Biopolitics (Palgrave Studies in Cultural and Intellectual History, 2013).

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Feb 14 2014

1hr 11mins

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Rank #11: Alex J. Kay and David Stahel, "Mass Violence in Nazi-Occupied Europe" (Indiana UP, 2018)

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Alex J. Kay (senior lecture of History at Potsdam University in Berlin) and David Stahel (senior lecturer in History at the University of New South Wales in Canberra) have edited a groundbreaking series of articles on German mass killing and violence during World War II. Four years in the making, this collection of articles spans the breadth of research on these topics and includes some non-English speaking scholars for the first time in a work of this magnitude.

Mass Violence in Nazi-Occupied Europe (Indiana UP, 2018) argues for a more comprehensive understanding of what constitutes Nazi violence and who was affected by this violence. The works gathered consider sexual violence, food depravation, and forced labor as aspects of Nazi aggression. Contributors focus in particular on the Holocaust, the persecution of the Sinti and Roma, the eradication of "useless eaters" (psychiatric patients and Soviet prisoners of war), and the crimes of the Wehrmacht. The collection concludes with a consideration of memorialization and a comparison of Soviet and Nazi mass crimes. While it has been over 70 years since the fall of the Nazi regime, the full extent of the ways violence was used against prisoners of war and civilians is only now coming to be fully understood. Mass Violence in Nazi-Occupied Europe provides new insight into the scale of the violence suffered and brings fresh urgency to the need for a deeper understanding of this horrific moment in history.

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Feb 11 2020

42mins

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Rank #12: Daniel Stahl, "Hunt for Nazis: South America's Dictatorships and the Prosecution of Nazi Crimes" (Amsterdam UP, 2018)

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How did the search for Nazi fugitives become a vehicle to oppose South American dictatorships? Daniel Stahl’s award-winning new book traces the story of three continents over the course of half a century in Hunt for Nazis: South America's Dictatorships and the Prosecution of Nazi Crimes (Amsterdam University Press, 2018). Through a rich transnational history, Daniel traces the ebb and flow of political will alongside the cooperation between far flung governments and civil society groups. The result is unique insight into how post-war justice became a battleground for the legitimacy of authoritarian regimes.

Daniel Stahl is a research associate at the Friedrich Schiller University Jena. Hunt for Nazis was distinguished with the Opus Primum award from the Volkswagen Foundation. Stahl has also worked on the Independent Historian’s Commission on the History of the German Foreign Office and is currently researching a history of arms trade regulation in the 20th century.

Ryan Stackhouse is a historian of Europe specializing in modern Germany and political policing under dictatorship. His research exploring Gestapo enforcement practices toward different social groups is nearing completion under the working title A Discriminating Terror. He also cohosts the Third Reich History Podcast and can be reached at john.ryan.stackhouse@gmail.com or @Staxomatix.

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Dec 26 2018

54mins

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Rank #13: Wendy Lower, “Hitler’s Furies: German Women in the Nazi Killing Fields” (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013)

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It seems quite reasonable to wonder if there’s anything more to learn about the Holocaust. Scholars from a variety of disciplines have been researching and writing about the subject for decades. A simple search for “Holocaust” on Amazon turns up a stunning 27,642 results. How can there still be uncovered terrain?

Wendy Lower shows it is in fact possible to say new things about the Holocaust (to be fair, she’s following a handful of other scholars who have focused on gender and the Holocaust). Her questions are simple. What did the approximately 500,000 women who went East to live and work in the territories occupied by the German armies know about the killing of Jews (and other categories of victims)? To what degree did they participate in the killing? How did this experience affect them after the war?


Her answers are disturbing, to say the least. For Lower uncovers ample evidence that women both witnessed and participated in the so-called “Holocaust by Bullets” in Eastern Europe. The patterns of participation varied, as did their acknowledgement of their actions. But the evidence is undeniable that women played a significant role in facilitating the Final Solution.


Lower, along with people writing about Rwanda, about the frontiers of Australia and the United States, and a variety of other moments in time and space, illustrates our need to pay more attention to women and to gender in our study of mass violence. Hitler’s Furies: German Women in the Nazi Killing Fields(Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013), is an admirable contribution to the discussion, well-researched, well-written and emotionally compelling. I can’t think of a better place to start in examining these issues.

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Jul 07 2014

59mins

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Rank #14: Timothy Snyder, “Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin” (Basic Books, 2011)

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Neville Chamberlain described Czechoslovakia as a far away land we know little about. He could have said it about any of the countries of east-central Europe. Yet, for the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany east-central Europe, was of prime importance in ways that would have horrible consequences for the people who made it their home, especially in the territories of Poland, Ukraine, Belarus, the Baltics and western Russia. Timothy Snyder calls these areas “the Bloodlands,” and with good reason. In Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin (Basic Books, 2010) he explores how two regimes with quite different perspectives ended up perpetrating mass murder on an unprecedented level in that region.


Comparisons of Stalinism and Nazism are hardly new, but Snyder’s book is not a classical comparative study. Rather, it is an attempt to understand how the leaders of the USSR and Nazi Germany thought about the future of the region, and why their visions–despite being very different–both necessitated mass murder. The resulting insights lead to new understanding of both the Great Terror and the Holocaust.

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Oct 25 2011

1hr 3mins

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Rank #15: Michael Barnett, “Eyewitness to a Genocide: The United Nations and Rwanda” (Cornell UP, 2016)

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This podcast marks the beginning of a new occasional series of podcasts about the genocide in Rwanda. In the next few months we’ll hear from Timothy Longman, Sara Brown, Erin Jessee and others.


We start with Michael Barnett. Barnett has recently published a new edition of his seminal text Eyewitness to a Genocide: The United Nations and Rwanda (Cornell University Press, 2016). Barnett was a member of the US mission to the UN (on leave from his academic career for a year) and thus a first hand observer of the UN during the genocide. His book is a careful survey of the forces that led to UN inaction in the spring and early summer of 1994. It is simultaneously a history, an analysis of institutional culture, and a disquisition on moral responsibility. Its position in the literature on Rwanda was well-earned from the moment it was first published.


In this new edition, Barnett adds an afterward exploring how what we’ve learned since 2002 has reshaped what we know about and how we evaluate the actions and decisions of policy makers. Here he sharpens his critique of the UN Secretariat, evaluates the historiography of the genocide, and lays out future areas of research.


Barnett is simultaneously funny, thoughtful and introspective. We mostly talk about issues emerging from his books. But we also get into a broader discussion of the impact of Rwanda on his life and of how he experienced working in the UN when it was faced with such weighty decisions.

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Aug 06 2017

1hr 3mins

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Rank #16: Gina Chon and Sambeth Thet, “Behind the Killing Fields: A Khmer Rouge Leader and One of his Victims” (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2010)

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I’m not sure what it would feel like to interview a leader of a genocidal regime.


Asking why people decide it is right and necessary to kill many thousands is one of the standard questions in genocide studies. But it is one most of us face at a distance, in the classroom, while listening to a radio broadcast, or when present at a moment of remembrance personal or public.


Gina Chon and Sambeth Thet, co-authors of Behind the Killing Fields: A Khmer Rouge Leader and one of his Victims (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2010), had the opportunity to ask that question in a much more personal way. Between them, the two spent hundreds of hours interviewing Nuon Chea, Brother Number Two in the Khmer Rouge. The result is a book that both reviews Nuon Chea’s life as a revolutionary and offers a glimpse into his attempts to wrestle with the past, both his own and his country’s.


Alongside this story, Chon and Thet offer a brief narrative of Thet’s experience during the rule of the Khmer Rouge. The losses he and his family suffered make his encounter with Nuon Chea especially fascinating.

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Aug 25 2012

1hr

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Rank #17: Daniel Reynolds, "Postcards from Auschwitz: Holocaust Tourism and the Meaning of Remembrance" (NYU Press, 2018)

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Millions of tourists visit Holocaust museums and memorials every year. Holocaust tourism is a thriving industry and plays a crucial role in Holocaust memorialization and remembrance. However, Holocaust tourism is not without criticism. Some argue that sightseeing at sites of genocide is cringeworthy, offensive, inappropriate, and superficial. In Postcards from Auschwitz: Holocaust Tourism and the Meaning of Remembrance (NYU Press, 2018), Daniel Reynolds examines the phenomenon of Holocaust tourism, its implication on Holocaust remembrance, and what we can learn from tourists taking selfies at Auschwitz. Postcards from Auschwitz transports the reader to a variety of museums and memorial sites around the world to unpack the phenomenon of Holocaust tourism.

Daniel Reynolds is Seth Richards Professor in Modern Languages in Department of German Studies at Grinnell College.

Lindsey Jackson is a PhD student at Concordia University in Montreal, Canada.

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Nov 13 2019

57mins

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Rank #18: Alma Jeftić, "Social Aspects of Memory: Stories of Victims and Perpetrators from Bosnia-Herzegovina" (Routledge, 2019)

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In her new book, Social Aspects of Memory: Stories of Victims and Perpetrators from Bosnia-Herzegovina (Routledge, 2019). Alma Jeftić presents the compelling results of an empirical psychological study on how ordinary people remember war, drawing on narratives from two generations of people in Sarajevo and neighboring East Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina. This book sheds light on how collective memories are cultivated in the aftermath of violence, and how commemorative practices can be employed for either destructive or reconstructive ends.

Jelena Golubović is a PhD candidate in anthropology at Simon Fraser University.

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Sep 02 2019

57mins

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Rank #19: Susan Neiman, “Learning from the Germans: Race and the Memory of Evil” (FSG, 2019)

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When Tennessee’s Governor recently ordered a holiday to celebrate the memory of confederate general Nathan Bedford Forest, a convicted war criminal who helped found the Ku Klax Klan, the New York Times columnist Paul Krugman commented: “The world would be horrified if Germany announced plans to start celebrating Erich von Manstein Day.” Krugman’s point was to emphasize that to celebrate a commander of the German Army from the Nazi period does not behoove a modern democratic nation. But his analogy of celebrating the founder of the Klan in today’s America and a Nazi in today’s Germany is more than another dispute between liberals and conservative Americans. Krugman invokes Germany’s “overcoming” or “coming to terms with” its past of racial violence, atrocity and genocide as a possible guide for American attitudes toward its racialized past.

But how did Germany deal with the Nazi past? How did post-Germany move from the legacy of fascism to today’s democratic political culture? And how can America learn from a country that had committed the crime of the Holocaust which has served as a universal moral yardstick for nearly half a century? I spoke with philosopher Susan Neiman, author of Learning from the Germans: Race and the Memory of Evil (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2019), about these questions, and whether contemporary America can learn anything from post-war Germany’s ways of dealing with its past crimes.

Uli Baer is a professor at New York University. He is also the host of the excellent podcast "Think About It"

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Nov 06 2019

1hr 25mins

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Rank #20: Suzanne Brown-Fleming, “Nazi Persecution and Postwar Repercussions” (Rowman and Littlefield, 2016)

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Suzanne Brown-Fleming suggests that most people think the archives of the International Tracing Service is largely a list of names and addresses. I was one of these people until I read her excellent new book Nazi Persecution and Postwar Repercussions: The International Tracing Service Archive and Holocaust Research (Rowman and Littlefield, 2016). What Brown-Fleming makes clear in her work is that the archive is far richer and more interesting than that.


The book is partly an extended discussion of the contents of the archive. But Brown-Fleming’s goals are broader than this. She hopes to help people recognize the new kinds of research questions the archive makes it possible to ask and answer. She tries to help researchers imagine how they might employ Big Data approaches to open new vistas on old questions. And she hopes to give people personal examples of the stakes of these questions by offering specific examples of stories, tragedies and conflicts drawn from the archive itself.


Anyone who is interested in research about the Holocaust should read this book. And if you don’t do primary research, you should still read it–to get a better sense of how research is done, to get a better sense of places where our understanding of the Holocaust is still patchy, and to get a better understanding of one of the most important postwar institutions that dealt with refugees and displaced people.

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Mar 31 2016

43mins

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Frank Jacob, "Japanese War Crimes during World War II: Atrocity and the Psychology of Collective Violence" (Praeger, 2018)

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When you mention Japanese War crimes in World War Two, you’ll often get different responses from different generations. The oldest among us will talk about the Bataan Death March. Younger people, coming of age in the 1990s, will mention the Rape of Nanking or the comfort women forced into service by the Japanese army. Occasionally, someone will mention biological warfare.

Frank Jacob has offered a valuable service by surveying Japanese mistreatment of civilians and soldiers comprehensively. His book, Japanese War Crimes during World War II: Atrocity and the Psychology of Collective Violence (Praeger, 2018), is short and doesn’t treat any event or issue in depth. But he offers a lucid and thorough evaluation of the literature and nuggets of additional insight. And he frames it with a thoughtful attempt to explain the conduct about which he is writing.

If you’re looking for a deep dive into a particular topic, you’re not the audience Jacob had in mind. But this is a good place to come to grips with the broad picture of Japanese misconduct during the war.

Kelly McFall is Professor of History and Director of the Honors Program at Newman University. He’s the author of four modules in the Reacting to the Past series, including The Needs of Others: Human Rights, International Organizations and Intervention in Rwanda, 1994, published by W. W. Norton Press.

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Oct 22 2020

1hr 5mins

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Bernice Lerner, "All the Horrors of War: A Jewish Girl, a British Doctor, and the Liberation of Bergen-Belsen" (Johns Hopkins UP, 2020)

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One was a teenage Jewish girl, forcibly transported from her home in Hungary to a Nazi concentration camp. The other was a British doctor, whose experiences serving in two world wars could not compare to the horrors he saw at the end of the war.

In her book All the Horrors of War: A Jewish Girl, a British Doctor, and the Liberation of Bergen-Belsen (Johns Hopkins UP, 2020), Bernice Lerner describes their lives – one of them her mother, the other one of the people who helped save her – and how they intersected when British forces liberated Bergen-Belsen in April 1945. For Rachel Genuth, her life began to change when Hungarian troops marched into the formerly Romanian town of Sighet in September 1940. From that point onward, her family’s lives and those of her neighbors were increasingly restricted until they were deported to Auschwitz in the spring of 1944. While she struggled to survive, H. L. Glyn Hughes, the deputy director of medical services for the British VIII Corps, participated in the Allied liberation of western Europe, an experience that brought him to the Bergen-Belsen camp, where Rachel had been marched ahead of the Soviet advance to the east. Hughes spent the next several months organizing an unprecedented relief operation, trying desperately to save lives of thousands suffering from starvation and disease. Among them was Rachel, who was subsequently evacuated to Sweden, where she began the slow process of restarting her live after having survived so much death.

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Oct 16 2020

45mins

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Eric Weiner, "The Geography of Genius: Lessons from the World’s Most Creative Places" (Simon and Schuster, 2016)

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Living, as we do, in a time in which a U.S. president anoints himself “a very stable genius”, we are particularly appreciative of Eric Weiner, a former foreign correspondent for NPR who writes with humility and humor, as he brings us along with him on his travels to times and places that produced genius.

Beginning with Athens in the Golden age, and ending with Palo Alto in the Silicon age, Weiner steps lightly through a most serious and fascinating topic, aided and supplemented with the latest social science research on creativity and its cultivation.

The Geography of Genius: Lessons from the World’s Most Creative Places (Simon and Schuster, 2016) is an intellectual odyssey that examines the connection between our surroundings and our most innovative ideas, and has fun doing it. What inspires genius? Why do certain urban settings – and certain historical challenges – foster innovation?

Would geniuses like Socrates, Michelangelo, Einstein and Disney have flourished, had they found themselves in other locations and other historical circumstances?

Renee Garfinkel, Ph.D. is a psychologist, writer, Middle East television commentator and host of The New Books Network’s Van Leer Jerusalem Series on Ideas. Write her at r.garfinkel@yahoo.com or tweet @embracingwisdom.

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Oct 07 2020

40mins

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William L. Patterson, "We Charge Genocide: The Crime of Government Against the Negro People" (International Publishers, 2017)

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In 2017, We Charge Genocide: The Crime of Government Against the Negro People, the historic petition authored by William L. Patterson, was published in its third edition. It has been nearly 70 years since Patterson, who passed away in 1980, and Paul Roberson, who passed away in 1976, presented the petition to the United Nations General Assembly, charging the United States government with genocide under the United National Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.

William L. Patterson was born in San Francisco on August 27th, 1891. He died in New York City in 1980.

Jarvis Tyner, executive vice chair of the Communist Party USA, and active public spokesperson against racism, imperialism and war, joins me to discuss his prologue to the third edition of We Charge Genocide, as well as its history and ongoing relevance today.

Jeff Bachman is a Senior Lecturer in Human Rights at American University’s School of International Service in Washington, DC. He is the author of The United States and Genocide: (Re)Defining the Relationship and editor of the volume Cultural Genocide: Law, Politics, and Global Manifestations. He is currently working on a new book, The Politics of Genocide: From the Genocide Convention to the Responsibility to Protect, contracted by Rutgers University Press for its Genocide, Political Violence, Human Rights series.

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Sep 25 2020

40mins

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David Livingstone Smith, "On Inhumanity: Dehumanization and How to Resist It" (Oxford UP, 2020)

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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.

Drawing on numerous historical and contemporary cases and recent psychological research, On Inhumanity: Dehumanization and How to Resist It (Oxford University Press) is the first accessible guide to the phenomenon of dehumanization. Smith walks readers through the psychology of dehumanization, revealing its underlying role in both notorious and lesser-known episodes of violence from history and current events. In particular, he considers the uncomfortable kinship between racism and dehumanization, where beliefs involving race are so often precursors to dehumanization and the horrors that flow from it.

On Inhumanity is bracing and vital reading in a world lurching towards authoritarian political regimes, resurgent white nationalism, refugee crises that breed nativist hostility, and fast-spreading racist rhetoric. The book will open your eyes to the pervasive dangers of dehumanization and the prejudices that can too easily take root within us, and resist them before they spread into the wider world.

David Livingstone Smith is Professor of Philosophy at the University of New England in Biddeford, Maine.

Dr. Yakir Englander is the National Director of Leadership programs at the Israeli-American Council. He also teaches at the AJR. He is a Fulbright scholar and was a visiting professor of Religion at Northwestern University, the Shalom Hartman Institute and Harvard Divinity School. His books are Sexuality and the Body in New Religious Zionist Discourse (English/Hebrew and The Male Body in Jewish Lithuanian Ultra-Orthodoxy (Hebrew). He can be reached at: Yakir1212englander@gmail.com

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Sep 18 2020

1hr 5mins

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T. P. Kaplan and W. Gruner, "Resisting Persecution: Jews and Their Petitions during the Holocaust" (Berghahn, 2020)

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In 20 years of studying the Holocaust, it didn’t occurr to me that German officials might, when petitioned by German Jews or by Germans advocating for German Jews, change their minds. But it turns out that, sometimes, they did. And even when they didn’t, petitioning local, regional or national officials (often all at the same time) could delay deportations or punishments or even function as a form of resistance.

Resisting Persecution: Jews and Their Petitions during the Holocaust (Berghahn Books) looks at these petitions from a variety of perspectives. As editors Thomas Kaplan and Wolf Gruner argue, this is a topic that is surprisingly undercovered. And it’s a topic rich in insight and importance. The book shows clearly that petitioning was a common practice. It shows clearly that petitions were sometimes granted. It shows clearly that petitions sometimes led to unexpected and unusual outcomes. And it shows us that studying petitions sometimes opens our eyes to new ways of understanding old topics.

The book isn’t the last word on petitions, nor does it pretend to be. Rather, Kaplan and Gruner open up a new avenue of investigation, one that offers researchers topics to work on for many years to come.

Thomas Pegelow Kaplan is the Leon Levine Distinguished Professor and Director of the Center for Judaic, Holocaust, and Peace Studies at Appalachian State University.

Wolf Gruner is the Shapell-Guerin Chair in Jewish Studies, Professor of History and Founding Director of the USC Shoah Foundation Center for Advanced Genocide Research at the University of Southern California.

Kelly McFall is Professor of History and Director of the Honors Program at Newman University. He’s the author of four modules in the Reacting to the Past series, including The Needs of Others: Human Rights, International Organizations and Intervention in Rwanda, 1994, published by W. W. Norton Press.

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Sep 08 2020

1hr 5mins

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Carolyn J. Dean, "The Moral Witness: Trials and Testimony after Genocide" (Cornell UP, 2019)

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The Moral Witness: Trials and Testimony after Genocide (Cornell University Press, 2019) is the first cultural history of the "witness to genocide" in the West. Carolyn J. Dean shows how the witness became a protagonist of twentieth-century moral culture by tracing the emergence of this figure in courtroom battles from the 1920s to the 1960s―covering the Armenian genocide, the Ukrainian pogroms, the Soviet Gulag, and the trial of Adolf Eichmann. In these trials, witness testimonies differentiated the crime of genocide from war crimes and began to form our understanding of modern political and cultural murder.

By the turn of the twentieth century, the "witness to genocide" became a pervasive icon of suffering humanity and a symbol of western moral conscience. Dean sheds new light on the recent global focus on survivors' trauma. Only by placing the moral witness in a longer historical trajectory, she demonstrates, can we understand how the stories we tell about survivor testimony have shaped both our past and contemporary moral culture.

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Sep 07 2020

37mins

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Rafael Medoff, "The Jews Should Keep Quiet: Franklin D. Roosevelt, Rabbi Stephen S. Wise, and the Holocaust" (JPS, 2019)

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Like so many Americans, American Jews supported President Roosevelt. They adored him. They believed in him. They idolized him.

Perhaps they shouldn’t have.

Based on recently discovered documents, The Jews Should Keep Quiet: Franklin D. Roosevelt, Rabbi Stephen S. Wise, and the Holocaust (Jewish Publication Society) reassesses the hows and whys behind the Franklin D. Roosevelt administration’s fateful policies during the Holocaust.

Rafael Medoff delves into difficult truths: With FDR’s consent, the administration deliberately suppressed European immigration far below the limits set by U.S. law. His administration also refused to admit Jewish refugees to the U.S. Virgin Islands, dismissed proposals to use empty Liberty ships returning from Europe to carry refugees, and rejected pleas to drop bombs on the railways leading to Auschwitz, even while American planes were bombing targets only a few miles away—actions that would not have conflicted with the larger goal of winning the war.

What motivated FDR? Medoff explores the sensitive question of the president’s private sentiments toward Jews. Unmasking strong parallels between Roosevelt’s statements regarding Jews and Asians, he connects the administration’s policies of excluding Jewish refugees and interning Japanese Americans.

The Jews Should Keep Quiet further reveals how FDR’s personal relationship with Rabbi Stephen S. Wise, American Jewry’s foremost leader in the 1930s and 1940s, swayed the U.S. response to the Holocaust. Documenting how Roosevelt and others pressured Rabbi Wise to stifle American Jewish criticism of FDR’s policies, Medoff chronicles how and why the American Jewish community largely fell in line with Wise. Ultimately Medoff weighs the administration’s realistic options for rescue action, which, if taken, would have saved many lives.

Rafael Medoff is founding director of the David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies and coeditor of the institute’s online Encyclopedia of America’s Response to the Holocaust.

Renee Garfinkel, Ph.D. is a Jerusalem-based psychologist, Middle East television commentator, and host of the Van Leer Jerusalem Series on Ideas with Renee Garfinkel

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Aug 31 2020

1hr

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Robert G. Boatright and Valerie Sperling, "Trumping Politics as Usual: Masculinity, Misogyny, and the 2016 Elections" (Oxford UP, 2019)

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How did the Trump and Hillary Clinton campaigns affect other elections in 2016? How did the use of gender stereotypes and insulting references to women in the presidential campaign influence the way House and Senate candidates campaigned?

The 2016 American elections forced scholars and candidates to reassess the role that gender plays in elections. In Trumping Politics as Usual: Masculinity, Misogyny, and the 2016 Elections (Oxford UP, 2019), Robert G. Boatright and Valerie Sperling (professors of political science, Clark University) focus on how gender norms are used to frame – both positively and negatively – the people who run for office. The book interrogates gender and sexism in campaigns (the “gender issue”) and what happens when the media, electorate, and candidates expect to have a clear winner and loser(the “loser” issue). Boatright and Sperling distinguish between the top of the ticket and down ballot elections to tell a story about the impact of the 2016 presidential race on competitive congressional races. They demonstrate how Donald Trump’s candidacy radically altered the nature of the congressional campaigns by making competitive races more consequential for both parties and changing the issues of contention – towards sexism and misogyny – in many congressional races.

It is unusual to see a collaboration of this kind – a comparativist who specializes in Russian politics and wrote an award winning book on political legitimacy in Russia (Sperling) and an Americanist usually focused on campaign finance reform and congressional redistricting (Boatright). The book is a tribute to how crossing disciplinary boundaries in political science yields a more compelling and nuanced qualitative and quantitative analysis – one that is more relevant to contemporary politics.

The podcast was recorded the day after Democrat Joe Biden selected Kamala Harris as his vice presidential running mate. Sperling and Boatright discuss how stereotyping has already affected the 2020 race. Their trenchant analysis of the code already being deployed by the Trump campaign against Harris in terms of both gender and race should not be missed.

Both authors are veterans of the New Books Network and you can hear their earlier interviews with Heath Brown (Boatright, The Deregulatory Moment?) and Amanda Jeanne Swain (Sperling, Sex, Politics, and Putin).

Daniella Campos assisted with this podcast.

Susan Liebell is associate professor of political science at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia. She is the author of Democracy, Intelligent Design, and Evolution: Science for Citizenship (Routledge, 2013) and, most recently, “Retreat from the Rule of Law: Locke and the Perils of Stand Your Ground” in the Journal of Politics (July 2020). Email her comments at sliebell@sju.edu or tweet to @SusanLiebell.

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Aug 24 2020

1hr 4mins

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David Livingstone Smith, "On Inhumanity: Dehumanization and How to Resist It" (Oxford UP 2020)

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The phenomenon of dehumanization is associated with such atrocities as the 1994 genocide in Rwanda and the Holocaust in World War II. In these and other cases, people are described in ways that imply that they are less than fully human as a prelude to committing extreme forms of violence against them.

In On Inhumanity: Dehumanization and How to Resist It (Oxford University Press, 2020), David Livingstone Smith analyzes what dehumanization is, why are we prone to dehumanize, and how we might resist dehumanizing others. On his view, dehumanizing others is a cultural technology that functions to disinhibit us from extreme aggression. It stems from our psychological tendencies to essentialist thinking and to hierarchical thinking, and is sparked by authority figures who rely on these features to characterize other groups as monstrous and dangerous. Livingstone Smith builds on and revises his previous work on this subject and presents it in a form that is both rigorous and accessible to a wide audience.

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Aug 10 2020

1hr 7mins

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Richard Breitman, "The Journal of Holocaust and Genocide Studies"(Oxford Academic/USHMM)

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The Journal of Holocaust and Genocide Studies is turning twenty-five. One of the first academic journals focused on the study of the Holocaust and Genocide Studies, it has been one of a few journals that led the field in new directions.

So it seemed appropriate to mark the moment by talking with Richard Breitman, its long-time editor. Breitman is professor emeritus at American University and the author of several books on German history and the Holocaust. We talk in the interview about the origins of the Journal, about what it means to be the editor of an academic journal, and about how the field of Holocaust studies has evolved over the years.

Kelly McFall is Professor of History and Director of the Honors Program at Newman University. He’s the author of four modules in the Reacting to the Past series, including The Needs of Others: Human Rights, International Organizations and Intervention in Rwanda, 1994, published by W. W. Norton Press.

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Aug 07 2020

45mins

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Nick Estes, "Our History is the Future" (Verso, 2019)

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For the second time, Nick Estes has been gracious enough to participate in a New Books Network podcast to discuss his book Our History is the Future: Standing Rock versus the Dakota Access Pipeline, and the Long Tradition of Indigenous Resistance (Verso, 2019). (Listen to Ryan Tate’s interview for New Books in the American West here).

This second interview focuses more on a genocide studies reading of Dr. Estes’ book, raising questions about the history of genocide against Indigenous peoples, as well as Indigenous resistance and survival. It also seeks to connect Dr. Estes’ book to subsequent events in the United States and around the world, including the pandemic and protest movements.

Nick Estes is a citizen of the Lower Brule Sioux Tribe and an Assistant Professor of American Studies at the University of New Mexico.

Jeff Bachman is a Senior Lecturer in Human Rights at American University’s School of International Service in Washington, DC. He is the author of The United States and Genocide: (Re)Defining the Relationship and editor of the volume Cultural Genocide: Law, Politics, and Global Manifestations. He is currently working on a new book, The Politics of Genocide: From the Genocide Convention to the Responsibility to Protect, contracted by Rutgers University Press for its Genocide, Political Violence, Human Rights series.

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Jul 16 2020

1hr 29mins

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Sabine Hildebrandt, "The Anatomy of Murder: Ethical Transgressions and Anatomical Science during the Third Reich" (Berghahn, 2017)

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Of the many medical specializations to transform themselves during the rise of National Socialism, anatomy has received relatively little attention from historians. While politics and racial laws drove many anatomists from the profession, most who remained joined the Nazi party, and some helped to develop the scientific basis for its racialist dogma. As Sabine Hildebrandt reveals in The Anatomy of Murder: Ethical Transgressions and Anatomical Science during the Third Reich (Berghahn, 2017), however, their complicity with the Nazi state went beyond the merely ideological. They progressed through gradual stages of ethical transgression, turning increasingly to victims of the regime for body procurement, as the traditional model of working with bodies of the deceased gave way, in some cases, to a new paradigm of experimentation with the “future dead.”

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Jul 09 2020

25mins

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Francine Hirsch, "Soviet Judgement at Nuremberg" (Oxford UP, 2020)

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How did an authoritarian regime help lay the cornerstones of human rights and international law? Soviet Judgement at Nuremberg: A New History of the International Military Tribunal  (Oxford University Press, 2020) argues that Anglo-American dominated histories capture the moment while missing the story.

Drawing upon secret archives open for a few brief years during Russia’s liberalization, Francine Hirsch takes readers behind the scenes to private parties and late-night deliberations where the Nuremberg Principles took shape. A vital corrective told through the messy and all too human negotiations behind a trial that changed everything and almost never happened.

Francine Hirsch is the Vilas Distinguished Achievement Professor of History at University of Wisconsin-Madison. Her first book Empire of Nations: Ethnographic Knowledge and the Making of the Soviet Union (Cornell UP, 2005) received the Herbert Baxter Adams, Wayne S. Vucinich, and Council for European Studies book prizes. She specializes in Russian and Soviet History, Modern European History, Comparative Empires, Russian-American Engagement, and the History of Human Rights.

Ryan Stackhouse is a historian of Europe specializing in modern Germany and political policing under dictatorship. His forthcoming book Enemies of the People: Hitler’s Critics and the Gestapo explores enforcement practices toward different social groups under Nazism. He also cohosts the Third Reich History Podcast and can be reached at john.ryan.stackhouse@gmail.com or @Staxomatix.

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Jul 09 2020

1hr 24mins

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Stephan Talty, "The Good Assassin" (HMH, 2020)

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History that reads like a thriller; The Good Assassin: How A Mossad Agent and a Band of Survivors Hunted Down The Butcher of Latvia (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2020) by Stephan Talty is the untold story of an Israeli spy’s epic journey to bring the notorious Butcher of Latvia to justice—a case that altered the fates of all ex-Nazis.

Before World War II, Herbert Cukurs was a famous figure in his small Latvian city, the “Charles Lindbergh of his country.” But by 1945, he was the Butcher of Latvia, a man who murdered some thirty thousand Latvian Jews. Somehow, he dodged the Nuremberg trials, fleeing to South America after war’s end.

By 1965, as a statute of limitations on all Nazi war crimes threatened to expire, Germany sought to welcome previous concentration camp commanders, pogrom leaders, and executioners, as citizens. The global pursuit of Nazi criminals escalated to beat the looming deadline, and Mossad, the Israeli national intelligence agency, joined the cause.

Yaakov Meidad, the brilliant Mossad agent who had kidnapped Adolf Eichmann three years earlier, led the mission to assassinate Cukurs in a desperate bid to block the amnesty. In a thrilling undercover operation unrivaled by even the most ambitious spy novels, Meidad traveled to Brazil in an elaborate disguise, befriended Cukurs and earned his trust, while negotiations over the Nazi pardon neared a boiling point.

The Good Assassin uncovers this little-known chapter of Holocaust history and the pulse-pounding undercover operation that brought Cukurs to justice.

Renee Garfinkel is a Jerusalem-based psychologist, writer, and Middle East commentator for the nationally syndicated TV program, The Armstrong Williams Show.. Write her at r.garfinkel@yahoo.com or tweet @embracingwisdom

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Jul 06 2020

41mins

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Adam Brown, "Judging 'Privileged' Jews: Holocaust Ethics, Representation, and the 'Grey Zone'" (Berghahn, 2015)

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The Nazis’ persecution of the Jews during the Holocaust included the creation of prisoner hierarchies that forced victims to cooperate with their persecutors. Many in the camps and ghettos came to hold so-called “privileged” positions, and their behavior has often been judged as self-serving and harmful to fellow inmates.

Such controversial figures constitute an intrinsically important, frequently misunderstood, and often taboo aspect of the Holocaust. Drawing on Primo Levi’s concept of the “grey zone,” this study analyzes the passing of moral judgment on “privileged” Jews as represented by writers, such as Raul Hilberg, and in films, including Claude Lanzmann’s Shoah and Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List.

Negotiating the problems and potentialities of “representing the unrepresentable,” Judging 'Privileged' Jews: Holocaust Ethics, Representation, and the 'Grey Zone' (Berghahn Books) engages with issues that are fundamental to present-day attempts to understand the Holocaust and deeply relevant to reflections on human nature.

Adam Brown is a Senior Lecturer in Media Studies at Deakin University, Australia, and a volunteer at the Jewish Holocaust Centre in Melbourne, where he initiated the digitization of the Centre’s survivor video testimony collection.

Dr. Yakir Englander is the National Director of Leadership programs at the Israeli-American Council. He also teaches at the AJR. He is a Fulbright scholar and was a visiting professor of Religion at Northwestern University, the Shalom Hartman Institute and Harvard Divinity School. His books are Sexuality and the Body in New Religious Zionist Discourse (English/Hebrew and The Male Body in Jewish Lithuanian Ultra-Orthodoxy (Hebrew). He can be reached at: Yakir1212englander@gmail.com

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Jul 02 2020

1hr 10mins

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Vincent Bevins, "The Jakarta Method" (Public Affairs, 2020)

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Why did the word “Jakarta” appear as graffiti on the streets of Santiago in 1973? Why did left-wing Chilean activists receive postcards in the mail with the ominous message “Jakarta is coming”? Why did a Brazilian general lose his temper in an interview with university students, threaten their safety, and yell the name of Indonesia’s capital city?

In The Jakarta Method: Washington’s Anticommunist Crusade & the Mass Murder Program that Shaped Our World (Public Affairs, 2020) journalist Vincent Bevins links the history of the overthrow of Sukarno – a leader of 1960s Third Worldism –, the rise of the Suharto – one of the most brutal and corrupt dictators – , and the slaughter of 500,000 to one million Indonesians allegedly linked to the Indonesian Community Party (the PKI) to the Latin American “dirty wars”, including Brazil, Chile, Argentina, and Central America. This is a major achievement and something that very few scholars have been able to do.

Bevins persuasively argues that the long-ignored and even silenced history of Indonesia 1965 was of truly world historical significance.

The Jakarta Method joins a growing body of scholarly work on what some call a “political genocide” and what a 1968 CIA report deemed “one of the worst mass murders of the 20th century”. By showing how the overthrow of the radical Sukarno, the rise of the pro-American Suharto, and the brutal destruction of the largest Communist party outside of the USSR and the PRC impacted both right-wing generals and left-wing revolutionaries from the streets of Rio de Janeiro to the jungles of Cambodia, The Jakarta Method is a much needed and very welcome globalization of this history.

Vincent Bevins is a native Californian who attended UC Berkeley before he began his career as an international correspondent in Venezuela. He worked for the Financial Times in London, covered Brazil and the southern cone for the Los Angeles Times, and then moved to Jakarta where he reported on Southeast Asia for the Washington Post. He spoke to us from Sao Paulo, Brazil about The Jakarta Method. An excerpt of the book appeared in a recent issue of the New York Review of Books.

Michael G. Vann is a professor of world history at California State University, Sacramento. A specialist in imperialism and the Cold War in Southeast Asia, he is the author of The Great Hanoi Rat Hunt: Empires, Disease, and Modernity in French Colonial Vietnam (Oxford, 2018). When he’s not quietly reading or happily talking about new books with smart people, Mike can be found surfing in Santa Cruz, California.

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Jul 01 2020

1hr 25mins

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John Roosa, "Buried Histories: The Anticommunist Massacres of 1965-1966 in Indonesia" (U Wisconsin Press, 2020)

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On the night of September 30/October 1, 1965, a bungled coup d’état resulted in the deaths of a handful of Indonesian generals and a young girl. Within days the Indonesian army claimed that the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI), the largest communist party outside of the Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China, was responsible.

This set in motion the confusing, mysterious, and often perplexing events in 1965 that led to the downfall of Indonesia’s founding president Sukarno – an anti-imperialist who sought to combine the forces of nationalism, religion, and communism – and the rise of the authoritarian General Suharto who ruled Indonesia for 32 years – a period of far-right military dictatorship known as the New Order.

As part of Suharto’s overthrow of Sukarno, the circle of officers around him incited regional officers to start a campaign of arrest, detention, torture, and mass murder of millions of Indonesians. We don’t have exact numbers, but somewhere between 500,000 and a million were killed and an equal number sent to brutal prisons throughout the nation’s sprawling archipelago, Buru Island being the most infamous.

Prisoners worked as slave labor for years. After their release, they were subject to official repression and were treated as social pariahs. Even the children of former prisoners faced discrimination. Allegedly this wave of violence was directed at the massive Indonesian Communist Party, the PKI, but in reality, scores of other leftists including feminists, labor organizers, and artists fell victim to the bloody purge.

Because the killers ran the state for decades, a generation of Indonesians were fed a steady stream of lurid propaganda that falsely claimed the PKI was planning its own campaign of mass murder.

John Roosa’s Buried Histories: The Anticommunist Massacres of 1965-1966 in Indonesia, University of Wisconsin Press, 2020 is a carefully crafted study of these events that sheds light on the mechanics of mass murder and dispels a number of myths about this dark moment in Indonesian history.

Based on decades of interviews and archival research the book is a welcome addition to the growing scholarly work on what some have termed a political genocide and what a 1968 CIA report called “one of the worst mass murders of the 20th century”.

John Roosa is an Associate Professor of history at the University of British Columbia.

Buried Histories is a sequel to his previous book, Pretext for Mass Murder: The September 30th Movement and Suharto's Coup D'État in Indonesia, the definitive political history of the event that set the Indonesian genocide in motion.

Michael G. Vann is a professor of world history at California State University, Sacramento. A specialist in imperialism and the Cold War in Southeast Asia, he is the author of The Great Hanoi Rat Hunt: Empires, Disease, and Modernity in French Colonial Vietnam (Oxford, 2018). When he’s not quietly reading or happily talking about new books with smart people, Mike can be found surfing in Santa Cruz, California.

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Jun 24 2020

1hr 38mins

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Gabriel Finder, "Justice behind the Iron Curtain: Nazis on Trial in Communist Poland" (U Toronto Press, 2018)

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When Americans think about trials of Holocaust perpetrators, they generally think of the Nuremberg Trials or the trial of Adolf Eichmann or perhaps of the Frankfort trials of perpetrators from Auschwitz. If they think of Polish trials at all, they likely assume these were show trials driven by political goals rather than an interest in justice.

Gabriel Finder and Alexander Prusin's book Justice behind the Iron Curtain: Nazis on Trial in Communist Poland (University of Toronto Press, 2018) shows that the truth was considerably more nuanced. The book is a comprehensive account of the trials of Nazi perpetrators conducted in liberated and postwar Poland. But it’s more than that—it’s a reflection on how politics impact justice, on what trials can teach us about perpetrator behavior, and on the ways in which ordinary Poles responded to the Holocaust. Finder and Prusin show that the trials were shaped by their political context. But this context allowed and sometimes encouraged the participation of a variety of actors and for a careful and thorough examination of documentary evidence and the testimony of survivors.  As a result, the trials were largely successful in achieving a kind of justice, as imperfect as that might be.

Prusin died shortly before the book was published. This interview is dedicated to his memory.

Kelly McFall is Professor of History and Director of the Honors Program at Newman University. He’s the author of four modules in the Reacting to the Past series, including The Needs of Others: Human Rights, International Organizations and Intervention in Rwanda, 1994, published by W. W. Norton Press.

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Jun 22 2020

1hr 23mins

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David Slucki et al., "Laughter After: Humor and the Holocaust" (Wayne State UP, 2020)

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In Laughter After: Humor and the Holocaust (Wayne State University Press, 2020), Co-editors David Slucki, Loti Smorgon Associate Professor of Contemporary Jewish Life and Culture at the Australian Centre for Jewish Civilisation at Monash University, Gabriel N. Finder, professor in the department of German Languages and Literatures and former director of the Jewish Studies Program at the University of Virginia and Avinoam Patt, the Doris and Simon Konover Professor of Judaic Studies and director of the Center for Judaic Studies and Contemporary Jewish Life at the University of Connecticut, have assembled an impressive list of contributors who examine what is at stake in deploying humor in representing the Holocaust.

This book comes at an important moment in the trajectory of Holocaust memory. As the generation of survivors continues to dwindle, there is great concern among scholars and community leaders about how memories and lessons of the Holocaust will be passed to future generations.

Without survivors to tell their stories, to serve as constant reminders of what they experienced, how will future generations understand and relate to the Shoah?

This book seeks to uncover how and why such humor is deployed, and what the factors are that shape its production and reception.

Dr Max Kaiser teaches at the University of Melbourne. He can be reached at kaiserm@unimelb.edu.au

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Jun 22 2020

1hr 12mins

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Educational and enjoyable

By jason neihson - Aug 04 2018
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Great synopsis of intriguing books and topics