In 1952, a 26-year-old grad student and refugee from Vienna set up a card table in his parents’ cramped New York apartment and went to work on the first thorough, scholarly study of the Holocaust. Raul Hilberg’s monumental book looked at the Shoah through the eyes of the German perpetrator, who (Hilberg later remarked) “alone had the key” to why and how mass murder occurred. Hilberg showed in spare, controlled prose how the complex bureaucratic web of Hitler’s regime was the tool that allowed genocide to happen. His Destruction is still not just pioneering, but essential.David Mikics is the author, most recently, of Bellow’s People: How Saul Bellow Made Life Into Art. He lives in Brooklyn and Houston, where he is John and Rebecca Moores Professor of English at the University of Houston.