“The most American thing I’ve ever done”: Historian Tim Snyder’s On Tyranny is #1 at Amazon

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In all the panic, raving, and invective of the recent election season (not to mention the time since), historian Timothy Snyder remains a cool-headed voice of sanity. Thank goodness. His slim, 128-page On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century is now the #1 bestselling book on Amazon, and also on the lists of The New York Times and The Washington Post, whose reviewer noted that “fits alongside your pocket Constitution and feels only slightly less vital.”)

TimSnyderTim’s previous works include, Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Black Earth: The Holocaust as History and Warning. We’ve written about the former here and here and here, and the latter here. Given his focus on the 20th century history of Eastern Europe, he calls this book “the most American thing I’ve ever done.”

A new kind of book needs a new kind of advertising campaign, and Tim got one. The book is being released in London this week. If you don’t have time to read, try showing up on an East London street, where the entire text of a book billed as “a practical guide to resisting the rise of totalitarianism” is to be fly-posted. From The Guardian (with thanks to Emily for the heads-up):

US historian Timothy Snyder’s On Tyranny … is to be reproduced chapter by chapter in a series of 20 eye-catching posters pasted along Leonard Street, near Silicon Roundabout. The posters, designed by Vintage creative director Suzanne Dean and her team with students at Kingston University, will appear in sequence on Monday along the road, which is at the heart of the capital’s creative community.

Describing the book as “an attempt to distill what I have learned about the 20th century into a guide for action today”, the Yale professor said: “I can’t think of anything like this that has been done with anyone’s work before.”

snyder-bookHe added that it was doubtful such a distillation would have been possible with his previous works, which include Bloodlands and Black Earth, both of which come in at over 400 pages, compared with On Tyranny’s 130.

In the book, the professor, who specialises in European history and the Holocaust, mixes modern history with practical lessons on how to resist tyranny. It was prompted, he said, by the shock and sense of helplessness felt by many over recent political developments in the US and UK. Utilising examples of resistance against Hitler and Stalin, each chapter includes acts of defiance readers can integrate into their daily life.

Snyder intended the book be used as “a manifesto and manual” in the fight against rising populism on both sides of the Atlantic, a situation he described as “urgent”.

For a quick taste of his message, try the 11-minute news interview below, from the Woodrow Wilson Center. It’s one of the most intelligent interviews I’ve heard about the state of our nation in awhile. Tim describes his book as “a guide to facing unfamiliar situations for Americans, a guide to what you can do – not just politically, but psychologically.”


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