With the end of the Cold War, the victory of liberal democracy was thought to be final. Observers declared the end of history, confident in a peaceful, globalized future. This faith was misplaced. Authoritarianism returned to Russia, as Putin found fascist ideas that could be used to justify rule by the wealthy. In the 2010s, it has spread from east to west, aided by Russian warfare in Ukraine and cyberwar and information war in Europe and the United States.
Russia found allies among nationalists and oligarchs everywhere, and its drive to dissolve Western institutions, states, and values found resonance within the West itself. The rise of populism, the British vote against the EU, and the election of Donald Trump were all Russian goals, but their achievement reveals the vulnerability of Western societies and the uncertain character of Western political order.
This threat to Western democracy presents an opportunity to better understand the pillars of our own political order. In this forceful and unsparing work of contemporary history, based on vast research as well as personal reporting, Snyder goes beyond the headlines to expose the true nature of the threat to democracy and law. By showcasing the stark choices before us – between equality or oligarchy, individuality or totality, truth and falsehood – Snyder restores our understanding of the basis of our way of life, offering a way forward in a time of terrible uncertainty.
THE NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER
'These 128 pages are a brief primer in every important thing we might have learned from the history of the last century, and all that we appear to have forgotten' Observer
History does not repeat, but it does instruct.
In the twentieth century, European democracies collapsed into fascism, Nazism and communism. These were movements in which a leader or a party claimed to give voice to the people, promised to protect them from global existential threats, and rejected reason in favour of myth. European history shows us that societies can break, democracies can fall, ethics can collapse, and ordinary people can find themselves in unimaginable circumstances.
History can familiarise, and it can warn. Today, we are no wiser than the Europeans who saw democracy yield to totalitarianism in the twentieth century. But when the political order seems imperilled, our advantage is that we can learn from their experience to resist the advance of tyranny.
Now is a good time to do so.
LONGLISTED FOR THE 2015 SAMUEL JOHNSON PRIZE
We have come to see the Holocaust as a factory of death, organised by bureaucrats. Yet by the time the gas chambers became operation more than a million European Jews were already dead: shot at close range over pits and ravines. They had been murdered in the lawless killing zones created by the German colonial war in the East, many on the fertile black earth that the Nazis believed would feed the German people.
It comforts us to believe that the Holocaust was a unique event. But as Timothy Snyder shows, we have missed basic lessons of the history of the Holocaust, and some of our beliefs are frighteningly close to the ecological panic that Hitler expressed in the 1920s. As ideological and environmental challenges to the world order mount, our societies might be more vulnerable than we would like to think.
Timothy Snyder’s Bloodlands was an acclaimed exploration of what happened in eastern Europe between 1933 and 1945, when Nazi and Soviet policy brought death to some 14 million people. Black Earth is a deep exploration of the ideas and politics that enabled the worst of these policies, the Nazi extermination of the Jews. Its pioneering treatment of this unprecedented crime makes the Holocaust intelligible, and thus all the more terrifying.
Two explorers set out on a journey from which only one of them will return. Their unknown land is that often fearsome continent we call the 20th Century. Their route is through their own minds and memories. Both travellers are professional historians still tormented by their own unanswered questions. They needed to talk to one another, and the time was short.
This is a book about the past, but it is also an argument for the kind of future we should strive for. Thinking the Twentieth Century is about the life of the mind - and the mindful life.
Under Hitler and Stalin the Nazi and Soviet regimes murdered fourteen million people in the bloodlands between Berlin and Moscow.
The killing fields extended from central Polads to western Russia. For twelve savage years, on this bloodsoaked soil an average of one million individuals - mostly women, children and the aged - were murdered every year. Though in 1939 these lands became battlefields, not one of these fourteen million was killed in combat. They were victims of a murderous policy, not casualties of war.
Int his deeply unsettling and revelatory book, Timothy Snyder gives voice to the testimony of the victims through the letters home, the notes flung from trains, the diaries on corpses. It is a brilliantly researched, profoundly humane and authoritative bok that demands we pay attention to those that history is in danger of forgetting.
Wilhelm von Habsburg wore the uniform of an Austrian officer, the court regalia of a Habsburg archduke, the simple suit of a Parisian exile, the decorations of the Order of the Golden Fleece and, every so often, a dress. He spoke the Italian of his archduke mother, the German of his archduke father, the English of his British royal friends, the Polish of the country his father wished to rule and the Ukrainian of the land Wilhelm wished to rule himself.
Timothy Snyder's masterful biography is not only a reconstruction of the life of this extraordinary man - a man who remained loyal to his Ukrainian dreams even after the country's dissolution in 1921- but also charts the final collapse of the ancien regime in Europe and the rise of a new world order.
Timothy Snyder is Housum Professor of History at Yale University, and has written and edited a number of critically acclaimed and prize-winning books about twentieth-century European history: his most recent book, On Tyranny, was an international bestseller. Previous books include Black Earth, which was longlisted for the Samuel Johnson Prize and won the annual prize of the Dutch Auschwitz Committee; and Bloodlands, which won the Hannah Arendt Prize, the Leipzig Book Prize for European Understanding, the Ralph Waldo Emerson Award in the Humanities and the literature award of the American Academy of Arts and Letters.
Snyder is a frequent contributor to the New York Review of Books and the Times Literary Supplement. He is a member of the Committee on Conscience of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, a permanent fellow of the Institute for Human Sciences, and sits on the advisory council of the Yivo Institute for Jewish Research.