What We’re Reading

On Tyranny:

Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century.

Timothy Snyder (2017).

When Yale professor and historian Timothy Snyder published On Tyranny in February of 2017, it was to alert us to the warning signs he had been monitoring that signaled our democracy was in danger. As we began to witness blatant attacks on the norms of democratic government, we turned to Snyder’s lessons from history.

His study and understanding of eastern European history made him particularly aware of trends toward authoritarianism*. Snyder warns us that it is happening here, in America. He outlines 20 lessons, or steps, that can be taken to prevent the collapse of our Democracy.

Snyder explains, “The Founding Fathers tried to protect us from the threat they knew, the tyranny that overcame ancient democracy. Today, our political order faces new threats, not unlike the totalitarianism of the twentieth century. We are no wiser than the Europeans who saw democracy yield to fascism, Nazism, or communism. Our one advantage is that we might learn from their experience.”

Although On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century, is a New York Times Best Seller, it is not really a book at all. It’s really a manifesto: a call to action. Snyder intentionally made it short, easy to read, inexpensive, and small enough to fit in your pocket, so you can carry it with you wherever you go. Many of us bought several copies to share.

On Tyranny is a call to arms and a guide to resistance, with invaluable ideas for how we can preserve our freedoms in the uncertain years to come.


Read Darry Holter’s 2017 review of On Tyranny for the Los Angeles Review of Books here – https://darrylholter.com/2017/07/timothy-snyders-on-tyranny/

Purchase directly from the author:
Timothy Snyder https://www.timothysnyder.org/books/on-tyranny-tr

In a new graphic edition, released on October 5, 2021, Snyder has partnered with renowned illustrator Nora Krug to bring a new dimension to his manifesto. Snyder’s powerful words are now accompanied by Krug’s arresting visuals that brings new resonance to On Tyranny. Read the review in The New Yorker: https://www.newyorker.com/culture/culture-desk/the-road-to-tyranny-a-graphic-narrative

Watch a livestreamed program with the author and illustrator as they discuss the power of art to convey messages of political unrest in new and potent ways: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X_h0z5tCOYE

*Authoritarianism is a form of government characterized by the rejection of political plurality, the use of a strong central power to preserve the political status quo, and reductions in the rule of law, separation of powers, and democratic voting.


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