First Book – On Tyranny, Graphic Edition: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century

On Tyranny, Graphic Edition: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century by Timothy Snyder, illustrated by Nora Krug. Finished 1-2-23, 5 stars, 128 pages, 2021

There’s no better day to review this book than today, January 6. This is an expanded, graphic work taken directly from the book On Tyranny. I didn’t read it, but picked this up on a whim not knowing it had an original. I think every American should read Professor Snyder’s work, in either form. It’s quick, but most definitely packs a punch and I know that I will definitely be giving this a reread. Maybe even every January 6.

Timothy Snyder is one of the most celebrated historians of the Holocaust. In his books Bloodlands and Black Earth, he has carefully dissected the events and values that enabled the rise of Hitler and Stalin and the execution of their catastrophic policies. With Twenty Lessons, Snyder draws from the darkest hours of the twentieth century to provide hope for the twenty-first. As he writes, “Americans are no wiser than the Europeans who saw democracy yield to fascism, Nazism and communism. Our one advantage is that we might learn from their experience.”

from Goodreads

This was such a thought-provoking, visually appealing book about the dangers the United States faces from authoritarianism. The lines are drawn between Europe and the rise of fascists and the US today. Trump is not once mentioned by name, but he’s impossible to miss. Maybe I think a few of the connecting lines were a stretch, but in the context of the greater picture, completely fair. I’m going to include some passages. Do yourself a favor and read the book with an open mind. you don’t need to agree with every word to come away with new understanding.

#2 Defend institutions. It is institutions that help us preserve decency. They need our help as well. Do not speak of “our institutions” unless you make them yours by acting on their behalf. Institutions do not protect themselves. They fall one after the other unless each is defended from the beginning. So choose and institution you care about- a court, a newspaper, a law, a labor union- and take its side. (page 13)

#4 Take responsibility for the face of the world. The symbols of today enable the reality of tomorrow.

You may one day be offered the opportunity to display symbols of loyalty. Make sure that such symbols include your fellow citizens rather than exclude them. (page 27)

#7 Be reflective if you must be armed. If you carry a weapon in public service may God bless you and keep you. But know that evils of the past involved policemen and soldiers finding themselves, one day, doing irregular things. Be prepared to say no. (page 39)

#10 Believe in truth. To abandon facts is to abandon freedom.

You submit to tyranny when you renounce the difference between what you want to hear and what is actually the case. Post-truth is pre-facism.

19. Be a patriot. Set a good example of what America means for the generations to come. They will need it.

It is not patriotic to try to end democracy.

A nationalist encourages us to be our worst and then tells us that we are the best.

A patriot, by contrast, wants the nation to love up to its ideals, which means asking us to be our best selves.

Epilogue & Liberty

The habit of dwelling on victimhood dulls the impulse of self-correction. Since the nation is defined by its inherent virtue rather than by its future potential, politics becomes a discussion of good and evil rather then a discussion of possible solutions to real problems. Since the crisis is permanent , the sense of emergency is always present; planning for the future seems impossible or even disloyal. How can we even think of reform when the enemy is always at the gate? (page 116)