Review of “On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century” by Timothy Snyder

I’ll say first the title is a little misleading. It should be “Against Fascism.”

This is a quick read, some 130 pages in print, apparently intended in its size and format, for the reader to carry in a pocket or purse. The twenty chapters—twenty lessons—boil down to twenty “things to do to be a pain in the ass to Fascists that could actually slow them down.” (A noble endeavor, in my humble opinion.)

Its intended audience appears to be younger people, for whom names like “Mussolini,” “Tito,” and “Francisco Franco,” if they’ve heard of them at all, are little more than names that might ring a bell from a European history book.

The book does not pretend to educate about history or current events in the broad sense, though the author references events as examples of what can go wrong. To cite one case, he describes how the Nazis used the 1933 Reichstag (Parliament Building) Fire to oust their rival Communist Party members from Parliament and clamp down civil liberties. This is an earmark of Fascism: eliminating political rivals and tightening or suspending civil liberties.

“Who set the fire that night in Berlin?” asks Snyder. “We don’t know, and it doesn’t really matter. What matters is that this spectacular act of terror initiated the politics of emergency.”

The Reichstag Fire crisis was more complex than portrayed in the book. Snyder knows this, of course. His point is: beware those who use crises to seize power. Not a bad one at that.

While the book is not a rigorous history lesson, the author attempts to do something perhaps more important, that is, to motivate the readers to educate themselves and take what action they can.

Typical is lesson 11:


Figure things out for yourself. Spend more time with long articles. Subsidize investigative journalism by subscribing to print media. Realize that some of what is on the internet is there to harm you. Learn about sites that investigate propaganda campaigns (some of which come from abroad). Take responsibility for what you communicate with others.

For the old and jaded like myself, this just reads like common sense, and I don’t need anyone to tell me what to read, dagnabbit. I do this sort of stuff all the blessed time. But Snyder isn’t talking to me.

I do have to ask whom he is talking to, though. The engaged know these things already. Will the unengaged read what he has to say?

I hope so. You wouldn’t think we’d be talking about an authoritarian/fascist resurgence in the twenty-first century, but there they are again, like mold on the bathroom ceiling that you have to keep scraping, bleaching, and painting over. If you ignore it, it will only grow, and the roof will come crashing down.


According to his blurb, author Timothy Snyder is Housum Professor of History at Yale University and a permanent fellow at the Institute for Human Sciences. He received his doctorate from the University of Oxford in 1997, where he was a British Marshall Scholar. He has held fellowships in Paris, Vienna, and Warsaw, and an Academy Scholarship at Harvard.

His most recent work is Our Malady: Lesson on Liberty from a Hospital Bed.

Title: On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the  Twentieth Century
Author: Timothy Snyder
First published: 2017

Published by 9siduri

I have written book and movie reviews for the late and lamented sites Epinions and Examiner. I have book of reviews of speculative fiction from before 1900, and short works in publications such Mobius, Protea Poetry Journal, and, most recently, Wisconsin Review and Drunken Pen Writing. I'm busily working away on a book of reviews pulp science fiction stories from the 1930s-1960s. It's a lot of fun. I am the author of the short story "Always Coming Home," a chapbook of poetry titled "Sotto Voce," and a collection of reviews of pre-1900 speculative fiction, "By Firelight."

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: