A Beautifully Illustrated Edition of On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century, the Bestselling Book by Historian Timothy Snyder

For all its talk of lib­er­ty, the US gov­ern­ment has prac­ticed dehu­man­iz­ing author­i­tar­i­an­ism and mass mur­der since its found­ing. And since the rise of fas­cism in the ear­ly 20th cen­tu­ry, it has nev­er been self-evi­dent that it can­not hap­pen here. On the con­trary — wrote Yale his­to­ri­an Tim­o­thy Sny­der before and through­out the Trump pres­i­den­cy — it hap­pened here first, though many would like us to for­get. The his­to­ries of south­ern slav­oc­ra­cy and man­i­fest des­tiny direct­ly informed Hitler’s plans for the Ger­man col­o­niza­tion of Europe as much as did Europe’s 20th-cen­tu­ry col­o­niza­tion of Africa and Asia.

Sny­der is not a schol­ar of Amer­i­can his­to­ry, though he has much to say about his country’s present. His work has focused on WWI­I’s total­i­tar­i­an regimes and his pop­u­lar books draw from a “deep knowl­edge of twen­ti­eth-cen­tu­ry Euro­pean his­to­ry,” write Françoise Mouly and Genevieve Bormes at The New York­er.

These books include best­sellers like Blood­lands: Europe Between Hitler and Stal­in and the con­tro­ver­sial Black Earth: The Holo­caust as His­to­ry and Warn­ing, a book whose argu­ments, he said, “are clear­ly not my effort to win a pop­u­lar­i­ty con­test.”

Indeed, the prob­lem with rigid con­for­mi­ty to pop­ulist ideas became the sub­ject of Snyder’s 2017 best­seller, On Tyran­ny: Twen­ty Lessons from the Twen­ti­eth Cen­tu­ry, “a slim vol­ume,” Mouly and Bormes note, “which inter­spersed max­ims such as ‘Be kind to our lan­guage’ and ‘Defend insti­tu­tions’ with bio­graph­i­cal and his­tor­i­cal sketch­es.” (We post­ed an abridged ver­sion of Snyder’s 20 lessons that year.) On Tyran­ny became an “instant best-sell­er… for those who were look­ing for ways to com­bat the insid­i­ous creep of author­i­tar­i­an­ism at home.”

If you’ve paid any atten­tion to the news late­ly, maybe you’ve noticed that the threat has not reced­ed. Ideas about how to com­bat anti-demo­c­ra­t­ic move­ments remain rel­e­vant as ever. It’s also impor­tant to remem­ber that Snyder’s book dates from a par­tic­u­lar moment in time and draws on a par­tic­u­lar his­tor­i­cal per­spec­tive. Con­tex­tu­al details that can get lost in writ­ing come to the fore in images — cloth­ing, cars, the use of col­or or black and white: these all key us in to the his­toric­i­ty of his obser­va­tions.


“We don’t exist in a vac­u­um,” says artist Nora Krug, the design­er and illus­tra­tor of a new, graph­ic edi­tion of On Tyran­ny just released this month. “I use a vari­ety of visu­al styles and tech­niques to empha­size the frag­men­tary nature of mem­o­ry and the emo­tive effects of his­tor­i­cal events.” Krug worked from arti­facts she found at flea mar­kets and antique stores, “depos­i­to­ries of our col­lec­tive con­scious­ness,” as she writes in an intro­duc­to­ry note to the new edi­tion.

Krug’s choice of a vari­ety of medi­ums and cre­ative approach­es “allows me to admit,” she says, “that we can only exist in rela­tion­ship to the past, that every­thing we think and feel is thought and felt in ref­er­ence to it, that our future is deeply root­ed in our his­to­ry, and that we will always be active con­trib­u­tors to shap­ing how the past is viewed and what our future will look like.”

It’s an approach also favored by Sny­der, who does not shy away, like many his­to­ri­ans, from explic­it­ly mak­ing con­nec­tions between past, present, and pos­si­ble future events. “It’s easy for his­to­ri­ans to say, ‘It’s not our job to write the future,’” he told The New York Times in 2015. “Yes, right. But then whose job is it?” See many more images from the illus­trat­ed On Tyran­ny at The New York­er and pur­chase a copy of the book here.

Via Kot­tke

Relat­ed Con­tent:

20 Lessons from the 20th Cen­tu­ry About How to Defend Democ­ra­cy from Author­i­tar­i­an­ism, Accord­ing to Yale His­to­ri­an Tim­o­thy Sny­der

The Sto­ry of Fas­cism: Rick Steves’ Doc­u­men­tary Helps Us Learn from the Hard Lessons of the 20th Cen­tu­ry

Umber­to Eco Makes a List of the 14 Com­mon Fea­tures of Fas­cism

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

by | Permalink | Comments (4) |

Sup­port Open Cul­ture

We’re hop­ing to rely on our loy­al read­ers rather than errat­ic ads. To sup­port Open Cul­ture’s edu­ca­tion­al mis­sion, please con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion. We accept Pay­Pal, Ven­mo (@openculture), Patre­on and Cryp­to! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Comments (4)
You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.