Historian Timothy Snyder does not offer a corrective to the pessimism of this genre — he is a scholar of the Holocaust, after all — but begins to illuminate a path forward from it. On Tyranny is a slim book that fits alongside your pocket Constitution and feels only slightly less vital. Steeped in the history of interwar Germany and the horrors that followed, Snyder still writes with bracing immediacy, providing 20 plain and mostly actionable lessons on preventing, or at least forestalling, the repression of lives and minds ... Snyder points to clear and recognizable actions that a leader or a party can take to suffocate freedom — such as exploiting terrorist attacks to curtail individual liberties or enabling the rise of pro-government paramilitary forces — but he is especially attuned to the abuses of language ... easily the most compelling volume among the early resistance literature emerging in response to Trump.
...a curious mixture of historical anecdotes and self-help bromides, premised on the idea that America is at the dawn of a tyrannical age, and that the past offers clues for resistance ... On Tyranny starts from a salutary impulse. Snyder is right to think that the discipline of history has special value in strengthening democracy and combating authoritarianism ... It’s also commendable that in On Tyranny, Snyder counsels taking action rather than merely taking refuge in historical comparison ... Yet many of the directives Snyder urges on his readers are a little vague and mystifying. There is a strange disjunction between the gravity of the situation Snyder warns against (Hitler-style tyranny) and the banality of his advice ... Snyder’s advice to Americans is, he tells us, based on his study of repressive regimes. Yet he never explains exactly how he thinks the experience of an American today is comparable to the experience of a Russian in the Soviet Union or a German living under the Third Reich. Nor does he look too closely at the ways these regimes resemble—or do not resemble—one another ... Aside from a smart paragraph about marching, Snyder has nothing useful to say about such democratic resistance ... The best part of On Tyranny is the epilogue, a thoughtful meditation on the fate of history in our moment.
In this book, as in his others, Snyder provokes us to think again about major issues of our time, as well as significant elements of the past, but he seems to have rushed it out rather too quickly. It could do with far greater depth of historical illustration, not to mention recourse to the many thinkers whose wisdom we might profit from in dealing with the issue of tyranny and how to combat it. Democracy dies in many different ways, and to help us in defending our rights we need a more thoughtful book than this.