On Tyranny

By Timothy Snyder

“History does not repeat, but it does instruct,” writes Timothy Snyder in On Tyranny. Snyder, Yale Professor and historical scholar, draws from his vast knowledge of European history to offer twenty lessons from the twentieth century to help us avoid tyranny in the present.

What is tyranny? “The usurpation of power by a single individual or group, or the circumvention of law by rulers for their own benefit” (page 10). Having studied and witnessed tyranny, totalitarianism and fascism in Europe, he wants to help us avoid it in America. 

On Tyranny is concise and hard-hitting without being unkind. Snyder is more than apprehensive when it comes to our President, but this book is not a treatise against Trump, nor is it an inflammatory doom and gloom. It is, however, cautionary. 

Read On Tyranny. It will pay you back tenfold for the price you pay (about a cup of coffee). Pay attention to his epilogue where you will find a brief discussion on the politics of inevitability and eternity. This is excellent. It is also a preview to his most recent work, The Road To Unfreedom.

Five reasons to read:

1. On Tyranny is 20 lessons from a historical scholar, not simply knee-jerk reactions from a political pundit. Snyder has written multiple books, speaks five and reads ten European languages. 

2. On Tyranny promotes political responsibility. 

3. On Tyranny challenges the reader to think and introduces “must read” books to that end.

4. On Tyranny introduces leaders the reader may not know: Vaclav Havel, Eugene Ionesco, Victor Klemperer, Wendell Phillips, and Teresa Prekerowa to name a few.

5. On Tyranny is “short with substance.”