Timothy Snyder: On Tyranny

Summary Information:

Form: Paperback

Author: Timothy Snyder

Purchase Link

Page Count: 127

Brief Notes:

A prognostic look at the catalysts that lead to tyranny in democratic societies, split into 20 concise parts drawn from 20th-century history. There were two elements of the book that I thought were particularly notable.

The first: a description of a 1961 Yale physiological study by Stanley Milgram that purportedly showed human’s willingness to kill or severely hurt strangers they had no gripe with, simply because they were ordered to by what seemed to be a higher authority. The study was terrifying and fascinating, and led me to check it out in more depth later.

The second: Snyder successfully brings home a point in this book that is not often said enough. There is a propensity and romantic appeal for the American intellectual elite to use Ancient Rome and Greece as chief historical analogs when studying the fall of democracy, and juxtaposing it to a potential future decline of American government. Yet, we often forget the far more recent 20th-century examples of democratic decline and failure, examples that often have more realistic historical context. Even in such a short book, Snyder does well by this argument.