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Summary

History does not repeat, but it does instruct.

In the 20th century, European democracies collapsed into fascism, Nazism and communism. These were movements in which a leader or a party claimed to give voice to the people, promised to protect them from global existential threats, and rejected reason in favour of myth. European history shows us that societies can break, democracies can fall, ethics can collapse, and ordinary people can find themselves in unimaginable circumstances. History can familiarise, and it can warn. Today we are no wiser than the Europeans who saw democracy yield to totalitarianism in the 20th century. But when the political order seems imperilled, our advantage is that we can learn from their experience to resist the advance of tyranny. Now is a good time to do so.

©2017 Timothy Snyder (P)2017 Random House

What listeners say about On Tyranny

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Concise, illuminating and epic.

Timothy Snyder’s grasp of political history, and his ability to apply its lessons to contemporary events, is nothing short of ingenious.

If you genuinely want to understand where we are today and where tomorrow might take us, then you MUST also understand where we have come from first to adequately appreciate the context of our current situation.

This short book is required reading for anyone who wants to maintain western democratic values in the face of the growing trend towards authoritarian ‘sadopopulism’ that is currently espoused by Putin’s oligarchy/kleptocracy, Steve Bannon’s nationalist populism or Donald Trump’s cult of personality - which are all essentially slightly unique variations of the same dark and twisted ideology.

Timothy Snyder has given 21st century liberal democracy the biggest wake-up call it could possibly get; now it’s time for all of us who care about our future to answer his clarion call. Thanks to Snyder, I know I will.

And one day hopefully have a chance to buy him a beer - along with his next book.

Onwards to ‘The Road of Unfreedom’.

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A quick read to change how you see things

Short, snappy and made me realise that things are worse than I had previously thought. However, it does give practical advice so it is also optimistic. Everyone should read/listen to On Tyranny.

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Great and currently important

Loved it enough that I listened through twice in a few days! I'm English and feel quite strongly that young people in Europe and America need to know more history to enable us to maintain our progressive cultures, otherwise dictators may usurp power in a way we currently feel impossible having mentally consigned fascism to the past.

Well worth a listen, and has a recommended reading list in one chapter, so might be worth doing further research.

Well delivered by the author with no production errors!

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Important reading

Very thought provoking listen. Well read. Great anti-complacency brain food. Wake up and think. Highly recommend.

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Why was I so slow to find this excellent manifesto and warning

Having listened to the audio version narrated by the author, I feel powerfully better informed and motivated to join a modern day version of The International Brigade “No passaran!”

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Essential reading for our current age

An excellent, compact analysis of the lurch towards fascism in the West and what ordinary people should be doing to resist this tide. The lessons are familiar to anyone who has read any of the classic works on totalitarianism but Snyder introduces modern examples such as the Russian war against Ukraine and its attempts to destabilise Western Europe through disinformation and promoting right wing Islamophobes. Best lesson? Get off the Internet! Read a book and actually spend time talking to people outside of your bubble.

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What are historians for?

This book shows is why history is important - to understand our own times and where we are headed. Snyder gives us crucial learnings from the past do we can navigate our present.

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  • RC
  • 18-04-22

Stimulating and clever

Couldnt put it down. So much well thought out matetial. Very comprehensive. Has had a very profound effect on me.

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  • MJ
  • 19-01-22

There's a bigger book in here!

I understand this is better described as 20 lessons... for the US as the whole book seems like a direct response to the outrageous fascism of Trump. But these lessons have a much bigger audience and reading in 2021, the UK and the Johnson debacle is almost perfectly described inbetween the lines. A great audiobook, I just wanted more and the subject is certainly worthy of it.

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Fantastic… but incomplete

Frankly, this is one of the best (short) books I have ever read. Clearly an expert on the dystopian realities of the 20th century, as well as the wisdom at the heart of the theory of liberal democracy, the author flawlessly and transparently makes for some really troubling listening.

But what at first may appear to be a political but not partisan critique of right-wing populism falters when it concludes without balancing Trump critiques with the illiberal, anti-democratic, anti-American elements of the modern left.

This is problematic for two reasons:

1. It fails in its task to prep future generations to face the threat of authoritarianism by ignoring massive parts of it. For instance, the author brands campaign finance regulation as illogical (which is a fair point) without mentioning that without it primarily left-wing media outlets would monopolise political discourse (which is another fair point). This is especially puzzling because the author is fantastic in his critique of the Soviet Union’s illiberal lifespan, demonstrating that the work was intended to be historically impartial. Furthermore, the way the UK’s campaign to leave the EU was written off as Trump-like populism ignores that it was a cross-spectrum campaign, fought by many who were concerned that removing sovereignty from accountable parliaments was bolstering the rise of the far right throughout Europe.

2. Failing to achieve this balance has essentially made this book inaccessible to anyone who has ever supported Trump, seeing as they will perceive of it only as another “left-wing attack” on “my president”. Despite what I’ve said above, the primary threat to western democracy remains right wing populism, meaning that Trump supporters are the people who desperately need to read this work.

This work is a must read, so it’s a shame it isn’t a little more accessible.

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  • Philip I. Kyson
  • 04-06-17

outstanding

A timely reminder of how to avoid the tyranny that is now at the front door of most peoples of the world. Knocking on all its guises.

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  • CJ V. Schalkwyk
  • 09-03-21

Update

I would like to know if there will be an update which warns the populous of Biden and what the Democrats are doing.

As a South African, the reference to Trump was more funny than important, though I think that most people should learn to think for them selves and realise that all forms of media will be biased for / against government and learn to find as much of the story behind the stories as possible.

I noticed that the problems of BLM was not addressed directly, but if one follows the methods proposed and follow the money, you'll find it to be Dems using chaos for political gain.