***Note: I received a free digital review copy of this book from NetGalley and Clarkson Potter/Ten Speed Press in exchange for an honest review. I have not received compensation for the inclusion of any links found in this review or on any other page of The Voracious Bibliophile which mentions On Tyranny Graphic Edition: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century, its creators, or its publisher.***
When On Tyranny first came out in 2017, I remember reading it in my bathtub, absolutely riveted and completely terrified. I remained that way, completely terrified that is, through the remainder of Trump’s presidency up until the present day. In the short review I posted on Goodreads at the time, I called it the “most powerful and timely book we’ve got right now,” and I stand by that assessment. In it, Snyder presented us with a model of political rectitude, elucidating the present by drawing parallels from the past in the hope that we might steer ourselves toward a more just and equitable future.
To return to my terror, I suppose Snyder himself would say that an alert citizen is a good citizen, but only if that citizen is proactive rather than reactive. Like most forms of social good, democracy does not self-correct when it encounters flaws in the mechanism. The people in charge of its maintenance, which is all of us, have to pull over on the side of the road, lift up the hood, and put in a little elbow grease to fix it. To further labor the metaphor: Democracy does not offer roadside assistance.
To lessen our chances of breaking down in the first place, however, it’s important to practice good citizenship at all times, not just in times of crisis. We should advocate for the causes important to us all the time, not just during an election year. We should lobby our legislators to pass laws that strengthen our democracy, that protect human rights. We should make calls, donate when and where we can, and show up to participate with our bodies every chance we get.
I have done my best to be a proactive citizen and I’d like to think that my efforts helped us to avoid another four years of Trump, at least for the moment. I’m holding my breath thinking that putrid orange tyrant will try to run again in the next presidential election. If he does, and heaven forbid, wins, God have mercy on us all.
The good news is I’m not that much of a cynic yet. On my not-so-good days, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t think we were doomed beyond saving, but I don’t like to back down from a fight. It’s not good for your digestion. Actually, I’m not sure what pugnacity does for your digestion, but I’ve always found it winsome to follow the revealing of a questionable character trait with something ameliorative to make myself more palatable.
I was so excited when I found out that a graphic edition of Snyder’s book was being released and having now read it, I can assuredly say it did not disappoint. Timothy Snyder is not only a historian of the highest echelon, but a prescient prognosticator of our possible political futures. I intentionally used futures, plural, because our course is not set. We the people, the body politic, are the cartographers drawing the map toward our future. What the future looks like is based on the collective decisions we make today to either defend or neglect democracy. Don’t let’s make it easy for the tyrants, orange or otherwise.
Nora Krug’s illustrations are sometimes macabre and at other times breathtakingly beautiful, and sometimes they are both in equal measure. All of her illustrations are elegant in their simplicity and deftly executed on the page. Her inclusion of historical photographs, many of which were found in photo albums and other ephemera at flea markets and antique shops, add depth and pictorial veracity to Snyder’s narrative of the history of tyranny in the twentieth century.
Although a review is not and should not necessarily be a summary of a work, I’d like to include here the twenty lessons Snyder gives in his book, if for no other reason than to pique the interest of would-be readers.
Snyder’s Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century
- Do not obey in advance.
- Defend institutions.
- Beware the one-party state.
- Take responsibility for the face of the world.
- Remember professional ethics.
- Be wary of paramilitaries.
- Be reflective if you must be armed.
- Stand out.
- Be kind to our language.
- Believe in truth.
- Make eye contact and small talk.
- Practice corporeal politics.
- Establish a private life.
- Contribute to good causes.
- Learn from peers in other countries.
- Listen for dangerous words.
- Be calm when the unthinkable arrives.
- Be a patriot.
- Be as courageous as you can.
© 2017, 2021 Timothy Snyder. All rights reserved.
On Tyranny Graphic Edition: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century was released by Clarkson Potter/Ten Speed Press on October 5th, 2021 and is available to purchase wherever books are sold.
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