On Tyrany: Twenty lessons from the 20th c by Timothy Snyder (2017)



We read this for book club last month, and it was hard enough to discuss back then, but now with coronavirus, it’s even harder to contemplate the warnings of this book. In a nutshell, it’s a lesson about how tyranny happens. Not through a coup, but rather from the small everyday acceptance of a new normal: acquiescing without questioning, favoring glorious myth over truth, assuming institutions will stand on their own, putting down opposition a slice at a time, favoring simplicity over ambiguity, referring to facts that one does not like as “lies.”  And so it goes. This book is a little pamphlet, about the size of a pocket constitution, and it outlines everything that will happen to a constitution  and a country when we don’t abide by these 20 lessons.  It’s a smaller version of the book How Democracies Die, and though small, it offers tasks we can each do–like physically protesting on the street, supporting institutions such as credible newspapers, and of course, getting out the vote. The book was written in 2017, and so many of its warning have already come true that it’s depressing and scary–and the virus has only made it more clear what happens when a demagogue is in power. While the book is prescient, it’s too much to take right now. I suggest Harry Potter instead.

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