On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons learned from the Twentieth Century by Timothy Snyder

Every day when they were zapping through the 30 TV channels offered to them they would see Hitler documentaries. They had gone through the 20th century in Germany for what felt 3 years now. First they were studying it in their history lessons in 10th grade. Then they were studying different ideologies during their philosophy courses taking a deep dive into utilitarism, striving the so called social darwinism. Then they got to know how the mothers and fathers of the "Grundgesetz" (basic law) were implementing it to make sure things like the third reich won't ever happen again just to study the 20th century from beginning to end again in thirteenth grade.


A few weeks back I attended the ceremony for the Shimon-Peres-Price, when it was given to a project I’ve been part of. To be honest I did not know a lot about Shimon Peres but he’s a particularly interesting person. He used to be one of the first advocates for bilateral relationships between Israel and Germany. He was one of the first to say that should work together but never forget what happened. Germany is living a culture of embracing its past, of making sure that nobody forgets what our ancestors did. I do not know why but for the past 12 years, basically since I became old enough for such conversations, I overheard adults complain about just that. Adults in my family, friends of the family, strangers whenever one was bringing up that topic. Maybe they inherited this behavior from their ashamed parents, but maybe they’re just tired of hearing it just like I’m tired of hearing the same complaints from my grandmother every week. If so this raises the question: How do you remember and remind others of the dark ages of history?

On Tyranny - Twenty Lessons From The Twentieth Century answers this question perfectly. When I started reading this book, I thought it was just more of the same, but it gave me a lot of new insides. The author starts every chapter with a thesis of how to oppose those who seek to confuse the people, divide and reign and eventually set up a dictatorship of one way or the other. Every of theses theses is then supported by examples from the past and connections to the present are drawn. 

Especially the last chapter was interesting to me: The author describes two different ways of making politics: One announcing that things are inevitable while the other praises the good old times. While we’ve seen the first of them for quite some time, the latter one is rising in nearly every of the biggest economies: The U.S., France, the UK, Germany, we’ve seen it in Hungary and Poland and that is neglecting the other major players in the world such as Russia and China. How is the president saying he’s going to bring the US back into the good old times of 80 years ago? How is anyone thinking they can do this? How was Merkel able to say what the government did during the financial crisis was „alternativlos“ (inevitable)? How is the AfD, the „Alternative für Deutschland“ (Alternative for Germany), an alternative?

I could go on a multiple hours long rant right now, but I'll save that up for later. The question I was asking before is still open at this point: How can we remember this time and remind others in order to make sure no such thing ever occurs again? I think this book puts a great perspective on the topic as a whole. There is simply no judgement. There is no emotion. I think even the most ignorant person in the world could read this and draw their own conclusion. And it is a fairly short read of less than 150 pages in a small form factor. Go get it and read it, because you should