I read this book in my ongoing attempt to understand the current political situation in the United States. It took me a while to slog through it as Snyder gives a great deal of background information before getting to the contemporary political culture. When I finally read through chapter six (2016), it all came together. He reviews the influence from the east to the west, the return of totalitarian thought, the Russian assault on the European Union, the invasion of Ukraine, the spread of political fiction in Russia and Europe and America, and the election of Donald Trump.
I found Snyder's historical account sobering. I recognized the tactic of creating crises to distract from the real issues. I saw the origin of creating false realities through lies, leaders not constrained by facts. (161) I was reminded of the tactic of using the media to lie to promote government ideas (162) and of leaders mocking reporters. (163) During the invasion of Crimea, Putin, rather than the invasion, was the star of television. (164) False news was prevalent and highly promoted. (178) My understanding the actions of the current administration was greatly enlarged.
Snyder is bold in his assertions: “The Internet Research Agency [the dedicated Russian cyberwar center] worked alongside Russian secret services to move Trump into the Oval Office.” (226) The use of social media was huge and effective. Snyder is very clear about Trump's role in the Russian activities. (231) He also reports, “...Bannon agreed with Putin that the federal government of the United States (and the European Union, which he called 'a glorified protectorate') should be destroyed.” (236)
I encourage Americans to read this book. Snyder brings together all of the history and the events that made news at the time but are likely forgotten now. The evidence is overwhelming. We are vulnerable to Russian tactics. (244) The extent to which we have been manipulated is shocking. We had better wake up. “In the end,” Snyder writes, “freedom depends upon citizens who are able to make a distinction between what is true and what they want to hear.” (249) Our very freedom is at stake.
Timothy Snyder is the Richard C Levin Professor of History at Yale University and a permanent fellow of the Institute for Human Sciences in Vienna. He is the author of a number of works of history. He lives in New Haven, Connecticut.
Tim Duggan Books, 368 pages.
(My star ratings: 5-I love it, 4-I like it, 3-It's OK, 2-I don't like it, 1-I hate it.)