The author of On Tyranny on the lack of historical literacy, how local news has been replaced by Facebook, and why novels matter to him
Timothy Snyder is a professor of history at Yale University and the author of books about the 20th-century history of central Europe, including Bloodlands, which examined the devastating consequence of Hitler and Stalin’s simultaneous reign of terror over civilian populations, and won the 2013 Hannah Arendt prize for political thought. In 2016, after the election of Donald Trump, Snyder wrote a short book, On Tyranny, which provided 20 brief lessons – “Defend Institutions”, “Remember Professional Ethics”, “Read Books” – from the 20th century that might help readers protect democracy against dictatorship. It topped the New York Times bestseller list for nonfiction in 2017. A new edition of the book, with illustrations by the German-American Nora Krug, whose graphic memoir Belonging confronted Germany’s Nazi past, has just been published.
What prompted you to want to make this graphic version of On Tyranny?
It came out originally in this extremely simple, accessible form. I always had the idea that it could take a different form, but that only became concrete once I read Nora Krug’s Belonging. I cold-called her and said: “Could you please do this?” Part of it was also to renew it. I changed the text a little bit, removed some of the stuff that was specific to 2016 and added some lines that recall what happened in 2020.