Timely and essential, if, one hopes, a bit more than the present situation requires.

ON TYRANNY

TWENTY LESSONS FROM THE TWENTIETH CENTURY

“Stand out.” “Believe in truth.” "Be calm when the unthinkable arrives." A historian offers a set of 20 prescriptions for how to live under a dictatorship.

If we read our history properly, we have plenty of examples of how people have held up under tyranny, some resisting, some complying, some collaborating. In this slim book, a sort of operating manual for navigating the new authoritarianism that was first born as a set of social media memes after the recent presidential election in the United States, Snyder (History/Yale Univ.; Black Earth: The Holocaust as History and Warning, 2015, etc.) finds many of those examples in Greek and Roman history but many more in the totalitarian history of the 20th century. Both fascism and communism, he warns, were “responses to globalization” and to rising inequality. “We might be tempted to think that our democratic heritage automatically protects us from such threats,” he writes, adding, “this is a misguided reflex.” Snyder begins his series of provocations with the warning, “do not obey in advance”—i.e., yield no ground to self-censorship and self-policing, to what he calls “anticipatory obedience.” He moves on immediately from the individual to the macro level, urging his readers to understand that it is institutions such as the courts and the free press that preserve democratic mores against the ways of authoritarian rulers, would-be or real; it is no accident that orders of noncompliance against recent federal immigration mandates have come from a judiciary committed to defending the Constitution. Throughout, Snyder carefully weighs his rules for radicals against historical benchmarks. Given that the current administration seems less inclined to Hitlerian efficiency than to Ruritanian chaos and Mussolinian posturing, thankfully, there is some reason to think that the direst of Snyder’s warnings may be fodder for a worst-case scenario rather than daily life. Those committed to resistance will want to study up on them all the same.

Timely and essential, if, one hopes, a bit more than the present situation requires.

Pub Date: Feb. 28, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-8041-9011-4

Page Count: 128

Publisher: Tim Duggan Books/Crown

Review Posted Online: April 17, 2017

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular...

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WHEN BREATH BECOMES AIR

A neurosurgeon with a passion for literature tragically finds his perfect subject after his diagnosis of terminal lung cancer.

Writing isn’t brain surgery, but it’s rare when someone adept at the latter is also so accomplished at the former. Searching for meaning and purpose in his life, Kalanithi pursued a doctorate in literature and had felt certain that he wouldn’t enter the field of medicine, in which his father and other members of his family excelled. “But I couldn’t let go of the question,” he writes, after realizing that his goals “didn’t quite fit in an English department.” “Where did biology, morality, literature and philosophy intersect?” So he decided to set aside his doctoral dissertation and belatedly prepare for medical school, which “would allow me a chance to find answers that are not in books, to find a different sort of sublime, to forge relationships with the suffering, and to keep following the question of what makes human life meaningful, even in the face of death and decay.” The author’s empathy undoubtedly made him an exceptional doctor, and the precision of his prose—as well as the moral purpose underscoring it—suggests that he could have written a good book on any subject he chose. Part of what makes this book so essential is the fact that it was written under a death sentence following the diagnosis that upended his life, just as he was preparing to end his residency and attract offers at the top of his profession. Kalanithi learned he might have 10 years to live or perhaps five. Should he return to neurosurgery (he could and did), or should he write (he also did)? Should he and his wife have a baby? They did, eight months before he died, which was less than two years after the original diagnosis. “The fact of death is unsettling,” he understates. “Yet there is no other way to live.”

A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular clarity.

Pub Date: Jan. 19, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-8129-8840-6

Page Count: 248

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2015

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