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Publisher's Summary

Named a Best Book of the Year by The Washington Post and The Financial Times

"How did our democracy go wrong? This extraordinary document...is Applebaum's answer." (Timothy Snyder, author of On Tyranny

A Pulitzer Prize-winning historian explains, with electrifying clarity, why elites in democracies around the world are turning toward nationalism and authoritarianism.

From the United States and Britain to continental Europe and beyond, liberal democracy is under siege, while authoritarianism is on the rise. In Twilight of Democracy, Anne Applebaum, an award-winning historian of Soviet atrocities who was one of the first American journalists to raise an alarm about antidemocratic trends in the West, explains the lure of nationalism and autocracy. In this captivating essay, she contends that political systems with radically simple beliefs are inherently appealing, especially when they benefit the loyal to the exclusion of everyone else.

Despotic leaders do not rule alone; they rely on political allies, bureaucrats, and media figures to pave their way and support their rule. The authoritarian and nationalist parties that have arisen within modern democracies offer new paths to wealth or power for their adherents. Applebaum describes many of the new advocates of illiberalism in countries around the world, showing how they use conspiracy theory, political polarization, social media, and even nostalgia to change their societies.

Elegantly written and urgently argued, Twilight of Democracy is a brilliant dissection of a world-shaking shift and a stirring glimpse of the road back to democratic values.

©2020 Anne Applebaum (P)2020 Random House Audio

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  • AJ
  • 07-23-20

Modern Dictators & President who wants to be them

This book gives you a close up look at how people that once suffered under Fascist, Communist or Dictatorial regimes and gained freedom of government based on hodge podge of western values have (often willingly) slipped into the iron grip of a powerfully manipulative few.

While autocrats have learned to streamline and soften the blow with their deluge of alternative facts churned through modern public relations operations. Everyday citizens, talented and educated are replaced by loyalists without experience and face a dangerously perilous future for themselves and their families. Every person eventually reaches a crossroad: Tow the party or autocrat line no matter how absurd or contradictory to what may have been said days before or risk losing everything.

The book tells the tale of those who have been through what some in the west are only experiencing now for the first time. It is a warning that should not be taken lightly.

The book shows that once momentum of an ideologue begins, the competence or lack thereof in its leader means far less to the average person then the opportunity for benefits, status and sense of belonging to something greater then themselves (real or perceived) that rains down on its loudest and most rabid supporters.

29 people found this helpful

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Reductive and simplistic

I found the book to be a hodgepodge of the author jumping around to political issues important to the author, with little defining narrative beyond “I think this is bad”. The message of the book, which I found rather interesting, was constantly undermined by a polarizing view of a given issue. The author seems to castigate any political policy or movement she happens to disagree with as authoritarian, without respect to what authoritarianism actually is.

As an example, one example in the book goes into how authoritarians demand conformity, and are resistant to if not outright intolerant of diverse ideas. As a classically liberal, american conservative my mind went to the american left, that cancels those it disagrees with, chants “speech is violence”, is obsessed with politically correct, carefully confirmed speech, and will throw anyone that challenges the status quo out of polite society. Which treats people not as individuals but as members of groups. Isn’t that exactly what she talked about, being resistant to diverse ideas, trying to cram people into the hegemony or accepted thought?

I fully expected the author to go in this direction, but she didn’t. Instead, what was the great example of being resistant to diverse thought? Resisting immigration. Really? Maybe it is because of the different political and social landscape around me, but the book seems very arbitrary in its examples, with an obvious political bias. I’m not sure the book ever really defined authoritarianism, it more used it as a bludgeon to beat people, movements, or ideas it disagreed with. I’m not sure how Brexit, which is authoritarian...it seems quite the opposite to me, it would seem to me it’s a desire to escape the oppressive authority of Brussels, but then—as an american I must admit my ignorance on the subtlety of that situation. Regardless, the book has a few interesting insights, albeit buried in a sea of partisan name calling and agenda driven examples that amount more to “I don’t like X”.

My recommendation, read “the road to serfdom” that actually lays out the path to authoritarianism, this....not so much...

25 people found this helpful

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Anne Applebaum’s political diss track

First of all this book gives an excellent perspective from the authors point of view on how many public figures, especially her former friends have fallen into advocating authoritarian policies and ideas. It really gives an excellent perspective into these political figures’ thoughts and motivations for advocating conspiracy theories and undermining the rule of law. It is also really interesting to understand that the Author is talking about individuals who used to make up her own social circle. This is especially intriguing from her perspective because she has written many books on past authoritarian communist regimes in these countries. Reading this book you get the sense that this is not just a political discussion but also the author’s personal attempt to make sense of why so many of her previous friends have fallen for such bankrupt ideologies. She reads this book herself which is quite suited to the way that this book is written compared to her other works.


The only downside to this personal perspective is that it makes this book feel much less authoritative than her other works such as Gulag or Iron Curtain. If you have not read any of her previous books I would recommend reading at least one of them before reading this one.

17 people found this helpful

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Intelligent Person that Knowingly Rewrites History

Apparently when people get elected that she doesn’t like or agree with, democracy is on the verge of ending. Also for someone to be so pro democracy why does she support unelected bureaucrats in institutions that aren’t in the constitution?

She knowingly lies about the views of Reagan and Thatcher when it comes to the European Union. She claims many times that Reagan and Thatcher supported it when the Union didn’t even exist as we know it until 1993. Thatcher supported free trade throughout Western Europe but never supported unelected Supra-National institutions that over turn democratically enacted laws across Europe.

It’s also strange how she endorses many left-wing movements like LGBT and open and free immigration and claiming how not endorsing these current movements are an end to democracy and the Reagan/Thatcher movements when they themselves never supported such things.

Another curious thing Applebaum seems to no longer understand when she clearly used to in her other books about Communism is that cultural power is stronger then political power, most of the time. A couple years in control of government is meaningless compared to the power of cultural trends as politics is downstream from cultural. Does Applebaum really believe that Trump having the top seat in the executive branch for 4-8 years is a democracy ending event when most of the Universities, Press, Hollywood, and millions of federal government officials actively oppose his presidency and agenda?

I’ll always read Applebaum’s work as much of it is highly researched and well written. Another thing about Applebaum that I like is that when I read her work I can never predict where she’s going with it. Other writers I can predict the ending conclusion based on the first paragraph. She’s contra to most political writers as she understands when the left goes to far as most writers can only understand when the right goes to far.

8 people found this helpful

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Excellent Reas

Loved it. Well written with parallels and comparisons to past and present societies. Worth your time.

7 people found this helpful

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Scary thing is, it's truely happening...

All around us. As I see it, history will repeat itself. Question is how far will the pendulum sway this time!

7 people found this helpful

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A must read

This is an extremely well written
explanation of the political mess the world seems to be
mired in today. Nothing I write in a review can do it justice, you have to read it, it’s definitely worth it

7 people found this helpful

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Cathartic for the author; very disappointing read

I read this because I counted, and perhaps still count, myself a fan of Anne Applebaum. But fair warning to other AA fans--this is not the type of academic history that she built her sterling reputation on.

She starts with a plausible enough thesis--liberal democracy is constantly under siege from those, on both sides of the political spectrum, who too readily turn to authoritarian figures in times of difficulty. After presenting her thesis in an evenhanded way, however, she proceeds to portray the world as divided into two disparate political camps--open-minded, visionary, liberal democracy centrists on the one hand, and far-right wing authoritarians on the other. Pat Buchannan is set up as the straw man representing the latter camp and is mentioned throughout the book. (How this marginal figure assumed such prominence in the author's mind is a mystery.) Much of the book is a rant against the person she apparently perceives as the world's number one authoritarian figure, Donald Trump. (Really? An equally plausible case can be made that DT ran and won the 2016 Presidential race as an anti-authoritarian figure.) Those whom she once counted as friends and who are now conservative come in for treatment that is positively venomous and the author names names throughout the book. ( E.g: Laura Ingraham, or In-gra-HAM, as AA deliberately mispronounces it in this author-narrated book, comes in for particular vitriol. The author's crass description of one of Laura Ingraham's "mini-skirts" could perhaps be overlooked, but the gratuitous reference to how well known it is that female Fox News journalists only get ahead by sleeping with their bosses did far more reputational damage to the author than it did to the target of the insult, who is in fact well known to be a devout Catholic.)

This book was no doubt cathartic for the author. Her bitter feelings against former friends who no longer share her world view are on full display and if there were any bridges left to burn the author puts them to the torch. In my opinion, however, this book does no good service to the author's reputation as a historian.

3 people found this helpful

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Amazing book

A must read for our times. Please read and pass it on to your friends

3 people found this helpful

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Not as advertised

I thought this book was going to be about democracy and its loosening grip on the world. Something that could have been produced in this writing from a Neutral political perspective. Instead the author decided to write about how their political view was the only view that was anti-authoritarian. Turns out that this person is influencing the return a totalitarian regimes in Europe. How side this was a highlighted book.

2 people found this helpful