Bloodlands ~ by Timothy Snyder

My goodness! When this book was selected for the All-nonfiction Reading Group I had no idea it was basically about the mass murder in Ukraine, Poland, Belarus and other Baltic states between World Wars 1 and 2. The killers were both Stalin’s USSR and Hitler’s Nazi Germany.  I wonder if the person who nominated it knew the extent of the “bloodlands.”

Bloodlands: Europe between Hitler and Stalin 
By Timothy Snyder 

2010 – 525 pages
Read by Ralph Cosham 19h 14m
Rating 10  / European history 
(Both read and listened

***. NOTE: This isn’t important for the main narrative but the Kindle and the Audible versions aren’t the same. The Audio has an added section towards the end, like a lengthy Author’s Note (Chapter 15) which is essentially a response to criticism of the narrative. It’s excellent and thought provoking material dealing with the legitimacy of comparison and includes some material through 2021/22. 

Not since Antony Beevor’s Stalingrad (1998) have I read such an engrossing military history (and I read that about 20 years ago). It’s not the war itself that’s so fascinating – it was the word-smithery of Beevor and now of Timothy Snyder. The “war” gets horribly bloody.  

 I was totally appalled at the sheer scale of killing using so many horrendous methods. I’m going to have to reread parts of this next month because of the detail for page after page. If this were fiction I would be so appalled at what some people think up that I might throw the book out. It’s not fiction and it’s important to hear the truth. If people are telling truth to me – I should at least listen.  

About the book … 

“…won 12 awards including the Emerson Prize in the Humanities, a Literature Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Leipzig Award for European Understanding, and the Hannah Arendt Prize in Political Thought. It has been translated into more than 30 languages, was named to 12 book-of-the-year lists, and was a best seller in six countries.” (Audible)

I’ve read two of Snyder’s prior books previously – On Tyranny and The Road to Unfreedom. Those were interesting, but they weren’t “Bloodlands.”

The Preface and Introduction are tremendously informative in themselves and I hadn’t thought of myself as being ignorant, but when it comes to details like the ones Snyder reports I’m amazed at what I had no clue about.  Snyder compares the realities of Nazism under Hitler to those of Communism under Stalin during the same time and place – Eastern Europe on both sides of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Line between 1930 and 1945.  I had never looked at the situation as closely or in the ways Snyder directs my attention. 

And that’s what the additional chapter is about, “How can the Holocaust be compared to anything?” the complaint of some readers. Well, Snyder explains why we have to.

Sad to say, Trump resembles either-and-or Hitler/Stalin in some of his approaches to power. 

Then comes Chapter 1 with the bloody “Soviet Famines.”  It’s tough to read about all this misery and at this same time realize we’ve got a war going on there now – again – this time it’s Putin – not Stalin.  And that’s just to start out.  

Because oh my goodness the mass murders which took place. By starvation, by shooting, by camp, by labor, by marching, by rape and torture – whatever. 

The book goes on through the chapters in exquisite and fully sourced detail. The chapters seem to alternate between on-the-ground brutality and more theoretical matters – plans and ideas.  For instance, it describes how kulaks were arrested en masse, interrogated, tortured and imprisoned, exiled, or executed. But it also describes the show trials of unfortunate unit heads. Much of this was done in secret and it’s ghastly to read about.  Snyder is very careful about sources. Molotov-Ribbentrop line

This is the Google Street View of a Ukraine bunker along the Molotov line.



The source notes are totally excellent. (Well what else from a world class scholar, author and professor of European history from Yale who specializes in Central and Eastern Europe including the Holocaust.

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1 Response to Bloodlands ~ by Timothy Snyder

  1. Pingback: N is for November | Becky's Books –

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