Book Reviews

Black Earth by Timothy Snyder

Snyder-BlackEarth     For America, and likely much of Western Europe, most of what we know about World War II and the Holocaust comes from the Western perspective, and the battles fought on Germany’s western front. In Black Earth, Timothy Snyder tells of the events in Eastern Europe that led to the destruction of smaller state governments, which opened the path for the Holocaust.

He begins with an explanation of Hitler’s beliefs. Science, nature, and politics were not separate entities. They were one. Therefore, true politics was the advancement of a master race (Germans) by the natural starvation of inferior races. Jews, according to Hitler, were a non-race, and their moral belief system (such as the Ten Commandments) went against the natural order. Jews, he thought, were then the cause of all that was wrong with the world and must be destroyed.

Snyder goes on to give amazing detail and accounts of events that most have never learned of before. From Hitler’s rise to power, through the errors and corrections to strategy by the Nazis, and through to the last days of the Holocaust, we see an even larger scope to Hitler’s plans.

The book is dense, and sometimes repetitive. The amount of information in each chapter would be daunting except for occasional tiny breaks between paragraphs. I often used these as stopping points, and was thankful for them. Snyder also has a substantial notes and sources section to identify where he got his information, however there are no notations within the text to the corresponding note or source. Instead, there are page numbers to the corresponding text beside each note in the back of the book. It makes it a bit more inconvenient if there’s something you want more information on to look for a note when you’re not sure there’s even one there.

But for what good is in this book, it felt like a bait-and-switch when I reached the last chapter, which nearly ruined any enjoyment I had of the book. This chapter explains how we should learn from Hitler’s tactics to prevent anything like this from happening again, which I definitely agree with. The problem is that Snyder spends almost the entire chapter talking about climate change. He also likens the thinking and beliefs of Evangelical Christians and the American political Right with that of Hitler.

The one thing that stood out for me the most, in regard to error, was his representation of Christians. Do Christians believe that prophecy of the return of Christ revolves around the state of Israel? Yes. But Snyder says that some “are pro-Israel because they want Jews in the Holy Land during the coming apocalypse.” This is a serious misrepresentation and over-simplification of Christian support of Israel as a nation. A support which in no way implies that all Jews should go to Israel.

Snyder goes on to say, “some of [the Jews’] American patrons support policies that could hasten a catastrophe that would endanger the State of Israel, whose destruction they see as a stage in the redemption of the world.” This is also seriously misinformed. Christians who support the State of Israel support its right to independence and its right to defend itself. While Christians do expect end times prophecy to be centered around Israeli conflict, it does not involve Israel’s destruction, and Christians have no desire to see such an end.

Before I got to this last chapter, I noticed a mild error in Biblical discussion within the text. I overlooked it as an error from an author who wasn’t a theology expert, though I wished a bit more thought had been given to it. The representation of Christians (and others) in the last chapter, to me, shows a total disregard for factual representation, and more of an agenda to push his own ideology. This seems totally out of place in what, for the most part, was an historical text. In my opinion, it could easily call into question the accuracy of the entire book. Especially considering, as the book jacket says, “Snyder presents a new explanation… Based on untapped sources… and forgotten testimonies…”

It seems that Snyder, a Professor of History at Yale, would have done better to trim down on some of the historical detail, input just a bit more of his own opinions and assumptions, and present his work as speculative. Otherwise, this book becomes its own form of propaganda.

1) Is it understandable = 4.5
2) Presentation of Information = 3
3) Quality of Writing = 4
4) Overall Enjoyability = 2

I’m removing an additional point from the total average since the last chapter has called accuracy into question.

Average score of 2.3 out of 5

Where to buy the book: CBD | Amazon | B&N

I received a free copy of this book from Blogging for Books for review purposes.

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