Book: The Road to Unfreedom: Russia, Europe, America

Author: Timothy Snyder

Review by: Jonathan Addleton, a Macon, Ga., native, former U.S. Ambassador to Mongolia and current President of Forman Christian College, a chartered university in Lahore, Pakistan

Jonathan Addleton

The Czech Ambassador to Pakistan recommended this book to me shortly after the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. I am glad that he did. Written at a time when Ukraine seemed distant and a war in Europe appeared unlikely, Snyder provides an important — if complex — reality check, both on the history of the region and its importance on the world stage.

Snyder also delivers a timely rejoinder to those on the both the right and left of the American political spectrum who in the years previously had somehow managed to elevate Putin to the status of “strategic genius.” If nothing else, the costly invasion that was launched nearly one year ago has left Putin’s reputation — as well as that of his all-too-gullible acolytes — in tatters, despite attempts to “blame” NATO for Russia’s war of choice that has already claimed thousands of lives and will define the phrase “strategic blunder” for a long time to come.

Perhaps the most important feature of The Road to Unfreedom is the forceful reminder that history still matters. This is a welcome contribution, especially at a time when historical understanding is in notably short supply, having been reduced to caricature, transformed into propaganda or presented to uninformed audiences as “false news”. It also underscores the fragility of much of what we assume as a “given” including a stable political order that — as Snyder convincingly reminds his readers — faces big challenges and can never be guaranteed.

As Snyder describes it, the stage for Putin’s invasion of Ukraine was set more than a decade ago by a series of events in which Putin repeatedly revealed his ambitions to credulous American and European audiences seemingly already committed to a shallow and ahistorical “don’t worry, be happy” view of the world. Yet, as Snyder reminds us, history in the end “bites,” most especially those who abandon it, are oblivious to it or think it no longer matters.

A professor of history at Yale University, Snyder’s previous books include Bloodlands (on Stalin and Hitler — see a previous Global Atlanta review here) and Black Earth (on the Holocaust). In this more recent book, he provides a bleak and at times depressing perspective on the some of the biggest challenges of our time. It is also a view that is both prescient and disturbing, especially when it comes to understanding the toxic ideas that shaped Putin while also paving the way for an “autocratic alternative” that at times seems all too appealing, both in Russia and beyond.

Read previous reviews by Jonathan Addleton: 

Books 2021: How Leadership Shaped Pakistan and Why It Matters

Books 2020: Climbing the ‘Second Mountain’ Toward Success, Fulfillment

Editor’s notes: Global Atlanta will receive a 10 percent commission on any purchase of this book through the links on this page. 

Each year, Global Atlanta asks influential readers and community leaders to review the most impactful book they read during the course of the year. This endeavor has continued annually since 2010.

See last year’s full list of books on BookShop here, and all 2021 reader picks here.

All books were chosen and reviews written independently, with only mild editing from our staff.