Anne Applebaum isn’t an author I’d normally read. But, on the recommendation of a friend, I picked up her book Twilight of Democracy: The Seductive Lure of Authoritarianism from the library. It’s short but presents a variety of anti-democratic and authoritarian political events and figures, mostly outside the US. 

Applebaum is a writer and political journalist based in Poland, where she lives with her Polish-born husband. Her insights into that country’s conservative and right-leaning changes make up a good portion of the book. She details individual politicians and their rise to prominence. But she also discusses the conservative press in Poland, which has a significant impact on citizens’ thinking. 

Then she broadens her scope and discusses other European countries, the European Union, and the United States. The drive for Brexit in Great Britain figures particularly strongly in her narrative. 

My conclusions

Applebaum is always front and center in this book. It’s about her relationships to various figures but isn’t billed as a memoir. Essentially, she’s discussing the political landscape as if she’s inside the structure. While I suppose she’s objective, I don’t know her work or the situations well enough to be sure. 

I learned a lot from this book. But I’m also glad it was fairly short, because Applebaum doesn’t belabor her points. By keeping it brief, she also only presents one side of the story. Her focus is on the moderate folks becoming more conservative as time passes. 

The way she includes changes in the press coverage and the journalists themselves is also a vital part of this book. She illustrates how politics and journalism are intertwined as she addresses each region. 

Twilight of Democracy lent another perspective to my reading about authoritarian leaders. And it’s very current with a relatively small amount of history. Applebaum assumes her readers know the basics. After reading this book, brush up on your history and read Strongmen: Mussolini to the Present by Ruth Ben-Ghiat. There’s very little overlap between the two books. 

If you’re a liberal reader like me, I recommend this book as a short window into both European politics and conservative political changes overall.