The New Yorker writer and National Book Award-winning author of The Future Is History (2017) reveals the damage the Trump administration done to the U.S. institutions and cultural norms Americans thought would protect democracy and offers advice for navigating these challenging times.
It echoes analyses and arguments from other Trump books that probe more deeply into particular arenas, yet it is not redundant; this book does not repeat as much as it distills. The result is almost the Platonic ideal of the anti-Trump Trump book, as though manufactured in a lab to affirm every suspicion, stoke every fear and answer every question by those readers desperately seeking a 'recovery from Trumpism,' as Gessen writes. The book’s implied 'we,' though sometimes encompassing the nation in full, is usually limited to the horrified. And those who are horrified by Trump will find that Surviving Autocracy is a time capsule packed with all their anxieties, and all their certainties, too. It offers discomfort and reassurance at once ... One of Gessen’s strengths is her ability to capture what daily life feels and sounds like in the Trump era, and how abnormality remains so even when it is pervasive ... If this book offers no other imperative, it is to remember that the choice always remains.
When Gessen speaks about autocracy, you listen ... Gessen isn’t part of the typical #Resist crowd, fixated on the Mueller report ... Gessen’s writing style is methodical and direct, relying on pointed observations instead of baroque hyperbole ... Surviving Autocracy faces the problem that most anti-Trump books do: How to conclude in a way that strikes the right balance between realism and hope. Gessen ends with an excerpt from 'Let America Be America Again,' by Langston Hughes—an appropriately rousing choice, though it also happens to be the same poem with which Amy Chua chose to end her book Political Tribes, published two years ago. Still, to obsess over endings would be to miss the larger point of this trenchant book.
A relatively slim yet potent book, Surviving Autocracy is an essential read for anyone who says that all politicians are the same ... It’s a crucial book for our times. Staying abreast of the news is a daily challenge. It takes an even greater effort to telescope beyond the relentless news cycle to analyze the chaotic nature of civic and social life ... Gessen’s lucid explanation of the 'fog' we live in, the behavior of those who hope to perpetuate that condition, and humane reparations to which we should direct our energy, make this a book that one should send to friends and family ... Gessen unpacks the source of this political and social instability in their potent book.