Timothy Snyder’s Bloodlands is the best history I’ve read in five years: important, careful, beautifully written, and morally wise.  Many excellent books explore the parallels between Nazism and Communism, between Hitler and Stalin.  But Snyder almost makes you feel like you’re really there in the “Bloodlands” – the tragic region that endured both Nazi and Soviet rule.

The book’s full of gems, and I plan on sharing quite a few in future posts.  For now, here’s a great passage on Soviet-annexed Poland during the years of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact:

The two cultures [Polish and Soviet] did not communicate well, at least not without some obvious shared interest.  During this period, when Stalin was Hitler’s ally, no such common ground could easily be imagined.  The possibilities for misunderstanding, on the other hand, were enormous.  Collectivization and industrialization had modernized the Soviet Union, but without the attention to the population, or rather to consumers, that characterized the capitalist West.  The Soviet citizens who ruled eastern Poland were falling off bicycles, eating toothpaste, using toilets as sinks, wearing multiple watches, or bras as earmuffs, or lingerie as evening gowns.  Polish prisoners were also ignorant, and about more fundamental matters.  Unlike Soviet citizens in their position, the Poles believed that they could not be sentenced or killed without a legal basis.  It was a sign of the great civilizational transformation of Stalinism that these Soviet and Polish citizens, many of whom had been born in the same Russian Empire, now understood each other so poorly.