In Black Earth, Timothy Snyder puts forth a new account of the Holocaust, from its ideological origins to its completion. David A. Bell writes in his review:
[Snyder] brings to the subject the same passion that infused [his previous book], Bloodlands, along with his impressive expertise in the history and languages of Eastern and Central Europe. The book effortlessly sifts through sources in Polish, Russian, Ukrainian and German. . . . Unfortunately, . . . [while] his account displays flashes of brilliant insight, the different sections fit together poorly, and too much has been left out for the rest to be convincing. . . .
Snyder begins with a rapid summary of Hitler’s worldview. Drawing from Mein Kampf, later writings, speeches, and the work of the Nazi “crown jurist” Carl Schmitt, Snyder claims, plausibly enough—although without actually demonstrating the point—that there was a fundamental, career-long consistency to Hitler’s thought. . . . According to Snyder, Hitler conflated science and politics, seeing the world in radically social-Darwinist terms as a death struggle between races for scarce resources, especially food. . . . It was the destiny of the stronger German race to subjugate, and ultimately exterminate, the weaker Slavs, and to expropriate their rich farmlands—the “black earth” of Snyder’s title. Standing in the way were the Jews, whom Hitler viewed as loathsome parasites who sought to subvert the natural victors through treachery.
Yet Snyder says little about why or how such a manifestly insane ideology could come to appeal to a modern, civilized nation, and still less about how it could help turn so many members of that nation into witting mass murderers. Was it just Hitler’s perverse political genius, his ability to turn what he gleaned from the cranks and fanatics he read into a compelling political message? Were there reasons more deeply rooted in German society, whether from far back in its history or from its recent experiences of defeat and depression? Snyder doesn’t say, and indeed does almost nothing to situate Hitler’s ideology within the broader histories of anti-Semitism or Western political thought.