I will do some thinking, and we will do some thinking together. I like the idea of trying to transform the internet, at least our little corner of it, into a sane space.
Thinking is always “about.” It never lands. Thinking is alive, and we know that we are alive when we think. I have been able to express my thoughts in books, in articles, and sometimes even in tweets. Much of what I think, though, has no place. That's what this newsletter is for: the best thoughts, the homeless ones. I comment on the news, but not all the time. When I do, I try to introduce concepts that will help clarify, the discussion. I also write about history as such — and about literature, science, and politics. I translate poems, and talk about math. Some of this will be quirky, and some of it will be personal. I will keep it simple, I will keep it real, and I will keep it open.
So I have in mind the thoughts I haven’t been able to express, but also the people I haven’t been able to see. I am hoping that this will be a way to keep up the contact that I can’t always maintain via lectures, seminars, or one-on-one email conversations. I am also hopeful that those of you who don’t know me will join in.
A bit about myself, then. A third of my life was in Ohio, a third in Europe, and a third in New England. I teach history at Yale, and am a permanent fellow at the Institute for Human Sciences in Vienna. I speak five languages reasonably well, a few more quite badly, and read about a dozen. My work concerns east European history, the Holocaust, the history of the Soviet Union, and the history of Ukraine. I have also written about U.S. history, international relations, digital politics, and political thought. In the pamphlets On Tyranny (2017) and Our Malady (2020) I use some of what I have learned from history to make judgements about civics and politics in the present. On Tyranny has inspired poster exhibitions, films, sculpture, a punk rock song, a rap song, a play, and an opera. It is quoted in political demonstrations around the world (and in this sticker in the Hong Kong metro).
My other books include Nationalism, Marxism, and Modern Central Europe (1998); The Reconstruction of Nations: Poland, Ukraine, Lithuania, Belarus, 1569-1999 (2003); Sketches from a Secret War: A Polish Artist’s Mission to Liberate Soviet Ukraine (2005); The Red Prince: The Secret Lives of a Habsburg Archduke (2008); Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin (2010), Thinking the Twentieth Century (with Tony Judt, 2012); Black Earth: The Holocaust as History and Warning (2015); Ukrainian History, Russian Policy, European Futures (2015); The Politics of Life and Death (2017); The Road to Unfreedom: Russia, Europe, America (2018); And We Dream as Electric Sheep: Humanity, Sexuality, Digitality (2020). Five of my books have been bestsellers; in 2020 three were on the list. My books have appeared in forty languages and received a similar number of awards. At the moment I am writing a study of nationality through family history, and a small philosophical book about freedom.
Books start conversations, as I have been lucky enough to learn. It is not always easy to keep up my end of the conversation. In this forum, I am going to answer questions. In addition to being able to write about whatever I want, whenever I want, that is the main attraction! If you subscribe, and post comments, they will get to me, and inform what I write in the future. I will write at least two posts a week, with more forms of contact (such as live discussions and podcasts) for those of you who subscribe. Much of what I write will remain beyond the paywall.
That said, part of making the internet saner involves making more conscious choices. We have been trained by social media to believe that everything should be free. But if we are not paying, we are the product. We are not choosing as people, but being selected by algorithms. If you have to choose between me and a newspaper, by all means choose the newspaper. But please do support writing, and especially investigation, insofar as you can. I will keep the price low: the equivalent of a cheap order of fish and chips gets you my thinking for a month. The more subscribers I have, the better I will be able to do this. So in that sense, as in others, we are in this together.