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Surviving Autocracy

(10 customer reviews)


by Masha Gessen


New Yorker Staff Writer Masha Geschmann calls a new book, linking it with the president’s rhetoric. Jessen, who grew up in the Soviet Union, gives a personal insight into the rise of authoritarian leadership and uses it to understand the relationship between Trump, the media, and the American public.


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“When Gessen speaks about autocracy, you listen.” —The New York Times

“The Platonic ideal of the anti-Trump Trump book.” —The Washington Post

As seen on MSNBC Morning Joe and heard on NPR All Things Considered: the bestselling, National Book Award-winning journalist offers an essential guide to understanding, resisting, and recovering from the ravages of our tumultuous times.In the run-up to the 2016 election, Masha Gessen stood out from other journalists for the ability to convey the ominous significance of Donald Trump’s speech and behavior, unprecedented in a national candidate. Within forty-eight hours of his victory, the essay “Autocracy: Rules for Survival” had gone viral, and Gessen’s coverage of his norm-smashing presidency became essential reading for a citizenry struggling to wrap their heads around the unimaginable. Thanks to the special perspective that is the legacy of a Soviet childhood and two decades covering the resurgence of totalitarianism in Russia, Gessen has a sixth sense for signs of autocracy—and the unique cross-cultural fluency to delineate its emergence to Americans. This incisive book provides an indispensable overview of the calamitous trajectory of the past few years. Gessen not only highlights the corrosion of the media, the judiciary, and the cultural norms we hoped would save us but also tells us the story of how a short few years have changed us, from a people who saw ourselves as a nation of immigrants to a populace haggling over a border wall, heirs to a degraded sense of truth, meaning, and possibility. Surviving Autocracy is an inventory of ravages but also a beacon to recovery—or to enduring and resisting, an ongoing assault.

  • Penguin Publishing Group; June 2020
  • ISBN: 9780593188941
  • Title: Surviving Autocracy
  • Author: Masha Gessen
  • Imprint: Riverhead Books
  • Language: English

In The Press

Praise for Surviving Autocracy:

“When Gessen speaks about autocracy, you listen.” The New York Times

“The Platonic ideal of the anti-Trump Trump book. . . . Offers discomfort and reassurance at once. . . . perfectly capturing the cognitive dissonance of life in Trump’s America.” —The Washington Post

“Gessen brings to all work a unique blend of intellect and manifold passions. . . [flashing] the fierce attitude and language of the partisan activist in one moment, returning to the cooler mien of a public intellectual the next.” —NPR

“Urgent … Gessen’s credentials as an observer of autocracy are impeccable. . . . Surviving Autocracy  sharpens an edge of disgust lately blunted by relentless use.” —The New York Review of Books

“The fearless Russian American journalist probes the black hole between fact and fantasy in [a] taut, incisive critique.” —O: The Oprah Magazine

“It’s hard to imagine someone more poised to write a book called Surviving Autocracy than Masha Gessen. . . . It’s a crucial book for our times.” —The New York Observer

“Gessen’s decades-long experience covering the resurgence of totalitarianism in Russia puts them in a unique position to help Americans understand what is happening to the United States under President Donald Trump. . . . Gessen shows us that having the language to understand what is happening is the first step to surviving, and ultimately resisting, an autocratic future.” —The Nation

“A reckoning with what has been lost in the past few years and a map forward with our beliefs intact.” —Interview Magazine

“Sharply observed and passionate work.” —Chatelaine

“A stark wake-up call; to those who are looking for what happens now, Gessen’s notes on how we need to rebuild the concept of a ‘we’ in our time are warm and moving, a light of hope that these years can be survived.” —LitHub

“A blistering appraisal. . . . Surviving Autocracy isn’t merely important reading for anyone who plans to cast a vote in that election, it’s essential.” —Shelf Awareness

“A brisk, trenchant account . . . . Gessen’s meticulous research and familiarity with the political and cultural history of post-Soviet Russia lend her arguments an authority lacking in other takedowns of Trump. Liberals looking to make sense of what they’re up against in the 2020 elections should consider this a must-read.” Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“A handbook for an age in which egomania is morphing into autocracy at warp speed. . . . Belongs on the shelf alongside Timothy Snyder’s On Tyranny and Amy Siskind’s The List as a record of how far we have fallen. Gessen is a Suetonius for our time, documenting the death of the old America while holding out slim hope for its restoration.” —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“Gessen’s is a clarion voice in the darkness, offering a sobering but sharp-witted analysis of how American society has changed under Trump . . . . [her] rallying cry is a vital and pressing reminder of what’s at stake.” —Booklist (starred review)

“An indispensable voice of and for this moment.” –Timothy Snyder, author of On Tyranny


About The Author

Masha Gessen is the author of eleven other books, including the National Book Award-winning The Future Is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia and The Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin. A staff writer at The New Yorker and the recipient of numerous awards, including Guggenheim and Carnegie fellowships, Gessen teaches at Bard College and lives in New York City.

Additional information


Hardcover, Paperback

10 reviews for Surviving Autocracy

  1. SN Dorf

    This is an amazing and timely book. Anyone who has been following the news will appreciate the detailed inventory of the past four years, including how Trump is taking advantage of the pandemic to secure unlimited power for himself. Masha Gessen has written an urgent book about how close the U.S. is becoming an autocratic state. Trump, who has created his own reality in which he lies about everything, even the weather, admires totalitarians and wants to be one himself, will do anything he can to hold on to power indefinitely. By electing an autocrat, America has already lost a lot. Many Americans do not recognize the slide toward authoritarianism, which pits your lived experience against gaslighting and propaganda because they have never experienced it before. Masha Gessen provides a detailed history of how we came to be a nation on the brink of becoming more Putin’s Russia. She includes information about the coronavirus and how even the experience of illness and death is being denied by the liar-in-command.

  2. rally_squirrel_west

    The most incisive and fundamental analysis of our current political situation to date. Especially effective on explaining how the use of language shapes perception. Especially effective in explaining the function of journalism in creating a common weal. Especially effective in also describing as to how journalism can also be coopted, manipulated, and abused. Especially effective in providing context as to how cognitive dissonance functions to distance contemporary events from historical precedents and patterns. This work is already a contemporary classic: it resonates fully with the same functional integrity as the work of Hannah Arendt.

  3. Kindle Customer

    I gotta tell ya. I’m working my way through Masha Gessen’s new book Surviving Autocracy.It’s really good. Not so much because it shows anyone who has been paying close attention new stuff although there is some of that.What Ms. Gessen does is to put things in an appropriate context and then tell the brutal truth about it.But then again, that’s why Putin would like to kill her so it is what I expected from her.She’s got real courage.

  4. Shannon D.

    For those who would purchase this book, the majority of us are keenly aware of all that has occurred under Trump and the various incidents and ways in which he has subverted democracy and destroyed this country. We are already living in horror each day at the increasingly vile and shocking actions he takes and the dystopian view of the world and of “others” he presents. We are aware of how he is installing lackeys in every agency in order to bend the laws and institutions in his favor and destroy the very institutions they were appointed to lead, as well as his denigration and destruction of the free press. The title of this book, “How to Survive Autocracy” led me to believe that there would be a deep historical underpinning, so that the warning signs would be apparent, as well as concrete steps to take to counter the endless march towards authoritarianism that is increasing each day as we move closer to the election. I found some benefit in the Historical information pertaining to both American history, as well as autocratic societies, and some of it surprised me. What I was desperately looking for though, was means to counter it. If you are astutely aware of what is happening under this administration, and looking for the knowledge and means to fight it, this is not the book for you. I found myself more anxious reading through the litany of crimes, of which I was already aware, and looking for the promised survival part, which was quite spare and did not provide enough information to actually be useful. Overall, I feel this book will provide a roadmap for historians looking back at the period in which America became a dictatorship. How it occurred, and how a minority of those who accepted his cruelty and subversion of truth, and vision of a regressive, isolationist ideologies, along with a corrupt Republican establishment, turned this country into something far removed from the ideals that America was founded on. The author has extensive knowledge of what has occurred throughout history in countries that morph into dictatorships, the foundational principals that are guiding Trump and his enablers and cult followers’, as well as the means to combat this issue, if there is indeed still time. I would strongly recommend however, a second edition or another epilogue, which clearly lays out the steps we can take right now, on an emergency basis, prior to the election that can turn the tide and rebuff the dystopian nightmare that is unfolding before our eyes.

  5. Elbow Patch

    The title of this book suggests that there are actions we can take in order to survive this drift toward a nondemocratic Trumpist autocracy. The book is full of analyses of Trump’s use of language and abuse of power but there is virtually nothing as far as what we can do about it or even the meaning of “surviving” in this context. Very informative for those who have not been following the Trump Administration’s misbehavior of the last few years. For those who have, however, there is not much that is new here.

  6. jesISLANDER

    A compelling read. I am fascinated and frustrated at the same time. Gessen has presented the facts so brilliantly that I can hardly stop reading. I’m going to recommend this book to all my friends and family and it should be purchased, not borrowed from the library. It is and will be forever an awesome resource.


    When we have a sociopathic criminal autocrat in the White House, to mention his flagrant, casual, shameless criminal and lying behavior requires immense challenges, Masha Gessen rightly observes in her trenchant and necessary book Surviving Autocracy.For one, the sociopath’s defenders will accuse you of being partisan when in fact you could be nonpartisan and simply stating what is self-evident. You don’t have to be a political partisan to be horrified by the grifting and insanity that has been going on since the 2016 election.The second challenge we have is language. Gessen, who left Putin’s Russia, explains that language erodes and loses its meaning during times of autocracy to the point that words became empty and lose their power. For example, it is clearly evident to having a sociopathic madman in the White House is both starkly real and is a “nightmare.” It is also a “nightmare” that the grifter’s defenders will accuse you of being “hysterical” when in fact your reaction is normal considering the bizarre circumstances we are all in. That we are living in a “nightmare” is true, but the word “nightmare” becomes anesthetizing over time.Third, it is exhausting to keep up with and chronicle the torrent of shameless lies that emit from the grifter and his defenders. There is in this state of exhaustion a temptation to give up to the tyrant, which is precisely what he wants. Fourth, you have to pick a team, not in a political partisan sense, but in a humanitarian sense. Gessen says in this crisis you have to define who you are: You can choose to be in a “closed circle,” a nativist narcissist who commits to isolation based on a fantasy of some myth of an ideal America based on a fantasy of white domination, or you can believe we are open to diverse people based on a common humanity and a value for equal dignity and justice and rule of law.Gessen does a remarkable job of chronicling the grifter’s colossal crimes and racist dog whistles in the context of finding the appropriate language and moral template for us to move forward and survive this hideous attack on freedom, rule of law, and democracy. Recommended.

  8. VerbRiver

    In unadorned but unsparing prose, Masha Gessen dissects the low language and high lies of donald trump. The book describes how he has vandalized American values and politics while debasing its leadership lexicon of vision, imagination and hope.Those who have suffered this strange and mediocre man realize trump’s vocabulary sounds like it was assembled from a refrigerator-magnet alphabet with several letters missing. He is the planet’s most infamous example of the Dunning-Kruger effect.Gessen sharply illustrates. For example: “Trump’s word piles fill public space with static.”Another example: “[H]e was claiming the power to lie to people about their own experience.”Still another: Trump “enforces order by applying words in ways that invert meaning.”In December 2015, trump said, “I have words. I have the best words.” In contrast, Gessen writes of America’s terrible trump fumble: “So much in our lives depended on words that meant so little to the man who said them.”There is no bravado in Gessen’s book. It is a package of facts presented with the straight edges and square corners of good writing. The book’s central assessment is that among his hail of failures, donald trump is unworthy of the English language. Agreed.

  9. ChiefBard

    Masha Gessen, has written a fantastic book detailing the inner workings and actions of our 45th President. He has divided his book into 3 parts. The first is Trump’s attempt at being an autocrat. The second is being the King of reality. Where his constant lying, war on the media, tweeting and other egocentric ramblings, have disrupted the workings of the government and the country. The third part goes into his white male supremacist presidency, his hypocrisy and power of moral authority.The book is well written and will leave you with a better understanding of this President and the actions that he has undertaken to, I believe, try and turn this country into a land of haters and isolationists from the rest of the world.

  10. Don Tartasky

    I’m over half way through the kindle version.I’ve read just about everything relating to Trump’s presidency, and the Russian interference in the election. I’m floored by this book. It’s frightening and illuminating. I guess only someone like Masha with intimate knowledge of autocracy could write it. Her viewpoint on how our nation has gone down Trump’s slippery slope (USMA graduation figuratively) is right on point. How she weaves the use of language and behavior to encapsulate all the responsible parties (more than you think) is a singular achievement. This is an essential book for our times.

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