On the Spot: Anne Applebaum

‘What will future generations judge us most harshly for? That we allowed Donald Trump to violate the US constitution.’

Why are you an intellectual historian?
I watched communism collapse as a journalist in Warsaw in 1989 and ever since I’ve been trying to understand how the regimes came to power in the first place.

What’s the most important lesson history has taught you?
Nothing is inevitable; change a few decisions and everything could have been different. Think of the Berlin Wall.

Which book has had the greatest influence on you?
Robert Conquest’s The Great Terror. I read it as a teenager.

What book in your field should everyone read?
My Life by Leon Trotsky.

Which moment would you most like to go back to?
Petrograd in 1917, between the February and October revolutions.

Which historian has had the greatest influence on you?
Probably Richard Pipes. Also the Marquis de Custine.

Which person in history would you most like to have met?
Thomas Jefferson, Sándor Petőfi, Adam Mickiewicz, Mykhailo Hrushevsky.

How many languages do you have?
Polish, Russian, French. I can follow a conversation and read Ukrainian, with a dictionary.

What’s the most exciting field in history today?
Soviet history – we still have archives that nobody has read or analysed.

What historical topic have you changed your mind on?
How history should be used in contemporary politics. My views are still evolving.

Which genre of history do you like least?
The fashion for microhistory – the history of the safety pin, the history of the sewing machine – that I think we could have done without.

Is there a major historical text you have not read?
If I haven’t read it, how do I know that it’s important?

What’s your favourite archive?
The Stasi Archive was a lot of fun. But the Library of Congress is the most beautiful place to work.

What’s the best museum?
The Kunsthistorische in Vienna, specifically the room with the Bruegel paintings

What is the most common misconception about your field?
That it’s irrelevant. In fact, history explains everything.

What will future generations judge us most harshly for?
That we allowed Donald Trump to violate the US constitution.

Michelangelo or Frida Kahlo?

Normans or Anglo-Saxons?

Rome or Athens?

Braudel or Gibbon?

Anne Applebaum is Visiting Professor of Practice at the London School of Economics, where she runs Arena, a project on propaganda and disinformation. She won a Pulitzer Prize for Gulag: a History (Allen Lane, 2003). Her latest book is Red Famine: Stalin’s War on Ukraine (Allen Lane, 2017).