As dictatorships collapsed toward the end of the last century and into this one, many people assumed that history moves in only one direction.
The tide of freedom had lifted East Asia and Eastern Europe, the former Soviet Union and Indonesia. In an era of global trade and communications, the rest of the world surely would follow. Academics and think tanks studied democratization, often presuming that it could be observed and predicted like any other natural process — that the democratic West didn’t have to do much but watch and wait.
Anne Applebaum, a historian and Post columnist, remembered that tides drop as well as rise, and set out in a contrary direction. As Vladimir Putin relentlessly tightens the noose on Russia, her definitive study of how totalitarianism can be imposed or reimposed looks sadly, usefully, prescient.