It's rare when an academic historian breaks through and becomes a central part of the contemporary cultural conversation.
does just this with his book Black Earth: The Holocaust as History and Warning
(Tim Duggan Books, 2015). He does so by boldly arguing that we don't really understand what happened during the Holocaust. He argues in favor of an emphasis on ideology with Adolf Hitler at the center. But he also stresses the importance of the experience of occupation and the role of state structures, incentives and punishments. It was, he suggests, the persistence or disappearance of states that made all the difference in the way the Holocaust emerged over time.
Because of our misunderstanding of the nature of the Holocaust, we've misunderstood the lessons that it should teach us. Because the world of our time rhymes with that of the Holocaust, this misunderstanding poses real threats to our world.
It's a tremendous book, fully worth of the extensive praise it has received. It will no doubt lead to many conversations among holocaust and genocide scholars alike.
We only had time to touch on the big themes of the book in this interview. Hopefully you'll get a feel for the flavor of his argument and why it's so challenging to the discipline.