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Great Books: Modern Totalitarian Dictatorship


Admission requirements

Required course(s):



There are many, many good abstract-analytical academic works about the two totalitarian dictatorship of communism and nazism, but to get a really existential grasp of what happened, what it was really like, one must turn to a different kind of books that is closer to personal life, thought and emotion: great books of literature, that do not speak in general terms, but focus on and express the lives, thought, and emotions of concrete, individual people with whom we can sympathise.

In this course we will such books: two memoirs, two novels, a diary, and a collation of hundreds of family archives. Only in the last week will we turn to a philosopher who is also a historian for a more abstract, academic analysis. You will see that, thanks to the works read earlier, this magnificent, but very abstract treatise will really come to life.


  • Victor Frankl, Yes to Life, in Spite of Everything

  • Christabel Bielenberg, The Past is Myself

  • G.M. Gilbert, Nuremberg Diary


  • Alexander Solzhenitsyn, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich

  • Orlando Figes, The Whisperers

  • Arthur Koestler, Darkness at Noon

  • Francois Furet, The Passing of an Illusion (selected chapters)

Course Objectives



Timetables for courses offered at Leiden University College in 2022-2023 will be published on this page of the e-Prospectus.

Mode of instruction

We will take one week (two classes) for the discussion of each of the books listed above.

After we have discussed a book in class, the students will write a short (500 words) review of it, to be handed in at the beginning of the first class of the following week.

The 7th and last paper will be longer (1500 words), and will be about totalitarianism, on the basis of the works read, and will have to be handed in on Friday 17:00 hours of week 8

Assessment Method

The final grade will depend on the grades for the six short papers (42%), the final paper (43%) and the participation in class (15%).

Reading list

See course description above.


Courses offered at Leiden University College (LUC) are usually only open to LUC students and LUC exchange students. Leiden University students who participate in one of the university’s Honours tracks or programmes may register for one LUC course, if availability permits. Registration is coordinated by the Education Coordinator,


Prof.dr. Andreas Kinneging,