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Great Books: Modern Totalitarian Dictatorship as Depicted in Great Literary Works


Admission requirements

Required course(s):



In this course we will read two diaries, two novels, and two memoirs about the two greatest mistakes of the twentieth century, Nazism and Communism. There are many, many good historiographical works about the two totalitarian dictatorships, and also some acute philosophical analyses, but to get a really existential grasp of what happened, what it was like, and what were the causes, 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 sympathize. Only in the last week will we turn to a philosopher who is also a historian, Hannah Arendt, and see if and what she can teach us on top of these literary works.

Course Objectives



Timetables for courses offered at Leiden University College in 2020-2021 will be published on this page of the e-Prospectus.

Mode of instruction

Socratic discussion

Assessment Method

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

After we have discussed a book in class, the students will write a short (800 words) review of it, to be handed in at the beginning of the first class of the following week.

The seventh and last paper will be longer (1500 words), will be about all the books read and will have to be handed in at the end of Week 8.

The final grade will depend on the grades for the six short papers (40%), the final paper (45%) and the participation in class (15%).

Reading list

A. Nazism

  1. Viktor Klemperer, Language of the Third Reich
  2. Klaus Mann, Mephisto
  3. Primo Levi, Is this a Man?

B. Communism

  1. Nina Lugovskaya, I Want To Live: The Diary of a Young Girl in Stalin's Russia
  2. Eugen Ruge, In Times of Fading Light
  3. Gustaw Herling, A World Apart

  4. Hannah Arendt, Origins of Totalitarianism (selection)


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, course.administration@luc.leidenuniv.nl.


Prof.dr. Andreas Kinneging, a.a.m.kinneging@law.leidenuniv.nl