В предисловии к книге Снайдер, в частности, пишет:
In presenting a new view of East European history, this study rarely polemicizes with national myths. There are, for example, mature and hardened Lithuanian and Polish discourses about what happened when Polish troops seized Vilnius in 1920, just as there are opposed Ukrainian and Polish versions of the ethnic cleansing of Volhynia in 1943. Each party to such national disputes advances important arguments, but both sides taken together do not provide everything that an outsider would wish to know. Compromise among competing national myths is certainly important in diplomacy, but does not provide the historian a way forward. No amount of compromise can generate independence, and the historian must work within an independent framework. While no one would claim that any framework eliminates politics, there is a clear difference between building a scholarly apparatus and taking on national myths. Refuting a myth is dancing with a skeleton: one finds it hard to disengage from the deceptively lithe embrace once the music has begun, and one soon realizes that one's own steps are what is keeping the old bones in motion. It is easy to be captured by the choreography of mythmaking and -breaking, and hard afterwards to regain one's own rhythm. The musty smell lingers for some time, too.
By the same token, this book does not dwell on the great nineteenth-century national schemes of history that organize so much historical discussion in our own day. Poles. for example, colloquially refer to the early modern Commonwealth as "Polish", meaning that it was something like a modern Polish state. Russians imagine that the centuries that East Slavic lands spent within the Commonwealth are a meaningless prelude to their "reunification" with Russia. These views are metahistorical, a long word that here means "not even wrong". Their popularity inspires their opponents to turn them on their heads: Lithuanians can "demonstrate" that medieval Vilnius was not Polish but Lithuanian, or Ukrainians may "prove" that they, not Russia, inherited Kyivan civilization. To argue with metahistory risks accepting its rules of engagement: and nonsense turned on its head remains nonsense. There are no syntheses to be found there, only theses and antitheses. Dialectics of myth and metahistory sharpen the minds of nationalists, and are thus properly a subject rather than a method of national history.