It seems that the book is considered controversial because it shows the Nazi genocide of the Jews as part of a larger complex of state-organized mass murder, by both Nazi Germany and Stalin's Soviet Union, with a death toll far beyond the more than 5 million Jewish victims of the Nazi extermination campaign. This is apparently not to the liking of those who proclaim the uniqueness and incomparability of the Holocaust, and thus Mr. Snyder, as mentioned in the Economist interview, has been subject to "a really stinging attack" by Efraim Zuroff of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and "a more measured one" by Yiddish scholar David Katz.
Statements like the following, which are available in the Amazon preview of Snyder's book, must be hard to take for who supports the uniqueness theory – and they probably also would be would be, albeit due to other reasons, for Jew-obsessed "Revisionist" gas chamber freaks if they should read them.
[Introduction, pp. ix/x]
The Holocaust overshadows German plans that envisioned even more killing. Hitler wanted not only to eradicate the Jews, he also wanted to destroy Poland and the Soviet Union as states, exterminate their ruling classes, and kill tens of millions of Slavs (Russians, Ukrainians, Belarusians, Poles). If the German war against the USSR had gone as planned, thirty million civilians would have starved in the first winter, and tens of millions more expelled, killed assimilated or enslaved thereafter. Though these plans were never realized, they supplied the moral premises of German occupation policy in the East. The Germans murdered about as many non-Jews as Jews during the war, chiefly by starving Soviet prisoners of war (more than three million) and residents of besieged cities (more than a million) or by shooting civilians in "reprisals" (the better part of a million, chiefly Belarusians and Poles).
[Introduction, p. xiv/xv]
Mass killing in Europe is usually associated with the Holocaust, and the Holocaust with rapid industrial killing. The image is too simple and clean. At the German and Soviet killing sites, the methods of murder were rather primitive. Of the fourteen million civilians and prisoners of war killed in the bloodlands between 1933 and 1945, more than half died because they were denied food. Europeans deliberately starved Europeans in horrific numbers in the middle of the twentieth century. The two largest mass killing actions after the Holocaust – Stalin’s directed famines of the early 1930s and Hitler’s starvation of Soviet prisoners of war in the early 1940s – involved this method of killing. Starvation was foremost not only in reality but in imagination. In a Hunger Plan, the Nazi regime projected the death by starvation of tens of millions of Slavs and Jews in the winter of 1941-1942.
After starvation came shooting, and then gassing. In Stalin's Great Terror of 1937-1938, nearly seven hundred thousand Soviet citizens were shot. The two hundred thousand or so Poles killed by the Germans and the Soviets during their joint occupation of Poland were shot. The more than three hundred thousand Belarusians and the comparable number of Poles executed in German "reprisals" were shot. The Jews killed in the Holocaust were about as likely to be shot as to be gassed.
For that matter, there was little especially modern about the gassing. The million or so Jews asphyxiated at Auschwitz were killed by hydrogen cyanide, a compound isolated in the eighteenth century. The 1.6 million or so Jews killed at Treblinka, Chełmno, Bełżec and Sobibór were asphyxiated by carbon monoxide, which even the ancient Greeks knew was lethal. In the 1940s hydrogen cyanide was used as a pesticide; carbon monoxide was produced by internal combustion engines. The Soviets and the Germans relied upon technologies that were hardly novel even in the 1930s and 1940s: internal combustion, railways, firearms, pesticides, barbed wire.
The count of fourteen mortal victims of deliberate killing policies in the bloodlands is the sum of the following approximate figures, defended in the text and notes: 3.3 million Soviet citizens (mostly Ukrainians) deliberately starved by their own government in Soviet Ukraine in 1932-1933; thee hundred thousand Soviet citizens (mostly Poles an Ukrainians) shot by their own government in the western USSR among the roughly seven hundred thousand victims of the Great Terror of 1937-1938; two hundred thousand Polish citizens (mostly Poles) shot by German an Soviet forces in occupied Poland in 1939-1941; 4.2 million Soviet citizens (largely Russians, Belarusians and Ukrainians) starved by the German occupiers in 1941-1944; 5.4 million Jews (most of them Polish or Soviet citizens) gassed or shot by the Germans in 1941-1944; and seven hundred thousand civilians (mostly Belarusians and Poles) shot by the Germans in reprisals chiefly in Belarus and Warsaw in 1941-1944.
I for my part agree with these statements, insofar as they are in line with a message I've been trying to bring across in several blogs on this forum dedicated to or mentioning non-Jewish victims of Nazi state criminality.
Snyder's estimates of non-Jewish Nazi victims, incidentally, are more conservative than my own or those of German historian Dieter Pohl.