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Barbara Tuchman

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Barbara Tuchman

Barbara W. Tuchman
Born Barbara Wertheim
(1912-01-30)January 30, 1912
New York City
Died February 6, 1989(1989-02-06) (aged 77)
Greenwich, Connecticut
Occupation Writer, journalist, historian
Nationality American
Period 1938–1988 (writer)
Genres History
Subjects Middle Ages, Renaissance, American Revolution, 1900, World War I
Spouse(s) Lester R. Tuchman
(b. 1904, d. 1997)
Children Three daughters
Relative(s) Maurice Wertheim (father)
Henry Morgenthau Sr.
(maternal grandfather)
Henry Morgenthau, Jr.
(maternal uncle)
Robert M. Morgenthau (cousin)

Barbara Wertheim Tuchman (/ˈtʌkmən/; January 30, 1912 – February 6, 1989) was an American historian and author. She won the Pulitzer Prize twice, for The Guns of August (later August 1914), a best-selling history of the prelude to and the first month of World War I, and Stilwell and the American Experience in China: 1911-1945, a biography of General Joseph Stilwell.[1]

Tuchman focused on writing popular history.

Life and career

Tuchman was the daughter of the banker Maurice Wertheim. She was a first cousin of New York district attorney Robert M. Morgenthau, a niece of Henry Morgenthau, Jr. and granddaughter of Henry Morgenthau Sr., Woodrow Wilson's Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire.

In a 1963 lecture, Tuchman recalled,
History began to exert its fascination upon me when I was about six, through the medium of the Twins series by Lucy Fitch Perkins. I became absorbed in the fortunes of the Dutch Twins; the Twins of the American Revolution, who daringly painted the name 'Modeerf', or 'Freedom' spelled backwards, on their rowboat; and especially the Belgian Twins, who suffered under the German occupation in 1914. After the Twins, I went through a G.A. Henty period and bled with Wolfe in Canada. Then came a prolonged Dumas period, during which I became so acquainted with the Valois Kings, Queens, Royal Mistresses, and various Ducs de Guise that when we visited the French Chateaux I was able to point out to my family just who had stabbed whom in which room. Conan Doyle's The White Company, and, above all, Jane Porter's The Scottish Chiefs, were the definitive influence. As the noble Wallace, in tartan and velvet tam, I went to my first masquerade party, stalking in silent tragedy among the twelve year old Florence Nightingales and Juliets. In the book the treachery of the Countess of Mar, who betrayed Wallace, carried a footnote that left its mark on me. 'The crimes of this wicked woman,' it said darkly, 'are verified by history.'[2]

She received her Bachelor of Arts from Radcliffe College in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1933.

From 1934 to 1935, she worked as a research assistant at the Institute of Pacific Relations in New York and Tokyo, and then began a career as a journalist before turning to writing books. When John Loomis Sherman left as head of a Communist spy ring in Tokyo (second to that of Richard Sorge), Tuchman took over Sherman's cover (less espionage activities) as head of Tokyo offices for the American Feature Writers Syndicate (established in New York City by Sherman, literary agent Maxim Lieber, and fellow Soviet Underground spy Whittaker Chambers).[3]

As a journalist, she was the editorial assistant for The Nation and an American correspondent for the New Statesman in London, the Far East News Desk, and the Office of War Information (1944–45).

Tuchman was a trustee of Radcliffe College and a lecturer at Harvard University, the University of California, and the Naval War College. A tower of Currier House, a residential division of Harvard College was named in her honor.


In 1939, she married Lester R. Tuchman, an internist, medical researcher and professor of clinical medicine at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in Manhattan. They had three daughters, including Jessica Mathews.[4]

Tuchman's Law

Disaster is rarely as pervasive as it seems from recorded accounts. The fact of being on the record makes it appear continuous and ubiquitous whereas it is more likely to have been sporadic both in time and place. Besides, persistence of the normal is usually greater than the effect of the disturbance, as we know from our own times. After absorbing the news of today, one expects to face a world consisting entirely of strikes, crimes, power failures, broken water mains, stalled trains, school shutdowns, muggers, drug addicts, neo-Nazis, and rapists. The fact is that one can come home in the evening--on a lucky day--without having encountered more than one or two of these phenomena. This has led me to formulate Tuchman's Law, as follows: "The fact of being reported multiplies the apparent extent of any deplorable development by five- to tenfold" (or any figure the reader would care to supply).[5]

Tuchman's Law has been defined as a psychological principle of 'perceptual readiness' or 'subjective probability'.[6]

Awards and honors

Tuchman twice won the Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction, first for The Guns of August in 1963, and again for Stilwell and the American Experience in China, 1911–45 in 1972.[1] She won a U.S. National Book Award in History[lower-alpha 1] for the first paperback edition of A Distant Mirror in 1980.[7]

Also in 1980 the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) selected Tuchman for the Jefferson Lecture, the U.S. federal government's highest honor for achievement in the humanities. Tuchman's lecture was entitled "Mankind's Better Moments."[8]


In 1985, Saturday Review magazine named her one of the country's "Most Overrated People in American Arts and Letters," commenting that "over the years [she has made] an unhappy transition from writing history as a moral lesson to writing moral lessons as history.”[9]



  • The Lost British Policy: Britain and Spain Since 1700 (1938)
  • Bible and Sword: England and Palestine from the Bronze Age to Balfour (1956)
  • The Zimmermann Telegram (1958)—The Zimmermann Telegram in early 1917 was a key incident involving Germany and Mexico that helped provoke the U.S. into entering World War I.
  • The Guns of August (1962) details the military decisions and actions that occurred leading up to and during the first month of World War I. It is primarily what established her reputation. During the Cuban Missile Crisis, John F. Kennedy advised the EXCOMM to read this book. Reprinted several times in the 1980s as August 1914.
  • The Proud Tower: A Portrait of the World Before the War, 1890–1914 (1966)—Covers the hesitant rise of U.S. imperialism, anarchist assassinations, socialism, communism, and the devolution of the 19th century order in Europe and North America.
  • Stilwell and the American Experience in China, 1911-45 (1970)—A biography of Joseph Stilwell.
  • Notes from China (1972) (about Tuchman's own visit there)
  • A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous Fourteenth Century (1978)—Examines the era of 1340–1400 through political, military, and social lenses, taking nobleman Enguerrand VII de Coucy as its central figure. Themes include the folly of chivalry and the tragedy of war.
  • Practicing History (1981)—Selected essays, published between 1935 and 1981, on historical writing, political ambition, and the importance of reading history.
  • The March of Folly: From Troy to Vietnam (1984)—A meditation on the historical recurrence of governments pursuing policies evidently contrary to their own interests. In addition to the two historical events referenced in the title, discusses the Popes of the late Renaissance inciting the Protestant rebellion and Great Britain provoking the Americans to revolt.
  • The First Salute: A View of the American Revolution (1988). (The title refers to the St. Eustatius "flag incident" of 16 November 1776.)

Other works

  • America's Security in the 1980s (1982)—Photographed with Laurence Martin for this Christopher Bertram book.[10]
  • The Book: A lecture sponsored by the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress and the Authors’ League of America, presented at the Library of Congress October 17, 1979 (1980)[11]



External links

  • TV interview with Bill Moyers Sept. 30, 1988
  • Bibliographical list on GoogleBooks
  • Distinguished Women
  • A film clip ]

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