Barbara Wertheim Tuchman (1912 - 1989) American writer, self-trained historian, and two-time Pulitzer Prize winner. Lecturer at Harvard University, University of California, and the U. S. Naval War College. From 1960-72 she was a trustee at Radcliffe College. In 1979 she was appointed the chairperson of the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

She was born on January 30, 1912 in New York City to Alma and Maurice Wertheim. Her father was a banker, publisher, philanthropist, and president of the American Jewish League from 1941-1943. Her maternal grandfather, Henry Morganthau, Sr. was ambassador to Turkey. Her uncle, Henry Morganthau, Jr. was Treasury Secretary under President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

She graduated from Walden School and received a B.A. degree from Radcliffe College in 1933. Her interest in history showed itself early in her life with her honor thesis entitled The Moral Justification for the British Empire. She began her career as a research assistant at the Institute of Pacific Relations during 1934-35. She moved to journalism when her father purchased The Nation. She also wrote for War in Spain, New Statesman, Far East News, and Office of War Information. In 1937 she went to Madrid to report on the Spanish Civil War.

In 1939 she married Dr. Lester Reginald Tuchman and devoted herself to her family. Barbara Tuchman returned to writing when their three children were older. One of their children is Jessica Tuchman Mathews, an environmentalist.

She died on February 6, 1989 in Connecticut.

Her writings were praised for their lucid style and showing people, even the protagonists, as believable human beings. Her specialty was military history and her books illustrate two consistent themes. The first is how good is crushed and subverted in history. This theme grew out of her belief that America should have participated in the Spanish Civil War in the late 1930s. She viewed the Loyalist's victory in that conflict as the end of the liberal world. Her response was her first book, The Lost British Policy.

The second theme she articulates as "The power to command frequently causes failure to think". Ms. Tuchman brought this theme to the fore in two books Silwell and the American Experience in China, 1911-45 and The March of Folly: From Troy to Vietnam.

Barbara Tuchman understood the only way to engage people in history is to tell a story. She once told an audience that "the writer's object should be to hold the reader's attention. I want the reader to turn the page and keep on turning until the end. This is accomplished only when the narrative moves steadily ahead, not when it comes to a weary standstill, overloaded with every item uncovered in the research."

To find meaning in history one must look to the pattern that emerges from the accumulation of details and events - not from a preconceived design.

Her published works are listed below. Pulitzer Prize awards are in bold.

  1. The Lost British Policy, 1938, British policy toward Spain in the 1930s
  2. Bible and the Sword, 1956, British and Palestine relations.
  3. The Zimmermann Telegram, 1958, A 1917 diplomatic message and its repercussions.
  4. The Guns of August, 1962, The events of the first 30 days of World War I.
  5. The Proud Tower, 1966, A history of the 25 years preceding World War I.
  6. Stilwell and the American Experience in China, 1911-45, 1971, A biography of General Joseph Stilwell.
  7. Notes From China, 1972, A trip to China.
  8. A Distant Mirror, 1978, Comparison of the natural and man-made disasters occurring in both the 14th Century and the 20th Century.
  9. Practicing History, 1981, A collection of writings.
  10. The March of Folly: From Troy to Vietnam, 1984, A study of four conflicts as turning points in history.
  11. The First Salute, 1988, The American Revolution.

(All of the works are available on Amazon.com except for The Lost British Policy.)

Barbara Tuchman was interviewed in 1988 by Bill Moyers for his PBS series A World of Ideas. That conversation is summarized in Changes in American Culture Since 1776.


sources:

Brody,Seymour, Jewish Virtual Library, "Barbara Wertheim Tuchman",http://us-isreal.org/jsource/biography/tuchman.html, 7/17/01

Books and Writers, "Barbara Tuchman (1912-1989)", http://www.kirjasto.sci.fi/tuchman.htm, 7/17/01

Microsoft(R) Encarta, "Barbara Tuchman", copyright 1995, via http://www.netsrq.com/~dbois/tuchman.html, 7/17/01

Women in American History, "Tuchman, Barbara Wertheim", Encyclopedia Britannica Online, via http://women.eb.com/women/articles/Tuchman_Barbara_Wertheim.html, 7/17/01

McFadden, Kathleen, Women's Stories, "Historian Barbara Tuchman",http://writetools.com/women/stories/tuchman_barbara.html, 7/17/01

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