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
The Guns of August (1962), a best-selling history of
the prelude to and the first month of World War I, and Stilwell and
the American Experience in
China (1971), a biography of General Joseph
Tuchman focused on writing popular history.
1 Early years
2 Researcher and journalist
4 Death and legacy
5 Tuchman's Law
6.2 Other works
8 External links
She was born January 30, 1912, the Jewish daughter of the banker
Maurice Wertheim and his first wife Alma Morgenthau. Her father was an
individual of wealth and prestige, the owner of
The Nation magazine,
president of the American Jewish Congress, prominent art collector,
and a founder of the Theatre Guild. Her mother was the daughter of
Henry Morgenthau, Sr., Woodrow Wilson's ambassador to the Ottoman
Wertheim was influenced at an early age by the books of Lucy Fitch
Perkins and G.A. Henty, as well as the historical novels of Alexandre
Dumas. She attended the Walden School on Manhattan's Upper West
Side. She received her Bachelor of Arts from
Radcliffe College in
1933, having studied history and literature.
Researcher and journalist
Following graduation, Wertheim worked as a volunteer research
assistant at the
Institute of Pacific Relations
Institute of Pacific Relations in New York, spending
a year in
Tokyo in 1934-35, including a month in China, before
returning to the
United States via the
Trans-Siberian Railway to
Moscow and on to Paris. She also contributed to
The Nation as a
correspondent until her father's sale of the publication in 1937,
Madrid to cover the Spanish Civil War. A
first book resulted from her Spanish experience, The Lost British
Policy: Britain and Spain Since 1700, published in 1938.
In 1940 Wertheim married Lester R. Tuchman (taking his surname), an
internist, medical researcher and professor of clinical medicine at
Mount Sinai School of Medicine in Manhattan. They had three daughters,
including Jessica Mathews, who became president of the Carnegie
Endowment for International Peace.
During the years of World War II, Tuchman worked in the Office of War
Information. Following the war, Tuchman spent the next decade
working to raise the children while doing basic research for what
would ultimately become the 1956 book Bible and Sword: England and
Palestine from the Bronze Age to Balfour.
With the publication of Bible and Sword in 1956, Tuchman dedicated
herself to historical research and writing, turning out a new book
approximately every four years. Rather than feeling hampered by the
lack of an advanced degree in history, Tuchman argued that freedom
from the rigors and expectations of academia was actually liberating,
as the norms of academic writing would have "stifled any writing
Tuchman favored a literary approach to the writing of history,
providing eloquent explanatory narratives rather than concentration
upon discovery and publication of fresh archival sources. In the words
of one biographer, Tuchman was "not a historian's historian; she was a
layperson's historian who made the past interesting to millions of
readers". Tuchman's storytelling prowess was rewarded in 1963 when
she received the
Pulitzer Prize for her book The Guns of August,
dealing with the behind-the-scenes political machinations which led to
the eruption of
World War I
World War I in the summer of 1914.
In 1971, Tuchman received the
St. Louis Literary Award from the Saint
Louis University Library Associates.
Tuchman received a second Pulitzer in 1972 for her biography of Joseph
Stilwell, Stilwell and the American Experience in China.
In 1978, Tuchman was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts
and Sciences. She became the first female president of the American
Academy of Arts and Letters in 1979. She won a U.S. National Book
Award in History for the first paperback edition of A Distant
Mirror in 1980. 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".
Tuchman was a trustee of
Radcliffe College and a lecturer at Harvard,
the University of California, and the Naval War College. Although she
never received a formal graduate degree in history, Tuchman was the
recipient of a number of honorary degrees from leading American
universities, including Yale, Harvard, New York University, Columbia,
Boston University, and Smith College, among others.
Death and legacy
She died in 1989 in Greenwich, Connecticut, following a stroke, at
A tower of Currier House, a residential division first of Radcliffe
College and now of Harvard College, was named in her honor.
In the introduction to her 1978 book A Distant Mirror, Tuchman
playfully identified a historical phenomenon which she termed
"Tuchman's Law," to wit:
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).
Tuchman's Law has been defined as a psychological principle of
"perceptual readiness" or "subjective probability".
The Lost British Policy: Britain and Spain Since 1700. London: United
Editorial, 1938. OCLC 1437885
Bible and Sword: England and Palestine from the Bronze Age to Balfour.
New York University
New York University Press, 1956. OCLC 445506
The Zimmerman Telegram. New York: Viking Press, 1958.
The Guns of August. New York: Macmillan, 1962. OCLC 781625312
The Proud Tower: A Portrait of the World Before the War, 1890–1914.
New York: Macmillan, 1966. ISBN 0345405013
Stilwell and the American Experience in China, 1911–45 (1971)
Notes from China. New York: Collier, 1972. OCLC 570634
A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous Fourteenth Century. New York: Alfred
A. Knopf, 1978. ISBN 0394400267
Practicing History: Selected Essays. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1981.
The March of Folly: From Troy to Vietnam. New York: Knopf/Random
House, 1984. ISBN 0394527771
The First Salute: A View of the American Revolution. New York:
Knopf/Random House, 1988. ISBN 0394553330
America's Security in the 1980s. London: International Institute for
Strategic Studies, 1982.
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. Washington, DC: Library of
^ a b Barbara Tuchman Dead at 77; A Pulitzer-Winning Historian. The
New York Times, February 7, 1989.
^ Ernest Becker. "The Pulitzer Prizes General Nonfiction".
Pulitzer.org. Retrieved 2012-11-27.
^ a b c d e f g h i j k Oliver B. Pollack, "Barbara W. Tuchman
(1912-1989)," in Paula E. Hyman and Deborah Dash Moore (eds.), Jewish
Women in America: An Historical Encyclopedia: Volume II, M-Z. New
York: Routledge, 1997; pp. 1414-1416.
^ Douglas Martin, Walden School, At 73, Files for Bankruptcy, The New
York Times, June 23, 1987
^ "Lester Tuchman, Internist and Professor, 93". New York Times.
1997-12-19. Retrieved 2012-11-27.
^ The words are those of Oliver B. Pollack in Paula E. Hyman and
Deborah Dash Moore (eds.), Jewish Women in America: An Historical
Encyclopedia, pg. 1415.
^ Website of St. Louis Literary Award
Saint Louis University
Saint Louis University Library Associates. "Recipients of the Saint
Louis Literary Award". Retrieved July 25, 2016.
^ "Book of Members, 1780–2010: Chapter T" (PDF). American Academy of
Arts and Sciences. Retrieved July 25, 2014.
^ Robertson, Nan (Feb 27, 1979). "Barbara Tuchman: A Loner at the Top
of Her Field". New York Times. Retrieved Jun 17, 2016.
^ This was the 1980 award for paperback History. From 1980 to 1983 in
National Book Award history there were dual hardcover and paperback
awards in most categories, and multiple nonfiction subcategories. Most
of the paperback award-winners were reprints, including this one.
^ "1980 National Book Awards Winners and Finalists, The National Book
Foundation". Nationalbook.org. Retrieved 2012-11-27.
Jefferson Lecture National Endowment for the Humanities".
Neh.gov. Retrieved 2012-11-27.
^ Tuchman, Barbara A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century. New
York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1978; pg. xviii.
^ Texas Research Institute of Mental Sciences, Violence and the
Violent Individual: Proceedings of the Twelfth Annual Symposium, Texas
Research Institute of Mental Sciences, Houston, Texas, November 1–3,
1979. Spectrum Publications, pg. 412
Wikiquote has quotations related to: Barbara W. Tuchman
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Barbara W. Tuchman.
TV interview with Bill Moyers Sept. 30, 1988
Petri Liukkonen. "Barbara W. Tuchman". Books and Writers
Author's entry on The MacDowell Colony
Biography on The Jewish Virtual Library
Bibliographical list on GoogleBooks
Entry on Distinguished Women
A film clip "The Open Mind - "A Distant Mirror" The 14th Century and
Today (1979)" is available at the Internet Archive
Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction (1962–1975)
The Making of the President, 1960
The Making of the President, 1960 by Theodore White (1962)
The Guns of August
The Guns of August by
Barbara W. Tuchman
Barbara W. Tuchman (1963)
Anti-intellectualism in American Life
Anti-intellectualism in American Life by
Richard Hofstadter (1964)
O Strange New World
O Strange New World by
Howard Mumford Jones (1965)
Wandering Through Winter
Wandering Through Winter by
Edwin Way Teale
Edwin Way Teale (1966)
The Problem of Slavery in Western Culture by
David Brion Davis (1967)
Rousseau and Revolution, vol. 10 of The Story of Civilization, by Will
Ariel Durant (1968)
So Human an Animal
So Human an Animal by Rene Jules Dubos/
The Armies of the Night
The Armies of the Night by
Norman Mailer (1969)
Gandhi's Truth: On the Origins of Militant Nonviolence by Erik H.
The Rising Sun by John Toland (1971)
Stilwell and the American Experience in China, 1911–45 by Barbara W.
Fire in the Lake
Fire in the Lake by Frances FitzGerald (1973)
The Denial of Death
The Denial of Death by
Ernest Becker (1974)
Pilgrim at Tinker Creek
Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by
Annie Dillard (1975)
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