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on 25 November 2014
& the ' new winds blowing hard through society'. Nothing is left out! Powerful & strong stuff although I quite enjoyed a WW1 book written by a woman. I think she must have lived in London at some point to give such good detail. I've also read The Guns of August but I preferred this because it was "far back".
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on 5 August 2014
This is, of course, one of the seminal works of history, and one that laid the foundations for much modern treatment of the conflict whose centenary we are interminably marking this year.

It stands, in my view, as one of the most accessible treatments of a complex subject and, even though all of us in some sense know 'what happened next', it manages nevertheless to be a page-turner.

Tuchman skewers the principal players with a telling phrase and is, as other reviewers have noted, understanding of human failures (von Moltke the Younger, Sir John French) as, formed in the latter case by a Victorian background, they tried to grapple with the unprecedented potential of early twentieth-century warfare.

I suppose that the causes of WW1 will always be a matter for debate, complex as they undoubtedly are, and it may be difficult to arrive at a neutral view of the extent to which Tuchman gets it right. But, right or wrong, this is a tremendous and moving read.
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I read The Guns of August: The Pulitzer Prize-Winning Classic about the Outbreak of World War I a couple of years after its publication in 1962, and it was sufficient to "hook" me on Barbara Tuchman. I went on to read "The Proud Tower", likewise, a couple of years after publication in 1966, and have read (and reviewed at Amazon) STILLWELL and the american experience in china. I decided to re-read both of her `60's classics, agonizing which one should be first, ultimately settling on this one. I found her erudition and analysis just as dazzling, but a bit smoother the second time around, since I've had more than four decades of reading and experience "catching up" to her, who wrote "Guns" when she was 50, and the "Tower," when she was 54.

Tuckman makes some key points in her forward: This period was NOT a "Golden Era" or "Belle Epoque" for those who lived through it. Only after the horrors of the mindless slaughter of the "Great" War was it viewed through rosy-colored glasses, nostalgically, in part since there was that belief that with the tremendous technological improvements in the 19th Century that the life of the average human would continue to improve, and evolve so that wars would be obsolete. Hum. Also, as she says, she couldn't "find" a middle class (or lower class) to place in her account, so this is very much the history of the Big Men of the era (and it was men, with only a nod towards Emma Goldman or Rosa Luxemburg.) Another key point: She says that she was selective in her material, with much omitted, and she could have written several more books on the same period, and not have covered the same material twice. (And I wish she had.)

She commences her account by depicting the "Patricians" of England, at the very height of their Empire, 1895-1902. There was much to be proud of, and by and large, they were a self-satisfied lot, hobnobbing with each other on their country estates, with a passion for the pursuit of the fox. Lord Salisbury was the epitome of this era, and Tuchman provides rich portraits of him and several others. For the Queen's Diamond Jubilee of 1897, the Empire gathered its members and displayed its colors, but it was the veritable poet laureate of the Empire, Rudyard Kipling, who sounded the cautionary counterpoint in the poem, "Recessional": "...and one with Nineveh and Tyre." The second chapter is another major "counterpoint" which covers the Anarchist movement which managed to assassinate six heads of state, one each from France, Austria, Italy and the United States, and two from Spain. The third chapter entitled "End of a Dream" describes how in the last decade of the 19th century which commenced with the "closing of the frontier" went on to see America too become an imperial power. In the wink of an eye it went from a war with Spain to "liberate" its colonies to engaging in a savage war to suppress Filipino nationalists. Tuchman quotes William James: "The way the country puked up its ancient principles at the first touch of temptation was sickening."

The next chapter covered a similar decade on France revolving around one issue: the "Dreyfus Affair." The framing and false imprisonment of this Jewish artillery officer nearly tore the country in half, with the "bad half" locked into the awful logic that to admit an injustice would destroy French society. She then devotes an extensive chapter to the earnest, but very tepid efforts to avoid another war, with two major "Peace" Conferences in the Netherlands, the first one initiated from the nominally unlikely source of Czar Nicholas II. Tuchman ends the chapter noting that the next conference was scheduled for 1915. The author quotes Sir Edward Grey, whose rationale for not considering disarmament measures was a masterpiece of sophistry: Britain could not agree to anything: "so as to limit the prospective liability of war as to remove some of the considerations which now restrain the public from contemplating it." Richard Strauss, along with the decadence and sadism of "Salome" were focal points in depicting the cultural life of the rising power of Germany in the next chapter. The final two chapters covered the (some would say) long overdue transfer of power from the Tories to the Liberals in England, and the work and aspirations of the socialists, who were eventually led by Jean Jaurès until his assassination, on the very eve of the war.

I remain in awe of her mastery of the period, and her ability to analyze the competing political and economic forces and then provide such a lucid exposition of them. She made only one remark that struck a strong dissonant chord with me. On page 447, it concerned the forcible feeding of imprisoned Suffragettes under England's "Liberal" government: "...a particularly revolting process in which both the victims, who invited it by hunger strikes, and the officials who performed it writhed like animals." Invited it?? As though they were equally responsible? And, of course, more than 100 years later, another "Liberal" government is into forced feedings, but that is another book. For this one, I have a deeper appreciation for her accomplishment, the second time around. 5-stars, plus
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I first read this about 30 years ago. Tuchman's style is hardly that of a historian. Very readable, she falls somewhere between the journalist & the novelist in style. Few historians would come up with such a lovely juxtaposition as "strenuous lethargy"! Thirty years the wiser, thirty years more widely read, I can see faults now that passed me by then. There is also the internet. A brief search will suggest that she is not regarded as the most rigorous & unbiased historian ever. Nevertheless, one should never read a history and imagine that it carries the whole story.

The author's biggest fault in this is her presumption - she'll refer to an incident of the time in a sentence without giving any further detail. You're supposed to know what she is talking about (if you're American, perhaps you might; but I doubt it!). With the 'net at our fingertips these days, it's easy to do a quick bit of research. Then or now, it remains presumption, and something of an irritation. But she sets out her intention in her introduction, and she fulfills that very well. This may be an incomplete view of the period before the Great War. Still, it is an interesting & entertaining one. Don't take it as gospel, but it's well worth reading, as well as being very readable. In absolute accuracy, it might be wanting. As something to round out your knowledge of the period that it covers, it is very valuable.
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on 24 January 2015
Another book from this excellent author. "The Proud Tower" is a series of unconnected subjects that al happen between 1890 and 1910, some are vignettes of people, others of events. As always with Barbara Tuchmann, each chapter is full of information and yet told in a way that is compulsive reading. She is one of the pre-eminent historians of America and the reader should bear in mind that "The Guns of August" and "A Distant Mirror" are also published by Kindle.
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on 11 May 2009
The "Proud Tower" is one of Barbara Tuchman's many popular historical works. The Ballantine (mass paperback) edition is a reprint of the 1966 original, probably made because Tuchman's pleasant and accessible writing style has guaranteed excellent sales on all her books. In this particular work, she sets out to describe how the late Victorian period (indicated here as roughly 1890-1914) was not a time of peace and progress, as is often the way it is portrayed in the most simple and shallow of historical descriptions such as those in high schools, but in reality a period of upheaval and tension, making World War I rather a climax than a sudden break.

But it is here also that the content does not merit the style. Tuchman clearly has a good knowledge of her subject and a popular historian's love for storytelling, but what mars her project is her obvious bias and unfairness towards some of the subjects she writes about. For example, her first chapter, on the British upper class, pays absolutely no attention to any of the striking class differences of the time, to the role of Labour leaders, to the economic basis on which the British rentier system was based, etc.
On the contrary, all we are given is some sixty pages meant to convey the utterly clich?d conservative message: that the British aristocracy was perhaps a little far detached from current events, but nevertheless their leisure allowed them to rule the country well thanks to the virtues of upper class education and their lack of "greed".

The same approach is taken towards the other end of the spectrum, in this case incidentally in the next chapter, where Tuchman discusses the anarchist movements. At no point is she willing to even entertain the idea that the anarchists might have had legitimate ideas and that perhaps the lack of enfranchisement and opportunities was a cause for their, admittedly, radical and violent approach. Oh no. Instead the reader is bombarded with phrases such as "the Idea", "the bomb was to be the Messiah", "throbbing with the consciousness of Martyrdom", etc. etc. At each and every turn Tuchman takes her time to discredit every lower class attempt at lashing back, to speak her contempt for the ideals of young, suffering people ("a rebellious soul", "a highly excitable nature"), and to underline how much she hates the idea of revolution even if it is from the horrors of industrial age capitalism and hardly or not at all democratic states ("his goal, like his hate, was generalized toward destruction", "[he] wrote wrathfully for the revolutionary press", "behind the poor foolish megalomania (...) glowed the Idea") and so on. Her own 'insight' into anarchism seems to be best represented by this callous quote: "One of them [the poor] with a sense of injury or a sense of mission, would rise up, go out and kill-and sacrifice his own life on the altar of the Idea". I am myself no anarchist, but her treatment of desperate people, so crushed by their society that they see no other way out than the violent overthrow of even the whole idea of governance, is nothing but cruel and stupefying.

Looking at the following chapters in the book proves this to be no accident. Her description of the transformation of the United States from an isolationist country to a more imperialist approach is positively gushing (expansionists being invariably described as "an adroit master of political strategy and tactics" and "shrewd, worldly, forceful" etc.), she blames the assassination of McKinley for ending attempts to block the negative sides of this imperialism (never anywhere mentioning McKinley's corruption and support for union busting etc.), and when by Chapter Five Tuchman was trying to explain how futile the attempts of the various Peace Conferences were and she describes one of the main expansionist thinkers, Admiral Mahan, as "trying to instruct the public to take an honest look at war", I had enough. Only the chapter about Dreyfus seemed untainted by her dubious look at history, although this is of course easy since the good and the bad side are quite clear to distinguish from hindsight in that particular affair.

This book may be fun for light reading and informative if you know little about the period, but I would not ever rely on it for an honest view of the people or events described in it. For that, it is simply too tainted by her constant awe for all aristocrats and her equally strong contempt for all attempts at political change. Progressive minded people, beware.
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on 17 November 2014
An excellent read. Informed and informative, articulate and elegantly written.
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on 2 April 2015
Solid and well researched. An excellent historian.
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on 9 July 2012
I purchased this book to replace my copy which had disintegrated over the years.
To have better picture of the arms races, I would suggest "William Manchester's" " The Arms of Krupp"
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