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Barbara W. Tuchman

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Title: Barbara W. Tuchman  
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Subject: Stilwell and the American Experience in China, 1911–45, O Strange New World, So Human an Animal, Theodore H. White, Wandering Through Winter
Collection: 1912 Births, 1989 Deaths, 20Th-Century American Writers, 20Th-Century Biographers, 20Th-Century Women Writers, American Historians, American Jews, American Military Writers, American People of German-Jewish Descent, American People of the Spanish Civil War, American Women Historians, American Women Journalists, Fellows of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Historians of the United States, Jewish American Historians, Jewish American Writers, Morgenthau Family, National Book Award Winners, Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction Winners, Radcliffe College Alumni, Trustees, Women Biographers, Women Historians, Women in War 1900–1945, Women in War in Spain, Women Military Writers, Women War Correspondents, World War I Historians
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Barbara W. 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)
Genre History
Subject Middle Ages, Renaissance, American Revolution, 1900, World War I
Spouse Lester R. Tuchman
(b. 1904, d. 1997)
Children Three daughters
Relatives Maurice Wertheim (father)
Henry Morgenthau Sr.
(maternal grandfather)
Henry Morgenthau, Jr.
(maternal uncle)
Robert M. Morgenthau (cousin)
Jessica Mathews (daughter)

Barbara Wertheim Tuchman (; 1912–1989) was an American historian and author. She won the Pulitzer Prize twice, for The Guns of August (1963), a best-selling history of the prelude to and the first month of World War I, and Stilwell and the American Experience in China (1972), a biography of General Joseph Stilwell.[1]

Tuchman focused on writing popular history.


  • Biography 1
    • Early years 1.1
    • Researcher and journalist 1.2
    • Historian 1.3
    • Death and legacy 1.4
  • Tuchman's Law 2
  • Publications 3
    • Books 3.1
    • Other works 3.2
  • Footnotes 4
  • External links 5


Early years

Barbara Wertheim Tuchman was born January 30, 1912, the daughter of the banker Woodrow Wilson's ambassador to the Ottoman Empire.[2]

Wertheim was influenced at an early age by the books of Lucy Fitch Perkins, G.A. Henty, and Wolfe, as well as the historical novels of Dumas.[2] She attended the Walden School on Manhattan's Upper West Side.[3] She received her Bachelor of Arts from Radcliffe College in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1933, having studied history and literature.[2]

Researcher and journalist

Following graduation, Wertheim worked as a volunteer research assistant at the 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.[2] She also contributed to The Nation as a correspondent until her father's sale of the publication in 1937, traveling to Valencia and Madrid to cover the Spanish Civil War.[4] 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, a former president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.[5]

During the years of World War II, Tuchman worked in the Office of War Information.[2] 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.[2]


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.[2] 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 capacity."[2]

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."[6] 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 in the summer of 1914.

Tuchman would receive 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.[7] She won a U.S. National Book Award in History[8] for the first paperback edition of A Distant Mirror in 1980.[9]

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".[10]

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 honoraries degrees from leading American universities, including Yale, Harvard, New York University, Columbia, Boston University, and Smith College, among others.[2]

Death and legacy

Barbara Tuchman died February 6, 1989 in Greenwich, Connecticut following a stroke.[2] She was 77 years old at the time of her death.

Tuchman is best remembered as a two-time winner of the illustrious 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]

A tower of Currier House, a residential division first of Radcliffe College and now of Harvard College was named in her honor.

Tuchman's Law

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).[11]

Tuchman's Law has been defined as a psychological principle of "perceptual readiness" or "subjective probability".[12]



Other works

  • 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 Congress, 1980.


  1. ^ a b Ernest Becker. "The Pulitzer Prizes | General Nonfiction". Retrieved 2012-11-27. 
  2. ^ 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.
  3. ^ Douglas Martin, Walden School, At 73, Files for Bankruptcy, The New York Times, June 23, 1987
  4. ^ Barbara Tuchman Dead at 77; A Pulitzer-Winning Historian. The New York Times, February 7, 1989.
  5. ^ "Lester Tuchman, Internist and Professor, 93". New York Times. 1997-12-19. Retrieved 2012-11-27. 
  6. ^ 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.
  7. ^ "Book of Members, 1780–2010: Chapter T" (PDF). American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved July 25, 2014. 
  8. ^ 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.
  9. ^ "1980 National Book Awards Winners and Finalists, The National Book Foundation". Retrieved 2012-11-27. 
  10. ^ "Jefferson Lecture | National Endowment for the Humanities". Retrieved 2012-11-27. 
  11. ^ Tuchman, Barbara A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1978; pg. xviii.
  12. ^ 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

External links

  • TV interview with Bill Moyers Sept. 30, 1988
  • Petri Liukkonen. "Barbara W. Tuchman". Books and Writers ( Archived from the original on 4 July 2013.
  • The MacDowell ColonyAuthor's entry on
  • The Jewish Virtual LibraryBiography on
  • Bibliographical list on GoogleBooks
  • Distinguished WomenEntry on
  • A film clip "The Open Mind - "A Distant Mirror" The 14th Century and Today (1979)" is available for free download at the Internet Archive
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