Barbara Tuchman

Barbara Tuchman Biography.com

Historian, Journalist(1912–1989)
Barbara Tuchman, American historian and two-time Pulitzer Prize winner, is best known for writing The Guns of August and Stilwell and the American Experience in China, 1911-45.

Synopsis

Born in New York City on January 30, 1912, Barbara Tuchman is a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner. Her book The Guns of August (1962), a historical analysis of early World War I, earned her the 1963 Pulitzer Prize. She went on to win another Pulitzer in 1970 for Stilwell and the American Experience in China, 1911-45, a book about the relationship between America and China during World War II. Tuchman died on February 6, 1989, in Greenwich, Connecticut.

Early Years

Famed historian Barbara Tuchman was born Barbara Wertheim in New York City on January 30, 1912, to a wealthy and distinguished family. Her maternal grandfather had served as U.S. ambassador to Turkey, and his son (Tuchman's uncle) was secretary of the treasury for President Franklin D. Roosevelt's administration. Additionally, her father, Maurice Wertheim, was a successful banker and philanthropist.

Like many of her ancestors, Tuchman exceled at academics, and she developed an interest in politics and history at a young age. She attended the Walden School (later the New Walden Lincoln School), a private New York City school, before enrolling at Radcliffe College, a liberal arts college for women in Massachusetts. Tuchman's honors thesis, "The Moral Justification for the British Empire," is regarded as one of her first great historical works.

After receiving a bachelor's degree from Radcliffe in 1933, Tuchman landed a job as a research assistant at the Institute of Pacific Relations, a non-governmental organization aimed at bettering relations between nations surrounding the Pacific Ocean. She left the IPR in 1935 for a reporting position at The Nation, a weekly magazine owned by her father, Maurice Wertheim. There, Tuchman covered political and cultural events, including the Spanish Civil War.

Acclaimed Writing Career

During her early career as a journalist, in 1938, Tuchman published a book about the United Kingdom's policy toward Spain and the Western Mediterranean entitled The Lost British Policy: Britain and Spain Since 1700. She went on to produce two more publications in the 1950s: Bible and the Sword: England and Palestine from the Bronze Age to Balfour, a historical analysis of the relationship between Great Britain and Palestine prior to the Balfour Declaration, and The Zimmermann Telegram, published in 1956 and 1958, respectively.

It wasn't until the early 1960s, however, that Tuchman achieved commercial and critical success for her historical writings. Her book The Guns of August (1962), a historical analysis of early World War I in which Tuchman dissects and criticizes events leading up to the war, earned her the 1963 Pulitzer Prize. She went on to win another Pulitzer in 1970 for a piece on the relationship between American and China during World War II, closely following the accounts of U.S. General Joseph Warren Stilwell, Stilwell and the American Experience in China, 1911-45.

Tuchman's other literary works include The Proud Tower: A Portrait of the World Before the War, 1890-1914 (1966); Notes From China (1972); A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century (1978); The March of Folly: From Troy to Vietnam (1984), an examination of the Trojan War and other events of Greek mythology, the actions of the Catholic Church leading up to the Protestant secession, the American Revolutionary War, and the Vietnam War; and The First Salute (1988), a historical analysis of the American Revolutionary War.

Once speaking on her career, Tuchman offered advice on how to be a successful writer: "The writer's object is—or should be—to hold the reader's attention," she said, adding, "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."

Personal Life

In 1939, Tuchman married physician Lester R. Tuchman. They had three daughters together and were married for nearly 50 years, until Barbara Tuchman's death on February 6, 1989, in Greenwich, Connecticut.

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