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During the fateful quarter century leading up to World War I, the climax of a century of rapid, unprecedented change, a privileged few enjoyed Olympian luxury as the underclass was “heaving in its pain, its power, and its hate.” In The Proud Tower, Barbara W. Tuchman brings the era to vivid life: the decline of the Edwardian aristocracy; the Anarchists of Europe and AmericDuring the fateful quarter century leading up to World War I, the climax of a century of rapid, unprecedented change, a privileged few enjoyed Olympian luxury as the underclass was “heaving in its pain, its power, and its hate.” In The Proud Tower, Barbara W. Tuchman brings the era to vivid life: the decline of the Edwardian aristocracy; the Anarchists of Europe and America; Germany and its self-depicted hero, Richard Strauss; Diaghilev’s Russian ballet and Stravinsky’s music; the Dreyfus Affair; the Peace Conferences in The Hague; and the enthusiasm and tragedy of Socialism, epitomized by the assassination of Jean Jaurès on the night the Great War began and an epoch came to a close....

Title : The Proud Tower: A Portrait of the World Before the War 1890-1914
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ISBN : 9780241908150
Format Type : Hardcover
Number of Pages : 528 Pages
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The Proud Tower: A Portrait of the World Before the War 1890-1914 Reviews

  • Matt
    2019-05-13 19:12

    How do you follow up a major success in life? It’s a question I seldom ask myself. My last success was finishing the final two episodes of both The Night Of and Stranger Things in a single night, while drinking a $9 handle of rum and avoiding the sidelong glances of my pregnant wife, who is due any day. That’s the kind of success you only follow up with divorce. Barbara Tuchman certainly had to answer that query. In 1962, she published The Guns of August, one of the most widely acclaimed works of history ever written. It won the Pulitzer Prize. It was a popular success. It is said that Kennedy read it during the Cuban Missile Crisis. So, what do you do when your book has made you famous, wealthy, and also saved the world from nuclear war? How do you come up with an encore? In figurative terms, you don’t. The Guns of August is her masterpiece, and it makes a pretty decent headliner for anyone’s obituary. In literal terms - well, read on. I know what I would've done. If I’d been Tuchman, I likely would have taken my Pulitzer to the beach and spent the rest of my days drinking cheap rum paid for with royalty checks. Or I might have pumped out a sequel about the second month of World War I called The Guns of September. Tuchman didn't do either of these things. She didn't do anything, really. Instead, of a fresh masterpiece, Tuchman's next catalogue entry is the literary version of a sit com's clip show. The Proud Tower, the chronological follow-up to The Guns of August, is a collection of eight previously-published essays written by Tuchman. The only original writing is a three page Forward that tries to reverse engineer a thesis. In terms of content, I don’t think this is much of an issue for today’s reader. I doubt many of us have seen the original articles elsewhere. Certainly, this is my first exposure to any of them. This isn’t like picking up Lawrence Wright’s newest book and finding out it’s just his New Yorker articles, which I read as they were originally printed.In terms of being a satisfying book, though, I’m not sure The Proud Tower entirely succeeds. It is, at the very least, misleading as to its intentions. The subtitle of The Proud Tower is A Portrait of the World Before the War, 1890-1914. Right from the cover, you are lead to believe this is a predecessor – in spirit if not in fact – to The Guns of August. But it’s not. The Guns of August focused intently on August 1914 and the opening weeks of the Great War. The Proud Tower, on the other hand, is all over the place, hopping, skipping, and jumping from one topic to the next. It does not provide a portrait, a holistic vision, so much as it gives us an assortment of snapshots. Moreover, Tuchman’s interpretation of “world” is narrowly defined to mean – for the most part – Western Europe and the United States. (It’s the same bias Tuchman displayed in The Guns of August, where she barely mentioned the Balkans, despite the war having sprung from there). Most importantly, the shadow of World War I is hardly mentioned at all. The topics in Tuchman’s eight essays – here, they become chapters – feel randomly drawn. She has two chapters on Great Britain, both focusing on the shift of power away from the patricians (embodied in the House of Lords) and into the hands of the common people (embodied by the Liberal alliance with Labour). The first Great Britain chapter focuses on Lord Salisbury, and gets a bit tedious. The second chapter, about the de-fanging of the House of Lords, is much brisker and alive with political maneuvering. In “The Idea and the Deed”, Tuchman provides a fascinating survey of the Anarchist movement. Like Socialists, Anarchists were looking to foment a revolution. Unlike Socialists, Anarchists (being anarchists) were against organization, training, discipline, etc. Instead, they wanted to spark the revolution by spontaneous acts of violence. Tuchman always had a keen eye for comparing historical movements from one time period to another. She would have appreciated how familiar the Anarchist tactics feel today in light of modern terrorist tactics. The chapter on America, entitled “End of a Dream” points the spotlight on Thomas Reed, a Maine Republican who served as a powerful Speaker of the House. Reed tried to stop America from turnign into an imperial. It was a struggle he lost following American successes (and land acquisitions) in the Spanish-American War. This was the moment America went from a proud non-colonial power to an aggressively-grasping empire that mimicked the old order of Europe. Frankly, I’d never heard of Reed, so I appreciated Tuchman bringing her biographical gift to this man, a turn of the century titan who has slipped somewhat into obscurity. Tuchman’s essay on France centers on l’affaire Dreyfus. The Dreyfus Affair began in 1894 when Captain Alfred Dreyfus, a French artillery officer, was convicted of passing military secrets to the Germans. The trial and conviction were seen by many (rightly) as a sham, and motivated by Dreyfus’s Jewish heritage. The affair dragged on until 1906 and became a cause célèbre. On the one side, you had the moral might of the government and military, which held itself beyond reproach. On the other, you had celebrity activists such as Emile Zola who wrote the famous open letter, J’accuse, that pressured the government to reopen the case. In “The Steady Drummer”, Tuchman discusses the Hague Conferences in 1899 and 1907. The conventions that came out of these talks attempted to codify the conduct of warfare. It touched on issues such as protection for civilians (and their property) and treatment of prisoners-of-war. Despite a lot of foot dragging among the great powers, who did not want other countries to constrain their abilities in time of war, Tuchman presents the Hague Conferences as relative successes. Indeed, as she notes, in one of her rare references to the looming Great War, a third conference had been scheduled for 1914. It never occurred. The oddest chapter is entitled “Neroism is in the Air”. Here, Tuchman goes on a rather lengthy tangent about Richard Strauss, the German composer and conductor. I’m not much of an opera guy, which is to say, I don’t care at all about operas. Thus, I was predisposed not to care much about this subject. Even if I loved opera, there’s only so much you can read about music, before you just need to listen to it. Tuchman concludes The Proud Tower with an article on Jean Jaures. The French Jaures was an influential leader of the Socialist movement. His murder on the eve of World War I ensured that the Socialist movement would support their respective countries’ march to war. Without Jaures, the Socialists became – at least for a minute – as ardent nationalists as any. Freed from the threat of strikes or opposition, the governments of the belligerent nations were free to do as they pleased. Unfortunately, they desired war. As you can see, there is no cohering element to these various chapters. Accordingly, there is an unevenness inherent to the proceedings. Nothing connects one chapter to the next. They don’t inform each other or build to a thesis statement. Tuchman does not deliver any sort of final judgment on the world before the war. Rather, she is making a bunch of random observations. Anarchists are violent! Strauss composes excellent operas!I liked The Proud Tower on the strength of its best essays. Tuchman writes at her usual high level, with erudition, dry wit, and perceptive characterizations. However, I couldn’t help but feel this book is more of a placeholder in Tuchman’s canon than anything else. Anyone picking this up in expectation of a prequel to her WWI classic will be disappointed. Despite the alleged thematic similarities, the two books are worlds apart. The Guns of August is driven by a strong narrative. The Proud Tower is a loose gathering of unrelated topical essays. This book, for all its qualities, feels like a way to keep up a revenue stream while Tuchman labored on a real project. If that’s the case, it worked. Her next book after The Proud Tower, a biography on Vinegar Joe Stilwell, also won the Pulitzer Prize. Sandwiched between two critical successes, The Proud Tower is a relative disappointment in Tuchman’s bibliography.

  • Kalliope
    2019-05-02 18:12

    While from a proud tower in the townDeath looks gigantically downThe City in the Sea – Poe.This book is really a collection of essays published separately in various journals. Any book tackling the social, political and artistic situation of the world in the couple of decades before it entered its first global war, could only offer a partial view. These essays offer a series of selected aspects of this bellicose universe seen through shifting points of view.There are considerable absences. For example, Russia and the Austro-Hungarian and the Ottoman empires are not tackled. Instead we get a focus on Britain, France, the German Empire and the United States. There are additional chapters on Syndicalism, Anarchism, the institution of the Hague Conferences, and on a German Musician.I have two favorite chapters. I learned a great deal from the one devoted to the US in which Tuchman shows how after the annexation of the Territory of Hawaii the country turned into something different from the days when it was founded. Fascinating was also the account of The Hague Conventions which tackled how, if they fundamentally failed, they also succeeded in starting a protocol that after some developments alleviated some aspects of brutality when humans decide to engage in war. The least relevant of the chapters was the one dedicated to a German composer. Entertaining in itself it seemed to grant disproportionate attention to Richard Strauss, no matter how beautiful his music is. And yet, in spite of the merged nature of this collation of essays, an overall picture emerges. From the Proud Tower we can see that it was the social structure of society, with its internal and extreme poles, that pulled a greater and greater tension and finally made the inner strings snap. But the view also offers the realization that if these social tensions were felt in parallel in the countries Tuchman has selected, their logical international relevancy was poisoned by distorting nationalisms. What could have been a series of revolutionary and coetaneous changes in domestic social pacts, marched instead into a political war against other nations. The book starts with the idiosyncrasies and quirks of the British Lords and finishes with the assassination of Jean Jaurès-- one of the founders of the French Socialist Party-- for being a pacifist. A nationalist shot him fatally a couple of days after the war against Serbia had been declared and four days before the war became general.Tuchman writes in a very engaging manner, but to me it was at times too engaging. I prefer a more analytical and less journalistic approach. The facts and arguments stay better in my mind.

  • Lawyer
    2019-05-16 10:47

    The Proud Tower: Barbara Tuchman's View of the World on the Road to WarChannel FiringBY THOMAS HARDYThat night your great guns, unawares,Shook all our coffins as we lay,And broke the chancel window-squares,We thought it was the Judgment-dayAnd sat upright. While drearisomeArose the howl of wakened hounds:The mouse let fall the altar-crumb,The worms drew back into the mounds,The glebe cow drooled. Till God called, “No;It’s gunnery practice out at seaJust as before you went below;The world is as it used to be:“All nations striving strong to makeRed war yet redder. Mad as hattersThey do no more for Christés sakeThan you who are helpless in such matters.“That this is not the judgment-hourFor some of them’s a blessed thing,For if it were they’d have to scourHell’s floor for so much threatening....“Ha, ha. It will be warmer whenI blow the trumpet (if indeedI ever do; for you are men,And rest eternal sorely need).”So down we lay again. “I wonder,Will the world ever saner be,”Said one, “than when He sent us underIn our indifferent century!”And many a skeleton shook his head.“Instead of preaching forty year,”My neighbour Parson Thirdly said,“I wish I had stuck to pipes and beer.”Again the guns disturbed the hour,Roaring their readiness to avenge,As far inland as Stourton Tower,And Camelot, and starlit Stonehenge.April, 1914 Satires of CircumstanceWe are about to embark on a great quest. That is to explore a world at war. Of course we speak of World War I, which would come to be known as World War I. It is not only that we seek to explore that world and war, but to attempt to understand why it happened, what brought it about. Not only should we seek to understand what brought it about we must be aware that we seek to do all these things regarding a world that existed one hundred years ago that went to war in 1914 and did not return to a state of uneasy peace until 1918. And in attempting to understand what surprised the world as the greatest conflagration the world to that point had ever witnessed, it becomes necessary to know what the world was like. Who were the people who lived there. How did they live, what did they do. Nor can we begin to understand the hellish waterspout that sucked so many nations into the depths of seas tinged with blood without understanding that it was not merely a world of politics or property but a world of art, music, dance, and philosophy. These are the conflicting aspects of culture that are inconsistent with the idea of war. The attempt to put these seemingly impossible inconsistencies together can bring about a great distubance of the human spirit that a world capable of music as beautiful as "The Rites of Spring," clashing with the quivering chords rising into a crescendo of horns that might sound the trumpets of doom, based on the writings of a man who died, mad, in an asylum, but whose philosophy was adopted by a nation as its theme, acknowledging the right, the need of exerting its power over whole nations out of a sense of nationalist fervor.Such things are of the type that enter our dreams and become our nightmares as we sense the end of one world and the beginning of another. It is as though we are walking as somnambulists in a world unknown to us. For it is unknown to us. We must be capable of forgetting, unlearning the modern world of which we consider ourselves to be a part.This is a journey that requires a guide. Just as Aligheri required a guide into the Inferno we must have our own Virgil. It is highly likely that we will find the need of a Beatrice for the war we will eventually explore was not a paradise, but a Hell as fiery as the first book of The Human Comedy.As we speak of Virgil we must think of a world of epic stature, that grew as great as Rome and fell just as surely as Rome. In one way we are traveling through a world as ancient to us as we would consider a symbol of its literature, the Aeneid. In his journeys from the sacked city of Troy, Aeneas met and fell in love with the Queen of the Carthaginians, Dido. And Virgil commented that a nation should be ruled by a woman to be so foreign to his people he had to document "Dux femina facti" which means the leader of the thing was a woman.So our guide is no Virgil. Our guide is a woman, Barbara Tuchman. And as it once was, once again "Dux femina facit."To be continued...January 30, 2014.Our GuideBarbara Tuchman was born Barbara Wertheimer, January 30, 1912, the daughter of prominent banker Maurice Wertheimer. Well that didn't take long. Interrupted. 2/5/2014

  • Wes Freeman
    2019-05-19 12:50

    Engaging history of white people from late 19th century to WWI. Written by American journalist living in U.K. and published in 1966, book purports to be "A Portrait of the World Before the War, 1890-1914" -- which it ain't by a damn sight -- and works as a pretty good oil painting of the U.K., France, Germany, and the U.S. (with smatterings of Russia, Spain and Italy thrown in for spice) before they all started killing each other with gas and machine guns. Author shows us the political, social, and artistic zeitgeist(en) of what we on this side of the pond call the Gilded Age, giving them all equal emphasis (she must have done hella research) and doing a slow reveal on a time when ideas held such cultural currency that it was hard to tell the difference between what was actually political, social and artistic. What author sees in them days was boundless anticipation, a sense of progress, thousands of folks intoxicated by theory and oratory right before The Great War slapped a moratorium on that kinda Euro-centric idealism for the foreseeable future. All that social ferment yields a heady brew, but pouring it down the drain of history ain't all bad. In addition to exegeses on social progression, book also gives us the image of Western Civilization as a trans-Atlantic European boys club wrestling with humanist governance vs. nationalist self-preservation in the face of great change. The line between crusading progressive and mustachioed blowhard gets a little blurry after awhile, and it's hard to tell who the good guys are: Still needing a slide-rule to work out who the heroes were in the Dreyfus Affair, France's multi-tentacled meta-nationalist trial-of-the-century. The impression I get is that this European generation was actually pretty jazzed about the war in which they would wind up exterminating themselves because a) it had been a long time since the last war and b) they had piles of cool new war things (gas, air machines, rules [see the Hague Conventions of 1899 & 1907:]) they wanted to try out. Kaiser Wilhelm II just knew this war was gonna be awesome.Clever trick author pulls by saving her socialism section for the end, unwinding the tale of irascibly brilliant cadre men and women dedicating their significant mental resources to the liberation of the international worker; taking Marx's admonishment against nationhood to heart, French, German, British and American intellectuals brainstorm for decades about the best way to improve the plight of the bottom strata of society. Their rhetoric gets a little heavy, even silly, at times, but when WWI cuts it short, it's a drag. When Kaiser Wilhelm declares war, barking, "I know no groups, only Germans" (the inverse of Marx's maxim "the worker knows no fatherland") we get ready to watch the Socialists march off to kill each other back on earth. Author gives us the full brunt of nationalism's tragic victory over humanism. We also get ready for serious men in ridiculous helmets, blood-muddy trenches, evil-looking gas masks, the tropes of a new century's killing fields; an ugly, absurd death for a shining, absurd era. Author knows how remote this period will seem to her readers in the 60s -- and it's from fucking Mars in 2008, by the way -- so she writes it all down with the kind of loving and amused distance we reserve at Christmas for kids who don't know about Santa Claus yet. Author loves this time, but I think she's glad she knows the truth.

  • Jim
    2019-05-01 19:03

    It is a thankless job to write a book about the origins of a widespread conflagration such as the First World War. Where is one to draw the line? Where author Barbara Tuchman apparently drew it was the countries of Western Europe -- Britain, France, and Germany -- plus the United States. But what about the view from St. Petersburg or Vienna or even Istanbul? It is all well and good to talk about the rise of international socialism, but what about all the energies released by the decay of the Ottoman Empire and the frustrated desires of the long-suppressed peoples on the "wrong" side of the Adriatic? The Proud Tower: A Portrait of the World Before the War 1890-1914 does not even bother to mention the First and Second Balkan Wars that took place in 1912-13 and radically altered the map of Europe. She does not mention why Austria wanted to punish Serbia, even though the assassinated Archduke Ferdinand was as fiercely unpopular in Vienna as he was in Belgrade and Sarajevo. And what about Russia? Why was Nicholas II so eager to go to bat for Serbia? Still and all, The Proud Tower is not only an essential book, but verges on being a great one. I can continue to cavil about what Tuchman does not cover, but on the subjects she does cover, she is fair-to-middling great. Her chapters on the Dreyfus affair in France, the anarchists of Europe, on the rise and fall of the patrician politicians of England, and the strangeness of Kaiser Wilhelm II's Germany are classics.The title of the book comes from a poem by Edgar Allan Poe called "The City in the Sea":While from a proud tower in the townDeath looks gigantically down.This is the second time I've read The Proud Tower, which remains the classical study of the long, slow march to the War To End All Wars.

  • Michael
    2019-04-30 13:11

    I simply love Tuchman’s writing style, which tells stories around various figures and themes relevant to understanding the origins of the First World War. Except in her introduction and final scene on the verge of mobilization of armies she avoids explicit reference to the war because of the power of the lens of hindsight to distort the accuracy of historical truth. She leaves it to other accounts, including her earlier book, “The Guns of August”, to elucidate the political evolution leading to the war, the “Dual and Triple Alliances, Moroccan crises and Balkan imbroglios.” Such assessment by itself she believes “is misleading because it allows us to rest on the easy illusion that it is ‘they,’ the naughty statesmen, who are responsible for war while ‘we,’ the innocent people, are merely led”. In her view, “The diplomatic origins, so-called, of the Great War are only the fever chart of the patient; they do not tell us what caused the fever.” Her method instead is to “concentrate on society rather than the state”, and her agenda is eloquently stated in these two sentences: The Great War of 1914-18 lies like a band of scorched earth dividing that time from ours. In wiping out so many lives which would have been operative on the years that followed, in destroying beliefs, changing ideas, and leaving incurable wounds of disillusion, it created a physical as well as psychological gulf between two epochs. This book is an attempt to discover the quality of the world from which the great World came. With such a goal, it is no wonder that I sometimes found myself missing a coherent focus. My lazy self wanted someone wise to tell me what to think and present lessons learned from history. Instead I came to appreciate how she breathes life into so many figures and lets their stories paint the big picture and like a novelist, showing not telling what the narrative themes. The book’s origin derives from a set of essays published in magazines and journals. The chapters of her stew include: 1) the status of the aristocracy in England, 2) the evolution of the anarchist movement, 3) America’s political struggles over its transition toward imperialism, 4) the Dreyfus Affair in France, 5) the attempt of the Hague peace conferences to establish as international court, 6) the ferment of culture and the arts in Germany, 7) the growth in power by the Liberal and Labor Parties in England, 8) the evolution of socialism in France, England, and Germany. A little bit more of a sketch of these contents is derived from a 2009Washington Post review by Jonathan Yardley is tucked away here: (view spoiler)[In "The Patricians," she writes about an England in which "the Age of Privilege, though assailed at many points and already cracking at some, still seemed, in the closing years of the Nineteenth Century and of Victoria's reign, a permanent condition." "The Idea and the Deed" is about the Anarchists, who "were able to draw blueprints of a state of universal harmony only by ignoring the evidence of human behavior and the testimony of history." "End of a Dream" is about the rise of the U.S. Navy and America's turn toward imperialism. In "Give Me Combat!" she writes about the Dreyfus Affair, in which a French officer was convicted of turning over secrets to Germany, a wildly controversial case that reeked of anti-Semitism.In "The Steady Drummer," her subject is the peace conferences of 1899 and 1907 at the Hague, in which little more than rhetorical progress was made toward "the goal of a new international order in which nations would be willing to give up their freedom to fight in exchange for the security of law." "Neroism Is in the Air" is about prewar German culture, with particular emphasis on the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche and the music of Richard Strauss. In "Transfer of Power," she writes about the "transfer of power" in England, "not a mere political transfer from the in-party to the outs but one more profound, to a new class." And, finally, in "The Death of Jaurès," her focus is on the birth of socialism and, with the murder of Jean Jaurès, its great French leader, the death of his conviction "that man was good, that society could be made good and the struggle to make it so was to be fought daily, by available means and within present realities." (hide spoiler)]I learned to sit back and enjoy the ride and luxuriate in lingering whenever she did. In that way, as a portrait of an age, it stands up well in comparison with her magnanimous, and also wandering, book on the 14th century, "The Distant Mirror". Tension over the impending cataclysm imbues a special poignancy to her narratives, somewhat like life on the Titanic before the iceberg is struck. I get a sense of a ballroom dance with intricate formations of alternating partners. With variations among countries, we see the swirl of nationalism vs. internationalism, socialism vs. capitalism, labor vs. management, monarchy vs. democracy, working class vs. aristocracy, church vs. state, cultural modernism vs. traditional values. My eyes glazed over the most in the first chapter on the persistence of the class structure of Britain in the period. As Tuchman herself lived a privileged life of wealth, she certainly had an eye for the details of their upper classes, down to details of their jewelry and fancy dresses. She outdid herself in building outrage in me and likely most readers over the excesses in the lifestyles of the patricians and their sense of entitlement as natural rulers. Still, I did come to appreciate some of their paradoxes, such as many taking up liberal causes such as constraints on child labor and health care for the poor and their acceptance by the majority of the lower classes. I got pleasure from her putting up an iconic portrait by Sargent of Lord Ribblesdale, who was a Liberal Whip in the House of Lords a trustee of the National Gallery. This personification of the English gentleman entitled “The Ancestor” garners this wonderful response from Tuchman: Standing at full length in the portrait, dressed as Master of the Queen’s Buckhound in long riding coat, top hat, glistening boots and holding a coiled hunting whip, Sargent’s Ribblesdale stared out upon the world in an attitude of such natural arrogance, elegance and self-confidence as no man of a later day would ever achieve. …Like most of his kind he had a sense of easy communion with the land-based working class who served the sports and estates of the gentry.Lord Ribblesdale, the epitome of English gentry--painting by SargentI also loved it when she waxed poetic over the aristocracy’s love of horses: The English gentleman is unthinkable without his horse. …He provided locomotion, occupation and conversation; inspired love, bravery, poetry and physical prowess. He was the essential element in racing, the sport of kings, as in cavalry, the elite of war. …The fox-hunting man never had enough of the thrills, the danger, and the beauty of the hunt; of the wail of the huntsman’s horn, the excited yelping of the hounds, the streaming rush of red-coated riders and black-clad ladies on sidesaddles, the flying leaps over banks, fences, stone walls and ditches, even crashes, broken bones and the cold aching ride home in winter. If it was bliss in that time to be alive and of the leisured class, to hunt was rapture.The reason that I liked the section on U.S. imperialism trends is because it countered my conception of what seemed so inevitable from reading about Teddy Roosevelt (in McCullough’s “Mornings on Horseback”). It was enlightening to see how the beginnings of the advance of the U.S. from an isolationist nation into a world power in this period had some powerful naysayers. That a man from my state of Maine, Thomas Reed, as a legislative gatekeeper as Speaker of the House, had an important role in the debate against annexation of Hawaii and in putting brakes on the progressive steps leading to acquisition of Puerto Rico, Cuba, and the Philippines was personally gratifying to me. The fount of ideology supporting arguments in favor territorial acquisition at almost any cost is Alfred Mahan, commander of the Naval War College and author of “The Influence of Sea Power on History”. Thomas Reed and Alfred MahanThe section dragged a bit for me over Reed’s battle to get rid of the power of the minority party to block any legislation obnoxious to it by refusing a quorum by remaining silent when a roll call vote was held. Where she excels is in aptly capturing the personality of these figures and making you imagine the connection to their politics. Here are some choice examples on Reed:His hair thinned until he was almost bald, his figure bellied out until, as he walked down the streets of Portland, he resembled “a human frigate among shallops.” Silent, impassive, with an inward-turned eye, noticing no one, he moved along with the ponderous, gently swaying gait of an elephant. “How narrow he makes the street look!” a passer-by once exclaimed.…Never landed in a large sense, nor wealthy, these forbears and their neighbors had striven over the generations to maintain a settlement on the rock-ribbed soil, to survive Indian attack and isolation and snowbound winters. The habit of struggle against odds was bred into Thomas Reed’s blood.…He never used an extra word, never stumbled in his syntax, was never at a loss, never forced to retreat or modify a position. He was instant in rejoinder, terse, forcible, lucid. He could state a case unanswerably, illuminate an issue, destroy an argument or expose a fallacy in fewer words than anyone else. His language was vivid and picturesque. “Hardly time to ripen a strawberry,” he said to describe a lapse of two months. …His epigrams were famous. “All the wisdom in the world consists in shouting with the majority” was one. “A statesman is a politician who is dead” was another. …Once when mistaken for Cleveland in an ill-lit room, Reed said, “Mercy! Don’t tell Grover. He is too proud of his good looks already.”Tuchman’s profile of Mahan captures a bit of his narrow morality in personal life as a contrast with the questionable moral foundations of his belief in the Manifest Destiny for the U.S. to become a global power: He had little sense of humor, a high moral tone and shared the respectable man’s horror of Zola’s novels, which he forbade his daughters to read. So precise were his scruples that when living on naval property at the War College he would not allow his children to use the government pencils. …External expression of his personality was limited: his life was inner. He was like a steam kettle in which the boiling goes on within an enclosed space and the steam comes out through a single spout.Reed effectively identified militarism and colonial acquisitions as counter to the principles of the nation’s founders. Yet Mahan and Senator Lodges’ arguments over the strategic benefits of Hawaii for naval operations in the Pacific combined with economic payoffs won the day. Their hunger for bases in Cuba and the Philippines was fulfilled when the sinking of the ship “Maine” in Havana provided the excuse for the Spanish-American War and easy victory. I was surprised how divisive the fight over whether to keep the Philippines was. It generated strange bedfellows in opposition, as labor leader Gompers was joined by industrialist Carnegie in the protests. President McKinley went with keeping the island, with a token payment of $20 million to ease the perfidy. We know now that the rebels who fought the Spanish soon turned against American governance and that a long jungle war wreaked devastation on the insurgents and disheartened the U.S. military forces in a way that presaged the Vietnam War. I appreciated Reed’s comments after losing the struggle in Congress to prevent the takeover:“We have bought ten million Malays at $2.00 a head unpicked,” remarked Reed acidly, and in the most prescient comment made by anyone at the time, he added, “and nobody knows what it will cost to pick them.”Of other parts of the book, I was most fascinated and moved by Tuchman’s coverage of the dream of the socialists for an international brotherhood of workers which would be able to abolish war through the power of a general strike. Having recently read about the war resistance movements in Britain in Hochschild’s book, “To End All Wars”, I was primed to feel sad all over again at how nationalism trumped any broader humanitarian movement or the uncompleted attempts of the Hague conferences to institute negotiated settlement of international disputes. The motivations and efforts of socialists like Keir Hardie in Britain and Jean Jaurès in France to prevent the war were heroic but futile, in the latter case ended by his murder in August, 1914. The epoch of peace in Europe was revealed by this book to be full of conflicts in ideas, sporadic but pervasive violence surrounding labor strikes and fights for suffrage, small wars confined to distant colonies or the Balkans, and a build-up of armaments. The gulf between relative peace to world war now became a narrow line easily stepped across. In England, Hardie and only a few others protested the Parliament’s steps toward war after Germany and France began mobilization of their armies. What a powerful ending to the book Tuchman makes:Elsewhere there was no dissent, no strike, no protest, no hesitation to shoulder a rifle against fellow workers of another land. When the call came, the worker, whom Marx declared to have no fatherland, identified himself with country, not class. He turned out to be a member of the national family like anyone else. The force of his antagonism which was supposed to topple capitalism, found a better target in the foreigner. The working class went to war willingly, even eagerly, like the middle class, like the upper class, like the species.Jean Jaures and Barbara Tuchman ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>

  • Trevor
    2019-05-13 14:10

    We humans like to think that there are single moments in our lives and in history around which the rest of history pivots. The point of these pivots is that they explain not only what comes after, but (and not unlike my new reading glasses) also snaps into focus all that went before. Suddenly the world makes sense. Strangely enough I don't think this was the experience the world had with the First World War – although it probably ought to have been. The war was so terrible (in the sense of striking terror in all who witnessed it) that rather than putting a clarifying lens on what had come before, it instead put rose coloured glasses on the nose of the world and people could only look back in wonder at what they now knew had been a golden age. ‘Beware golden ages’ is probably as good a motto for a historian as any other I can think up and so that can be the epigraph for this review.This is a fascinatingly interesting book discussing a fascinatingly interesting time. As she says at the start, it wouldn’t be too hard to write another book on the same period and do much the same thing as she has done here without touching on any of the subjects discussed in this particuar book. Tuchman gives us a flavour of the world in the years before the war and that helps us to get an understanding of why the war might have happened in ways that were later hidden by the rose coloured glass of what became our collective memories.This too is a period which I thought I knew things about, but one of the things I’ve found is that the interest in history is either increased or destroyed by detail. Here the detail brings to life the period and makes sense of what I had heard bits and pieces about previously, but only in sketches no bigger than thumb-nail size, rather than the lovely detail presented here.The Dreyfus Affair is an interesting case in point. I’ve known of this since my teens, I have known it centred around a Jewish military officer who had been falsely accused of something and that people nearly tore the country apart due to the injustice of the case. I knew Zola had written J’accuse, something I’ve always planned to read. I also know that Lenin referred to the case as proving that the revolution may not come about due to economic crisis, but due to political crisis. All this I knew, but what he had been accused of, why the case was so dramatic, what social forces were aligned on which sides and why, even the link to Germany in the case and how transfixed not only France, but the world became with the case, all that I knew virtually nothing at all.There is also a wonderful discussion on the young Wilhelm II of Germany that is remarkably interesting, particularly given his role later in the rush towards war. But for the rest of this review I am going to look at an idea from this book review http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/... and how it fits with the problems for the Socialist movement in these pre-War years.The distinction between hope and despair is an interesting one, although as I've thought about it I’m starting to think it might not be a very useful distinction. They sound a bit like opposites, hope and despair, but are they really? What is the use of hope if it is not based on despair and can despair lead to anything other than suicide if there is no hope? The problems facing the socialists at the turn of the last century were not all that different from these questions. There is a nice line in the book where two socialists are walking down a street and one stops to put a coin in the plate of a beggar, to which his companion chides him for helping to delay the revolution. Here is the great schism in the left – the purists who saw Capitalism as an evil incapable of reform that needed to be violently removed from the face of the earth, and the reformers who saw any incremental improvement in the welfare of the working class as being justifiable on its own account. To be honest, both sides of this are equally obsessed with hope and despair – both were witnesses of the current despair, both hoped to improve the lot of those suffering, both saw the other as offering a false hope. Either a false hope in incremental improvement or a false hope in final and complete revolution. Both could look on in contempt at the other for betraying either the immediate or the long term welfare of those they sought to relieve. It is a rare thing indeed to hear people talk of social revolution today. This is something that has been left to small groups of alienated young people at university campuses, young people who, ironically enough, spend time at university to ensure they move as far from the classes they would ‘assist’ as they possibly can. This is quite a change, as prior to the war these acrimonious debates rent the movement in twain and the effects on the movement could still be felt well into the 1970s. And this is where I would like to say something about the benefits of history – what can we learn from history? I guess the first thing is that history is a series of competing narratives – just as this book is about the socialist movement tearing itself apart at the start of the last century it is also about the Anarchists preparing bombs to spark the revolution as it is about politicians and kings and businessmen and artists all seeking to leave their mark on the world and on history.But what can we say about hope and despair? Is one more a benefit than the other? Are they alternate faces on the same coin? And what about today? I guess it would be easy, if a little simpleminded, to say that the reformers won and the revolutionaries brought about horrors even worse than those they sought to replace. I say ‘simpleminded’ as I often wonder if the Russian people would have had any better a time of it if the Capitalist revolution at the start of 1917 had been successful. The ‘collectivisation of farms’ would have still needed to happen, just as it needed to happen in the rest of Europe and America – just that rather than the Kulaks being blamed and punished during this process, they would have been the ones being made rich. In equal measure there is hope and despair to be learnt from history. We can equally well show we learn and learn nothing from her pages. In whichever way you want to look at history – as a great teacher leading to the possibility of a brighter world or as Cassandra, bitterly ignored – a voice well worth listening to is Tuchman’s, another excellent book.

  • Clif Hostetler
    2019-05-20 11:16

    Barbara Tuchman is a widely respected historian, and I have always assumed I'd get around to reading all her books some day (I read two of her books in my pre- Goodreads.com days). I had not previously read The Proud Tower probably because the era prior to World War I is of limited interest to me. Things changed recently when Ken Follett came out with his book, Fall of Giants, and a book group I belong to decided to read, Edith Wharton's book The Age of Innocence. These are both fictional stories set in the late 19th and/or early 20th centuries. What better way to prepare myself for those books than to read Tuchman's nonfiction account of the era.World War I was so horrible that it causes many to look back on the pre-war era as being a Golden Age. The book's Foreword indicates that, "It did not seem so golden ... in the midst of it." Tuchman offers the following rule based on her research:"all statements of how lovely it was in that era made by persons contemporary with it will be found to have been made after 1914." The Proud Tower is divided into chapters of varied subjects and I've decided to give my impressions of the book by making the following short comments about each chapterChapter 1 "The Patricians (England: 1895-1902)" is about British aristocracy of the era and focuses primarily on Prime Ministers, Salisbury and Balfour. I found this to be a boring chapter which is an indication of my interest in reading descriptions of British politians. They all seemed to convey a haughty confidence that God is an Englishman, and thus it is God's will that the British take on the white man's burden of maintaining a world wide empire.Chapter 2 "The Idea and the Deed (Anarchists: 1890-1914)" is about the terrorist of that era. Anarchists had the theory that organized government was the cause of human suffering. It follows from this belief that if sufficient chaos could be created by acts of violence to cause governments to collapse, people would be then free to live in an egalitarian utopian society. The terror caused to this end by Anarchists of this era are summarized in the following quotation from the book:"...six heads of state were assassinated for its sake in the twenty years before 1914. They were President Carnot of France in 1894, Premier Canovas of Spain in 1897, Empress Elizabeth of Austria in 1898, King Humbert of Italy in 1900, President McKinley of the United States in 1901, and another Premier of Spain, Canalejas, in 1912."Chapter 3 "End of a Dream (United States: 1890-1902)" is the story how USA caught the colonial fever and ventured into their own war of aggression in the Spanish-American War. Americans then emulated the European colonial powers by holding on to The Philippines. Chapter 4 "Give Me Combat" is an account of France 1894-1899. France's story is told largely by telling how the nation was tied up in knots from 1897 to 1899 because of the Dreyfus Affair. Anyone in France during those years who heard the term, "the affair," would have known what it meant. The Dreyfus Affair became a proxy battle for the division between the conservative and liberals of the time.”The Revisionists, who fought for retrial, saw France as the fount of liberty, the country of light, the teacher of reason, the codifier of law, and to them the knowledge that she could have perpetrated a wrong and connived at a miscarriage of justice was insufferable. They fought for Justice. Those on the other side claimed to fight in the name of ‘Patrie’ for the preservation of the Army as the shield and protector of the nation and of the Church as the guide and instructor of its soul.”Chapter 5 "The Steady Drummer" focuses on the peace conferences held at The Hague in 1899 and 1907. The purpose of the conferences was disarmament but the best they could do was agree to very limited rules of war. The participants at the time did not know, unlike the readers of this book, that World War I was coming. In hindsight it's pretty obvious that the the conferences didn't have a chance. There are some incredible quotes from this era, one of which is listed below:"Lord Lansdowne, opposing the Old Age Pensions Bill in the House of Lords, said it would cost as much as a great war and the expense of the South African War was a better investment. ‘A war, terrible as are its consequences, has at any rate the effect of raising the moral fibre of the country …’ “ Chapter 6 titled "Neroism is in the Air" is about Germany 1890-1914 and uses Richard Strauss and his music as a primary focus while also covering others such as Kaiser Wilhem and Friedrich Nietzsche. One item that caught my attention is how Tuchman described "Also sprach Zarathustra," Op. 30 (Eng. Thus Spoke Zarathustra). It's a tone poem composed by Richard Strauss in 1896 inspired by Friedrich Nietzsche's philosophical treatise of the same name. What I found interesting is that Tuchman was writing in the mid 1960s and thus couldn't do what any writer after 1968 would have done and refer to it as the theme from "2001: A Space Odyssey." So how does one describe it when you can't refer to the movie?"Trumpets sounded the opening, swelling into an immense orchestral paean by the whole ensemble which seemed to depict less the sunrise stated in the program notes than the creation of the world. Its magnificence was breathtaking." Chapter 7 titled "Transfer of Power (England: 1902-1911)" tells the story of the beginnings of the Labor Party and the ascendance of the Liberal Party in England. This chapter describes the long tortured path toward passage of the Parliament Bill that limited the veto power of the House of Lords. At the time of its passage some considered it akin to near revolution, but in the end it hardly made a ripple of change.Chapter 8, "The Death of Jaures (The Socialists: 1890-1914)" is about the Socialist and Labor movments of the time. Jean Jaurès who's name is in the chapter title was a French Socialist leader. He was an antimilitarist and was assassinated at the outbreak of World War I by a French nationalist. His death is symbolic of how the socialist cause was swallowed up the World War I. Some Socialists had theorized prior to WWI that future wars would be prevented because of organized labor's international spirit of brotherhood of workers. We all know how wrong that theory turned out to be. The following quotation from the book caught my eye as one of the more astounding comments."While campaigning for McKinley, Theodore Roosevelt said in a private conversation, 'The sentiment now animating a large proportion of our people can only be suppressed as the Commune was suppressed, by taking ten or a dozen of their leaders out, standing them against a wall and shooting them dead. I believe it will come to that. These leaders are plotting a social revolution and the subversion of the American Republic.' "TR was referring to the Socialist Party of America and their presidential candidate, Eugene Debs.______________The following didn't come from this book. However, it's interesting information that I recently read about happenings in this era which I feel compelled to share with those who read my reviews:Aspirin came into being in the late 1890s when Bayer in Germany began distributing it in powder form. One patient who should not have been taking aspirin was young Alexei Nicholaevich Romanov of Russia, who had hemophilia. Aspirin would make the bleeding in this disorder worse, but the imperial doctors likely gave the boy this new wonder drug without knowing. Alexei, son of the last czar, probably improved because the mystic Grigori Rasputin told the boy's mother to stop modern treatments and instead rely on spiritual healing. Rasputin's influence on the Romanov family may have contributed to the uprising against them, making aspirin a possible player in their murder and in the end of czarist Russia.

  • Dan
    2019-05-14 12:49

    This is another outstanding book by Barbara Tuchman. It paints a vivid and fascinating picture of the world in the period before World War 1. I think she manages to avoid the obvious danger of seeing everything through the lens created by our modern perspective, knowing, as we do now, that the War was coming and that it would change everything about the world forever. The descriptions of society in Britain, the US, and in particular France (I found the in-depth explanation of the Dreyfus affair to be particularly fascinating) are all incredibly illuminating. There is also a chapter devoted to the issue of Anarchism and its importance in Europe (and the US). We tend to forget just how many political leaders were assassinated during that period, and the important effect these actions had on society.My only real complaint is that she focuses almost exclusively on Europe and the US. Obviously, there is much more to the World than this, and more about Russia, the Far East, Africa and the Middle East would be nice (along with South America). However, given where WW1 would take place and the actors involved, it's not surprising that she focuses where she does.All in all this is a fascinating book and one that should ideally be read by anyone planning on opining about the period or its cultural and historical heritage.

  • Evan Leach
    2019-05-22 10:59

    In The Proud Tower, historian extraordinaire Barbara Tuchman takes on the 25 years leading up to World War I. Focusing on events in England, France, Germany, the U.S. and (to a lesser extent) the rest of the West from 1890-1914, Tuchman presents eight essays that, taken together, provide a revealing look at the “Gilded Age.”The Patricians – England: 1895-1902The first of two essays focusing on England, The Patricians presents the world of the top 1% in all of its shameless, decadent, nineteenth century glory. I think this material (the English aristocracy) will be pretty familiar to most readers, but Tuchman’s detailed research is still a real treat. From their obsessions with hunting and horses to their disdain for the “common” man, many of the characters in this essay would have happily fit into the Elizabethan era with little more than a change of clothing. Tuchman wisely puts this chapter first in order to show how, at least at the top of the pyramid, life at the end of the 19th century was not all that different from life hundreds of years ago. But within a generation, that would all change.The Idea and the Deed – The Anarchists: 1890-1914Unfortunately, one of the downsides of having a wealthy, all-powerful aristocracy is that you’re going to have some pretty miserable people among the other 99%. From 1890-1914, the multitude struck back, murdering a number of princes, princesses, and other heads of state. Even an American President went down in the name of the cause. The Anarchists of the Gilded Age were similar to the Socialists in that they were dedicated to the destruction of the current social order. However, they rejected any real organization entirely, believing instead that “the deed” (high-profile killings) repeated enough times would somehow cause the current system to collapse within itself. For me, the surprise in this essay was how many people were willing to martyr themselves for such a nebulous and seemingly aimless cause – under the gilding, the wood was rotting.End of a Dream – The United States: 1890-1902The focus of this chapter is the political shift in U.S. politics from isolationism to a player on the world stage. There is some interesting stuff here, but I thought Thomas Reed completely stole the show. Reed was Speaker of the House for much of the 1890’s, and managed to break the power of the absent quorum (a goofy rule where the minority party could block House business by simply refusing to say anything when their name was called under quorum call and thereby avoid being counted). The fact that the House managed to get anything done at all in its first century of existence with this power on the books is amazing, and I thought this section of the essay was the most riveting reading. “Give Me Combat!”– France: 1894-99This essay was considerably more depressing. Basically, a French officer was sentenced to life after being convicted of treason. When it became clear within two years that the officer (Dreyfuss) was innocent, and another man was the real criminal, for some reason the French military decided to cover everything up. It gradually became clearer and clearer to the public at large that Dreyfuss was not a traitor, but the military refused to back down. Making things more complicated were the French people’s almost reverential regard for their military (despite/because of some relatively recent humiliating defeats) and Dreyfuss’ Jewish ancestry.Basically, the whole affair is a cautionary story about the dangers of nationalism. The incident was an international embarrassment for France, as other European powers couldn’t believe that the French government would allow an obviously innocent man to languish in prison for life just so its military leaders could save face. Dreyfuss was not officially exonerated for over 10 years, and the scandal was the talk of Europe. Depressing, but I knew nothing about this and it was a fascinating read.The Steady Drummer – The Hague: 1899 and 1907The U.N. before the U.N., essentially. The major powers gathered to discuss disarmament and arbitration; partly because they were growing worried about the capacity for destruction new armaments had unleashed, and partly because they were worried that if they blew it off, the growing Socialist powers would declare their governments ineffective. The participants set about drafting international rules for warfare with gusto, but had little interest in seriously contemplating the big issues. While world leaders were growing wary about advances in military technology, it wasn’t until the new weaponry was actually unleashed in 1914 that anyone truly realized that the game had changed.“Neroism Is In the Air”– Germany: 1890-1914The German chapter, interestingly, focuses on German culture over politics during the 25 years at issue, particularly the German music scene and Richard Strauss. I’m not sure that this essay will be for everyone, but I really enjoyed it. Transfer of Power – England: 1902-11In the 20 years from 1890 to 1910, there was a fundamental shift in English politics. The working class gained considerable political power, and under the Asquith Government the House of Lords saw much of its power stripped away in 1911. A strong essay, and a striking one when compared to the first essay in this book, set a single generation before.The Death of Jaurès – The Socialists: 1890-1914The book closes with the rise of socialism. Socialism is a dirty word in the U.S. today, but after reading the previous seven essays it is easy to understand why many citizens found themselves disillusioned by the current social order and were ready to embrace radical change. The contours of the movement differed from country to country, but the socialists achieved considerable power during this era and those of them who were willing to work within the system (to a degree) forced through some badly-needed reforms, like restrictions on child labor and limits to working hours. But the chapter ends in tragedy. Many socialists believed that workers would cling to universal proletarian brotherhood in the lead up to WWI, and refuse to fight, but when the call to arms rang out the workers marched to the front with as much gusto as the other classes. As WWI began, Jaurès was dead, and nationalism had trumped socialism after all.Final VerdictI am a big fan of Tuchman’s work, and this is one of her best efforts. The era from 1890-1914 was really the last gasp of the old world; by the end of World War I there were millions of casualties, including Europe’s sense of optimism:”The proud tower built up through the great age of European civilization was an edifice of grandeur and passion, of riches and beauty and dark cellars. Its inhabitants lived, as compared to a later time, with more self-reliance, more confidence, more hope; greater magnificence, extravagance and elegance; more careless ease, more gaiety, more pleasure in each other's company and conversation, more injustice and hypocrisy, more misery and want, more sentiment including false sentiment, less sufferance of mediocrity, more dignity in work, more delight in nature, more zest. The Old World had much that has since been lost, whatever may have been gained. Looking back on it from 1915, Emile Verhaeren, the Belgian Socialist poet, dedicated his pages, ‘With emotion, to the man I used to be.’”4.5 stars, highly recommended.

  • Tony
    2019-05-08 11:03

    THE PROUD TOWER. (1966). Barbara W. Tuchman. ****. In this highly researched and very readable book, the author examines what was going on in several countries just prior to WW I. Although she claims that other countries could have been picked, she decided on the final grouping using no real set of criteria other than interest to the general reader. “This book is an attempt to discover the quality of the world from which the Great War came...I have tried to concentrate on society rather than the state.” In her first chapter, “The Patricians: England 1895-1902, she examines the state of British government; who was running it and its constituency. It is obvious that the whole structure was composed of a good-old-boy network of titled gentleman who all knew each other, and, in many cases were related through marriage or linearity. They all went, mostly, to the same schools and belonged to the same clubs. They were all relatively financially independent through earnings on their land. The workings of their government were directed, primarily, to the support and continuance of their power. The review given here is exhaustive. No need to try and memorize all the players – most of whom we Americans never heard of. At the end, however, you will get an excellent picture of a country on the brink of a change that would be forced upon it by those not in power. She does the same thing for Germany and for America and France. Why America? At the time, America was just realizing its power and was wanting to flex its muscles. She examines the roots of the Spanish-American War and its consequences. With France, she concentrates on the Dreyfus Affair, and the seam it created that ultimately split the country apart. There’s lots here that I certainly didn’t know before, and lots to think about after having read this book. Recommended.

  • Mikey B.
    2019-05-18 18:49

    This book consists of eight sections, or as the title suggests – portraits. They are uneven in scope and not that inter-connected.One of the strongest ones is on the Dreyfus affair in France and it is full of passion as one would expect. Ms. Tuchman gives a stupendous view of the colliding forces at work. There is also one chapter on the Anarchist movement with an intriguing analysis of these rather eccentric and misguided people. The last chapter is on “International Communism” with a good exposition of the trumping of nationalist borders over the Marxist myth of the “unity of the working class”.The section on the emergence of the Labour Party in England along with the fading of the English aristocracy was also of interest.The discussion of internal opposition to U.S. expansionism and imperialism to Cuba, the Philippines and Hawaii seemed to miss an essential point that the U.S. has always been expansionist. One has only to look at the sorry plight of the American Indians whose land was stolen and who were either killed or forced to settle on small reservations. Nevertheless some interesting points were made.There is a considerable amount of name-dropping through-out which made reading tedious at times. The section on Germany was mostly on Richard Strauss at the cost of giving a fuller picture of life in this significant country. The first chapter on the English aristocracy was dry and lacked substance.But to emphasize the good over the bad – the section on the first disarmament talks at The Hague were wonderful and we get a vivid picture of the conflicting nations and personalities involved.All-in-all I felt the book uneven. A more recent book “The Vertigo Years” by Philipp Blom also discusses this era from the same point of view – the lives of people prior to the Great Catastrophe of 1914.

  • Kent
    2019-04-29 12:00

    I'm hesitating between a simple recommendation: "This was tremendous. Go forth and read ye likewise," and a more voluminous splatter of opinions and unhelpful comments.No, actually, I'm not hesitating. The choice is simple.Tuchman's object is to reveal the last decade or two of the Christendom, its pillars and its dynamiters. She covers the magnificent aristocracy of England in the first chapter. In their contempt of ideology the House of Lords were very Burkean, and incidentally reminded me a great deal of the aristocratical/agrarian society advocated in "I'll Take My Stand." (This kind of society really did exist once. For almost a thousand years, in fact.) But in the midst of the Edenic garden of the British peers lurked a (you guessed it) snake. Sssss. Viz., the commoners were disposed to be fractious at this point in history, owing to discontent with grueling hours, cruel treatment, and hellish living conditions. The reaction to these wrongs is covered in Tuchman's chapters on Anarchism and Socialism.In fact, by this time all of Christendom was in tension between two opposite ways of life. The aristocracy had come into existence in the Middle Ages, assuming naturally the role of governing over (and for) the lower classes. As feudalism goes, they carried out their role of protection and provision that the lower classes desperately needed, and in return the peasants gave them loyalty and service. When the industrial revolution and the rise of the middle class came along, the stable system of peasantry, after a millennia or more, disappeared. They were drawn from the farm to the factory, and there enslaved to a degree unimaginable in centuries past. Allured by wealth, the aristocrats abdicated their role of protection. They endeavored to reap the benefits of industrialism without suffering its consequences. They embraced the smoke and gears that brought them wealth, and in due time the filth and mechanicry destroyed their green fields and organic institutions. They supped with the devil, and their spoon was too short.The imbalance between the Edenic gardens of the nobles and the infernal machinery of the cities was too great. Something had to give, and it did. Prophets of doom like Marx sounded the trumpet, and laborers by the thousands joined the standard of Socialism. They marched, denounced, rioted, and struck. More sinster yet were the Anarchists. They bombed, stabbed, and shot in heroical efforts to ring in the millennium of communism and fraternity. It seemed like all of Europe was facing a French Revolution that could only end it revolt and death.Oddly enough, it didn't happen. "The worker" Marx said, "has no Fatherland." Actually, he did. Nationalism proved stronger than socialism. Kaiser's messianic blustering, the inferiority complex of the French--Britain's blind conservatism, and America's secular millennialism, actually destroyed Christendom. When the guns of August roared, the international workers of the world found the pull of the Fatherland was stronger, after all. Swamped in stupid pride, like Cadmus's army raised from dragon's teeth, the nations of Europe fell on each other and fought till they were dead.And we, like Cadmus, wait hopefully for a remnant of five to found a new civilisation.

  • Bryan
    2019-05-09 18:56

    I had looked forward to reading this for quite some time, but now that I have finally gotten around to it, I'm feeling the effect of my high expectations. Tuchman seems best, to me, when she's describing an event, as in The Zimmermann Telegram; and although the individual chapters of The Proud Tower occasionally had the same kind of narrative thrust, overall, the 'portrait' style that she uses here does not seem to maximize her talent as an author.The fact is, there is no single 'story' to tell when covering this period. Or maybe it is all one story, but with such a large cast that it would fill multiple volumes. (And Tuchman admits, in her forward, that she could easily have written one or two more books with the research she did for this one) At any rate, given the nature of the task that she set for herself, the book is a success, and entertaining to read. Because it is episodic though, I thought it somewhat hit-or-miss. The first chapter, describing the English upper class and aristocracy was little more than a parade of names to me. The second, covering the rise of anarchy and syndicalism, was better, and I really enjoyed the third, covering America's rush to Empire. The fourth went into some depth about the Dreyfus affair, and anyone thinking that the divisiveness we are experiencing in America now--2017--is anything new should definitely read about France during the Dreyfus Affair. The peace initiatives at the Hague before and after the turn of the century (ch.5), the rise of militarism in Germany (ch.6), the transfer of power from the English upper class to the Labour and the Liberal parties (ch.7) and the efforts of Socialism before the war (ch.8) all had more of that narrative feel about them, and were, to me, absorbing. What I takeaway from the book is Ms. Tuchman's contention that the world before the war was not a static, ethereal place, like an impressionist painting, which was overwhelmingly light and airy and filled with the promise of progress. It was, rather, an extremely contentious time, and a miserable time for a great many people. A period where forces that had been advocating for change since 1848 and before were finally realizing some of their goals, though entrenched power was still fighting back. It is a portrait of a world which one can see that the war was, if not inevitable, then at least not improbable, rather than a world which was saddled with the conflict as if it had come from out of the blue. To anyone with a passing interest in this time, I'd say Tuchman's book is an excellent place to start--it will either satisfy the urge, or point to other directions for further study. Those who have already read very much covering this time period may find it too much of a glancing overview.

  • Patrick Gibson
    2019-05-02 17:17

    1850 is my favorite year. What? You don’t have a favorite year? Sure you do. It is the one you picked during the late night drunken college game of ‘What If You Could Go Back in Time Where and When Would You Go?’ I could waver a little on my date. 1849 or 1851 would be all right. And I’d have to land somewhere in Europe. Wagner, Beethoven, Brahms, Berlioz, Balzac, Hardy, Flaubert, Monet, Manet, et. al. where clustered either at the beginning or the end of their lives and the great Romantic Age crashed into the Industrial Revolution rushing pell-mell into the Modern Age. It was a great apotheosis of the arts. Did I mention Wagner? He’s my man, you know. Anywhere you turned brilliance abounded.This past week on Bill McGlaughlins classical music program (NPR) his subject was primarily Richard Strauss (a God in the pantheon of Post Romantic composers) and his contemporaries. The name of the series was ‘The Proud Tower’ and between selections he read wonderful quotes. Assuming everyone knew what he was talking about he bypassed an explanation so it wasn’t until the third program the little light came on in my diffuse brain that the quotes and title were the same. At that point I still had no clue ‘The Proud Tower’ was by Barbara Tuchman whose only book I’d read was ‘The Distant Mirror.’ I was 20 and promptly dropped her from my litany of authors I want to pursue.While ‘The Proud Tower’ doesn’t fit my favorite year category, it comes close. The subtitle is ‘A Portrait of the World Before the War 1890—1914. I tracked a copy down at Darns & Sloeble (they claimed there wasn’t a copy in stock and yet there it was on the shelf; so much for computers). I absolutely marvel at historians. To be so obsessive and methodical with research is beyond my comprehension. Yet, there it all is. Tuchman encompasses the political, social, literary and artistic world before the Great War clearly and concisely. It was an age when titled land owners were coming to and end. Socialism was blossoming from the murk of industrialization. Composers and authors were rebelling against form. Other than the Boar War, the world was at peace. It was a fascinating time. There’s a lot to be covered, thus the 462 pages, but her writing is imminently readable and she has a crystalline way of tying people and events together. If you like history, it doesn’t get any better than this. Even if you don’t—there is an entire chapter on Richard Strauss. Pure heaven.

  • Rebecca
    2019-05-14 17:03

    Back in high school (not for high school, just during), I read A Distant Mirror and was very impressed. So when I saw this on the shelf at the library, I snagged it.This is...an odd book. On the paragraph level, the writing is first rate. The scholarship is excellent. But the overall book is rather disjointed. There's no overarching thesis or storyline, so it ends up just being "here are some things that were important that happened in some countries that were important in this time span". Each chapter deals with a thing centered in a specific country, whether it be the decline of the aristocracy in England, the political career of the Speaker of the House in the US, or culture in Germany. It claims to be a portrait of the world, and some light is shed on some world events. But there's nothing about Africa, the Middle East, Australia, South America, or most of Asia except in how it touches political battles in Washington over the Spanish-American war in the Philippines. If meant to show the lead-up to World War I, I would have thought Japan should at least merit a chapter. It's also more English-centric than its billing suggests, but I'll forgive that as a fault endemic to most historians, who view things through their country's lens.The chapters are wildly uneven. That first one, about English aristocrats, just feels like a random assortment of trivia about minor British statesmen. In the middle, the book hits its stride with chapters such as France's (on the Dreyfus affair) that tell a coherent story in an illuminating way. It falters again towards the end, though. I wish there had been some sense of why these specific incidents were chosen. Out of all the political battles, brush fire wars, cultural events, why these specific ones? What do these reveal about the world in general? Tuchman does a marvelous job of showing instead of telling, but perhaps just a little bit of telling would have been in order.

  • S.
    2019-05-15 10:51

    I've been punching out the four stars lately, but in justification, if the book is a two I usually just let it gather some dust. Even the threes take longer to finish and then I usually find some excuse to delay the write up. Fours I can consume like potato chips.... Munch munch munch. Supposedly reading is good for you, but after three hundred books this year, non fiction even, I know even less and less. Tuchman is famous for "guns of august" which probably established the concept of the popular history work. Putting style above research, the result is accessible rather than groundbreaking. Here in Proud Tower Tuchman buys into the idea of "Germans as bullies", but otherwise accurately portrays the myth of the belle époque. I write "myth" because of course the world in 1890-1914 was composed of millions of unprotected workers, rather than the two hundred people at Le jardin de Luxembourg . Still there is the sense that great catastrophe awaits as well as efforts to avert the crisis. To some degree, this work is marred by an over-emphasis on Tuchman's specific concerns. Suffragism gets extensive treatment, as does an acid dissection of France's handling of the Dreyfus affair, but the world shaking victory of Japan over Russia in 1905, less than twenty years after feudal Japan was opened to the West by Peary, sees little mention. Further, other historians have done better coverage of the incipient decline of the great English aristocracy, and Dadism seems less examined than it might have been, also Tuchman does cover some aspects.Overall, a fine essay and examination of a world on the brink.

  • Owen
    2019-05-08 12:13

    Barbara Tuchman is a very good writer of history. It's one of those situations in which you thank the Lord, or somebody, that this particular person decided to go ahead in this particular direction. I don't know if just anyone will enjoy "The Proud Tower," since it deals with a very precise period in history, the Victorian Age in Britain, or the time leading up to the First World War. However, for me Tuchman's book, while not actually revelatory (her book on the origins of W. W. I - "The Guns of August" - definitely was), proved well worth reading. She tends to deal a lot in anecdotes, making you wonder if some of the remarks she attributes to others have been taken out of context. But if this is a weakness, it also lends strength to the book by making it eminently readable. The period of world and particularly European history leading up to those August guns is endlessly interesting, since here was a world which in many ways, was closer to that of the 10th century, than the 20th. Aristocracy was fading, labour movements were slowly but surely making themselves felt, and the lights were, as we now know, slowly going out all over Europe. If you haven't read Tuchman yet, you are missing a very serious investigator who has the added charm of authorial integrity, but doesn't ram anything down your throat. It's intelligent, often perspicacious writing, which really freshens up our notions of what a history book should be.

  • Robert Isenberg
    2019-05-02 14:59

    Ever wary of the Edwardians, I knew that Barbara Tuchman could enliven this dreary industrial period. And my, did she ever: The story of English nobility, mad anarchists, high-minded Socialists and the throbbing heart of impending war all become glaring signs of the world's most pointless and catastrophic olympiad. One can see the origins of German nationalism, the symptoms of French self-importance (by way of the Dreyfus Affair), and the transformation of America from a philosophical experiment into a land-grabbing behemoth. A congressman's most innocent remark becomes internationally significant under Tuchman's refined lens. "The Proud Tower" does not surpass "A Distant Mirror," but its importance is far more obvious; it becomes apparent how the last decade of the 19th century set the stage for the entire 20th. Tuchman has a pessimistic streak -- there are few admirable characters in her historians, only bumblers and blowhards -- but she shows affection, despite herself, for such characters as Richard Strauss and Monsieur Comerade Jaures. The book's most shocking aspect: The era of its writing, in the early 1960's. Tuchman may have felt skeptical of heroes, but she is quickly becoming one of mine.

  • Cera
    2019-05-07 14:05

    Tuchman is rightfully famous as a historian, but I found this book disappointing. It's a sound scholarly look at the period 1890-1914, focusing on the social movements within the powerful European nations & the United States that, according to Tuchman, set the stage for the outbreak of WWI. Unfortuantely, Tuchman doesn't obviously tie her thesis (presented in the introduction) to the rest of the book, and thus her admirable work on issues such as international Socialism, the Dreyfus Affair, and the transition of power in Britain from the aristocracy to the middle classes all seems much more descriptive than analytical. I came away from the book full of new information, but without the understanding I hoped to gain of just _how_ these social issues tied into the Great War. I kept wanting to say, "Yes, okay, but *why do I care?* What, pray tell, does all of this *mean*?" I don't know if my disappointment was a factor of being used to a different style of writing history -- the book, after all, is over 40 years old -- or if Tuchman perhaps bit off a little more than she could chew, but I had hoped for more. That being said, I'm still looking forward to reading her classic _The Guns of August_ in the near future!

  • Genia Lukin
    2019-04-26 18:15

    Tuchman, as usual, is incisive and sharp in the best sense of these words. The book was not quite as fascinating to me as Guns of August has been, but then, that is really not much of a criticism, as Guns of August is a book one produces once a lifetime.This book surveys the portrait of Europe and America before the First World War; it presents chapters on England, the Socialists, the Anarchists, a chapter on the Dreyfus affair, and another on German music and culture. It presents a world both very similar and very different from the world today. everything seems more impassioned, ideals seem larger than life, social storms are stormier, and the upheavals of society are more powerful. Tuchman manages to bring it to life without sparing anyone or anything one of the funniest and most precise wits in the historical profession. The prose is as always clear and organized, the situations carefully and meticulously handled, with a large amount of nuance and objectivity that is creating levels of complexity difficult to encounter elsewhere.Excellent book for anyone interested in the period or in the changes that came over that world after the Great War.

  • Andrew Obrigewitsch
    2019-05-13 16:02

    It amazes me that every time I read one of Tuchman's books I realize how utterly ignorant I am oh history. And I got strait As in history in school and watch history documentaries for fun. How it seems that most of these documentaries seem to only focus on wars and school history books don't teach one must of anything. After reading Tuchman's books I realize that school history books are made to go through the motions of teaching, without upsetting carefully contrived political believes that are easily shattered if one actually knows history. I have a feeling that the founding fathers did not envision this when establishing an education system of this country. So in conclusion everyone should read Tuchman's books. These are not boring try history books, they are like reading a good story. These will make you realize how little you truly know and thus become educated as happened to me.

  • Dwight
    2019-05-21 15:47

    The Proud Tower is a series of loosely connected summaries of key political, economic and cultural movements of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Tuchman’s writing style is enjoyable and stimulating. Her talent for selecting a compelling character (Thomas Reed, Arthur Balfour and others) on whom to center her narrative of surrounding events is effective and in a similar vein to her award-winning efforts with General Stillwell in China. She deftly jumps from the world of English aristocrats to the subversive movements of anarchists and socialists; from a who’s who of the world’s military and political elite at the Hague Conferences to the influence of the prominent musical composers of the age; from the intrigue of the Dreyfus Affair to intricate battles over parliamentary reform. The Proud Tower offers a menu of delicious appetizers that while enjoyable, leave the reader tempted to explore the era’s events and prominent figures more thoroughly.

  • Rebecca
    2019-04-26 14:01

    Tuchman knew her stuff, but this was fairly dry and thus a bit uneven. I found the chapters concerning the Dreyfus affair in France and Strauss and Germany much more interesting than the others (although the anarchist one was fairly interesting as well). Some of that is my problem; parliamentary/congressional politics don't interest me as much as social history or autocratic rulers.

  • Robert
    2019-05-05 14:51

    I finished this book mostly out of moral obligation. You get to read about the anarchists, socialists, and upper 1% right before WWI. The Dreyfus affair was kind of interesting. It was like each, very long, chapter was a book in itself. I was hoping to get insight into Eastern-Europe (e.g. the Austrian Empire and Bohemia and Poland), but there was nothing there.

  • Erik Graff
    2019-04-30 11:07

    This was the first book I ever read about Europe just prior to the first world war. Tuchman's accessible style and choice of topics representative of the period inspired the reading of her book about the onset of the war itself, The Guns of August, immediately thereafter.Decades later, in 1990, I reread the thing.

  • Brendan
    2019-05-23 14:10

    This book just wasn't very interesting unfortunately. I had thought that that it would be a little more closely connected to the events that eventually led up to the First World War. The section on anarchists was interesting and so was the part about the Dreyfus Affair and the first peace/demilitarization conferences but most of the rest just bored me to tears.

  • Claire
    2019-05-20 12:08

    Dense but fascinating look at the political climate in Europe and (to a lesser extent) America on the eve of the Great War. Works as an excellent companion to A.S. Byatt's The Children's Book or Downtown Abbey.

  • Brad Lyerla
    2019-05-03 14:01

    Europeans and some Americans who were alive as the 19th century came to a close were aware that they were living in a unique time. The French even coined a term for it, fin de siècle. In her foreword, Tuchman notes that fin de siècle often connotes decadence, but she explains that western society was not decaying so much as it was “bursting with new tensions and accumulated energies” as the 19th century closed and the 20th century began. THE PROUD TOWER is Tuchman’s account of these new tensions and energies and it is a fine book. Tuchman organizes her book into eight chapters and they are a handy way to discuss THE PROUD TOWER. Chapter one is The Patricians. By this, Tuchman refers to the ruling class in the British Empire, the leading power in the world at that time. The Victorian Age was coming to a close, but the Conservatives were still very much in control as Tuchman opens her discussion. She focuses on Lord Salisbury and Arthur Balfour and their contemporaries. These were men of wealth, education and accomplishment in business, government, war and learning. They enjoyed a clarity of purpose that ceased to exist in the 20th century. That is not to say that they were right. Rather, they never doubted that they were right and sometimes they were. Of course, there was a great deal of hypocrisy. The Victorian Age is thought of by some today as a time of prudishness. That may have been the case for the middle class, but not at all for the privileged. Many of them enjoyed themselves greedily and sensually while feigning dignity and restraint for the benefit of the masses.Chapter two focuses on the Anarchists in Europe and America. They are a curiosity to us today. While they had an impact in their day through their great acts of terrorism (the assassination of President McKinley, for example), their influence was brief. Anarchism simply cannot take root given its abhorrence of organization. And it faded away by the end of the Great War.The third chapter is about the transformation of the US from a country that espoused the right of self-government and distrusted the colonial activities of the European powers to a country that actively embraced Imperialism and began its own empire initially through the Spanish American war. It is sobering to be reminded that it was the progressives who advocated imperial ambitions for the US against the better judgment of the conservatives. Of course, today our country has isolationists on both ends of the political spectrum. Theirs is an isolationism that is premised on self-interest rather than respect for the right of others to self-government. Tuchman does not address this modern sense of isolationism and, if it did exist, it seems not to have been influential during the late 19th and early 20th Centuries.The fourth chapter addresses The Dreyfus Affair in France. THE PROUD TOWER effectively conveys how this shameful episode captured the attention of the entire western world and deeply undermined the prestige of the French in the international community. Chapter five, entitled The Steady Drummer, is about the international peace efforts, ironically started by Czar Nicholas, that resulted in the Hague Conventions and the establishment of The World Court. The Czar’s motivation was not altruistic. He hoped to slow down the arms race then happening in Europe because Russia was hopelessly behind and he wanted time to catch up.Chapter six is about the rise of Germany. Tuchman gives a great deal of attention to the arts in Germany and the accomplishments of Richard Strauss in particular. This is helpful to understanding Germany’s zeitgeist, but far more important to Europe’s story is the rise of militarism and the sense of cultural superiority among Germans during this period. Long before the Great War, Germans seem to have taken it for granted that war was unavoidable and that Germany would emerge from war in its rightful place as the dominant country and culture in Europe.The seventh chapter is about the transfer of power in the United Kingdom from Balfour and the conservatives to Asquith and the liberals, which included the rise of the labor party and its support of home rule for Ireland. This was the period in which the House of Lords lost its last meaningful role in British government. It is also a time that is of special interest to us today. This seems to have been when the Brits lost confidence in the ability of their government to solve the deeply tangled social and economic problems then facing the United Kingdom. Great Britain was changed forever after that crisis of confidence was felt, although fortunately there was still enough of the 19th century left in Winston Churchill that he had the clarity to lead his countrymen through the Second World War when his time came.The final chapter addresses the rise and fall of international socialism. It arose and prospered in the late 19th century, at least among intellectuals like the Fabians, for example. But it lost coherence and energy as its leaders died in the early decades of the new century. Of course, it later lost all viability in the aftermath of the Bolshevik revolution.We know now that the world was never the same again after the Great War. The rise of relativity, incompleteness, ambiguity and indecision in the 20th century transformed everything. Tuchman’s portrait of the west in the period immediately before the transformation is intellectually provocative and highly entertaining.

  • Clif
    2019-05-20 14:50

    This is a book that I read many years ago, liked enough to keep and have now had time to re-read.Though we think of our own time as one of great change, there was a feeling in the air at the end of the 19th century that will never again be experienced. It was a combination of innocence, wonder and anxiety produced by capitalism as technology and industry recreated the world.The innocence came from a still powerful religious sense along with a strong idea of how things should be. But the lives people were living were not what tradition had provided before. Hard work didn't necessarily bring anything beyond more hard work. What was a man when at the mercy of machines? There could be no going back, yet the future looked very dim for those who toiled under the dictates of the factory system.The small but rapidly growing middle class of owners was usurping the status of the landed gentry, so things didn't look good from the top down or the bottom up. Yet the wealth being gathered by the merchants and colonizers created an irrepressible energy whose wondrous output dazzled everyone.The Proud Tower approaches the period from several points of view to give us the feel of fabulous wealth, terrible deprivation, political ambition, visions of social transformation, national pride and imperialism.Tuchman takes us into European parliaments and Congress as governments and palaces struggle to deal with changes over which they have limited control. We also go into the workings of the Marxists and anarchists who dream of coming change while differing on whether to simply wait for it to happen, push it into being, or cooperate with the capitalist system to bring modifications that could improve the lives of the working people. Vivid personal portraits and strong opinions profoundly expressed give the pulse of humanity.We go to the symphony and opera to feel the power of emotion expressed in the wildly romantic works of Richard Strauss, the supreme artist of the day. I was inspired to run out and get his opera, Salome, on CD at the library to hear what Tuchman so vividly describes. And we read of the work of Nijinsky, Nietzsche and Wilde as they shock the sensibilities of the time.Of course, readers know that the period will end at the start of WW1, but this book does such a great job of recreating the pre-war atmosphere that the disillusion the war brought, with mechanized killing splashing the blood of millions on the hopes that had been kindled, can be more fully appreciated.