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Barbara Tuchman

A peculiar occurrence unfolded on January 30, 1912, for it was on that date that an equally peculiar woman was born into a wealthy Jewish banking family.  Barbara Tuchman is the unlikely author of The Guns of August (1962), a history of the outbreak of World War I, and Stilwell and the American Experience in China (1970).  More peculiarly still, she won a Pulitzer Prize in history for each.

Although Tuchman, who never set out to be an author, won acclaim for her books, her starring role on Publisher's Row might not be so peculiar after all when you consider that her father, Maurice Wertheim, was a banker, philanthropist, founder of the Theatre Guild, and owner and publisher of  The Nation.  Her maternal grandfather was ambassador to Turkey under president Woodrow Wilson.  Her uncle was Secretary of the Treasury under President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.  Obviously, Tuchman was no stranger to the power of achievement.  "The unrecorded past," she wrote, "is none other than our old friend, the tree in the primeval forest which fell without being heard."

Tuchman was graduated from the Walden School.  In 1933, she received her B.A. from Radcliffe College.  She was always interested in history, writing her honors thesis on The Moral Justification for the British Empire.  Although she never took a writing course, she followed school with a job at The Nation (1935 - 1939), during which time she traveled to Madrid to report on the Spanish Civil War.  She also wrote freelance articles for other magazines.  In 1939, she married Dr. Lester Reginald Tuchman, a New York Internist, and they had three daughters

In deciding to write, she said, "The single most formative experience, I think, was the stacks at Widener Library where I was allowed to have as my own one of those little cubicles with a table under a window, queerly called, as I have since learned, 'carrels,' a word I never knew when I sat in one.  Mine was deep in among the 940's (British History, that is) and I could roam at liberty through the rich stacks, taking whatever I wanted. 

"The experience was marvelous, a word I use in its exact sense meaning full of marvels.  It gave me a lifelong affinity for libraries, where I find happiness, refuge, not to mention the material for making books of my own...Nothing sickens me more than the closed door of a library."

In all, Tuchman wrote 11 books.  Through them all, she maintained a simple philosophy.  "The writer's object should be to hold the reader's attention.  I want the reader to turn the page and keep on turning until the end.  This is accomplished only when the narrative moves steadily ahead, not when it comes to a weary standstill, overloaded with every item uncovered in the research."

Barbara W. Tuchman died of complications of a stroke on February 6, 1989, at her home in Cos Cob, Connecticut.

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